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Habitat Program to Benefit Bird-life Along the Missouri River in the
Tri-state, Nebraska Region
By Jim Ducey, Omaha

Big changes are underway for the Missouri River floodplain at many places
in eastern Nebraska, and the adjacent Iowa and Missouri. Various tracts are
being developed to mitigate for channelization that drastically altered the
historic Missouri river setting. Millions of dollars are being spent to buy
property and convert it to public fish and wildlife habitat. Project
activity dates back a decade, with planning back to the mid-1980s.

For the Omaha District of the Corps of Engineers (COE), the mitigation
program cost is $6 million in 2003 and about $10 mil. projected for fiscal
year 2004. Overall mitigation project spending was $73,039,000 from fiscal
year 1992 to 2002 for the Missouri River from St. Louis to Sioux City.
Funding for ancillary programs are provided by the Fish and Wildlife
Service, state agencies and the Corps of Engineer's section 1135 program
that provides cost-share options. Through the Natural Resources
Conservation Service, there are Wetland Reserve Program easements which
allow the conversion of crop ground to wetlands.

The first step in the mitigation process is to determine sites with the
potential of aquatic habitat restoration. Landowners are contacted, and
property purchased from willing sellers. The average cost per acre is about
$1,200 or up to $1,800 for crop-ground, said Michael "Mick" Sandine,
Natural Resources manager. There are three primary goals: 1) establish an
aquatic connection to the river or backwater, 2) promote shallow water
habitat by erosion activity on the channel banks, and 3) establishing
terrestrial habitats.

The goal has been to buy about 2500 acres per year. COE retains ownership
of the tracts, but after site preparation, the tracts are licensed to the
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission or Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Tracts along the river east of Nebraska in Missouri, are developed by the
Kansas City District and licensed to the Missouri Department of
Conservation. The state agencies are then responsible for day-to-day
management. Efforts are obviously made to consolidate parcels into hundreds
of acres to provide a larger scale for management schemes.

Habitat settings include shallow water, usually a chute, floodplain
reconnected, wetland, prairie and bottomland hardwood habitat types,
according to the 2003 annual mitigation project report lists. There is the
natural growth woods of value. Each site has a distinct mix of habitats for
some fish and many birds.

The management and construction work underway at mitigation sites varies
year to year. Any plans are based on options developed at agency
coordinating meetings with representatives from the involved federal and
state agencies, and non-governmental groups.

During a recent visit to Langdon Bend, plans were made for corn food plots
to be planted in what is now a cool-season grassy tract. There has not been
a sufficient ingrowth of planted warm season grasses. A neighboring farmer
will plant and raise the crop, and keep his share. The government share
would be left as food for wild animals. This effort will have no cost to
the government.

Hamburg Bend was the first mitigation site in Nebraska, and its work
included a pumping station to provide a reliable source of river water to a
chute. Waterworks are varied. Earth work is used to configure suitable
chutes or to provide low spots that are seasonal habitat. A Corps report
describes restoration work for Deroin Bend, across from Indian Cave. A side
channel about 3 miles long was opened and native hardwood trees were
planted.

Wetland excavation work at Copeland Bend is being done at no cost to the
government, the contractor doing the work to get free fill dirt for use
elsewhere. Further north, California Bend has an opened side-channel and
backwater; so it is noted as "a fine wetland area for lots of different
waterfowl," it says in the project annual report.

A chevron is a new option being used to create riverine sandbar habitat.
These rock structures and somewhat shaped like a two-sided triangle (i.e., /
\) with the open end upriver. Sandbars are expected to form down river. The
installation of six of these on the inside bends north of the Peru boat
ramp, was just finished in November.

Ongoing low-cost options for terrestrial habitat work is creating a
distinct habitat mix on the bird-lands. Replanted grass-lands and attempts
at plant growth that did not work as intended may now be a dense stand of
willow shoots. A grassland planting at Tobacco Island has a tall growth of
cottonwoods that survived burning and could create a new area of cottonwood
forest in some years.

Creating a 30-acre tract of barren sand is being considered for Tieville
Bend, hopefully to provide nesting habitat for the Least Tern and Piping
Plover.

Since property acquisition started in the mid-1990s, these are the
projects - All open for public use - along the Nebraska stretch of the
Missouri river channel, starting south of Sioux City and ending near Rulo.
* Winnebago Bend, Woodbury IA - 1300
* Blackbird Bend, Monona IA - 1718
* Tieville Bend, Monona IA and Burt NE - 1105.19
* Upper Decatur Bend, Monona IA - 642.66
* Middle Decatur Bend, Burt NE - 1330.2
* Louisville Bend, Monona IA - 1095.45
* Soldier Bend, Harrison IA - 248.41
* California Bend, Harrison IA - 420
* Tobacco Island, Cass NE - 1603.63
* Noddleman Island, Mills IA - 1,231.72
* Auldon Bar, Harrison IA - 587.52
* Copeland Bend, Fremont IA - 2105.67
* Hamburg Bend, Otoe NE - 1544.08
* Lower Hamburg Bend, Atchison MO - 2265
* Kansas Bend, Nemaha NE - 1055.96
* Nishnabotna, Atchison MO - 1284
* Langdon Bend, Nemaha NE - 1,311.91
* Deroin Bend, Holt/Atchison MO - 1082
* Corning, Holt MO - 1662
* Thurnau, Holt MO - 1349
* Rush Bottom Bend, Holt MO - 811.2 acres

Total: ca. 25,750 acres (Most Nebraska and Iowa figures are current for
November 2003, with other acreages from the January 2003 implementation
report.)

There are several especially notable locales with a greater combination of
habitat features. The parcels start on the north portion of the Missouri
channel, about 20 river miles south of Sioux City.

Snyder and Winnebago bends are in southern Woodbury county, Iowa, and
Thurston county, over in Nebraska. Along the floodplain to the north is
Browns Lake state park. The Winnebago wetlands were part of a mitigation
project in the early 1970s, according to an ACE official.

Near the Nebraska town of Decatur are Blackbird-Tieville-Decatur bends. The
river bends about mile 690 include floodplain of the Iowa owned Upper and
the Middle Decatur Bend site with land across the river but in Nebraska and
our eastern neighbor. Blue Lake WMA and Lewis and Clark State park unit are
just a bit further east.

Boyer Chute and Nathans Lake are two mitigation sites, developed by the
Fish and Wildlife Service and Omaha-based Papio-Missouri NRD.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recently expanded its Plattsmouth
tract to the south, which includes the popular bird spot, Schilling WMA at
the celebrated mouth of the Platte river. Just a mile or two to the south
of the southern part of the area, is the northern tip of Tobacco Island
mitigation site that goes from a bit beyond river mile 585 to 590. To its
south end, and readily seen from nearby Queen Hill on the bluff, is
Noddleman Island, with a mitigation project site along river mile 583-585.

Another fine complex further down the languid river is at the three-corners
area, where Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska boundaries align. Four properties
align along nearly 20 miles of the river channel. At the line mark at are
Lower Hamburg Bend and Hamburg Bend sites. Adjoining sites a few miles
south, are at the confluence of the Nishnabotna, Kansas Bend and the
adjacent Peru Bottoms WMA - with hundreds of acres of former wetland
reserve farm ground - a site that was crops and is now formerly-cultivated
ground with a growth of weeds.

A very interesting bunch of restoration is underway in the river valley
vicinity of Indian Cave state park. Two projects across the river in
Missouri, to the east of the south portion of the Nebraska property, is the
Derion Bend conservation area and which abuts the Corning site near
waterway mile 515. Northward on the Nebraska side is Aspinall Bend WMA at
the mouth of the Little Nemaha River, and south of Langdon Bend east of
enduring Nemaha. The park vicinity has other mitigation possibilities. A
detailed, vivid and so interesting map at the COE project office on
Pershing Drive showed a proposed Hemmie Bend place southward, and then
north of the park and river birdlands, were options for Lincoln Bend and
then onward north to Morgan Bend.

To these, add a few more notable locales already on the Missouri side of
the river and a few short miles south. There is Thurnau state wildlife
area, and then, east of distant Rulo, is Rush Bottom Bend west of Big Lake
state park. Just to the east from there is the ever-interesting and
renowned bird haven, Squaw Creek NWR with its variety of habitats.

The days are gone when habitat was not considered, Sandine said. "The COE
will continue its efforts to make amends for habitat changes wrought by
development of the navigation channel. We are looking to get an additional
30,000 acres in the Omaha district." The project has authorization to
obtain 166,750 in the three state area, plus a bit of Kansas.

Changes being wrought to the riverine setting will continue, based on
further directives from Congress that will determine the mitigated
conditions river future. The focus will continue on opportunities to alter
conditions on the floodplain, and being successful in getting wild-land
habitat to provide wildlife and recreational opportunities, Sandine said.

The intent is clear on that big wall map at the Pershing Drive office. Its
colorful mosaic of present and potential federal mitigation sites and state
habitat tracts along the river would be a vast and nearly continual
wildland setting. Private conservation groups and lands owned by other
public entities can be added to the mix to provide a plethora of places for
outdoorists.

Locality maps, aerial photographs and further information is available on
the project web-site at nwo.usace.army.mil then to these options: 1)
recreation 2) visit lakes 3) Missouri river project 4) mitigation.

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