States, federal government renew Platte River agreement
As part of a federal spending agreement passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last week, the program will continue on for an…
January 02, 2020
Spanning more than 10,000 acres of sensitive riparian habitat over three states, the Platte River system is one of the high plains’ most vital ecosystems, supporting swaths of human and animal populations in one of the continent’s most arid climates.
More than a decade ago, the region was also one of the nation’s most threatened.
Home to several endangered species, Nebraska’s Platte River and its northern and southern tributaries in Colorado and Wyoming was once the focus of environmentalists and high plains farmers alike, a critical spring for farmland that simultaneously, sustained fragile populations of species like the whooping crane, the pallid sturgeon and the piping plover.
These creatures – since the enactment of the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s – had been a source of concern both for naturalists and humans who relied on their habitats for sustenance, a regulatory hurdle as well as a moral burden for those who made their livings off the land and whose activities led to the decline of one of the most significant habitats for migratory waterfowl in the Midwestern United States.
For years, environmentalists as well as government officials worked to devise a way to balance both of these interests, culminating in 2006’s Platte River Program – a Bureau of Reclamation-led cooperative agreement between the three states more than a decade in the making.
In the time since its passage, the program has been lauded by experts as a “true success story” in cooperative environmentalism, described by David M. Freeman in his 2010 book on the agreement as an effort by the states to “transcend their narrower self-interests” to produce a truly collaborative approach to solving a significant environmental question of their time. A 50-50 conservation effort between the federal government and the states, the program marked a watershed moment for conservation in the high plains, helping to implement an effective water management and conservation strategy in an ecosystem relied on for millions in economic activity and for the survival of dozens – if not hundreds — of species living on its shores.
“These states and communities were facing some serious issues with endangered species 13 years ago,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told the Star-Tribune in an interview Tuesday. “And instead of the federal government or the states coming in with the hammer of regulation, we all worked together. This is a success story of local state and federal partnerships, and an example to the rest of the country about how things should be done.”