Landowner interest was key to brining funds to the central sand hills for a grassland restoration initiative.
A Private Stewardship Grant of $44,520 will allow the Sandhills Task Force to work with property owners along the Calamus, North Loup, Middle Loup and Dismal Rivers. The area is in Blaine, Hooker, Loup and Thomas Counties.
"Invasive eastern red cedar will be removed and grazing management altered to improve habitat for long-billed curlew, short-eared owl and the threatened western prairie fringed orchid," said the grant award summary. Awards were announced in May, 2007 with the grant a 5-year agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Sandhills Task Force.
The landowner contact efforts of the task force were especially helpful.
"There is a list of individuals who have contacted the Service," said Gene Mack, with the Fish and Wildlife Service, and a member of the sandhills' group. The grant was submitted "primarily to improve the grassland landscape" and benefit "common and rare grassland species," Mack said in an email. "Large infestations of cedar are not beneficial to sustaining a native grassland and its associated wildlife."
Reasons for the grant being selected from among many national proposals, explained Heather Johnson, with the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in a regional office of the Fish and Wildlife Service, include:
- "identified specific landowners that would receive the funds through the Sandhills Task Force,
- "had solid match requirements,
- "were benefiting a suite of at-risk species, and
- "and had a solid habitat restoration/enhancement implementation plan to benefit key species."
"Removal of cedar trees will benefit key species such as the Savannah Sparrow, Short-eared Owl, Long-billed Curlew, Ferruginous Hawk, Whooping Crane, Trumpeter Swan, Bald Eagle and Bell's Vireo, all identified within the grant application," she said in an email.
"The Service recognizes native grassland as an ecosystem that has been greatly altered over many decades and the wildlife associated with grassland is facing dramatic declines," Mack said. "Large infestations of cedar are not beneficial to sustaining a native grassland and its associated wildlife." Cedar tree growth can also confine water flows to smaller channels and limit the flow into side channels or backwater areas.
Funds of the federal program were obligated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Most projects that were funded for FY 2007 are expected to get underway next spring.
There is no funding for this program in the FY 2008 budget, according to a FWS official.