Cooperative partnerships continue to create a variety of habitat beneficial for fish and wildlife along the Missouri River in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.
Project results were dramatically evident during a look at projects at Middle Decatur Chute and Bullard Bend where wetland and shallow water habitat has been created from what had been upland habitat just a few months ago.
Middle Decatur Bend, southeast of Decatur, Burt County in Nebraska
This just completed project - designed to primarily benefit river fish - was carried out by the Nebraska office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE), and Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District (NRD). Additional funding was provided by the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
Officials at the project site.
View of the completed chute.
This project entailed the following, according to the NRCS: "The NRD purchased a 200' wide strip of land along the river where the COE conducted revetment lowering in an attempt to regain additional channel meandering by sloughing the slopes through normal river flow action. The NRCS obtained a perpetual easement – through the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP) - from the edge of this strip landward on an additional 98 acres. This is the area where the NRCS allowed the COE to construct the chute through a compatible use agreement. The new chute – a former river channel that had been filled with silt from a 1952 flood - is over one mile long and created an additional 20 plus acres of new aquatic habitat on the site. Activity allowed the old river channel to be reconnected to the river which will increase the use of the area by fisheries as well as aquatic, upland and threatened and endangered species. Water will be present for longer periods of time thus increasing the use of the area for shorebirds, migratory waterfowl and other wildlife species. Activity will increase the diversity of the site and improve the area creating biological/ecological benefits for both upland and wetland dependent species.
"In addition the NRD purchased 200' wide strips along the river downstream of this site from two other landowners and was donated another parcel from the Iowa DNR where additional bank sloughing was conducted by the COE along with another small chute that was constructed. In all approximately four river miles of bank had shallow water areas constructed adjacent to this site. The entire area encompasses about 900 acres of land under easement and fee title ownership that has been devoted entirely to wildlife habitat. Two other owners have WREP easements in this complex - one site being ca. 300 acres and the other being 118 acres. The remainder of the area is currently owned by the Papio Missouri River NRD."
Don Doty, Wetland Team Leader at the Syracuse NRCS Field Office, was especially pleased to see the completion of this project, as there had been about a dozen years of planning to get the project underway. The NRCS has been actively involved in projects along the Missouri River since 2004.
Western Contracting Corporation, of Sioux City, Iowa, did the dredging and site preparation work, which required removal of trees during the winter and early spring season, so no trees were removed from April 15 to July 15, to ensure compliance with provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The $1.3 million project was approved by ACE and NRCS officials at an on-site meeting and project review on August 14.
The chute will provide shallow water beneficial for the Pallid Sturgeon, according to Luke Wallace, a Corps' biologist. Other native fish including chubs, and the paddlefish are also expected to benefit. A sandy side-slope created on a newly created riverine island, may also provide nesting habitat for turtles, he said.
Bullard Bend, Harrison County in Iowa
Bullard Bend is a "cooperative project between the NRCS and the COE with funding from NRCS, COE and the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund in cooperation with the Papio-Missouri River NRD and The Nature Conservancy. The site under the WREP easement is 194 acres and the work consists of a backwater reconnection to the river that is approximately 5600' long and varies in width from 200 to 600 feet. There are several deeper areas of approximately 15' to help sustain the fishery throughout the year which also increases the potential use by threatened and endangered species due to water being present on the site for longer periods of time."
A dredge operating 24-hours-a-day since the first of April has been removing the sediment to create the backwater. Other heavy equipment is being used to move the earth to form the banks and create the setting detailed in project plans. The initial project effort was opening the river bank, done in October 2008. Big River Construction is the contractor for this project, planned to be completed by the end of September.
This tract is Iowa land on the western side of the river, and is accessible via land only from Nebraska because meanderings of the river mean the Iowa property is actually on the Nebraska side of the primary river channel, which is the obvious, though not legal boundary between the two states.
A project approval meeting is planned for later in August at the Tyson Bend Project, which is the third major project being completed this year in this section of the Missouri River.
"Cooperation among agencies is vital to get projects of this magnitude funded and completed," Doty said. "Each agency brings a different level of expertise to the table which is needed to get through all of the issues on sites and projects this large. Benefits from the projects influence the need of all agencies to reach some type of common goal in habitat restoration. But the real important link in all of this is the landowner. If the landowners were not involved the projects simply would not happen!"
Representative Late-summer Birds
During the day's outing along the river, notes were kept on the bird species present along the river. The 23 species noted - based on cursory observations - were: Canada Goose, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper (obviously benefiting from a bit of sandy habitat along the edge of the channel), Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift (most notably at Beck Memorial Park at Decatur), Belted Kingfisher, Red-headed Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Field Sparrow, Dickcissel, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.
This list presents just a glimpse of the variety of birds which occur during the summer along the Missouri River. The notes made during the day's foray were kept in order to document the occurrence of some species because of the lack of information available for these places. There is an obvious lack of knowledge of bird species distribution and occurrence at different mitigation sites and other public habitats along the middle Missouri River.
Biological Opinion Mandates Mitigation
These three projects - and many others - have been done to comply with the legal requirements of a biological opinion issued in 2004 that required that the Army Corps of Engineers mitigate for habitat losses incurred from the channelization of the formerly meandering Missouri River.
The Missouri River Mitigation Program has been underway for a number of years, and numerous projects have been completed to provide a variety of habitats conducive for fish, wildlife and other native critters.
Other project partners have included the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional mitigation projects have also been completed in Missouri.
There will be a five-year evaluation of mitigation efforts conducted by the Omaha District in 2010, according to Michael Sandine, a natural resources specialist with the Corps. The evaluation will consider how efforts such as those at Middle Decatur Bend and Bullard Bend have achieved the acreage restoration goals stipulated in the biological opinion.