Nebraska Public Power District purchased approximately 2650 acres in central Nebraska along the Platte River in 1992 to offset impacts to endangered species caused by water diversion and operation of the Sutherland Project, including the North Platte hydroelectric generating station. In 1998, NPPD was issued a new 40 year license by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which directed NPPD to develop a management plan for this property. This plan was to develop the property into habitat for endangered and threatened species and needed the concurrence of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC). The Development Plan was submitted to the FERC on July 29, 1999.
The objectives of the habitat development plan were to:
- Document the physical setting
- Develop nesting habitat for least terns and piping plovers
- Enhance channels to provide roosting habitat for whooping cranes
- Develop crane foraging areas in grasslands, sloughs and backwaters
- Develop wetland areas outside the high banks of the river
- Protect bald eagle roost and perch sites
- Restore croplands to native plant communities
- Provide recreation, education, and public access that are consistent with the purpose of the property to provide habitat for endangered species.
The objectives of the original habitat development plan have been achieved through riparian management activities such as clearing 250 acres of riparian forest to improve unobstructed width and increasing active channel width on the main channel. In addition to the riverine developments, approximately 300 acres of crop land was converted back to grassland and within this grassland a 20-30 acre wetland and approximately 6 miles of sloughs (linear wetlands) were created.
NPPD is also required to monitor the response of the targeted wildlife species to the management efforts. Use of the property by all of the target species: whooping crane, least tern and piping plover has been documented. Although to date no nesting least terns or piping plovers have been located on the property. Bald eagle use of the property remains high including a nest in a tree left as an eagle perch. While the response of endangered species has been good, response by other wildlife has been much greater with large numbers of migrating waterfowl and some sandhill cranes utilizing the areas. In addition to the benefits derived from our management, the potential negative impact to forest dwelling species is recognized and also being evaluated. Studies of forest dwelling birds show a diverse bird assemblage and that the forest are utilized as migratory habitat much like waterfowl utilize the river. In addition banding studies of the forest birds show that individual birds return to the same basic area in multiple years.
The property now counts as a portion of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) and as such will be utilized to provide habitat while also addressing uncertainties and disagreements on what is the best way to provide habitat for the species through the PRRIP Adaptive Management Plan. A new habitat development plan has been developed that lays out the activities that will occur in the next five years to achieve active channels that are at least 500 feet wide and to make an off channel least tern and piping plover nesting area. At the end of that five years, development will be complete and the effectiveness will be monitored over the remaining 7 years of the PRRIP. NPPD is working jointly with the PRRIP to implement the management strategies and insure that our FERC license requirements are met.