The Little Blue Natural Resources District (NRD) and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) have been working cooperatively on wildlife habitat improvement projects since 1978. The emphasis for work has been mostly on private lands that benefit wildlife populations and public hunting opportunities. The opportunity to extend this cooperative relationship to NRD-owned, publicly-accessible lands is now being pursued at the Bruning Dam Cove Recreational Area northeast of Bruning, Nebraska in Fillmore County.
Bruning Dam was selected because it is open for limited public hunting. Funding for the projects are available through the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) federal passthrough dollars (Pittman-Robertson Funding). These funds result from a user-fee on hunting equipment and are used to support habitat improvement and hunter recreation through a grant-based system. NGPC shares these interests with the NRD and submitted a grant in support of the NRD.
Targeted areas focus on limited habitats. Loss of grassland habitat is recognized by the conservation community as a severely threatened ecological system. Invading tree and shrub species, as well as less desirable grass and forbs species have caused a decline in grassland-dependent wildlife. Numerous bird species, including huntable species like pheasants, greater prairie chicken, and bobwhite quail require suitable grassland habitats.
This project being undertaken by the NRD will restore a more native habitat quality by removing invasive trees and plants, creating a more diverse vegetative composition through over-seeding, and modifying management strategies. Past management strategies have been more hands-off and have allowed a transition of the District’s lands to less desirable vegetation, thus limiting diversity which fosters healthy wildlife populations. Alternate land management methods such as burning and haying can be applied at larger scales, using contractors to complete specified tasks. Habitat management income from cyclical haying will be used to offset contractor costs.
This project will incorporate ecological processes to manage habitats at Bruning Dam. The use of prescribed fire to arrest vegetative succession and to help control woody plants is critical to maintaining grassland habitats. Fire is not only a required ecological process, but is far less expensive over the long term than regular cutting and/or clearing trees. Rotational haying following burning will contribute to tree control.
The work at Bruning Dam will begin within the next month or so. The contractor, Lawrence Warnke of Warnke Tree Shearing of Fairbury, was awarded the contract for the removal of trees and shrubs on the 109.4 acres designated at Bruning Dam for a cost of $18,598. The Game and Parks will provide approximately 80 percent cost-assistance for the work.