An informational meeting in Hastings on Wednesday brought landowners, agency staff, and conservation groups together to talk about wetland preservation and how it can go hand-in-hand with ag operations.
Wildlife groups estimate that 10 million waterfowl use the area known as the Rainwater Basin in south central Nebraska as a stopover during spring migration. But conservation officials say preserving wetlands in those 21 counties isn't just for the birds - it can help ag producers as well.
"Many of our programs are very flexible, we're able to work with the landowner and modify the program to fit to their operation," said Rainwater Basin Joint Venture Coordinator Andy Bishop.
Bishop says projects like their Working Lands program lets landowners use the land while implementing practices that encourage wildlife too.
"We're trying to promote cattle production, cattle grazing on wetlands, and we have granting opportunities and program dollars to help landowners with perimeter fence, cross fence, livestock wells so that wetlands become a value added part of their agricultural operation, not a set-aside acre or a wasteland," he said.
One landowner currently enrolled in Working Lands says he found that it was easy to make conservation work alongside his cow/calf and crop operations.
"I can actually walk my pivot through the farmable wetland and be able to irrigate on both sides of it, so it didn't really stop me from being able to farm on both sides of the wetlands which was the initial concern," said Bart Jacobson, a landowner near Funk who spoke at Wednesday's meeting.
Officials say there are financial incentives for wetland conservation, and projects can be enrolled in multiple programs. They say saving wetland habitat has other benefits too, including hunting and ecotourism opportunities.
"We look at the Rainwater Basin - it's 99% privately owned, so wetland conservation projects not only provide the wildlife habitat, but it's a quality of life and a benefit that all people can enjoy," said Bishop.
"I want to do as much as I can for our fowl - the pheasants and ducks and geese, things like that, and if we can kind of coherently put them together with our cattle and the wildlife, I think that's fantastic," said Jacobson.
Bishop says studies show that wetlands are also responsible for valuable ecosystem services like groundwater recharge and nutrient cycling.