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Platte River Ecosystem Resources and Management, with Emphasis on the Big Bend Reach in Nebraska


Factors Influencing Management Options


Water Development Projects

Historically, flows in the Platte River were estimated at about 2.6 million acre-feet annually (Faanes 1992b). Mean annual flows in the Platte River at Overton, Nebraska, are currently about 994,800 acre-feet (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, unpubl. data). That flow functions in providing habitat requirements for both endangered and non-endangered species occupying the river. Despite flow reductions, there are considerable fish and wildlife resources remaining in the Platte River system meriting conservation efforts (Appendix G). Below we summarize the status of planned and discontinued water diversion projects in the Platte River system that. Although some projects have been discontinued, we mention them here to illustrate the intense demands for water that have been made on the Platte River system. Moreover, some water projects often are resurrected under different names years after their rejection by public agencies.

No fewer than 14 additional federal, state, and private water development projects had been planned or are under construction in the Platte River system (Table 20). If completed, the total withdrawal from the system would be about 799,318 acre-feet annually, or over 80 percent of the remaining mean-yearly flow would be depleted. The greatest depletion would occur in Nebraska where about 566,200 acre-feet (72.8 percent) of flow would be removed annually.

Colorado

Narrows - The Narrows Project, to be located near Fort Morgan, Colorado, was sponsored by the Lower South Platte and the Central Colorado Water Conservancy Districts. As authorized by Public Law 91-389, project purposes were irrigation, flood control, fish and wildlife conservation, public recreation, and potential future municipal and industrial water supplies. The predominant project facility would have been the Narrows Dam and Reservoir located on the South Platte River. The principal environmental concerns with the Narrows Project were flow reductions and potential loss of the remaining major sediment input to the Platte River system in Nebraska. Ultimately, narrowed and deeper river channels and reduced habitat value for important fish and wildlife resources within the critical habitat reach would have occurred.

South Platte-Frenchman - A feasibility study was conducted to test the desirability of transferring water from the South Platte River system to the Frenchman Creek drainage in southwestern Nebraska. The project and its potential impacts were evaluated based on flow depletions of 50,000 and 150,000 acre-feet annually. The principal objective of this project was to augment depleted ground water resources.

Two Forks Dam and Reservoir - This project is no longer sponsored by the Denver Water Department. Two Forks would have provided 1.1 million acre-feet of water storage for municipal use in the Denver Metropolitan area. Mean annual depletions from the South Platte River would have been about 14,800 acre-feet; the remainder of the water would have entered the system by an interbasin transfer from the Colorado River system. The principal downstream conservation issue related to Two Forks was the depletion of water resources in the South Platte and Platte rivers during low flow periods. Formal consultation under Section 7 of the ESA found that Two Forks was not likely to jeopardize the continued of any endangered species or their critical habitat if conservation measures needed to offset the effect of the project on whooping crane habitat were implemented. The Environmental Protection Agency recommended a veto of the Two Forks project.

Wildcat Creek - The Wildcat Reservoir is proposed for construction near Brush, Colorado, on Wildcat Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. The dam and reservoir would provide the Riverside Irrigation District with greater flexibility in operating its irrigation system. The USFWS (1982) determined that the main influence of the Wildcat Creek Project on the whooping crane would be increased encroachment of wooded vegetation within the critical habitat reach of the Platte River in Nebraska.

Senac Reservoir - An 820-acre reservoir was constructed on a tributary of the South Platte River in Arapahoe County, Colorado. The main objective of the project is the provision of an emergency water supply for the City of Aurora, Colorado.

Cache La Poudre Water and Power - This project near Fort Collins, Colorado, is proposed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Plans currently call for development of a reservoir to store 250,000 to 400,000 acre-feet of water for use by local irrigators. Hydroelectric plants have also been proposed at various times. At present, no firm plans are at hand to make a judgment about the impacts of the project on fish and wildlife resources.

Nebraska

Ground Water Withdrawal for Local Irrigation - Frith (1976) stated that the Platte River in its Big Bend reach is a losing stream. Flows are lost as river water infiltrates the subsurface alluvium to replenish a depleted aquifer. Additional substantial reductions in mean annual stream flows from ground water irrigation development (Missouri River Basin Commission 1975) in the Platte River are predicted. By the year 2020, the flows of 1970 will be reduced by an estimated 62 to 75 percent at the mouth of the Platte River. The principal environmental concern for the continued development of ground water resources is encroachment of wooded vegetation on sandbars and in adjacent wet meadows, shrinkage of the river channel, and loss of flows in the river during certain time periods.

Prairie Bend - The Prairie Bend project has been proposed by the Central Platte NRD and is to be located in south-central Nebraska counties. Conceptually, the project intends to divert Platte River flows at a point near Kearney to replenish irrigation supplies now being withdrawn from ground water sources underlying project lands. If successful, Central Platte NRD envisions the project sustaining the agri-business economy.

The Prairie Bend project is designed to maintain the current extent of irrigated land in the project area. Improvements in the quality of ground water may also occur. Other potential benefits from the project include outdoor recreation and the enhancement of municipal water supplies.

The principal environmental concern is flow depletion in the Big Bend reach of the Platte River. Suitable open river channel and sandbars used by nesting least terns and piping plovers and by roosting sandhill cranes may be affected by encroaching vegetation. Concern has been expressed that the periodic peak flows needed to maintain the braided morphology of the Platte River channel may be further reduced.

Central Platte NRD applied to the Nebraska Department of Water Resources (DWR) for permits to appropriate and store water for the project. The appropriation amounted to a 450 cfs diversion for an annual impoundment of 72,000 acre-feet. Some contribution would come from Prairie Creek. The DWR denied the permits because of the project's negative impacts to listed species and because the DWR did not believe that Central Platte NRD had adequately substantiated its claims that the project was in the public interest and welfare in terms of providing better water quantity and quality.

Ground Water Recharge Projects - The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is conducting evaluations of the potential for demonstrating ground water recharge techniques that can be used in the central Platte River valley. An ancillary purpose is to demonstrate that high nitrate and nitrogen levels in ground water can be lowered by recharging low nitrate water into the aquifer. One of three project sites in Nebraska is located near Wood River, Hall County, and operates by diverting water from the Platte River and an adjacent sandpit to two recharge basins near the City of Wood River. The project operates continuously from 15 March to 31 October annually during a five-year project life ending in 1996. The Wood River project involves removal of 1,400 acre-feet of water (2 cfs) during 7.5 months each year. The Central Platte NRD has received a water right for operating the demonstration project. Although the depletion from the Platte River is small, it represents still another in a long list of proposed additional flow reductions.

Kingsley and Keystone Dams - The reservoir behind Kingsley Dam, known as Lake McConaughy, is on the North Platte River near Ogallala, Nebraska and holds about 1.8 million acre-feet of water storage in Lake McConaughy. The reservoir began filling in 1938. Keystone Dam is a major diversion facility just below Kingsley Dam that directs cooling waters toward the Gerald Gentleman power plant. Several facilities are appurtenant to these projects and are operated in coordination with each other including Sutherland Reservoir, Maloney Reservoir, Johnson Lake, and related feeder canals. The project also supports five hydroelectric generation plants, two fossil fuel power generating plants, and about 120 miles of main canals for irrigation and water delivery. Both the CNPPID and NPPD own and operate separate dam and reservoir facilities within the Kingsley and Keystone Dams Project. Current licenses issued by FERC to operate the facilities expired in July 1987; re-licensing efforts are now underway.

Water from both the North Platte and South Platte rivers is used in the system. Power generation and irrigation are the major project purposes; recreation and flood control are secondary benefits.

Construction and operation of Kingsley Dam and related facilities, particularly irrigation, have resulted in significant negative influences on wildlife habitat on the Platte River (Currier 1982, Currier et al. 1985, USFWS 1981, Interior 1990, 1994). Alteration in the flow regime since the 1930s and the subsequent encroachment of wooded vegetation in the floodplain have been the principal impacts. Consideration of possible changes in the normal operating plan to improve instream flows and the resulting influences on power generation, fishing and other reservoir recreation, and other fish and wildlife resources are being evaluated during the re-licensing process.

Wyoming

Corn Creek - The Corn Creek Irrigation District, located in Goshen County, Wyoming, proposes to develop its annual right to 22,500 acre-feet of water from the Laramie River and 10,300 acre-feet from Wyoming's entitlement in Glendo Reservoir. As proposed, this project would provide irrigation water to about 15,000 acres of cropland in the District. The major concerns for endangered wildlife downstream in Nebraska include potential impacts on whooping cranes, least terns and piping plovers. Whooping cranes may be affected by reduced flows which encourage wooded vegetation encroachment on sandbars and adjacent areas. The project proponents submitted an environmental assessment of the project to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in December 1985, but the assessment inadequately described potential project impacts. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed a report on Corn Creek in early 1990 that identified several information gaps, indicating a need to further evaluate the relationship of the project to endangered species and the availability of cost-sharing funds to the Irrigation District for construction.

Seminoe Reservoir - Seminoe Dam and Reservoir is on the North Platte River in Carbon County, Wyoming. Constructed in 1939 as part of the Kendrick Project, Seminoe Reservoir provides water for irrigation and for power generation. A recent U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (1987) evaluation predicted a potential shortage of municipal and industrial water to communities in the North Platte River Basin, as early as 1995. The shortage may range from 428 to 21,412 acre-feet of water annually. Accordingly, the Wyoming Water Development Commission is studying several alternatives to upgrade Seminoe facilities and increase the water yield for downstream users. Among the evaluated alternatives are: (1) enlargement of the existing dam; (2) water conservation; (3) purchase of existing water rights; (4) modification of river operation; (5) transbasin diversion; and (6) weather modification.

The main concerns about wildlife in downstream areas of the Platte River in Nebraska are from increased encroachment of wooded vegetation on sandbars and adjacent wet meadows in the Big Bend reach of the Platte River because of reduced instream flows with the enlargement alternative.

Deer Creek - The Deer Creek Project would supply water to the City of Casper, Wyoming, in dry years when the city cannot obtain sufficient water from its surface or ground water rights. The project would be located on Deer Creek, a right bank tributary to the North Platte River in Converse and Natrona counties, Wyoming. Project sponsors and the Corps entered into formal consultation with the USFWS under Section 7 of the ESA. The biological opinion found that Deer Creek is not likely to jeopardize endangered species or their critical habitat if conservation measures to offset the effect of the project on whooping crane habitat are implemented. Specifically, the USFWS recommended the acquisition and management of about 25 acres of vegetated riverine islands and riparian habitat along the Platte River. The Wyoming Water Development Commission in 1987 acquired a 470-acre tract including about 200 acres of wet meadows near Kearney, Nebraska, to offset the impacts to habitat from the Deer Creek project. The USFWS retained management responsibility on the lands; an environmental assessment of management options has been completed. The USFWS also obtained the first right of refusal for these lands in the event that the Deer Creek project is not built and the State of Wyoming decides to sell the land.

Horse Creek - The Horse Creek project calls for releasing surplus water from the Fort Laramie Canal into the proposed Horse Creek Reservoir. The project is sponsored by the Goshen Irrigation District in eastern Wyoming. The Wyoming Water Development Commission estimates that a reservoir with an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 acre-feet storage capacity is needed. The main objective of Horse Creek is the provision of supplemental irrigation waters, especially during the late summer growing period. The principal adverse effects of Horse Creek would be additional flow depletions from the Platte River system.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Activities

In all probability, the action of filling one small wetland or riprapping a short reach of a streambank may not cause major harm to wetlands. However, problems arise when each project is initiated without considering the inevitability of subsequent projects and their cumulative effects. With that in mind, the Corps' Omaha District in conjunction with the USFWS, initiated an evaluation of cumulative impacts of fill activities on the Platte and North Platte rivers. The Corps has regulatory authority over fill activities in wetlands in the United States, primarily through Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (PL 95-217). Localized and cumulative effects from bank stabilization and fill activities were assessed.

The USFWS has several concerns with fill activities. Bank stabilization may adversely influence sediment transport characteristics, adjacent wetland habitats, rates of vegetation encroachment, flow regimes, sandbar habitat, channel morphology, and water quality, natural drainage characteristics, adjoining land use, and the subsequent degradation of the streambed.

The USFWS also expressed concern over several aspects of the streambank stabilization that the Corps regulates (Faanes 1992b). Principal among these are the cumulative effects of Public Law 95-217 and other permitted and unpermitted bank stabilization on the Platte River and its tributaries, and currently pending and future Section 404 permits for bank stabilization.

The study of cumulative effects was completed in 1990 (Corps, unpubl. data) and identified erosion control that has negligible influences on the hydraulic and geomorphologic characteristics of the Platte River. Major conclusions from the study were: 1) erosion control structures have had little effect on the physical properties of the Platte River; 2) revetments, fences, revegetation, and other methods that do not constrict the channel have essentially no effect on the river's environment; 3) jetties, hardpoints, and other deflective structures may affect the system if their length exceeds 5 to 10 percent of the channel width, these effects may be reduced by proper design and positioning of the structures; and 4) additional information is required to properly evaluate vegetation clearing. Preliminary analysis indicates that clearing may have some effect on river characteristics, but the success of vegetation clearing efforts depends heavily on the proper selection of bars and islands and on high flows subsequent to removal of vegetation.

Water Laws and Regulations

Much of the following discussion on the appropriations doctrine, federal water laws and state water laws is adapted from Safina et al. (1989) and Meyer (1989).

Federal Law

The primary authority to regulate the ownership, distribution, and use of water has generally been of the states. Until recently, the federal government usually was not involved in matters over water outside of ensuring safe navigation and unimpeded interstate commerce. Through more sophisticated programs (Meyer 1989) designed to promote power generation, flood control, irrigation, and environmental protection, the federal government now often acts in partnership with the states.

The ultimate legal authority relied upon by Congress to involve the federal government in the regulation of water resources resides in Article I, Section 8, of the United States Constitution under which Congress is granted the power to regulate interstate commerce. This article has been broadly interpreted (Meyer 1989) to bring virtually every aspect of commerce that affects more than one state within the scope of federal legislative authority.

Federal Power Act

Many hydropower projects that are state or privately operated are regulated by the FERC, created by the Federal Power Act (16 United States Code 791, et seq.). FERC requires applicants for a license or exemption from licensing to consult with each appropriate federal and state agency before submitting its application (18 Code of Federal Regulations 4.38).

The Electric Consumers Protection Act of 1986 amended the Federal Power Act variously and included a new statutory emphasis on environmental considerations and consistency with federal and state comprehensive plans by FERC when issuing a license. Section 4(e) of the Federal Power Act is broadened by a requirement for equal consideration of energy conservation, fish and wildlife resources, recreation, and other aspects of environmental quality. Section 10(a) was also strengthened to match the changes to Section 4(e).

Further, Section 10 has a new provision for the protection, mitigation, and enhancement of fish and wildlife resources. FERC is required to base such conditions on the recommendation of federal and state fish and wildlife agencies. When disagreements arise, FERC is required to attempt to resolve the disagreements. If resolution cannot be obtained and FERC does not adopt the agency recommendations, FERC must publish its findings that such conditions are inconsistent with the Federal Power Act and/or the conditions selected by FERC comply with Section 10(j)(1) of the Federal Power Act.

FERC issues licenses with up to forty-year terms. At expiration, the federal government has the option of either purchasing the project from its owners, renewing a license, or awarding a new license to a third party. If the federal government does not purchase the project and the owners apply for a renewal license, they must, prior to public hearings on renewals, make information available to the public regarding the operation of the project, including the effect the project has had and will have on fish and wildlife. The applicant must also consult with federal and state fish and wildlife agencies and if need be, conduct studies of the impact the project has had on fish and wildlife populations and their habitat.

If the re-licensing process is not completed before expiration of the terms of the original license, FERC must issue annual licenses which up to this point have merely required the licensee to maintain the status quo. This creates a significant loophole in that it allows harmful activities to continue unreviewed and unchecked. However, the District Court of Appeals has said that FERC has the authority to place conditions on annual licenses to protect fish and wildlife resources (Platte River Whooping Crane Trust vs. FERC, 876 F 2d 109, D.C. Circuit, 1989) (Sidle et al. 1990).

National Environmental Policy Act

Federally-funded and constructed water projects are authorized by Congress. These and similar federal actions, including the federal licensing or permitting of privately owned water projects, having a significant impact on the human environment, must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (42 United States Code 4321 et seq.). The law requires that the environmental and ecological impacts of proposed projects be considered and described in a document including a description of alternatives and proposed mitigation. Even if a proposed project reduces environmental values, it may still go forward. However, a negative finding (e.g., a determination by the Environmental Protection Agency that the document is environmentally unsuitable) may set the stage for legal challenges.

Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act

The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (16 United States Code 661 et seq.) requires that whenever a proposal is considered that would modify or divert stream waters, either directly by a federal water project construction agency or under federal permit or license (e.g., Section 404 permits), the USFWS and the state fish and wildlife agency must be consulted "with a view to the conservation of wildlife resources by preventing loss of or damage to such resources as well as providing for the development or improvement thereof." Fish and wildlife agency reports and recommendations, like assessments and environmental impact statements, must be made an integral part of any report prepared for Congressional authorization or for review by the agency permitting or licensing construction. As with NEPA, these reports do not determine whether a project goes forward or not, they merely ensure that environmental impacts and mitigation for unavoidable impacts are considered.

Federal Reserved Water Right

The federal government has the authority to preempt state law when it acts under delegated powers coupled with the supremacy clause of the constitution (Meyer 1989). The United States Supreme Court determined in Arizona v. California (373 U.S. 546(1963) that all federal reservations including national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges had a reserved water right. As condensed by Meyer (1989), the Supreme Court's water right doctrine means that "when the Federal Government withdraws its land from the public domain and reserves it for a federal purpose, the Government, by implication, reserves appurtenant water then unappropriated to the extent needed to accomplish the purpose of the reservation." In other words, when federal legislation creating a reservation does not mention water, the courts presume that Congress intended to reserve sufficient water to satisfy the purposes of the reservation (Meyer 1989). For instance, any lands on the Platte River for which the federal government holds title may have some water rights, but they would be junior to existing users (M. Zallen, personal communication).

State Water Law

State law regulates all surface water in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming, and individuals are allocated water rights according to state law (Safina et al. 1989). The allocation and control system is often called the prior appropriation doctrine. Under this doctrine the first to put the available water to beneficial use has the first right or "first in time is first in right." The constitutions of each of the states in the Platte River Basin provide that use of water in the state resides in the public domain. Water is considered such a precious resource that its use is regulated by the three states. In Nebraska, one applies for a water right and domestic uses and a higher preference than other uses. The water laws of Colorado and Wyoming are strictly appropriative, whereas laws of Nebraska are not (Meyer 1989).

The prior appropriation doctrine determines water rights and directs the use of water according to criteria. First, prior to recognition of a claim, the claimant must establish use of water (which can and is often done by diversion in Nebraska) in a manner that the state deems beneficial. In Wyoming, an entity must file an application with the state engineer and receive a permit before commencing any project construction or use of water. Second, the person who appropriates water first (senior holder) prevails over a later claimant (junior holder). The timing (priority date) of a claim or application, and not geographic location, determines priority. During a water shortage, priority is crucial because senior holders of rights are entitled to use water while those with later rights are denied water during these times. The available supply is allocated amongst all of the rights in order of their priority date. The final criterion for maintaining the legal right to use water is that the appropriated water must be used for the purposes for which the use has been permitted. Each states' laws provide for changes in use and place of use with varying conditions and restrictions applied depending on state law, the type os use, location of the point of diversion, etc.

In Wyoming and Nebraska, state administrative agencies have been established to grant and administer water rights, to mediate disputes between holders, and to supervise and approve the transfer of water rights. Instream flow rights are appropriated and administered by the Wyoming State Engineer's Office and the Nebraska DWR. In Colorado, separate water courts supervise water rights acquisition and transfers and mediate disputes between holders. However, the Colorado State Engineer's office manages the administrative duties on a day-to-day basis.

Beneficial use is the measure and limit of water rights in the three states. If water is not used in a manner deemed appropriate under state law, or if the use is altered without approval, the right to use water under the state water right permit or decree can be lost.

Historically, the criteria used to determine if a use is beneficial have been based almost exclusively on economic considerations. Municipal uses, irrigation, mining, manufacturing, and power generation are considered examples of beneficial uses. Until very recently, use of water for fish and wildlife habitat was not considered beneficial and such instream uses were not recognized as a legitimate basis for a claim. Recently, Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska have enacted instream flow laws recognizing such instream uses as beneficial. All future designations of flow rights would be part of the priority system and thus would be junior to all previously filed flow rights.

Colorado

Colorado has had an instream flow law in place since 1973. Under the state system, the Colorado Water Conservation Board may obtain and hold water rights "to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree." The Colorado Water Conservation Board now holds instream flow rights on 1,331 segments of streams totaling 7,826 miles.

In the early years of the program, several instream flow water rights were granted to private organizations. This approach was rejected in 1987, however, when the state legislature enacted an amendment, known as S.B. 212, which prohibits private parties from obtaining instream flow water rights. The Colorado Supreme Court has now recognized a claim by the City of Fort Collins for what amounts to an instream flow right on the Poudre River. The Court did so on the basis that the water is physically "controlled" by the existence of structures in the stream.

Nebraska

Nebraska's instream flow law, Neb. Rev. Stat. 46-2,107 to -2,119, was enacted in 1984. It provides for instream appropriations to be obtained by the NGPC or NRDs for that amount of water necessary for recreation or fish and wildlife. An instream flow appropriation will benefit fish and wildlife, recreation, ground water recharge and water quality. Appropriations also will protect instream uses, including fish and willdife, that are recognized as beneficial uses by Nebraska law; protect portions of existing natural flow; and utilize only available unappropriated water. Appropriations will not effect senior surface water appropriations; result in additional flow in the river; or require releases from existing storage facilities.

In 1992, the DWR granted the Central Platte NRD several permits for different monthly periods to appropriate water for instream flows in the Platte River (Sidle and Murray 1993). The permits are designed to protect habitat and food for the piping plover and least tern, and the habitat for sandhill crane and whooping crane along the central Platte. NRDs are locally elected districts charged with a broad conservation mission, including fish and wildlife conservation. The central Platte NRD's jurisdiction is most of the Big Bend Reach between Columbus and the western boundary of Dawson County.

According to Nebraska law, an application for instream flows will be approved for these purposes if the DWR finds the following purposes:

DWR found that the Central Platte NRD's applications were necessary to maintain the fish and macroinvertebrate food sources of the least tern and piping plover and to maintain the staging and roosting habitat of the sandhill crane and whooping crane. The DWR action represents the first approved use of instream flows for birds in the U.S.

The approved flows are lower than what most species experts believe are necessary. NGPC (1993) has applied for spring whooping crane flows (e.g., 2,400 cfs) considerably higher than those (e.g., 1,100 cfs (March 1-31); 1,300 cfs (April 1-14); 1,500 cfs (April 15-May 3) applied for by Central Platte NRD and approved by DWR. NGPC (1993) also has applied for various instream flows along the central Platte for fish and wet meadow conservation (Figure 10).

Nebraska law affords an opportunity to conserve biodiversity associated with the state's riverine ecosystems. If it is in the public interest to conserve a handful of threatened and endangered species along the Platte River, applications for instream flows for riverine ecosystems, plant and animal communities, and other components of biodiversity along Nebraska's streams and rivers might be equally successful.

Wyoming

Wyoming legislature enacted Wyo. Stat. 41-3-1001 to -1014 in 1986 providing limited recognition of instream flows for fisheries. The law authorizes the state (through the Water Development Commission, upon recommendation of the State Game and Fish Department) to appropriate the minimum amount of water for support of fisheries. Appropriations of direct flow may be made only upon a finding that natural flow is available for instream flow or can be derived from existing or new storage facilities. A call on the river may be made only upon a showing of present or future harm to the fishery.

International Migratory Bird Treaties and Conventions

The U.S. Government has signed several treaties with its neighbors on behalf of migratory bird conservation. Early treaties with Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) and Mexico regulated the hunting and taking of migratory birds. Later treaties with Japan (Convention Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Japan for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Birds in Danger of Extinction, and Their Environment; September 19, 1974; 25 UST 3329; TIAS 7990) and the former Soviet Union (Convention Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Concerning the Conservation of Migratory Birds and Their Environment; July 12, 1978; TIAS 9073) call for the regulation of hunting, but also provide for migratory bird conservation through the enhancement of habitat. These treaties encourage actions to identify and protect important habitat against pollution, detrimental alteration, and other environmental degradation, and to cooperate in measures to protect migratory birds identified as being in danger of extinction. Article VII of the treaty with the former Soviet Union states: "Each Contracting Party shall to the maximum extent possible, undertake measures necessary to establish preserves, refuges, protected areas, and also facilities intended for the conservation of migratory birds and their environments, and to manage such areas so as to preserve and restore the natural ecosystems."

Nearly 25 percent of the birds occurring in Nebraska are included in the treaties with Japan and the former Soviet Union. Some of the sandhill cranes which stage along the Platte nest in Siberia. International treaties are the highest law in the nation, superseding state and local laws. Given the extraordinary concentration of cranes along the Platte, new impetus should be given to conservation along the Platte in order to fulfill treaty obligations.


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