In Nebraska, the Platte River extends from North Platte to Plattsmouth and is a significant ecosystem. It is a continentally important stopover area for migratory birds including numerous shorebird species, Whooping Cranes, and Sandhill Cranes. It also provides important habitat for grassland breeding birds, fish, pollinators, and other wildlife. Through the Vision for an Ecologically Sound Platte River (VESPR) project, a number of partners are working together to support the conservation of this important ecosystem, with social science playing an important role.
“We need to blend what we know about the hydrology and ecology of the system with what people along the river see as opportunities for their communities.”
Along a 10-mile stretch on the North Platte River, sediment is accumulating and restricting important water flow that is needed for wildlife and people further down the river. Because of this, a major focus of the project is working with independent scientists and conservation partners to develop innovative solutions to address the choke point — a location where water flow is constricted — which is near the city of North Platte.
“The VESPR group is looking at the Platte River and the habitat that it supports from a broad perspective,” said Melissa Mosier, Platte River Program Manager for Audubon Great Plains. “We understand that if we want this system to sustain birds, wildlife, and people over the long term, we need to find solutions that meet the needs of many different stakeholders.”
Mosier said the group recognizes that to be successful, solutions will need to provide benefits to the river and the people around it. “We need to blend what we know about the hydrology and ecology of the system with what people along the river see as opportunities for their communities.”
An important aspect of this work is engaging with communities along the river to include them in the conservation process and understand their ties to the river. This is where social science comes in.
“We started by interviewing people whose jobs relate to the river, like city engineers, the city planning administrator, and business and economic development leaders,” said PLJV Social Science Lead Ashley Gramza. “And then talked with other key stakeholders in the community including landowners, recreation operators, and Hispanic advocacy groups.”
After these initial interviews, the team realized that adequate water for river-related recreation and associated economic development was very important and a big focus for those they talked to.
“People felt connected to the river through recreation – things like tanking, kayaking, and bird watching,” Gramza said. “We now have a better idea of the range of ways people connect to the North and South Platte Rivers and what river issues are important to them. This will help us develop solutions that benefit both people and wildlife.”
The work that VESPR is doing is bringing more attention to the issue on a broader scale. These initial interviews will hopefully lead to additional conversations with stakeholders in the community and develop a structure to more deeply engage with people in the future.
“This is a starting point,” Gramza said. “Continuing to engage with these folks and others will be essential to developing solutions that truly are win-wins for the people and wildlife who rely on these resources.”
A working group of over 18 people from multiple organizations, including PLJV, came together to develop a long-term vision for the Platte River Valley that included developing conservation priorities and objectives using a landscape design approach. Read the entire Long-Term Vision for an Ecologically Sound Platte River.