Amid worries about the safety and livelihood of friends and neighbors, Conservancy employees are assessing the conditions where they work and considering how historic flooding will affect plants and animals near these rivers. Here are their thoughts:
From Jason Skold, Director of Conservation Programs/Missouri River Program Manager
The impact on people continues to be a prime concern. I have communicated with friends and colleagues from Missouri to South Dakota that are being impacted directly - who are strained emotionally and physically from what has taken place to date - and the high flows that will continue for some time.
From experience I know many fish species will take advantage of newly available and productive floodplain; they are having a fine time. There has been some concern over the availability of habitat for nesting Interior least terns and Piping plovers, but they are long-lived species able to withstand occasional bad years, and they will search other areas for bare sandbars. I recently heard some news of an increase in numbers on the Elkhorn River given its 2010 flooding - and the resulting newly scoured sandbars.
The defining feature of the historic Missouri River was the continual cycle of creation and destruction of its riverine habitats. Nothing stayed the same for long and large floods could really “wipe the slate clean.” In many ways, the Missouri River will different after this flood.
From Tyler Janke, Wetlands Restoration Specialist
We put high diversity restorations on parts of the Missouri River that were less prone to flooding because we weren’t sure they’d survive. Some of the the younger cottonwoods are starting to die. Nature is good at making adaptations, but the amount of time the water is going to stay high is unusual. Overall, the flooding will be likely be good for birds and fish.
From Chris Helzer, Eastern Nebraska Program Director
Quite a bit of the Kelly tract in North Platte is underwater. Ecologically, there may be more benefits than detriments from that flooding, but I am concerned for the Kelly family that relies on the grazing and haying they lease from us on that property. It sounds like they were able to move many cattle to their own sandhills pastures, but the loss of hay ground will be tougher for them to absorb.
The Central Platte is pretty different from the North Platte in that regard. We’re not seeing out-of-bank flooding on Conservancy properties between Kearney and Grand Island. Some of our wetland sloughs are staying wet longer into the summer than they typically do, and it’ll be interesting to see the ecological ramifications of that. Nothing negative there (except abundant mosquitoes – and hey, that gives dragonflies more to eat, right?).
The biggest impacts to us on the Central Platte so far are that the saturated ground (high ground water) is making it hard to do some work with heavy equipment – tree clearing, wetland creation, etc. It makes it challenging to get vehicles around on some of our properties to do stewardship work – but considering how other parts of the state are struggling, we are fortunate.
From Jim Luchsinger, Sandhills/Northwest Prairies Program Director
The Niobrara is different – it is less prone to flooding because it’s spring-fed. The water levels are high but we aren’t experiencing flooding.
From Rich Walters, Implementation/Evaluation Coordinator, Platte River Projects
Platte River flows have been above average for the past three months and are predicted to remain at elevated levels throughout the summer. High flows have raised the water level to flood stage and have caused lowland flooding in some areas. The biggest difference from this year’s flow compared to past ‘flash floods’ is the long-term sustained flows. The long-term high water flows are removing unwanted vegetation that was restricting channels in the past. Having more ‘open’ channels - free of invasive plants - benefits a diverse range of wildlife, including the endangered whooping crane.