Fort Report: The River

Oct 27, 2017
Fort Report

Along a reach of the Missouri River north of Tekamah, Nebraska is a place called Pelican Point.  As Lewis and Clark passed through the area in 1804, a concentration of pelicans caught the fabled explorers’ attention, and the name is with us today.  I saw a flock fly overhead as I was navigating our flat-bottom boat back to the landing.

The trip was organized by Nebraska Game and Parks for a review of a project to restore fishery habitat along the channel.  Out on the water, there was a peculiar site--a triangular yellow sign planted on a newly formed sandbar about 50 yards from shore.  I couldn't quite read it.  It was too far from where our boat could navigate.  I learned what it meant though.  Someone had staked a claim for duck hunting rights on what is likely to be an opportune spot!

This decades-long reclamation project has produced newly flat, shallow, slow-moving water—which fish need to feed and breed—along a navigable stretch of the Missouri River. Known as Deer Island, the project is a coordinated effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Nebraska Game and Parks to increase the variety of species, including the ancient Pallid Sturgeon, which became a newsworthy and federally-funded focus because of its endangered status. The developing sandbars are evidence of the multiple benefits which can accrue to wildlife and communities from innovative conservation efforts. 

I will soon introduce the Recovering America's Wildlife Act. This bipartisan bill uses existing mineral and energy revenues from federal lands to fund state wildlife conservation and restoration programs and other appropriate purposes, per federally-mandated State Wildlife Action Plans.  The bill will better enable the protection of unique places across the country.

In addition to Deer Island, there are 38 landscapes specific to Nebraska that might warrant protection, including diverse places like Indian Cave, Ponca Bluffs, and the Wildcat Hills.  Successful past efforts have saved species on the brink, including striped bass, white-tailed deer, and our national symbol, the bald eagle.  All amazing conservation success stories.

By creating continuity of habitat for wildlife, and effectively integrating multiple use opportunity, we are hoping to achieve a wiser, cost-effective governmental approach.  According to the National Wildlife Federation, “State fish and wildlife agencies have identified roughly 8,000 species in need of proactive conservation efforts in the United States, and the number of species petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act has increased by 1,000 percent in less than a decade.” When a species officially becomes “endangered,” it triggers a host of costly federal responses, many of which involve the court system, thereby tying up the political space for years and inhibiting beneficial uses of the habitat for the community. Why not be smarter about this?  

By working constructively with landowners, we can prevent habitat and wildlife from getting to the cusp of being lost in the first place. This gentler, more holistic approach will help at-risk species before they require the expensive, restrictive “emergency room” measures required by the Endangered Species Act.  For years, the state of Nebraska has been a pioneer in promoting collaborative partnerships with farmers and other landowners who want to achieve these goals.  The Recovering America's Wildlife Act could prove to be a powerful new tool to connect careful resource extraction with prudent resource recovery.

According to their oral history, the Omaha tribe have lived here for over 400 years. Literally translated, “Omaha” means “upstream people.” By working a bit upstream with public policy, we can avoid the downstream hazards of urgent interventions, while preserving biologically unique landscapes for multiple benefits.  This generous approach means more hunting, more fishing, more trails--and more satisfaction as we steward the beautiful and unique landscapes and wildlife around us…for the next 400 years.