How our staff manages the Platte River habitat
The historic Platte River was a lifeline of unique riparian habitats running from west to east across the Great Plains. Early European explorers named the river the Nebraskier, after its Oto name meaning “flat water”, and later Platte for the French word plate, also meaning flat. Their notes described the river as being a mile wide and an inch deep. Each spring, snow melt from the Rocky Mountains would provide scouring floods that removed vegetation and shaped the river – and landscape – anew.
Modern demands on the river have dramatically changed the habitat. Reduced flows to the central Platte have rendered the working river conservation dependent – making it necessary for mechanical widening of channels and clearing of sandbars to create and maintain the wide, shallow habitat that cranes and other species prefer. Audubon has 50 years of success working on the Platte River with partners and private landowners to protect and restore habitat for migrating cranes at Rowe Sanctuary and throughout the critical reach of the central Platte River. Intensive management of the river channel on Audubon’s property has protected one of the largest Sandhill Crane roosts in the world, holding up to 200,000 cranes any given night in March.
The habitat complex at Rowe Sanctuary provides the critical mix of roosting, foraging and loafing areas for migrating cranes. The key elements of these complexes include wide and unobstructed roost sites within the main channel of the river, crop fields that provide access to abundant waste grain for energy, and native grasslands that function as secondary roosting and loafing sites as well as provide invertebrates that supply nutrients and minerals not found in grains. The Sanctuary also boasts the highest incidence of endangered Whooping Crane sightings on the Platte River during migration over the past 45 years and the first successful return of Piping Plover and Least Tern nesting on this section of the river.
Audubon has a long history of leading conservation efforts on the central Platte River, from its grassroots activism to the national strategic prioritization that guides conservation today. Throughout that history Audubon and Rowe Sanctuary have been at the heart of efforts involving every stakeholder on the river. Through its leadership role with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Audubon participates in increasing in-stream flows, protecting key habitat lands, and recovering T&E species at a watershed scale. As a member of the Platte Valley Weed Management Area, Audubon helps address noxious and invasive species concerns in the critical reach of the river. Through countless projects with conservation partners and private landowners Audubon has enhanced, restored and protected habitat on the Sanctuary and throughout the entire Platte River Basin.