Platte River Initiative

Photo: Great Blue Heron. Photo: Kimberly Sharp.

The unique, ‘braided’ Platte River hosts a rare ecosystem, where natural variation in stream flow creates sandbars, warm water sloughs, wet meadows, and shallows for birds and other wildlife. Refuge to both resident and migratory species, the Platte River provides unique habitat that supports millions of waterbirds, including Audubon priority bird species like the Whooping Crane, Sandhill Crane, Least Tern, and Piping Plover.

Wetlands along the River provide natural water filtration, carbon storage, and a buffer zone protecting working lands and local communities from flooding. These services highlight the multitude of mutual benefits that working lands and wetland conservation provide to both birds and people.

More than 70% of historic flows are diverted before they reach central Nebraska and demands on the water supply continue to grow. This reduced flow has caused the loss of nearly 90% of the open-channel sandbar habitat required by declining waterbird species. In addition, the many reservoirs along the course of the Platte trap sediment required to create the sandbars and braided river channels. Dams and diversions are decreasing flood disturbances and giving trees, shrubs and, other invasive plants time and space to grow.

The Platte River Initiative is unique in both scope and scale. Over a large, regionally significant watershed, the Initiative will work to put in place a long-term, whole ecosystem approach to natural resource conservation. In order to do this, the Initiative will roll-out along the river in phases. The first phase is focused on the central Platte River in Nebraska, then will grow to include the lower Platte Basin in eastern Nebraska, and west into the North and South Platte River Basins in Colorado and Wyoming. We have identified target species, critical habitat, and prominent threats to which Audubon can provide meaningful and productive conservation outcomes.

Policy, Partnerships, Program Action, and Outreach

Audubon Nebraska’s Platte River Initiative has created partnerships with local conservation organizations and state agencies to develop strategies that meet the needs of native wildlife and the local community. To support the restoration and maintenance of the braided river channel, our stakeholder group has identified a mixture of on-the-ground projects, partnerships with agencies and local communities, and promotion of more adaptable water management policies. Physical work that Audubon and partners have done to remove invasive vegetation and free sediment will continue and long-term funding for this work will be maintained. Opportunities will be sought to employ infrastructure solutions that are nature-based to make the Platte River ecosystem more resilient and buffer communities from the impacts of flooding and drought. This work will include partnerships with communities already at risk of flooding, as well as participation in proactive planning to reduce losses associated with developing areas at high risk of future flooding.

Photo: Photo: Cody Wagner.

Sandhill and Wetland Birds

Least Tern

Latin:  Sternula antillarum

Illustration for Least Tern

Piping Plover

Latin:  Charadrius melodus

Illustration for Piping Plover

Sandhill Crane

Latin:  Antigone canadensis

Illustration for Sandhill Crane

Whooping Crane

Latin:  Grus americana

Illustration for Whooping Crane

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