One thing that conservationists, landowners, policymakers, and other stakeholders along the Platte River can agree on is a mutual disdain for phragmites.
The impact of this plant on river flows has been greater in recent years because there hasn't been enough water to have spring and summer flows. Heavy stands of the plant created thick choke points and caused the stream to narrow. Because native plants are choked out by phragmites, the bird population is affected. Phragmites reduce the amount of available habitat and migratory waterfowl are forced to move elsewhere in search of open sandbars.
The Conservancy has been partnering with 15 counties in the Platte Valley and West Central Weed Managment Areas, private landowners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Crane Trust, the Central Platte Natural Resource District, the Nebraska Public Power District, Central Platte Irrigation, and others to find solutions. Together, the group obtained grant funding that allowed them to spray most of the river from Kingsley Dam in Keith County east to Columbus in 2009 with Habitat, an aquatic-safe herbicide.
This year the higher water levels are creating mixed conditions for the work that must be done. On one hand, teams can access parts of the channel that weren't reachable before. On the other, mechanical removal of previously-sprayed phragmites or other channel-clogging plants isn't possible with the wetter conditions.
The Conservancy's Rich Walters explains, "Higher river flows this season have changed our approach. The flows have scoured previously treated stands of phragmites in some regions. This has allowed us to focus on side channels and treat any missed infestations from the last two years."
Walters is helping to coordinate this effort. "Progress is being made on the side channels, and everything looks better than it did one year ago," he said. "We are seeing more habitat for birds to use and wider channels, which is our goal."
February 17, 2011