The Governance Committee of the Platte River Cooperative Agreement

Land Issues

Under the Cooperative Agreement, a proposed basin-wide Program to benefit endangered species is being developed and refined. If adopted as proposed, the Program will be implemented in phases and will include development of land for habitat (see “Program Components: How the Agreement and Program Work”).

Q: How much more land is needed for the proposed Program?

A: The first increment (first 10 to 13 years of the proposed Program) goal is 10,000 acres of suitable habitat between Lexington and Chapman, Nebraska. Nebraska Public Power District owns 2,650 acres as required in its new hydro license, and several other smaller parcels have been acquired by others to satisfy regulatory requirements, so about 7,000 more acres will be needed during the first increment.

The current long-term goal is 29,000 acres of habitat land between Lexington and Chapman. That goal is subject to change because of new research and management techniques developed in the first increment. The 10,000 acres from the first increment and 10,000 acres or more now managed by environmental organizations and state or federal agencies may count toward the 29,000 total acres. At least 3,000 acres of the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s recent acquisition of Jeffrey Island near Lexington will likely count toward the second increment goal as well. So after the first increment, about 6,000 additional acres will likely be needed to meet the long-term goal.

Q: How would existing habitat lands be credited toward Program goals?

A: Land that the Program does not buy, lease or have an easement to protect will be credited if it meets the Program’s definition of suitable habitat and if it is “rededicated” to the Program (managed by or in coordination with the Program). Within the Lexington-to-Chapman reach of the Platte River, environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society and the Platte River Whooping Crane Critical Habitat Maintenance Trust, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission currently own about 13,000 acres. At least three-quarters of these acres, and perhaps more, are likely to be considered suitable for the Program. The environmental groups are committed to offering their lands for rededication to the Program at the end of the first increment.

Q: What kind of land is wanted?

A: The Program as proposed will generally be interested in land with wide, shallow river channel below Lexington and above Chapman. Other related selection criteria are still in development, but the focus is on larger parcels or combinations of parcels, those with land on both sides of the river channel, lands which are or could be managed as wet meadows, or lands adjacent to lands managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission or environmental organizations. Other factors include price, features that make the parcel relatively easy to develop as suitable habitat and a goal of distributing habitat from Lexington to Chapman. The starting point — subject to adaptive management — is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) current definition of an ideal “habitat complex,” i.e., at least 2,000 acres, including at least two miles of river channel.

Q: Will condemnation be used to acquire habitat lands?

A: No. The participants in the Cooperative Agreement have agreed that condemnation will NEVER be used. Habitat lands will be acquired ONLY from WILLING sellers or lessors.

Q: Will participation in a lease or easement lead to condemnation of lands at some time in the future?

A: No. The signatories agreed that condemning land was unacceptable. A change in that position is essentially impossible because it would take a nine to one vote in the Governance Committee and the State of Nebraska could veto the change. If the Governance Committee decided it wanted to own lands it had been leasing or using under an easement, the underlying owners of Program lands could not be forced to sell. If that meant some lands were no longer Program lands, the Program would have to find other lands. That means that the Governance Committee would be taking on some risk if it decides to use leases or easements in the first place — the risk of spending money developing habitat land that would later leave the Program.

Q: How would habitat lands be developed?

A: The current concept — subject to revision through the Program as experience grows — is designed to fit the FWS’s current definition of an ideal habitat complex. Actual parcels of land rarely match an ideal and complex development plans will vary according to individual geographic features. Generally, trees and other large vegetation would be cleared from near the channel and some areas would be constructed with bare sand nesting habitat for terns and plovers. Around the closely managed channel area would be quarter-mile-wide protected areas on each side where human activities would be controlled to avoid disturbing endangered species roosting or nesting in the channel area. All acres in such a habitat complex would count toward the habitat acquisition goals of the Program, but only a small portion would be closely managed as bare sand habitat.

Q: Would recreational and other use of the habitat lands be permitted?

A: The proposed Program would not require that habitat lands become full-time bird or wildlife refuges, but some human activities are clearly not compatible with Program use of the lands, such as driving all-terrain vehicles through the channel when endangered species may be present. Others, such as grazing cattle, maintaining blinds for bird watchers and hunting when endangered species are not in the area, may be acceptable, at least to some extent, when coordinated with the habitat manager. Details will be developed as part of determining whether to buy or lease new parcels of land and how to manage lands acquired or rededicated to the Program.

Q: Who would manage the habitat lands for the Program?

A: The answer to this question is still being discussed. A subcommittee of the Land Committee is exploring options to hold land acquired by the Program and to manage or coordinate management of all lands counting toward Program goals. (Habitat lands “rededicated” to the Program by conservation groups and others will possibly stay in the hands of current owners, but be developed and managed in coordination with the Program. For example, land owned by the Nebraska Public Power District and the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District must remain in their control to satisfy their hydroelectric licenses.)

Local representation is a key issue. The task is complicated because Program funds originating in state or federal agencies are subject to stringent regulations on accountability which require them to retain some degree of control. In addition, Nebraska state law places restrictions on the types of entities that may own farmland. This is a very complex question to resolve. The land entity sub-committee commissioned a study to examine the pros and cons of various kinds of land trusts and independent management enterprises. A workshop with Governance Committee representatives is planned on these issues in the near future.

Q: Would property taxes be paid on Program lands?

A: The proposed Program states that, as it acquires interests in land, it is to avoid shifting tax burdens to adjacent landowners or communities. The Governance Committee adopted a policy stating that taxes or equivalent amounts will be paid on land acquired for Program purposes. The questions of whether a Program might affect land classifications and values and consequent tax assessments are being examined in a third-party impact study.

Q: How will the proposed Program consider the impacts on nearby private property owners and the surrounding communities?

A: The Governance Committee has ordered an independent study of the third-party impacts of the proposed Program’s land component. The Department of the Interior is also required to evaluate third-party impacts (negative and positive) as part of its required environmental reviews. The Land Committee and the Department of the Interior have defined the “scope of work” and a consultant has been hired to conduct the study.

Q: When would the Program start acquiring land?

A: Probably in 2001. The Cooperative Agreement period was created so that the Department of the Interior could carry out environmental reviews which are required before taking a federal action such as signing a long-term Program agreement. Land will not be acquired using Program funds until those reviews are complete, any adjustments are made and the Program document is signed by the Secretary of the Interior and the three states’ governors. These actions are expected to be complete around the end of 2000.

Q: What happens to Program land if a state leaves the Program?

A: The Cooperative Agreement and the Proposed Program call for the governors and the Secretary of the Interior to meet to try to avert any party’s leaving the Program. If these talks fail, and a state leaves the Program, the Program is over.

Because of the Endangered Species Act, the end of the Program is not the end of a need for habitat lands. Under the Proposed Program, if the other states keep doing what they have been doing, it will be taken into account in the FWS’s determination of how to satisfy the Act without a Program. So, coordinated land management may continue even if the Program ends. The questions of how “credit” or ownership interests would be distributed back to those contributing to the Program (the three states and federal government) have not yet been answered.

Q: Where can the general public make its views known and obtain information on the latest developments?

A: The general public can make its views known and obtain information on the Cooperative Agreement and Program by contacting Governance Committee members, Land Committee chairs and subcommittee chairs, attending committee meetings, contacting Dale Strickland, the Governance Committee’s Executive Director (toll-free phone number: (877) 634-1773), or checking the Governance Committee’s web site at

The Governance Committee of the Platte River Cooperative Agreement

 

Land Issues

 

Under the Cooperative Agreement, a proposed basin-wide Program to benefit endangered species is being developed and refined. If adopted as proposed, the Program will be implemented in phases and will include development of land for habitat (see “Program Components: How the Agreement and Program Work”).

 

Q: How much more land is needed for the proposed Program?

 

A: The first increment (first 10 to 13 years of the proposed Program) goal is 10,000 acres of suitable habitat between Lexington and Chapman, Nebraska. Nebraska Public Power District owns 2,650 acres as required in its new hydro license, and several other smaller parcels have been acquired by others to satisfy regulatory requirements, so about 7,000 more acres will be needed during the first increment.

 

The current long-term goal is 29,000 acres of habitat land between Lexington and Chapman. That goal is subject to change because of new research and management techniques developed in the first increment. The 10,000 acres from the first increment and 10,000 acres or more now managed by environmental organizations and state or federal agencies may count toward the 29,000 total acres. At least 3,000 acres of the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District’s recent acquisition of Jeffrey Island near Lexington will likely count toward the second increment goal as well. So after the first increment, about 6,000 additional acres will likely be needed to meet the long-term goal.

 

Q: How would existing habitat lands be credited toward Program goals?

 

A: Land that the Program does not buy, lease or have an easement to protect will be credited if it meets the Program’s definition of suitable habitat and if it is “rededicated” to the Program (managed by or in coordination with the Program). Within the Lexington-to-Chapman reach of the Platte River, environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society and the Platte River Whooping Crane Critical Habitat Maintenance Trust, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission currently own about 13,000 acres. At least three-quarters of these acres, and perhaps more, are likely to be considered suitable for the Program. The environmental groups are committed to offering their lands for rededication to the Program at the end of the first increment.

 

Q: What kind of land is wanted?

 

A: The Program as proposed will generally be interested in land with wide, shallow river channel below Lexington and above Chapman. Other related selection criteria are still in development, but the focus is on larger parcels or combinations of parcels, those with land on both sides of the river channel, lands which are or could be managed as wet meadows, or lands adjacent to lands managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission or environmental organizations. Other factors include price, features that make the parcel relatively easy to develop as suitable habitat and a goal of distributing habitat from Lexington to Chapman. The starting point — subject to adaptive management — is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) current definition of an ideal “habitat complex,” i.e., at least 2,000 acres, including at least two miles of river channel.

 

Q: Will condemnation be used to acquire habitat lands?

 

A: No. The participants in the Cooperative Agreement have agreed that condemnation will NEVER be used. Habitat lands will be acquired ONLY from WILLING sellers or lessors.

 

Q: Will participation in a lease or easement lead to condemnation of lands at some time in the future?

 

A: No. The signatories agreed that condemning land was unacceptable. A change in that position is essentially impossible because it would take a nine to one vote in the Governance Committee and the State of Nebraska could veto the change. If the Governance Committee decided it wanted to own lands it had been leasing or using under an easement, the underlying owners of Program lands could not be forced to sell. If that meant some lands were no longer Program lands, the Program would have to find other lands. That means that the Governance Committee would be taking on some risk if it decides to use leases or easements in the first place — the risk of spending money developing habitat land that would later leave the Program.

 

Q: How would habitat lands be developed?

 

A: The current concept — subject to revision through the Program as experience grows — is designed to fit the FWS’s current definition of an ideal habitat complex. Actual parcels of land rarely match an ideal and complex development plans will vary according to individual geographic features. Generally, trees and other large vegetation would be cleared from near the channel and some areas would be constructed with bare sand nesting habitat for terns and plovers. Around the closely managed channel area would be quarter-mile-wide protected areas on each side where human activities would be controlled to avoid disturbing endangered species roosting or nesting in the channel area. All acres in such a habitat complex would count toward the habitat acquisition goals of the Program, but only a small portion would be closely managed as bare sand habitat.

 

Q: Would recreational and other use of the habitat lands be permitted?

 

A: The proposed Program would not require that habitat lands become full-time bird or wildlife refuges, but some human activities are clearly not compatible with Program use of the lands, such as driving all-terrain vehicles through the channel when endangered species may be present. Others, such as grazing cattle, maintaining blinds for bird watchers and hunting when endangered species are not in the area, may be acceptable, at least to some extent, when coordinated with the habitat manager. Details will be developed as part of determining whether to buy or lease new parcels of land and how to manage lands acquired or rededicated to the Program.

 

Q: Who would manage the habitat lands for the Program?

 

A: The answer to this question is still being discussed. A subcommittee of the Land Committee is exploring options to hold land acquired by the Program and to manage or coordinate management of all lands counting toward Program goals. (Habitat lands “rededicated” to the Program by conservation groups and others will possibly stay in the hands of current owners, but be developed and managed in coordination with the Program. For example, land owned by the Nebraska Public Power District and the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District must remain in their control to satisfy their hydroelectric licenses.)

 

Local representation is a key issue. The task is complicated because Program funds originating in state or federal agencies are subject to stringent regulations on accountability which require them to retain some degree of control. In addition, Nebraska state law places restrictions on the types of entities that may own farmland. This is a very complex question to resolve. The land entity sub-committee commissioned a study to examine the pros and cons of various kinds of land trusts and independent management enterprises. A workshop with Governance Committee representatives is planned on these issues in the near future.

 

Q: Would property taxes be paid on Program lands?

 

A: The proposed Program states that, as it acquires interests in land, it is to avoid shifting tax burdens to adjacent landowners or communities. The Governance Committee adopted a policy stating that taxes or equivalent amounts will be paid on land acquired for Program purposes. The questions of whether a Program might affect land classifications and values and consequent tax assessments are being examined in a third-party impact study.

 

Q: How will the proposed Program consider the impacts on nearby private property owners and the surrounding communities?

 

A: The Governance Committee has ordered an independent study of the third-party impacts of the proposed Program’s land component. The Department of the Interior is also required to evaluate third-party impacts (negative and positive) as part of its required environmental reviews. The Land Committee and the Department of the Interior have defined the “scope of work” and a consultant has been hired to conduct the study.

 

Q: When would the Program start acquiring land?

 

A: Probably in 2001. The Cooperative Agreement period was created so that the Department of the Interior could carry out environmental reviews which are required before taking a federal action such as signing a long-term Program agreement. Land will not be acquired using Program funds until those reviews are complete, any adjustments are made and the Program document is signed by the Secretary of the Interior and the three states’ governors. These actions are expected to be complete around the end of 2000.

 

Q: What happens to Program land if a state leaves the Program?

 

A: The Cooperative Agreement and the Proposed Program call for the governors and the Secretary of the Interior to meet to try to avert any party’s leaving the Program. If these talks fail, and a state leaves the Program, the Program is over.

 

Because of the Endangered Species Act, the end of the Program is not the end of a need for habitat lands. Under the Proposed Program, if the other states keep doing what they have been doing, it will be taken into account in the FWS’s determination of how to satisfy the Act without a Program. So, coordinated land management may continue even if the Program ends. The questions of how “credit” or ownership interests would be distributed back to those contributing to the Program (the three states and federal government) have not yet been answered.

 

Q: Where can the general public make its views known and obtain information on the latest developments?

 

A: The general public can make its views known and obtain information on the Cooperative Agreement and Program by contacting Governance Committee members, Land Committee chairs and subcommittee chairs, attending committee meetings, contacting Dale Strickland, the Governance Committee’s Executive Director (toll-free phone number: (877) 634-1773), or checking the Governance Committee’s web site https://www.platteriverprogram.org/.