Latin: Sternula antillarum
Whooping Crane Photo: Elaine Brackin/Audubon Photography Awards
The unique ‘Braided River’ Platte is a rare ecosystem, the natural variation in stream flow creates sandbanks, warm water sloughs, and shallows for water birds. In addition to native species like the Northern Pintail and Piping Plover, the Sandhills and Central Platte Valley are important migration stops for millions of birds every year.
These wetlands provide natural water filtration, carbon storage, and a buffer zone protecting working lands and local communities from flooding. There are a multitude of incentives for the mutual benefits between working lands conservation and the wetlands ecology. Shallow-rooted invasive plants increase the risks of erosion and flooding. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that up to 43 percent of federally threatened and endangered species rely directly or indirectly on wetlands for their survival; but only 10% of historic lowland grassland habitat remains in the central Platte River valley that is suitable for native wildlife, according to our partners in the VESPR group. Ironically, the conflicting nature of climate change threatens the Great Plains wetlands in opposing ways.
In the Dakotas and northern Midwest, “Prairie Potholes” fill with snowmelt every spring and provide essential breeding grounds for the Northern Pintail Duck and other water birds. This landscape was created by moving glaciers in the Pleistocene period. More than half of America’s migratory birds will make stops to these ecosystems on their spring and fall flights.
The Ogallala Aquafer is the largest underground water resource in the United States, providing irrigation water for almost 20 percent of agriculture land in the country. According to research by the NOAA, we are extracting water faster than it can be replenished. Although precipitation is expected to increase in the Dakotas, droughts to the south will strain water use as aquifer levels decline.