Voluntary grant program aims to restore Sandhills grasslands, wetlands

By: - November 26, 2022 4:00 am
prairie in spring

A prairie in spring brings a diversity of grasses and flowering plants. (Courtesy of Tom Bragg)

LINCOLN — A voluntary grant program will provide $4 million to landowners in the Sandhills region to remove invasive eastern red cedar trees and restore grasslands and wetlands, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recently announced.

The four-year program, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, is aimed at restoring grassland and wetland habitat for at-risk species such as the greater prairie chicken, long-billed curlew and western prairie fringed orchid.

A spokesman with the Game Commission said the voluntary, incentive-based program is not part of the Biden administration’s “America the Beautiful” program — criticized by Gov. Pete Ricketts and Gov.-elect Jim Pillen as a “land grab” by the federal government — but was funded through the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed a year ago.

The Biden administration has rejected the criticism, saying that its expansion of conservation efforts is on a voluntary, incentive-based basis.

The conservation program, the commission said in a press release, will focus on the Sandhills and adjacent areas where wetlands and streams face alteration and channelization.

Removing eastern red cedar trees, through mechanical means and prescribed fire, can increase forage for livestock, reduce wildfire risks and improve stream flow and wildlife habitat.

The grant creates three new jobs: grassland coordinator, prescribed fire coordinator and project coordinator.

Partnering with Game and Parks in the project are Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, Northern Prairies Land Trust, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Sandhills Task Force, Santee Sioux Nation, and The Nature Conservancy.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.