Central and eastern Nebraska was once part of a vast tall grass prairie dotted with wetlands. Farming began in earnest in the early 1900s, bringing with it the destruction of many wetlands and a rush of excess nutrients and sediment into lakes and waterways. During the dust bowl years of the 1930s, as much as three feet of wind-blown soil was deposited in some basins.
Still a predominately agricultural region, southeastern Nebraska still suffers from excessive runoff that deposits sediment in lakes, streams, and rivers. Nutrient and chemical runoff reaches surface water and underground stores. Birds such as quail, pheasant, and the greater prairie chicken have declined, along with migrating waterfowl that were once so numerous they blackened the sky. Yet, despite these problems, more than two and a half million waterfowl pass through the region each year.
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), combines a federal program with state programs, creating unique partnerships to meet specific state and national goals. The Program relies on voluntary agreements with farmers to convert cropland to native grasses, trees, and other vegetation in return for rental payments and other incentives. Each State organizes and develops its individual CREP proposal in consultation with local interests that include environmental organizations, agriculture groups, farmers, and others.
The Nebraska CREP has set an ambitious goal: to enroll 100,000 acres in the program. Landowners in Nebraska’s Central Basin will implement conservation measures to reduce the amount of sediment, nutrients, and pollutants reaching the water, and providing vital habitat for a variety of wildlife.
Examples of Key Partners
USDA Farm Service Agency, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, State of
Nebraska, Resource Conservation Districts, Pheasants Forever, landowners and producers, and others.
Results and Accomplishments
Landowners, communities, and private organizations, working with federal, state, and local agencies, have restored in excess of 20,000 acres of land and reduced soil erosion by more than 100,000 tons per year. Private organizations such as Pheasants Forever are providing seed, tractors, and expertise to help develop wildlife habitat. The State of Nebraska has pledged $18 million dollars to implement this effort along with a $71 million USDA contribution.
The Nebraska Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program pools government and wildlife funds, and technical assistance to encourage farmers to convert marginal cropland to trees, shrubs, and native grasses.