How our habitat staff manages the Rowe Sanctuary prairies.
Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. Photo: Cody Wagner/Rowe Sanctuary
Beyond the banks of the Platte River, most of the acres protected and managed at the Lillian Annette Rowe Bird Sanctuary (Rowe Sanctuary) are grasslands. The grasslands at Rowe Sanctuary are varied, ranging in classification from wet meadow to lowland tallgrass prairie to upland mixed-grass prairie; remnant and restored. Together they make up one of the largest, contiguous grasslands complexes remaining in the Central Platte River Valley. Once a broad grassland oasis, it is estimated that only 10 percent of the historic habitat remains and is suitable for native wildlife. Adjacent to one of the largest migratory crane roosts in the world, Rowe’s grasslands provide important secondary roosting and foraging areas for Sandhill Cranes and endangered Whooping Cranes as well as breeding habitat for many declining songbird species.
Grassland habitats at Rowe Sanctuary are managed to maintain plant species and structural diversity. The resulting mosaic is essential for supporting the widest array of plant and animal life as well as retaining resiliency in the face of threats old and new. Carefully managed burning, grazing, haying, rest and the control of invasive trees and weeds create a vital refuge in a highly fragmented working landscape.
The low and oft-flooded nature of the grasslands at Rowe Sanctuary saved most from the plow as agriculture expanded in the region. Over the years, the Sanctuary has restored parcels of crop ground back to native prairie restoring continuity and function to the landscape. In just three years’ time, from 2017-2019, Audubon planted 135 acres back to native prairie. The seedings are local-ecotype and high diversity, some mixes containing up to 200 native species of seed, and expensive. With the help of grant funding and conservation partnerships, these restorations help provide large blocks of natural habitat for birds, pollinators and other wildlife.
The Sanctuary’s grassland habitats support a suite of grassland-obligate breeding species including but not limited to Bobolink, Dickcissel, Eastern Meadowlark, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, Sedge Wren, Upland Sandpiper, and Western Meadowlark. Already one of the most rapidly declining populations of birds, many species are moderately to highly vulnerable to climate change and other threats. Since 2014 Rowe Sanctuary has completed intensive, geospatial surveys of grassland bird species. Overlaid with management records in GIS, the results ensure that our management actions create benefits for target bird species.
In addition to grassland birds, Sanctuary staff and volunteers also monitor other species to fill information gaps and instruct management decisions. Butterfly diversity and abundance, for example, can provide information on the quality of habitat for other pollinators. Rowe Sanctuary’s Fourth of July Butterfly Count is one of the longest running butterfly counts in the country.
Audubon's North American Grasslands & Birds Report (2019) assessed the vulnerability of representative grassland birds and their habitat to warming global temperatures. Our findings make it clear that in addition to protecting remaining grasslands, we must also advance solutions that reduce carbon emissions, and prioritize and direct resources and other investments to the places that will support grassland birds and other wildlife into the future.
Platte River Wet Meadow Donated in Memory of George and Mildred Jackson
The Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz Native Prairie Preserve
John J. Dinan Memorial Bird Conservation Area