April 2, 2011

Legacy along the Platte

I took students from my Wildlife Ecology and Management course on a field trip to the Rowe Sanctuary, near Gibbon, Nebraska on Friday.  The purpose of the trip was to learn about restoration projects that had been taking place near the Sanctuary, to re-create Platte River habitat that is needed by cranes, least terns, piping plovers, waterfowl, and other species.

It was a good lesson for us to see how the Platte had changed through time.  As you can see in the photos below, the Platte was so wide, in the early 20th century, it had to be spanned by a mile-long bridge, which crossed water and sand and grass.  By mid-century, the Platte had grown thick with trees.  Reduced flows from irrigation and reduced spring/summer flushes, because 14 dams were added to the system, had created perfect places for trees to grow.  The channel has now narrowed so that a bridge of only 1/4 of a mile, or less, can span it. 

But, restoration by USFWS, Audubon, and many partners (including private landowners) is bringing back the sloughs, the back-water habitats, and the tree-less sandbars and islands.  These projects are long-term (5-10 years) and require massive amounts of big, yellow equipment to remove large trees and reshape channels.

As I told the students, many of them probably did not think about habitat restoration when they entered our Fisheries and Wildlife program.  But, if a person wants to leave a legacy, you might consider working on habitat projects like this.  Here, our students talk with Kirk Schroeder (USFWS) and Bill Taddicken (Audubon, Rowe Sanctuary) as they view one of the restoration sites.  

 Platte River photos from here and here.

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