Platte River Habitat
According to some historical accounts, the Platte River was "a mile wide and an inch deep". Wetlands and wet meadows bordered the Platte to capture and hold water that escaped past its banks, and tallgrass prairie extended outward from the wetlands and wet meadows. Each Spring, snow melt from the Rocky Mountains would provide scouring flows that removed new vegetation grown up on sandbars during the previous growing season.
Modern demands on the river have dramatically changed the habitat. Reduced flows in the river make 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 40 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 resulted in the largest Sandhill Crane roost each spring, holding up to 150,000 cranes on a given night.
The habitat complex at Rowe Sanctuary provides critical juxtaposition of roosting, foraging, and loafing areas for migrating cranes. The key elements of these habitat complexes include unobstructed roost sites within the main channel of the river, crop fields that provide access to abundant waste grain, and wet meadows that function as secondary roost and loafing sites as well as providing invertebrates that supply key nutrients and minerals not found in grains. The complex also boasts the highest incidence of Whooping Crane sightings on the Platte River during migration over the past twenty years and the first successful return of Piping Plover and Least Tern nesting on this section of the river.
Dealing with Invasive Species
With each passing year, management work within the river channel has become more difficult due to invasive plants. Non-native species such as purple loosestrife and phragmites have spread at an alarming rate in the Platte River valley and other species such as salt cedar and yellow flag iris are looming threats. These plants remove an incredible amount of water from the river, while at the same time choking out native heterogeneity. Rowe Sanctuary works closely with local, state and federal agencies to combat this ever growing threat to the Platte River basin.