Introduction to WILD NEBRASKA
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WILD Nebraska is an umbrella program of the Nebraska
Game and Parks Commission that primarily delivers wildlife habitat management
activities on private lands. Partnerships are a key element in providing
expanded opportunities. This site provides an assortment of information regarding
programs, initiatives, partnerships and other incentives. Although still
under development, there are tools to help develop habitat as well as a list
of contacts at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission who can assist in planning
and in getting the job done. Read on if you want to learn more about WILD
Attempts to improve and protect wildlife habitat on private lands in Nebraska began in earnest in 1977 following the creation of the Habitat Stamp. The initial Private Lands Habitat Program (PLHP) was revised slightly in 1988 and was renamed the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP). Many of the state's 23 Natural Resources Districts have cooperated with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission from the very beginning to make this an excellent program and partnership.
Need for Change
With the passage of time, additional programs were developed to take advantage of new opportunities. Programs such as the Wildlife Shelterbelt Program (WSP), Wetland Initiative Program (WIP), Roadside Seeding Program (RSP) and others helped to address needs not covered under WHIP. As these programs became more numerous, delivery became complicated. In addition, the creation of similar programs by other agencies and organizations often resulted in a certain degree of confusion for landowners, partners and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staff.
Recently, additional partnerships have been developed with U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the Nebraska Environmental Trust and others. The tremendous opportunities that these relationships present have heightened the need to migrate to a program with greater flexibility.
To meet objectives set forth in the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's strategic plan, the Habitat Partner's Section of the Wildlife Division is in the process of "creating" a new program for delivering cooperative assistance for wildlife habitat on private lands. The development of WILD Nebraska is an effort to consolidate many of the components of existing programs. The desired products of this effort include:
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will strive to fully explain program offerings. A website and informational brochures will be developed to provide information to constituents for managing various wildlife species and their habitats. The website will also provide partners with greatly improved information sharing and record-keeping opportunities.
- greater flexibility to address wildlife habitat needs
- greater flexibility to meet changing needs of landowners
- greater flexibility to meet the changing needs of more than 20 conservation partners
- streamlined administrative processes
- better stewardship of financial resources
- enhanced ability to complement (leverage) other funding sources
- improved information exchange between partners
- improved tracking of results and expenditures
Sustaining partnerships with Natural Resources Districts and our other existing partners, as well as creating additional partnerships with other agencies and organizations, remain top priorities of WILD Nebraska. These partnerships will provide greater opportunities to use existing funds and direct additional funds toward the enhancement of Nebraska's wildlife resources. The flexibility of WILD Nebraska will allow partners to choose aspects of the program best suited for them and their wildlife habitat objectives.
WILD Nebraska - A Program of New Opportunities
While continuing to provide comprehensive technical assistance, the Wildlife Division's Habitat Partners Section--through WILD Nebraska--will provide financial assistance in two broad categories: Wildlife Habitat Development and Wildlife Habitat Management. Development and Management activities are grouped by habitat type (Wetland/ Grassland/Woodland). In addition, there is a general group of activities that pertain to more than one habitat type (e.g. hunting access) or activities that are unique (e.g. food-and-cover plots).
Wildlife Habitat Development and Wildlife Habitat Management Activities are the foundation of WILD Nebraska. Transitional Land Use payments and Access incentives may also be used to complement these primary activities.
Wildlife Habitat Development Activities
Generally, these activities will contain many aspects of the existing individual programs. WHIP and many of the other programs have focused on the development of habitat in the form of grass seedings, shelterbelt plantings, or wetland restorations. The necessary components of those programs will be retained in WILD Nebraska.
Development contracts will typically be for a term of 10 years or more during which the cooperator will be expected to maintain the developed habitat. One-time payments will be made to cooperators to reimburse them for a portion of the costs associated with the habitat development.
Specifications for designing habitat developments will provide optimum benefits for wildlife. These specifications may vary slightly across the state due to differences that occur across Nebraska's highly varied geography. Input into development plans will be solicited from partners based on technical areas of expertise.
Wildlife Habitat Management Activities
Generally, past programs have been development oriented and have not provided much opportunity to implement management on existing wildlife habitats. The management component of WILD Nebraska provides an exciting opportunity to implement a variety of activities to improve habitat in Nebraska. WILD Nebraska will include activities such as prescribed burning, disking, grazing manipulation, and woodland stand management to accomplish habitat objectives. These activities will be designed to influence plant succession within a plant community. Understanding and managing plant community succession is a critical factor in the development of any successful wildlife habitat management plan.
Management contracts will be short-term ranging from one to five years. A one-time payment will be made to the cooperator following implementation of the management activity. Once again, specifications for these activities will be flexible to allow decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis after assessing site needs and the objectives of the cooperator.
Transition Land-use Payments
WHIP has provided for annual land-use payments, which have served as incentives for cooperators to "devote" land to wildlife habitat. In the case of converting cropland to wildlife habitat, the payment level ($25.00/acre) has not been enough to generate interest in some areas. On the other hand, the payment level for existing habitat ($15.00/acre) has not been effective at protecting priority wildlife habitats nor has it always attracted cooperators with a genuine interest in improving wildlife habitat on their property.
WILD Nebraska will shift the focus from the annual land-use payment concept of WHIP to a system in which cooperators may be provided financial incentives to help them "transition" from one level of economic land-use to a different income-base that provides greater wildlife benefits. Certain development activities and possibly some management activities may be eligible for these transitional payments. In most cases the arrangement will provide for certain continued economic potential (e.g. controlled grazing).
Prioritization on a statewide and regional basis will guide the application of transition payments. Such things as habitat type, public access opportunities, project type (i.e. row crop to high diversity grassland), contract length and regional resource-needs will provide the basis for priority ranking.
The term of transition payments will be limited to a maximum of five years. Following that period, lands will continue to be eligible for development or management activity incentives, but would not be eligible to receive additional transition payments. In some specific cases, it may be advantageous to provide the total of all annual Transition Payments up front to encourage enrollment of certain high priority habitats (e.g. a salt marsh).
There are two options in WILD Nebraska that aim to provide public access. CRP-MAP is a specific partnership with Pheasants Forever and the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund that is designed to improve habitat and provide public hunting and trapping access on Conservation Reserve Program lands and associated habitats.
A need remains to provide opportunities for public access in association with WILD Nebraska development and management activities. Hunting, trapping, fishing, and hiking access have been allowed in the past in WHIP with additional incentives for cooperators who participate in this option. Through WHIP these arrangements allowed for an additional payment of $2.50/acre or more for qualifying contracts. WILD Nebraska will increase that rate to $3.00/acre to more closely parallel a similar offering in CRP-MAP. Public access may be used to help prioritize applications for WILD Nebraska when demand exceeds availability of funds. NOTE: access is not a requirement, but is an important program option.
Some cooperators will ask about leasing access rights to other parties while under contract with WILD Nebraska. Leasing program acres for hunting or trapping access is allowed only in years when a transition, development, or management payment is not received. The reason for this is that as much as 75% of the funding for WILD Nebraska is derived from Wildlife Habitat Stamp funds. These funds are collected from hunters and trappers. It would send conflicting messages to allow hunting leases on lands being managed with funds from hunters.
Development, Management, and Transition Landuse Payment Rates
Current programs often provide cost-share maximums per unit that cannot be exceeded (i.e. $7.00 per rod of fence, $60.00 per acre of grass seed). However, it is difficult to maintain these rates at a level that reflects up-to-date, actual costs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture develops a listing of "County Average Costs" on a local level to govern cost-share maximums for programs they administer. WILD Nebraska will use this system because it is a localized standard that is updated periodically. It is recognized that some activities are not included in the USDA system. For these activities program maximums will need to be developed.
Similarly, the current statewide, flat-rate-per-acre annual land-use payments used in WHIP have not been equitable statewide. The USDA also maintains a listing of "Average Rental Rates" for each county. This existing resource will be used as a basis for Transition Landuse Payment rates.
WILD Nebraska is a progressive approach to positively impact Nebraska's wildlife resources. By partnering with other agencies, organizations, and landowners, a greater impact can be attained for the resource. Ideally, WILD Nebraska will encourage responsible and sustainable stewardship of habitat and associated wildlife populations in Nebraska.
The WILD Nebraska Activities
Grassland communities dominated the Nebraska landscape for thousands of years prior to the arrival of European immigrants. Today, about 70% of Nebraska's original grasslands have been destroyed or degraded. Decline in grasslands is a primary limiting factor affecting abundance of most wildlife species. All grassland communities regardless of status, size, or location are important to wildlife.
Stewardship of all grassland areas is an important component of WILD Nebraska. Important grassland conditions and opportunities will be addressed regionally.
- implement good land stewardship concepts and procedures
- conserve existing native grasslands
- conserve large or aggregated grassland systems
- emphasize long-term sustainability
- conserve rare and vulnerable plant communities
Grassland activities in WILD Nebraska are organized into two major sections:
The primary purpose of all grassland stewardship and grassland establishment or restoration activities in WILD Nebraska is to fulfill life requirements for wildlife. Restoring and enhancing grasslands by increasing plant species composition and vegetative structure with emphasis on native plants are important factors.
All grassland activities will be designed and implemented through a stewardship plan that will be developed for each site in cooperation with landowners and other conservation partners. Activities may include Development Payments for assistance in material needs, Management Payments for assistance in management activities, and, in some cases, Transition Payments as financial incentives to help in transition to an alternate use of the land with greater wildlife benefits, such as conversion of marginal cropland to grassland.
- Stewardship of Existing Grassland Communities
- Establishment or Restoration of Grasslands
Stewardship of Existing Grassland Communities
All activities will be described in a site-specific plan and will either be long-term (10+ years) or short-term (less than 10 years). Activities may include:
Establishment or Restoration of Grasslands
- Planned grazing
- Legume/forb interseeding
- Prescribed burning
- Prescribed haying/shredding
- Prescribed herbicide treatment
- Registration of unique areas
All activities will be either long-term (10+ years) or short-term (less than 10 years). Long-term grassland establishment emphasizes native prairie restoration and includes a diverse mixture of grasses, sedges, and forb species representative of local native prairies. Short-term grassland establishment includes both native and introduced plant species.
- Contract lengths are activity dependent but will normally be for a minimum of five years.
- All Development, Management, and Transition Payments will be based either on actual or county average costs as described in the following documentation.
- Transition Payments will not exceed five years.
- Long-Term Stewardship and Establishment activities will have Development Payments for materials of up to 100% of actual costs or county average costs, and applicable Transition Payments of up to 80% (depending upon partners involvement) of the published county average rental rate, plus bonuses when seeding is completed and contract is extended to 15 years.
- Short-Term Stewardship and Establishment activities will have Development Payments of up to 75% of actual or county average costs on materials and applicable Transition Payments of up to 80% of county average rental rate.
- Management Payments may be for up to 100% of actual or county average costs for legume/forb interseeding, prescribed burning, disking, shredding, and herbicide activities.
- In many instances WILD Nebraska grassland activities can be used in conjunction with other land conservation programs if additional wildlife habitat benefits are realized.
- Technical Assistance will be provided in all instances.
Nebraska's wetland resources are very diverse and dynamic, and are located throughout the state (1997 Guide to Nebraska's Wetlands and their Conservation Needs). At the time of statehood in 1867, Nebraska contained an estimated 2,910,000 acres of wetlands covering about 6% of the state. However, by the 1980s Nebraska's wetlands were reduced by an estimated 35%, to 1,905,000 acres. The destruction of wetlands was much higher in some regions of the state (approaching 90% for the Rainwater Basin, Eastern Saline wetlands, and some reaches of the Missouri River), but the statewide figure is buffered by the large wetland resource remaining in the Sandhills.
Nebraska's remaining wetlands are highly productive and an essential component of the landscape. They serve a wide array of functions from improving water quality to providing critical wildlife habitat. Wetlands provide important habitat for 50% of Nebraska's bird species, 36% of mammal species, 35% of reptile species, 100% of amphibian species, and 50% of plant species. Wetlands also are an essential component of providing quality aquatic habitat for fish. In addition, wetlands support a wide variety of outdoor recreation and education opportunities.
WILD Nebraska Wetland Goals are to:
- restore altered wetlands
- conserve existing wetlands
- encourage sound wetland stewardship and long-term sustainability
- conserve wetland dependent plant and animal communities
Wetland restoration and management projects are often complex and require expertise in biology, engineering, hydrology, and soils. Because of this, wetland projects generally will be designed by an interdisciplinary team possessing the required expertise.
Projects will be prioritized as necessary. Priorities will be based on both statewide and regional level focus areas, cost/benefits, and on the Wetland Priority Activity Category as defined below. It is recognized that some wetland projects will consist of multiple activities.
Wetland Priority Activity Categories
- Priority 1: Wetland Restoration: Activities that fully or partially restore the hydrology or vegetation of a wetland.
- Priority 2: Wetland Vegetation Management and Maintenance: Activities intended to improve or maintain existing desirable vegetation.
- Priority 3: Wetland Enhancement: Activities that alter the physical characteristics of an existing wetland to achieve specific wildlife and social benefits without restoring the natural ecological functions (e.g., island construction, altering a seasonal wetland to make it a semi-permanent wetland).
- Priority 4: Wetland Creation: Activities that establish a wetland where one did not previously exist.
The 8 wetland activities listed below are not all inclusive, but are provided as general guidance to the range of activities that will most commonly be available for conducting wetland projects. As determined by the interdisciplinary team, other activities may be prescribed.
- Development Activities: Reimbursement for materials and construction costs. Cooperators will be reimbursed, up to the specified limit, after submitting bills and invoices to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
- Management Activities: Management payments will be based on a prescribed management plan. Payments will be based on actual costs that are adjusted to account for equipment needs and maintenance, labor, and risk factors.
- Transition Payments: These are short term payments designed to help the cooperator transition to an alternate use of the land designed to be more wildlife friendly. Transition payments of 80% (75% NGPC; 25% NRD) for certain conversions from cropland to wetland of the county average land rental rate will be provided and will be available for up to 5 years.
Woodlands in Nebraska range from the forests that have evolved over centuries such as the ponderosa pine forests of the Panhandle and the mixed hardwood forests of the Missouri River bluffs to the woodlands that have expanded recently due to suppression of fire and major flooding events. The latter include forests that occupy the Loess Hills prairie and Platte River floodplain. Other additional woodlands include man-made plantings such as farmstead shelterbelts, field windbreaks, woodlots, and small plantations. Finally, even in prairie areas, woodlands exist in the form of small wooded draws and thickets.
Nebraska has been referred to as the "Tree Planters State" and "Home of Arbor Day." From a cultural perspective, this reputation was earned by early settlers who came from the eastern United States and planted trees to enhance aesthetics and provide fuel and building materials. However, from an ecological perspective, Nebraska is primarily a prairie state and there are appropriate and inappropriate places for trees. Location and species composition are important considerations when planning a tree planting project.
WILD Nebraska Woodland Goals are to:
- Drain Closure
- Irrigation Re-use Pit Closure
- Quick-cycle Tailwater Recovery System Installation
- Water Control Structure Installation
- Stream Weir Installation
- Silt and Fill Removal
- Vegetation Management
- Wetland Creation
- Woodland Activities
- foster an appreciation and the stewardship of various woodland communities
- provide opportunities to develop woody cover to enhance wildlife habitat
- focus attention on habitat management opportunities in natural forest communities
- restore integral components of forest communities that have been degraded
- utilize woody vegetation removal practices to restore grassland and wetland habitats
- All practices except Woody Vegetation Removal will utilize a "base funding" consisting of 75% provided by NGPC and 25% provided by participating NRDs.
- NRDs may choose to participate in the Woody Vegetation Removal activity on an individual basis.
- Sites converted from cropland to wildlife habitat may be eligible for a Transition Payment of up to 80% of the county average rental rate for a maximum of 5 years. Transition payments are limited to sites that are at least five acres.
Plantings consisting of a combination of red cedar,
rocky mountain juniper, and native shrubs with 75% cost-share for seedling/planting/site
preparation and 50% cost-share for weed barrier fabric and installation or
100% of chemical weed control. Designed to provide winter and escape cover
for various wildlife, plantings must consist of a minimum of three rows and
have an equal area of undisturbed herbaceous vegetation and shrub thickets
located on the leeward side of the belt. Total habitat site must consist of
two acres or more and habitat development must be maintained 20 years. Beyond
the "base funding", other potential funding sources include Natural Resources
Conservation Service and Pheasants Forever.
Wildlife Shrub Plantings
Plantings consisting of 100% native shrubs in designs
that will allow customizing to various sites including pivot corners and field
borders. Seedling/planting/site preparation and chemical weed control will
be cost-shared up to 100% of costs incurred. Weed barrier fabric will not be
eligible for cost-share. Thicket plantings will be encouraged with close spacing
of shrubs in a plot at least 20 to 25 feet wide. All plantings must be accompanied
by undisturbed herbaceous cover a minimum of 20 feet wide. At least 100 seedlings
must be planted and habitat sites must be maintained for 10 years. Beyond the "base funding",
other potential funding sources include Natural Resources Conservation Service
and Pheasants Forever.
Native Woodland Enhancement for Wildlife
Various activities used to manage existing woodlands
including stand management, prescribed burning, grazing management, and restoration
and enhancement plantings. Stand management would include thinning, selective
cutting, and clear-cut with opportunities for snag and brush pile development.
Cost-share rates and treatment specifications need to be developed in conjunction
with Nebraska Forest Service for differing forest communities across the state.
Stand management and restoration and enhancement plantings must be maintained
for 10 years while prescribed burning and grazing management activities will
have a 5 year contract term. Beyond the "base funding", other potential funding
sources include the National Wild Turkey Federation. This is primarily a management
activity but transition payments may apply for restoration of native woodlands
on existing cropland or for instances where deferred grazing is required.
Riparian Forest Buffers
This activity provides an additional 25% cost-share as leverage for components
associated with the Riparian Forest Buffer practice within the Conservation
Reserve Program offered by the USDA. To be eligible for these additional
funds, the buffer must be a minimum of 66 feet wide and can include no more
than 10% conifer species and at least 30% native shrubs. Contracts will run
for a term of 10 to 15 years concurrent with the USDA contract. Beyond the "base funding," additional
funding may be available from the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Woody Vegetation ManagementUnder this activity, invasive trees and other woody plants that have encroached on grasslands and prairie wetlands would be removed mechanically. A management plan for the site must also be implemented to prevent reinvasion. Funding from NGPC through WILD Nebraska would equal 25% of the total cost but would not exceed $500.00 per acre. A variety of other partners could be utilized, depending upon the site, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Conservation Service (through the Wetland Reserve Program), and Natural Resources Districts. The Nebraska Forest Service may also be involved to provide technical assistance. This is a management activity and must be maintained for a period of 5 years.
The General Activities Section of the WILD Nebraska program describes wildlife management activities that are not specific to the Grasslands, Wetlands and Woodlands sections of this document. It contains Foundational activities, Complementary activities, and activities that are limited to Technical Assistance.
There is great potential within WILD Nebraska to address emerging opportunities through expanding existing, and creating new activities. New funding sources and the creation of new partnerships will allow WILD Nebraska to grow-as opportunities and needs change-well into the future.
- Foundational activities directly benefit habitats through enhancements and re-establishment, or by prioritizing specific objectives, as in the cases of Hunter Access and Rare/Unique Community Management.
- Complementary activities are available only when used in conjunction with one or more Foundational activities.
- Technical Assistance occurs with all private lands activities, but in some cases is the full extent of the support provided.
- Technical assistance is specifically noted in the General Activities section to bring attention to the importance of providing information to the public and the potential to provide information via the Internet and other media.
- In general-and unless otherwise noted-the basic financial arrangement for General Activities between NGPC and participating NRDs will follow the standard 75% - 25% formula.
- NRDs may choose to participate with any and all General Activities as they see fit, unless otherwise noted.
Financial arrangements with other partners are described under the specific activity when appropriate. Cost-share incentives provided to cooperators are also described-where appropriate-under each activity.
Hunting Habitat and Access--CRP-MAP
Nebraska is unique in providing the CRP-MAP. This partnership between NGPC, Pheasants Forever, and the Nebraska Environmental Trust leverages USDA's Conservation Reserve Program to provide public access opportunities for hunting and trapping while improving wildlife habitat. This strategy increases management activities on a greater number of acres than with other programs while providing access on high quality habitats.
Rare/Unique Community Management Incentive
Recognizing the scarcity of certain vegetative communities and the wildlife that depend on them, this activity will reward landowners with management incentives that benefit these communities, while allowing reasonable economic returns.
Food-and-Cover Plot Establishment
Food-and-cover plots have long been a tool of game management. This management strategy can influence use of specific habitat areas and enhance body condition over winter for target wildlife. Financial cost-share will be provided for this activity through provision of seed.
Habitat Protection by Fence Construction
This activity will protect habitats being enhanced or developed under a foundational activity. Cost-share is available at 50% of the county average cost.
Alternative Water Source
For many riparian and wetland
habitats across Nebraska, limiting livestock grazing can greatly enhance the
quality of wildlife habitat. However, these areas often serve as water sources
for livestock. If livestock grazing is limited within these areas, an alternative
water source or alterations to the existing source may be needed to provide
livestock water. This activity can be used to develop water sources that reduce
impacts to wildlife habitats, but should only be used in conjunction with other
developments to protect, manage or enhance an important water source for wildlife.
A one-time reimbursement for materials and installation at a maximum NGPC cost-share
of 25% of the total may be available; no cooperator cost-share is required
if partner contributions allow. No cost-share will be provided for aspects
of a system associated with electric power such as "delivering" electric power
to a well.
Wildlife Watering Facility
This activity will assist in creating structures to trap rainfall and provide drinking water for wild turkey and bighorn sheep. To be eligible for cost-share, sites must be greater than one mile from an existing water source and be in potential wild turkey or bighorn sheep habitat. Up to 50% of the cost of materials (not to exceed $500.00 per unit) will be funded through WILD Nebraska. Other potential funding partners include the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep. Sites must be fenced to exclude livestock and this activity may only be used in conjunction with other habitat development or management activities such as native woodland enhancement, wildlife shrub plantings, and prescribed burning. The facility must be maintained for a 10 year period.
Hunting Access Bonus Incentive
Consistent with the CRP-MAP, if a cooperator implements a habitat management or development activity, then they may be eligible for this incentive. The base incentive is $3/acre ($2.25/acre NGPC). This incentive can be increased by participating NRDs or through partner contributions.
Technical Assistance Activities
Assistance for these activities will largely come in the form of literature and private counsel.
- Backyard Habitat Establishment
- Nesting Structures
- Wildlife Viewing Structures