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RIVERINE WETLANDS

Wetlands are closely associated with the riparian zones and floodplains of all of Nebraska’s rivers and streams. These riparian areas are complex systems with numerous inter-related components (e.g., wetlands, organic matter, sandbars, tree falls, side channels, etc.). Wetlands are an important component of this system by producing invertebrates and other organic matter that provide energy and food to other parts of the streams and river. Additionally, these wetlands provide spawning and nursery areas for many different types of fish, amphibians, and reptiles, and a home for numerous wildlife species. Although wetlands occur along all of Nebraska’s rivers, this guide focuses on the wetlands associated with the Platte, Missouri, Niobrara, and Elkhorn rivers. These complexes appear to contain the greatest river-associated wetland acreage remaining in the state. The Platte River contains important wetlands throughout its reach; however, in this guide, three segments are singled out for special consideration.


Central Platte River Profile

The Central Platte River (also called the Big Bend Reach) extends approximately 90 miles from Lexington to Chapman. Historically the Platte River was a broad open prairie river with a braided channel and numerous saturated wet meadows adjacent to the river. However, the diversion of approximately 70% of the historic annual flows has changed the Central Platte River into a narrower river with a dense band of mature deciduous woodland encroaching on the wet meadows. Numerous islands which at one time were open sandbars have since been overgrown with woody vegetation due to a reduction in high-water scouring flows.

Loss and Threats

The Platte River valley epitomizes the struggle between agricultural and development interests, and wildlife, fish, recreation, and other values associated with wetlands. American Rivers, a national river conservation organization, has listed the Platte River as one of the most endangered waterways in the United States. Diminished flows, increased sediment storage in upstream reservoirs, and agricultural conversion have greatly altered the Platte River valley. Since 1860, the Central Platte River has lost up to 73% of active channel areas (Sidle et al. 1989). Upstream from the Central Platte, active channel losses on the river have reached 85 percent. In many areas, channel width has been reduced to 10-20% of its historic size (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1981). From 1988 through 1994, open-channel areas declined by 4 to 41% due to relatively low summer flows and reduced scouring flows, allowing the establishment of undesirable woody vegetation (Currier 1995). Since settlement, wet meadow acreage in the Central Platte has declined 73% (Currier et al. 1985). Wet meadow acreage declined up to 45% between 1938 and 1982 (Sidle et al. 1989). An increase in shrub and forested wetland types has occurred at the expense of riverine, emergent wetlands and wet meadows as a response to decreased scouring flows. The increase in the shrub and forested wetlands has been detrimental to fish and wildlife resources that historically used the river valley (Currier et al. 1985; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1981). Wetlands along the Central Platte were given a priority 1 ranking (due to very extensive past losses) in the Nebraska Wetlands Priority Plan (Gersib 1991). Agriculture (drainage and conversion to grain crops) and sand and gravel mining operations pose the biggest immediate threats to wet meadows adjacent to the Platte River. Loss of instream flows, groundwater depletions, and degradation of the riverbed continue to pose a long-term threat to the source of water for the remaining wet meadows . Once this source of water is lost, the meadows become drier, allowing tree invasion or agricultural, commercial, and residential development. Impoundment and diversion of river water and water-borne sediment are the main factors that have and continue to cause shifts from a wide, shallow, open channel to a narrow, deep channel surrounded by upland or wetland with woody vegetation. Failure to address these stream flow issues within the Platte River will continue to threaten the river and the fish and wildlife that depend on it. The spread of purple loosestrife is an additional threat. Purple loosestrife is an introduced plant of little value to wildlife that out-competes desirable native plants. Purple loosestrife was only reported west of Kearney in the late 1980’s (Gersib 1991) but has since become established throughout the Central Platte. 

Functions and Values

The Central Platte provides habitat for several federally threatened and endangered species. The endangered whooping crane uses the river during spring and fall migration, and the portion of the Central Platte from Lexington to Shelton has been designated as critical habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of this species. Up to 300 threatened bald eagles winter along the Central Platte area annually. Several nests have been built by bald eagles along the Central Platte. The endangered interior least tern and threatened piping plover nest on the few remaining unvegetated sandbars in the river and at some sand and gravel pits adjacent to the river. A portion of the Central Platte has been designated as critical habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the piping plover. Terns and plovers have been forced to nest on the sand spoil piles at gravel pits because of the encroachment of woody vegetation on most river sandbars, however both species still depend on the river for foraging habitat. Wet meadows near the river provide habitat for at least one population of the western prairie fringed orchid, which is listed as a threatened species.  During the spring, nearly one-half million sandhill cranes comprising 80 percent of the North American population, converge on the river valley to rest and accumulate fat reserves for later migration and nesting (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1981). Seven to ten million ducks and geese, including snow, Ross,' white-fronted and Canada geese, mallards, and northern pintails, stage along the Platte River and in nearby Rainwater Basin wetlands. Average midwinter waterfowl counts, 1998-02, were 26,000 mallards and 28,000 Canada geese in the stretch of river from Gothenburg to Central City (Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, unpubl. data). This reach also hosts large concentrations of migrant wading birds and shorebirds and several nesting colonies of great blue herons. More than 300 bird species have been observed along the Central Platte River, and 141 species have nested in the area. Over half of the 300 species are neotropical migrants that winter largely south of the Tropic of Cancer but nest north of the tropics (Lingle 1994). A report issued by the National Audubon Society focused on the importance of the Central Platte as wildlife habitat, especially for migratory birds, and the complexities of managing this severely threatened system (Safina et al. 1989). During high flows, the Platte River recharges the underlying aquifer, which provides irrigation water for thousands of acres of cropland (Burns 1981) and municipal water for 35 percent of the population of Nebraska. In portions where the channels are not constricted by structures (e.g., bridges and bank protection) or encroached upon by vegetation, the Platte River has an enormous capacity to carry floodwaters within its own banks (Safina et al. 1989). The Platte River provides a variety of recreational opportunities. From fall 1986 to fall 1987, Nebraskans spent an estimated $51.3 million on nature-associated recreation in the Platte River Valley (Bureau of Sociological Research 1988). Activities from highest to lowest participation rates included picnicking, nature hikes, observing wildlife, swimming, fishing, camping, boating, and hunting. A separate study indicated that up to 80,000 crane watchers flock to the Platte River each spring and benefit the local economy with more than 40 million dollars (Lingle 1992). 

Select Public Use Areas

http://mapserver.ngpc.state.ne.us/website/gpc_land/viewer.htm. C Fort Kearny State Recreation Area/Bassway Strip WMA, 9 mi. N., 2 mi. W. of Minden, Kearney Co. C The Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, Platte River Whooping Crane Critical Habitat Maintenance Trust, and Crane Meadows Nature Center have areas along the Platte River that are available for public use and tours or crane observation blinds by appointment. Contact: The Nature Conservancy, P.O. Box 438, Aurora, NE 68818, (402) 694-4191; National Audubon Society, Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary, 44450 Elm Island Road, Gibbon NE 28840, (308) 468-5282; Platte River Whooping Crane Critical Habitat Maintenance Trust, 6611 W. Whooping Crane Dr., Wood River, NE 68883, (308) 384-4633; or Crane Meadows Nature Center, 9325 S. Alda Rd., Wood River, NE 68883 (308) 382-1820. http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/nebraska/. http://www.rowesanctuary.org/. http://www.whoopingcrane.org/index2.html. http://www.cranemeadows.org/.

Conservation Programs and Contacts

A wide variety of organizations and agencies have programs that address wetland conservation issues along the Central Platte. In addition to the organizations listed above, further information can be obtained by contacting the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, P.O. Box 30370, Lincoln, NE 68503 (402) 471-5422, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 203 W. 2nd Street, Federal Bldg., Grand Island NE 68801, (308) 382-6468. Other contacts include the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission District Office in Kearney (308) 865-5310, and the Platte River Partnership in Wood River (308) 583-2294.


Lower North Platte River Profile

The lower reach of the North Platte River extends approximately 20 river miles, from Sutherland to North Platte. This wetland complex consists of riverine and marsh-like wetlands lying within the historically active floodplain and channel of the river. Temporarily and seasonally flooded vegetated wetlands comprise an estimated 80% of all wetlands in the lower reach of the North Platte River. There are also extensive wetlands all along the North Platte River upstream of Sutherland. Many of these wetlands are included within the Western Alkaline Wetland complex.

Loss and Threats

Sidle et al. (1989) reported that the active river channel width between North Platte and Lake McConaughy has declined 85 percent since 1860. Since 1938, the active channel width between North Platte and Sutherland has declined by 65 percent (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unpubl. data). Wet meadow acreage losses along the North Platte River were estimated to be 23-33% since 1938, though many of the farmable meadows already were converted and under gravity irrigation prior to 1938 (Sidle et al. 1989). Additionally, an increase of scrub-shrub and forested wetland types has occurred at the expense of riverine and emergent wetlands as a response to decreased instream flows and increased sediment storage in upstream reservoirs. Lower North Platte River wetlands were given a priority 2 ranking (due to extensive past losses) in the Nebraska Wetlands Priority Plan (Gersib 1991).  Agricultural conversion, groundwater depletions, and sand and gravel mining operations pose the greatest short-term threats to wet meadows adjacent to the North Platte River. Residential and commercial developments commonly encroach on wet meadows after drainage, filling, or the mining of sand and gravel. Groundwater depletions and degradation of the riverbed will continue to impact the remaining wet meadows in the long-term. Impoundments and the diversion of river water and sediment are the main factors that have caused and will continue to cause the shift from a wide, shallow, open channel to a narrow, deep channel bordered by uplands or scrub-shrub/forested wetlands.

Functions and Values

During the spring, about 150,000 migrating sandhill cranes spend up to six weeks feeding and resting on the Lower North Platte River and adjacent wet meadows. Sandhill cranes roost in the river and wet meadows at night and forage in wet meadows, grassland, and cropland during the day. Threatened bald eagles winter along the river and also use it during migration. Endangered whooping cranes occasionally use this stretch of river during both spring and fall migrations. Migrating and wintering waterfowl use the river and associated wet meadows. The entire North Platte river is the most important area in the state for wintering Canada geese and is one of the most important for wintering mallards (M. Vrtiska, Nebraska Game and Parks, pers. comm.). The Lower North Platte River and its associated aquifer provide municipal and irrigation water supplies (Missouri River Basin Commission 1976). During high-flow periods, the river recharges the underlying aquifer. Because the Platte River system, including the Lower North Platte River, is highly regulated by a series of upstream reservoirs and diversions for irrigation and power district canals, the groundwater discharge and recharge functions of the river and associated wetlands have been significantly altered from natural conditions (Missouri River Basin Commission 1976). Although upstream reservoirs on the North Platte River provide considerable flood protection, the continued loss of wetlands and channel capacity increases the future chances of flood damage. Waterfowl hunting and fishing occur on the Lower North Platte River (Anderson et al. 1989). A survey by the University of Nebraska indicated that Nebraskans as a whole have a keen interest in a variety of recreational activities available on the Lower North Platte River and support further efforts to provide these recreational opportunities (Bureau of Sociological Research 1988).

Select Public Use Areas

http://mapserver.ngpc.state.ne.us/website/gpc_land/viewer.htm. C North River WMA, 3 mi. N. of Hershey, Lincoln Co. C Muskrat Run WMA, 6 mi. E., 1 mi. N. of Hershey, Lincoln Co. C Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, North Platte, Lincoln Co.

Conservation Programs and Contacts

A wide variety of organizations and agencies have programs that address wetland conservation issues on the Platte River. Contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, P.O. Box 30370, Lincoln, NE 68503 (402) 471-5422, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 203 W. 2nd Street, Federal Bldg., Grand Island NE 68801, (308) 382-6468. Platte River Basin Environs is a group interested in the protection and restoration of wetland habitat in the Panhandle and especially along the North Platte River. Contact Platte River Basin Environs at 190498 County Road G, Scottsbluff, NE 69361, (308) 632-3440. Other contacts include the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission District Office in North Platte (308) 535-8025.


Lower Platte River Profile

The Lower Platte River extends approximately 100 miles from where the Loup River joins the Platte near Columbus to the Platte-Missouri River confluence south of Omaha. The river in this reach begins to flow in a more defined channel, but islands and sandbars are still numerous. The Lower Platte has fewer acres of wetlands and wet meadows than the Central Platte. The wetlands along the Lower Platte are mostly fresh to slightly saline, saturated wet meadows and seasonally and semipermanently-flooded channel remnants and oxbows. These wetlands were likely more forested historically than wetlands further upstream.

Loss and Threats

The wetlands and channel habitat along the Lower Platte have suffered cumulative losses similar to those in the Central Platte. Diversion of stream-flows and levee construction leading to floodplain development have probably had the greatest impacts. Numerous wetlands have also been altered by drainage and conversion to cropland, sand and gravel mining, and housing and commercial developments. Additional diversion of water poses threats to the wetlands in the future. Levees built along the river eliminate or narrow the river’s floodplain and disconnect wetlands from over-bank flows. Wetlands along the Lower Platte will face continued threats of stream-bank stabilization, and urban expansion and associated disturbances, especially considering their proximity to Omaha, Fremont, and Columbus. 

Functions and Values

The wetlands and associated habitats along the Lower Platte River provide important migrational habitat for a variety of waterfowl and nesting habitat for wood ducks. Up to 60 threatened bald eagles have wintered along the Lower Platte in recent years, and several productive nests have been confirmed. The endangered least tern and threatened piping plover nest on sandbars and sand pits along the river. The Lower Platte has been designated as critical habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the piping plover. Shorebird surveys conducted on the lower Platte from 2000-2002 have documented 21 species using the Lower Platte. Several great-blue heron rookeries are also located along the Lower Platte. The endangered pallid sturgeon, the state-endangered sturgeon chub and state-threatened lake sturgeon are also found near the mouth of the  Platte River. Wetlands along the river help to attenuate flood flows and also filter the water, removing some pollutants. Additionally, numerous towns, including the cities of Omaha and Lincoln, pump municipal water from wells that receive recharge from this stretch of river. The Lower Platte receives very intensive recreational use since it is within 50 miles of over 60% of the state’s population. Waterfowl and deer hunting, fishing, and boating occur on this reach (Anderson et al. 1989). State parks and recreation areas along the Lower Platte receive a total of 3-4 million visits annually.

Select Public Use Areas

http://mapserver.ngpc.state.ne.us/website/gpc_land/viewer.htm. C Louisville State Recreation Area, 1 mi. W. of Louisville, Cass Co. C Platte River State Park, 1 mi. S. and 2 mi. W. of Louisville, Cass Co. C Schramm State Recreation Area, 8 mi. S. of Gretna, Sarpy Co. C Mahoney State Park, 1 mi. S. and 2 mi. E. of Ashland, Cass Co. C Two Rivers State Recreation Area, 4 mi. S. and 3 mi. E. of Waterloo, Douglas Co.
C Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area, 1 mi. W. of Fremont, Dodge Co. C Bramble WMA, 2 mi. E. and 2.5 mi. N. of Cedar Bluff, Saunders Co. C Whitetail WMA, 1 mi. W. and 2 mi. S. of Schuyler, Colfax Co.


Conservation Programs and Contacts

A wide variety of organizations and agencies have programs that address wetland conservation issues on the Platte River. Contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, P.O. Box 30370, Lincoln, NE 68503 (402) 471-5422, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 203 W. 2nd Street, Federal Bldg., Grand Island NE 68801, (308) 382-6468. http://www.lowerplatte.org/. Other contacts include the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission District Office in Lincoln (402) 471-5561 or Norfolk (402) 370-3374.


Missouri River Profile

In Nebraska, the Missouri River floodplain harbors a collection of riverine and marsh-like wetlands that follow the state line from eastern Boyd County downstream to the southeast corner of the state in Richardson County. Prior to the 1930s, the Missouri was a wild, natural river that supported a tremendous number and diversity of fish and wildlife. The river was described as occupying a sandy channel that flowed between easily erodible banks 1,500 feet to over one mile apart with braided, sinuous channels twisting among sheltered backwaters, sloughs, chutes, oxbows, gravel bars, sandbars, mudflats, snags, alluvial islands, deep pools, marshland, and shallow water areas
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1980). The character of the Missouri was drastically altered between 1930 and 1970 as channelization and mainstem dams caused the river channel to narrow and deepen and associated floodplain wetlands to wither and disappear. Upstream from Ponca, the river has remained mostly unchannelized and numerous islands and wetlands remain, although diminished from pre-dam conditions. Within the downstream channelized reach, the riverbed is degrading from near Sioux City to where the Platte River joins the Missouri near the town of Plattsmouth. The bed is stable or aggrading downstream from Plattsmouth.

Loss and Threats

About 100,300 acres of aquatic habitats and 65,300 acres of islands and sandbars have been converted to dry-land or navigation channel between Sioux City, Iowa, and the river’s confluence with the Mississippi River (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1980). Within Nebraska, losses were estimated at 18,200 acres of aquatic habitat and 18,700 acres of islands and sandbars. Channelization, along with the flood protection provided by mainstem and tributary reservoirs, has fostered agricultural, urban, and industrial encroachment on 95% of the floodplain (Hesse et al. 1989). The six, huge mainstem dams in the Dakotas and Montana have had measurable influences on water quality, quantity, and timing along the Missouri River. The release of relatively silt-free waters from Gavins Point, the lowermost dam in the system, is contributing to riverbed degradation taking place from below the dam to about Plattsmouth (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1980). Riverbed degradation causes adjacent wetlands to become abnormally dry and isolates backwater areas from the main channel. In addition, control of the release of water from the dams has reduced the flood pulse that helps to maintain floodplain wetlands. Missouri River wetlands were given a priority 1 ranking (due to very extensive past losses) in the Nebraska Wetlands Priority Plan (Gersib 1991). The Missouri River is a wetland complex where most of the destruction and degradation has already occurred. Categories of greatest threat along the Missouri River appear to be riverbed degradation, residential, agricultural and commercial development, transportation, navigation maintenance projects, water pollution, water development projects, streambank stabilization, agricultural conversion, and drainage and filling. These factors have had a cumulative effect on river functions by isolating the floodplain from the river and reducing the natural dynamics. Purple loosestrife has become well established in the upper reaches of the Missouri River near Niobrara, Nebraska. Purple loosestrife’s rapid expansion into the backwater areas of Lewis and Clark Lake is a threat to native plants all along the river.

Functions and Values

The Missouri River, like many natural systems, is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The interactions between the different parts (e.g., wetlands, organic matter, sandbars, tree falls, side channels, etc.) form a complex interrelated system. Wetlands are an important component of this system because they produce invertebrates and other organic matter that provide energy and food to other parts of the river. Additionally, these wetlands provide spawning and nursery areas for many different types of fish, and a home for numerous wildlife species.  Several state and federally listed threatened and endangered species regularly use the Missouri River in Nebraska. The threatened bald eagle uses the river as migrational and wintering habitat, with wintering populations averaging 438 since 1990. Additionally, many bald eagle nests have been discovered along the Missouri with 5 nests on the NE side of the river being productive Peregrine falcons nest in Omaha and rely on the Missouri River corridor for food. The endangered interior least tern and threatened piping plover nest on unvegetated sandbars in the unchannelized reach of the river, a habitat type which has been eliminated downstream from Sioux City. The recovery plans for both the piping plover (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1988) and the interior least tern (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1990) include Missouri River nesting habitat as being essential to the recovery of these species. The unchannelized portion of the Missouri has been designated as critical habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the piping plover. Several fish species in the river are in severe decline including the federally endangered pallid sturgeon, state endangered sturgeon chub, state threatened lake sturgeon, and the sicklefin chub which is a candidate endangered/threatened species. Before channelization changed the character of the Missouri River, the area was very important migration habitat for ducks, geese, swans, pelicans, and shorebirds (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1980; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1978). Large populations of wood ducks once nested in the river corridor along with smaller numbers of blue-winged teal, gadwalls, and mallards. Wood ducks still nest along the river where adequate habitat remains. Although of diminished quality, the Missouri River still provides migration habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds, especially in the unchannelized reach. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska and Iowa focuses on providing migrational habitat for waterfowl and often holds a peak fall snow goose population of 500,000 birds. Over 300 species of birds and numerous mammals use the Missouri River and associated habitats. One hundred and sixty-one species of birds likely breed in the region (Mollhoff, 2001). Nearly 8,000 raptors of eighteen species were observed migrating past Hitchcock Nature Center south of Omaha during the fall of 2001. Loss of wetland habitats has caused decreases of wetland mammals such as beaver, muskrat, and the river otter, a state threatened species. A significant spawning area for paddlefish and sauger still exists in the Missouri River along the South Dakota-Nebraska state line. Backwaters along the Platte and Missouri rivers also provide important nursery areas for sport and forage fish; however channelization of the Missouri River and the reduction of sandbars and slack-water habitats have adversely affected the fishery in Nebraska (Funk and Robinson 1974; Schainost 1976).  Channelization, loss of wetlands, and extensive development of the floodplain have reduced the natural flood-carrying capacity of the Missouri River system. As a result, flood stages in receiving waters (e.g., the Mississippi River) have increased as was evidenced by the severe 1993 floods (Galloway 1994). The Missouri River in Boyd and Knox counties has been included in the National Park Service’s Nationwide Rivers Inventory, in part due to outstanding fish and wildlife values (National Park Service 1982). The Missouri River from the Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota to just downstream from Niobrara, Nebraska, and from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota to Ponca State Park near Ponca, Nebraska is a Wild and Scenic River identified as the Missouri National Recreational River. Commercial fishing currently exists on the Missouri River for rough fish (primarily carp and buffalo). Outdoor recreation, from boating and fishing to camping and hunting, is important along the entire Missouri River in Nebraska. However, recreational use likely is much lower than its potential due to the reduction in fish and wildlife habitats in the channelized reach (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1980). In spite of this, a 1992 survey by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission indicated that the Missouri provided total annual public recreation use estimated to be 28,750,226 person-hours, and total annual private use was estimated to be 50,328,300 person-hours (Hesse et al. 1993). The total recreation related expenditure was estimated at $364 million. Several state parks and recreation areas along the Missouri River, including Indian Cave State Park, Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area, Ponca State Park, and Niobrara State Park, each receive well over 100,000 visitors per year.

Select Public Use Areas

http://mapserver.ngpc.state.ne.us/website/gpc_land/viewer.htm. http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/refuges/ne/. C Indian Cave State Park, 13 mi. N. of Falls City, Richardson Co. C Hamburg Bend, 3 mi. S. and 5 mi. E. of Nebraska City, Otoe Co. C William Gilmour Memorial WMA, 1 mi. S. and 1 mi. E. of Plattsmouth, Cass Co. C Randall W. Shilling WMA, Northeast edge of Plattsmouth. Cass Co. C Gifford Point/Fontenelle Forest, Bellevue, Sarpy Co. C Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge, 3 mi. E. of Ft. Calhoun, Washington Co. C DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, 3 mi. E. of Blair, Washington Co. C Blackbird/Tieville/Decatur Bend WMAs, ½ mi. E. of Decatur, Burt Co. C Ponca State Park, 2 mi. N. of Ponca, Dixon Co. C Niobrara State Park/Bazile Creek WMA, adjacent to Niobrara, Knox Co.

Conservation Programs and Contacts

A wide variety of programs are in place that attempt to restore flows and habitat to the Missouri River. Contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, P.O. Box 30370, Lincoln, NE 68503 (402) 471-5561 or the Norfolk office at (402) 370-3374. Missouri National Recreational River- The National Park Service manages the National Recreation River which is a component of the Wild and Scenic River System. The designated areas include the Missouri River from the Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota to just downstream from Niobrara, Nebraska, and from Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota to Ponca State Park near Ponca, Nebraska, the lower 20 miles of the Niobrara River and lower 8 miles of Verdigre Creek. Contact: National Park Service, P.O. Box 591, O’Neill, NE 68763, (402) 336­3970.


Elkhorn River Profile

The Elkhorn River arises out of the eastern Sandhills and joins with the Platte River just west of Omaha. The Elkhorn contains numerous sandbars and side channels, similar in some ways to the Platte River. Numerous wetlands are associated with the floodplain of the Elkhorn River. Most of these wetlands are oxbows, occurring in former channels of the river that were left isolated as the river changed its course. These wetlands range from permanent lakes to temporarily-flooded meadow areas.

Loss and Threats

The wetlands along the Elkhorn River appear to have been less impacted by drainage and diversion than those along the Platte River and many other Nebraska rivers. However, some drainage and filling have occurred, and the remaining wetlands are threatened by continued conversion, sand and gravel mining, potential diversions of river water, sedimentation from surrounding cropland, bank stabilization, and channel straightening.

Functions and Values

The Elkhorn River and its associated wetlands provide habitat for endangered least terns and threatened piping plovers, especially in the vicinity of sand pit sites that provide nesting substrate. The threatened bald eagle uses the Elkhorn for wintering, migration, and nesting. Several nests have been built and two of these have been productive. Numerous wading birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl, especially wood ducks, also use the Elkhorn and its associated wetlands. Being associated with the river’s floodplain, the wetlands of this complex play a valuable role in maintaining the natural functions and dynamics of the river system. These functions include filtering the water, attenuating flood peaks, and providing water to the river during periods of low flows. The Elkhorn River provides significant recreation because of its proximity to the towns of O’Neill, Norfork, Fremont, and Omaha.

Select Public Use Areas

http://mapserver.ngpc.state.ne.us/website/gpc_land/viewer.htm. C Powder Horn WMA/Dead Timber SRA, 1 mi. W. and 3 mi. N. of Scribner, Dodge Co. C Black Island WMA, 2 mi. E. of Pilger, Cuming Co. C Wood Duck WMA, 2 mi. S and 4 mi. W. of Stanton, Stanton Co. C Hackberry Creek WMA, 2 mi. E. and ½ mi. N. of Clearwater, Antelope Co. C Dry Creek WMA, 2 mi. SE of O’Neill, Holt Co.


Conservation Programs and Contacts

Contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission District Office in Norfolk (402) 370-3374.


Niobrara River Profile

The Niobrara River flows across northern Nebraska from Sioux to Knox County. A variety of floodplain wetlands are associated with the Niobrara River, and receive water from the river and the numerous springs located along the canyon walls of the river valley. The Niobrara River is a scenic treasure in the State of Nebraska and provides a unique mix of northern, western, and eastern plant communities. A portion of the river downstream from Valentine has been designated as a National Scenic River and the lower 20 miles a National Recreation River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. 

Loss and Threats

The wetlands located along the Niobrara have not been greatly altered by human activities. Some small dams have been put in place, but most of the river flows naturally. The river was threatened by a large diversion dam being considered in the vicinity of the town of Norden. That particular project was dropped and future projects are precluded by Scenic River designation. Purple loosetrife has spread along the Niobrara and constitutes a threat because it is of little value to wildlife and it out-competes desirable native wetland plants.

Functions and Values

The Niobrara River and its associated wetlands provide important habitat for over 250 bird species. Threatened bald eagles use the Niobrara during migration, and wintering concentrations of eagles have ranged from 35 to 150. Two productive bald eagle nest sites have been located but it is felt that there are as many as 10 nesting sites along the lower 120 miles of river. Endangered whooping cranes stop along the Niobrara River during migration. Endangered least terns and threatened piping plovers nest on unvegetated sandbars on the Niobrara. The river from it’s mouth, upstream to near the Norden bridge has been designated as critical habitat for the piping plover. The region also hosts concentrations of migrating and wintering waterfowl and nesting colonies of wading birds such as great blue herons and double-crested cormorants  Being associated with the river’s floodplain, the wetlands of this complex play a valuable role in maintaining the natural functions and dynamics of the river system. These functions include filtering the water, attenuating flood peaks, and sustaining the river during periods of low flows. In recent years, tourism related to the river has greatly increased. On the Ft. Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge alone, nearly 25,000 people per year launch canoes or inner-tubes to float the Niobrara. 

Select Public Use Areas
http://mapserver.ngpc.state.ne.us/website/gpc_land/viewer.htm. http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/refuges/ne/. C Niobrara State Park, 1 mi. W. of Niobrara, Knox Co. C Fred Thomas WMA, 10 mi. N. of Bassett, Rock Co. C Smith Falls State Park, 18 mi. E. of Valentine, Cherry Co. C Ft. Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, 3 mi. E. of Valentine, Cherry Co.
• Borman Bridge WMA, 2 mi. SE of Valentine, Cherry Co. C Agate Fossil Bed National Monument, 22 mi. S. of Harrison, Sioux Co.

Conservation Programs and Contacts

Niobrara National Scenic River - The National Park Service manages a total of 76 miles of the Niobrara as a National Scenic River. Contact: the National Park Service, P.O. Box 591, O’Neill, NE 68763, (402) 336-3970, or the Niobrara Council, 111 E. 3rd St., Valentine, NE 69201, (402) 376-2793. Other contacts include Ft. Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Box 67, Valentine, NE 69201, (402) 376-3789, and the Niobrara Valley Preserve, The Nature Conservancy, Box 348, Johnstown, NE 69214, (402) 722-4440. http://www.nps.gov/niob/index.htm. http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/nebraska/. Other contacts include the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission District Office in Bassett (402) 684-2921.

 

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State of NebraskaOFFICIAL STATE OF NEBRASKA WEBSITE -
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