A Monthly Publication of the Nebraska Environmental Trust

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Pete Ricketts, Governor

Board of Trustees

District I
District II
District III

Agency Directors

Trust Staff

June 2015

In This Issue:

  1. Executive Director Corner
  2. Update from Funding Categories Roundtable Meetings
  3. 2015 Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition Summer Grazing Tour
  4. The Crane Trust's Trail and Bison Project - Brice Krohn, Senior Director, The Crane Trust
  5. Trout in The Classroom - Victoria Mullins, Aquatics Educator
  6. Upcoming Events


Executive Director Corner

We held our category roundtable meetings on June 5, 11 and 15, and now we’ll work on getting the notes out to those that attended and anyone else that asks for a copy.  The information will be discussed at our July 13th board meeting in Nebraska City and the board will decide if they wish to hold a public meeting to make changes in the categories or the category descriptions.  Stay tuned.

I recently attended the 2015 Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition Summer Grazing Tour in Webster County.  Board member, Rod Christen from Steinauer, also participated in the tour.  You can read more about the tour below.

The weather continues to be full of surprises, not only in Nebraska, but across the country and even the world, from drought in California to floods in Texas.  Even here in Nebraska we saw record late snows in the northwest (22 inches), recent floods and high water in the Scottsbluff area, the wettest May every recorded in Lincoln (broke the old record established in 1903) and everything from hail to tornadoes in various locations.  The large flows in the South Platte combined with above normal flows in the North Platte River set up bank to bank flows in both and where they joined at North Platte was impressive to see recently.  Full channels and out-of-bank flows around Grand Island are still present.  It makes you wonder if the record setting precipitation will continue past mid-June or if things are about to change and begin to dry up.  I guess we will have to wait and see.   

Enjoy the summer.

Mark Brohman
Executive Director  


Update From Funding Categories Roundtable Meetings

The Nebraska Environmental Trust organized its 2015 Categories Roundtable Meetings. Grantees, partners and interested members of the public attended the meeting to let their voices be heard in suggesting new categories of funding for the Trust and/or revising the existing ones.

The three meetings in North Platte, Omaha and Lincoln were well attended by a diverse group that brought a lot of ideas to the table to be considered by the Trust Board. The Trust is currently compiling all submissions to be presented to the Board at the 3rd Quarter July Board meeting. The Board will consider all suggestions.


Participants at the 2015 Lincoln Roundtable


2015 Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition Summer Grazing Tour

The 2015 Grazing Tour sponsored by the Nebraska Cattlemen, the University of Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Environmental Trust was held in Webster County on June 16, 2015.  A group of over one hundred cattle producers and interested parties took part in the tour.  The first stop on the tour was at Jim and Betty Choquette’s ranch near Upland where Jim described how they have effectively grazed native range and used cover crops.  He was very proud of how he had rehabilitated some of his range over the years.  He showed off some of his hand-built portable tanks and water lines.

The group visited Green Cover Seed’s demonstration plots of cool and warm season cover crops and learned of the various species' properties including value as a food source, ability to fix nitrogen, the time to plant them as well as the method of planting them.  The site was just on the outskirts of Bladen.  Various species were dug up to allow everyone to see the root structure of the plants, to give everyone an idea of what was below the surface, as well as above ground.

During lunch there were two Nebraska cover crop grazers (Lanny Greenhalgh of Guide Rock and Wayne Rasmussen of Plainview) that gave information about their operations.  The group then traveled to the 468-acre Jensen Waterfowl Production Area to learn how the US Fish and Wildlife Service uses prescribed fire, grazing, mechanical tree clearing, haying and chemicals to manage the wetlands and surrounding uplands and hear from the local producer that runs cattle on the property.

The last stop of the day was at the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie just south of Red Cloud before you cross into Kansas.  The 612 acre virgin prairie was originally purchased by the Nature Conservancy, but is now operated by the Willa Cather Foundation.  Members of the Willa Cather Prairie Committee were present to tell about the current management practices that include grazing, fire and mechanical clearing of trees.


The Crane Trust's Trail and Bison Project - Brice Krohn, Senior Director, The Crane Trust

Project Vision
The Crane Trust’s Platte River Discovery Trail & Bison Project will serve as a valued community resource to attract and permit visitors and students of all ages to experience 1) the essence of the Big Bend region of the Platte River Valley, 2) the worldwide significance of this unique ecosystem in providing vital habitat for America’s endangered whooping crane and more abundant sandhill cranes and other water birds throughout their migrations, and 3) the vital role of conservation in protecting and maintaining that habitat with its associated landforms, wildlife and vegetation for future generations to enjoy.  


The Crane Trust Bison herd grazing along Platte River

A Natural Opportunity 
The unique habitat along the Platte River is home to one of the greatest wildlife phenomena in North America—the spring migration of sandhill cranes. And while the cranes depart for their breeding grounds to the north in April, the beauty and wonder of the land that draws them here in the first place remains. The Crane Trust’s Platte River Discovery Trail & Bison Project is designed to build on this spectacular wildlife event by creating a year-round, must-stop destination and conservation center for visitors.

How? By creating a highly visible, world-class platform and resource for outdoor learning and eco-tourism on the Platte. Nature enthusiasts, eco-tourists, educators and students of all ages will find a welcome home to experience this extraordinary ecosystem up close and in person as revealed by the Platte River Discovery Trail & Bison Project.  

At the heart of the project is an open system of nature trails, trailside exhibits and interpretation displays designed to capture the public’s imagination through vivid presentations, engaging exhibits and enriching interaction. The trail system will be layered in content and in length to permit visitors and educators/students to manage their experience based on their goals, interests, abilities and time. The experience can be self-paced or self-directed, utilized through trailside exhibits, or it can be guided by outside instruction and curriculum for a more structured experience.   

A Welcome Home for Friends and Nature
As the Crane Trust’s gateway to Nebraska’s Platte River Valley, the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center is uniquely positioned to develop this natural resource by building on its existing system of hiking trails along the Platte River. Through greater awareness and understanding of this vital ecosystem, the Platte River Discovery Trail & Bison Project will focus on the natural wonder and ecology of the region and, in turn, will foster greater appreciation and support for its conservation.

Core Elements of Exploration and Discovery

  • Habitat Diversity and Identification: Riverine, wetland meadows, riparian, and tall/mixed grass prairies
  • Habitat Management Principles/Practices: River clearing and restoration, invasive species removal, prairie restoration and maintenance (grazing, prescribed burning, resting and re-seeding)
  • Plant Identification and Diversity: Native and invasive species and their importance/impact on the ecosystem
  • Wildlife Identification and Diversity: Small/large mammals, birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles and their importance/impacts on the ecosystem
  • Natural/Human Cycles/Dynamism: Natural and human forces that define and influence this unique ecosystem—fire, flooding, grazing, agriculture, temperature, precipitation, ground and surface water utilization, hydrology, soil types, etc.
  • Natural and Cultural Heritage: Major events (natural and man-made) and their impacts on the land and its people as the country and the region developed
  • Water. Water. Water: Utilization of ground and surface water in and around the Platte River and the effects and benefits on people, wildlife, fish and vital habitat for the region

Outline of Key Project Areas and Features

Nature and Visitor Building
The Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center is an integral part of the overall trail complex, giving trail-users an opportunity to ask questions of Crane Trust staff and explore key principles and processes that they’ll encounter along the prairie trail.  The interpretive displays on this “inside trail”, in combination with the Crane Trust visitor services and outreach staff and volunteers, provide year round support to visitorsThe building is handicapped accessible from the parking area, throughout the building and continuing through the north bridge, while a hardened surface connects the walking trail to the south bridge, allowing all visitors to experience the magnificence of the Platte River and prairies.

The Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center was further developed to provide a more effective “runway” for the overall trail experience.  Inside the Nature and Visitor Center, the Crane Trust added a number of important informational assets to depict the major ecological processes, habitats and conservation principles that visitors encounter along the trail.  These new assets include two large touch-screen displays, larger-than-life wall murals depicting the areas ecology, and an indoor/outdoor sound system to greet visitors with pre-recorded bird and wildlife sounds as they approach and depart the center.

Importantly, many of these features were made possible with generous support from a number of project donors, including NET, Renze Display, Mangelsen Images of Nature, and other private donors.

Orientation Plaza
A small gathering place and orientation plaza is being developed just outside of the building to mark the trailhead and provide an effective transition from the interior displays to the trail system. This area will include two interpretive exhibits: one to introduce the trail system, with overarching themes, and the other with a map of the system itself. The space will contain some seating to accommodate visitors waiting for others in their party to complete their viewing of indoor exhibits and join them outdoors or to complete their outdoor trail experience and regroup before re-entering the Center.

Prairie Trail to the River
The primary trail runs from the orientation plaza south to the north bridge. The primary use areas and exhibits along this section of trail include the bison exhibit, observation tower on the river, and sandbar overlook.

1) Pollinator Garden
The pollinator garden is located in the lawn and picnic area adjacent to the orientation plaza and greets visitors as they begin their outdoor trail experience.  The garden features native wild flowers, plants and grasses to attract and provide food and shelter for many pollinator species.  The garden also features a walkway for visitors to explore and study the variety of native plants and insects and their important roles to the area’s ecology.  Plants throughout the garden are currently being marked and identified to help aid discussions and interconnectedness of their ecological significance.

2) Bison Exhibits
A portion of the Crane Trust’s bison exhibition herd is located in a paddock just north of the Platte River channel, near the existing observation tower. An interpretive station will be located near existing shade trees, with bench seating and interpretive display panels. The interpretive displays will show the original range of bison across North America and how settlement has diminished that range. They will also highlight the bison’s role as the area’s dominant grazing animal in shaping and sustaining its unique habitat—and the importance of periodic grazing as part of a comprehensive habitat management plan.

The Crane Trust’s new herd of 52 pure bison will be grazing throughout the Shoemaker Island Nature Center pasture at different times of the year and will be able to be seen by visitors using the expanded trail system, which now boasts more than 8.5 miles of trails along and throughout the river, adjacent prairie, sloughs and wet meadows.   With a generous donation, our fences are now located more than 90 feet inward from our property boundaries, giving a beautiful view of the prairie system, while having more opportunity to roam while the bison are actively managing the prairie.

A six-foot tall wooden fence is currently being added along the west side of trail adjacent to the north bison enclosure, screening the adjacent feedlot and allowing more area to be used for future outreach. The fence is designed with offsets every few sections to provide visual relief and interest. Groupings of native and adaptive shrubs are being planted and labeled to further soften the structure’s appearance and enhance the outdoor experience. A section of the fence is going to be used to recognize donors and other contributors who helped make the trail possible.  

3) River Observation Tower
The existing 30’ viewing tower on the river allows for scenic views over portions of the prairie trail system, the Platte River’s north channel and Shoemaker Island.

4) North Bridge Overlook
The north bridge is the desired destination for people making a 30-minute visit to the Center. A wayside interpretive display panel is being added to the existing deck to explain the dynamic nature of the Platte River with its multiple channels, varying water levels and ever-changing series of sandbars, which provide critical roosting habitat for cranes and other water birds throughout the Platte River system.

Prairie Loop Trails
One of the enticements to hike on Shoemaker Island is the opportunity to experience over 8.5 miles of trails throughout the river, sloughs and wet meadows that the prairie has to offer with ever-changing views that Mother Nature continually creates and influences.  The trails will be mowed to mark certain routes, along with multiple interpretive signs placed throughout the trail system at different times of year to explain location, management strategies and/or specific wildlife using the prairie.

Project History
The Crane Trust’s Platte River Discovery Trail and Bison Project was conceived in 2011 as a logical extension of the existing system of hiking trails developed by Crane Meadows and subsequently maintained by the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center. In April 2012, the Crane Trust received funding/authorization for a three-year grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to support the development of the new discovery trail ($156,000). This grant, along with support from the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, Hastings College, and other private donors, has allowed the project to proceed.

The first stage of the American bison herd exhibit was constructed and stocked in early June 2012 with four young bison. An Omaha-based firm was selected in the summer 2012 to assist in the drafting of a Master Plan to guide the project’s development. The draft plan was completed in late February 2013.  The project is being developed incrementally over a multi-year period as funding becomes available for the different elements. 

The Crane Trust is working with several different professionals at this time to complete ongoing projects with an anticipated completion date of June 30th, 2015.  Please visit our website or call the Nature and Visitor Center building for more information.   


Trout in The Classroom - Victoria Mullins, Aquatics Educator

Trout in the Classroom (TIC) is a conservation-oriented environmental education program for elementary through high school students. Throughout the school year, students raise rainbow trout from eggs to fry and then release them in the canyon ponds of Aksarben Aquarium in Gretna, NE. The act of raising, monitoring, and caring for young trout fosters a conservation ethic and promotes an understanding of their shared water resources. From the time that the eggs hatch, the students are involved in every step of the trout raising process. Students are responsible for cleaning and changing tank water, testing water quality, and feeding the fish.


Photo credits: “NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission”.

This past season, the TIC program had twenty-four classrooms rearing trout across the state from Lincoln to Crawford, with many schools in between. The list of lessons to be learned from raising trout in a classroom is endless. Aside from the obvious scientific ties to cell division, life cycles and aquatic ecosystems, the Trout in the Classroom program provides a learning platform for disciplines across the board. Many classrooms journal about the trout development, draw the various life stages, calculate mortality rates and estimate hatching dates based on water temperature. The rainbow trout have quickly proven themselves as invaluable learning tools for teachers.

During the 2014/2015 school year, approximately 950 students had hands-on learning experiences with trout both in and out of their classroom. This spring, students and teachers attended a Trout Release Day, which was the culminating event for the TIC season. Participating schools in the eastern part of the state traveled to Aksarben Aquarium to take part in a release day, while schools in the western part of the state travelled to Lake Ogallala for a field trip. In total, ten release days were held and approximately 1,000 rainbow trout were released. During Trout Release Days, students learned about aquatic macroinvertebrates, fly fishing and fly tying, basic fishing, and fish anatomy.  While the program has received only compliments and praises from teachers, students and parents, the real accomplishments will manifest when the students become future policy makers, anglers, and parents and share their sense of stewardship.


Upcoming Events

- July 13-14, 2015 (Monday - Tuesday) - 3rd Quarter Board meeting, Lied Lodge, Nebraska City

- August 7, 2015 (Friday) - Lancaster County Fair - Go Green Day, Lancaster Event Center, Lincoln

- August 28 - September 7, 2015 - Nebraska State Fair

- September 29, 2015 - Nature Palooza, School of Natural Resources, UNL


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