Tracking Our Progress on Playa Conservation

As part of PLJV’s mission, we work to restore and maintain wetland habitat to support birds and other wildlife. Having healthy playas throughout our landscape is critical to providing much-needed rest stops and food for migrating and resident birds, as well as water for humans. Within the PLJV region, there are approximately 71,850 probable playas; of those, we need 32,611 healthy playas to meet our goal of providing wetland habitat for migratory birds.

PLJV Partnership's Goal

32,611 Healthy Playas ? Our Goal Of the 71,850 playas in our region, at least 32,611 healthy playas are needed to provide wetland habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife and to provide groundwater recharge. Healthy playas also filter and clean the water going through them into the Ogallala Aquifer. ?

Playas Now

Playas
Now

Playas ? Healthy Healthy playas have hydrologically intact basins, little to no accumulated sediment, and a native grass buffer that traps sediment while allowing water to reach the playa. ?

Healthy

Playas Needed

Playas ? Need to Restore The PLJV partnership needs to restore this many playas to reach the goal. Restoration may include filling pits or ditches, removing accumulated sediment, and planting native grass buffers. ?

Need to Restore

Playas
Needed

Change
in 2017

Change in 2017

Playas ? Improved Functionality Each year, we measure progress towards the goal by counting the number of playas the PLJV partnership has restored. This does not necessarily include playas that have been restored by landowners of their own accord, but we’d like to include them, so please share your story. ?

Improved Functionality

Playas ? Reduced Functionality Each year, we measure the number of playas whose functionality has been reduced because of a number of impacts including loss of grassland buffers, energy development, and sediment build-up. These reductions impact the ability of the partnership to meet the overall goal. ?

Reduced Functionality

Change in 3 Years

Playas ? Potential to be Restored The PLJV partnership is working to restore playas through a variety of programs and initiatives. This is an estimate of the playas that will be restored over the next three years. ?

Potential to be Restored

Playas ? Potential to be Impacted Unless proactive measures are taken, the number of playas with reduced functionality will continue to increase. This is an estimate of playas that may be impacted from sediment build-up and energy development activities over the next three years. ?

Potential to be Impacted

Change
in 3 Years

The dashboard above, which displays key playa conservation performance indicators, shows that we are at a pivotal moment for playa conservation. During the past year, the partnership restored 150 playas, and most states within our region now have playa-focused conservation initiatives that provide technical and financial assistance to landowners. But we need to work even harder to improve and expand those programs and develop new ones to offset and reduce further impacts to playas. We have to engage non-traditional partners, such as municipalities, and continue to build awareness of the benefits playas provide to people and wildlife.

Working in partnership with wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, industry, communities, and landowners, we are confident we can make progress against our goal. In fact, we are beginning to gain ground in a number of ways and are currently laying the foundation for several large-scale playa conservation efforts. You can read about some of those efforts below under the Potential Future Progress section.

You Can Help

You can help us meet our playa conservation goal—no matter who you are, where you live, or what you do.

  • Read through the information in this playa conservation section to learn more about playas.
  • Tell others about playas and the benefits they provide for people and wildlife.
  • Contact your local USDA Service Center to learn about Farm Bill programs that help private landowners restore and conserve playas.
  • Contact us for information about how to include playa restoration as part of a municipal water plan or for guidance on how to restore playas.

How We Measure

At the end of each year, we measure progress by counting the number of playas the larger PLJV partnership has restored. We also look at how many playas have reduced functionality because of energy development, accumulated sediment, or hydrologic modifications. The table below shows the factors and data sources we use to classify playas as healthy and how they can change from one category to another.

FACTORHEALTHY
(Matches all criteria below)
CHANGES
(Data sources used to determine change)
NOT HEALTHY
(Matches any one or more criteria below)
Farming in basinNot farmed→ NASS CDL1, NAIP2
← CRP3 or other restoration enrollment
Farmed
Grass bufferBuffer present→ NASS CDL, NAIP2
← CRP3 or other restoration enrollment
No buffer
Basin hydrologyIntact basin→ NAIP2
← Pit Filling Program enrollment
Has pit, ditch, or other modification
Wind developmentOutside wind farm footprint→ FAA
← FAA4
Within wind farm footprint
Accumulated sedimentNo sediment→ We forecast overall changes to the system based on rates from the scientific literature. Changes in this direction are not currently tracked on a playa by playa basis.
← Sediment removal program enrollment
Excess sediment

1 National Agricultural Statistics Service Cropland Data Layer
2 National Agricultural Imagery Program
3 Conservation Reserve Program
4 Federal Aviation Administration

Progress Last Year

In 2017, 141 playas were restored through the following programs. This does not include playas that have been restored privately without the help of a state or federal conservation program.

PROGRAMPLAYAS AFFECTED
USDA Migratory Bird, Butterfly, and Pollinator Habitat State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement in Kansas and Nebraska95
USDA Continuous Conservation Reserve Program - Practice CP23A (Wetland Restoration Non-floodplain)16
USDA Conservation Reserve Program10
Texas Playa Conservation Initiative, a state-based pit-filling program5
Kansas Playas and Wetlands Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)15
Colorado Playa Conservation Program9
Total150

In 2017, 189 healthy playas fell within the footprint of a newly constructed wind farm (FAA data, 2017). Wind farms located within playa clusters reduce the ability of those playas to provide wildlife benefits, especially when a turbine is in a playa basin. Because playas host large numbers of migratory and wintering waterfowl, waterbirds, and shorebirds, there is a risk of mortality from contact with the wind turbines as well as indirect effects of birds avoiding playas. If birds avoid playas, they may have to fly farther to find appropriate wetland habitat for roosting and refueling, an energetically expensive activity at a time when energy is at a premium. Sediment accumulation in playas can prevent water from pooling and reduce the capacity of the playa to recharge the Aquifer. An estimated 0.6% of healthy playas are filled in by sediment each year (Johnson et al., 2012).

IMPACTPLAYAS AFFECTED
Energy development (wind farms)189
Hydrologic modifications0
Accumulated Sediment139
Total328

Potential Future Progress

The PLJV partnership is currently working to restore playas throughout the region using several different programs. The number of playas listed below represent the potential for restoration under each program during the next 3 years.

USDA Migratory Bird, Butterfly and Habitat SAFE Practice – 292 playas
In December 2017, a second signup period for the Migratory Bird, Butterfly, and Pollinator Habitat State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (Migratory Bird SAFE) practice was announced in Kansas and Nebraska. This program is entirely focused on conserving playas, with up to 10,000 acres available for enrollment in each state.

Texas Playa Conservation Initiative – 205 playas
The goal of this multi-partner effort is to restore playas throughout the Texas Panhandle to improve wetland habitat for migratory waterfowl, shorebirds and cranes, as well as upland game birds. The restoration work will focus exclusively on filling pits and trenches in buffered playas — those in native grassland or enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. The partners are currently working in Castro, Floyd, Lubbock, Swisher, Armstrong, Briscoe, and Crosby counties, and an estimated 200 playas may be restored over the next 3 years. Five of these are already under contract and awaiting dirt work day.

Resilient Communities: Clovis, New Mexico – 126 playas
A diverse group of organizations and individuals are collaborating to conserve and restore playas in Curry County, New Mexico, with the goal of supporting the City of Clovis’ municipal water supply and providing needed habitat for migratory birds. The partnership includes city and county government agencies and organizations, soil and water conservation districts, local landowners, state and federal agencies, and nonprofit conservation organizations.

Conservation Reserve Program – 78 playas
The Migratory Bird SAFE mentioned above is a particular continuous practice that started in 2017 and was a great success, but there are other Conservation Reserve Program practices including the playa specific CP-23A practice that are expected to continue their popularity for landowners in the next few years.

Kansas Playas and Wetlands RCPP – 45 playas
Ducks Unlimited is leading a diverse group of partners in a Regional Conservation Partners Program to assist NRCS with delivery of the ACEP program (ALE and WRE) on priority Kansas wetlands including playas. This program is expected to protect and restore up to 20 playas in Kansas over the next few years.

Potential to be Impacted

Unless proactive measures are taken, the number of playas with reduced functionality will continue to increase. This estimate of playas that may be impacted from sediment build-up and energy development activities over the next three years is an extrapolation of impacts over the past year. Over that time period we do not expect large scale conversion of naturally vegetated playas to cropland.

IMPACTPLAYAS AFFECTED
Energy development (wind farms)567
Accumulated Sediment909
Total1,476

Literature Cited

Albanese, G. & Haukos, D.A. A network model framework for prioritizing wetland conservation in the Great Plains. Landscape Ecology (2017) 32: 115. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-016-0436-0

Johnson, L.A., Haukos, D.A., Smith, L.M., and S.T. McMurry, 2012. Physical loss and modification of Southern Great Plains playas. Journal of Environmental Management. (2012). 112. Pp. 275-283