Berm-focused Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project to proceed

Berm-focused PRRIP water project to proceed

Lori Potter – Kearney Hub

ELM CREEK — A design and cost estimate might be ready in September for the first new Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project to proceed since the large J-2 water-retiming reservoirs project proposed for southwest of Overton were determined to be too expensive.

The main feature of the new project will be about 6.5 miles of small berms spread over roughly 300 grassland acres in the southeast corner of the 3,000-acre Cottonwood Ranch. It is owned by Nebraska Public Power District and managed by the PRRIP on the south side of the river between Elm Creek and Overton.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Director of Habitat Management and Rehabilitation Jason Farnsworth, left, and Executive Director Jerry Kenny describe for 2017 Nebraska Water and Natural Resources Tour participants a water project at a Cottonwood Ranch grassland southwest of Elm Creek. The plan is to build small berms to hold water on the 300-acre site at times when high flows allow diversions from the Platte River, at the tree line in the background. Lori Potter, Kearney Hub

PRRIP Director of Habitat Management and Rehabilitation Jason Farnsworth said the benefits will be better roosting and foraging habitat for migrating whooping cranes and the ability to retime water in the river.

The Platte Program is a combined effort of the U.S. Department of Interior, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado to protect critical habitat in and around the Central Platte River for threatened and endangered species: whooping cranes, interior least terns and piping plovers.

The three main components for the first 13-year increment are to protect 10,000 acres of land habitat — PRRIP Executive Director Jerry Kenny of Kearney said 12,000 acres have been acquired — and reduce depletions to river target flows by 130,000-150,000 acre-feet on average.

He said program partners brought 80,000 a-f of water toward the goal, leaving 50,000-80,000 a-f still to achieve.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Grazing leases and public access for hiking and waterfowl hunting will likely continue at the Cottonwood Ranch site where a berm-focused Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project may be built late this year or early in 2018. Lori Potter, Kearney Hub

The Cottonwood Ranch property was acquired as wet meadow and lowland grassland habitat, Farnsworth said, “but we had issues keeping water in this area.”

“Soon, we will incorporate this whole area as a broad-scale recharge project that can hold water from the Platte if there is a flow excess,” he said, beyond targets set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Berms will be 5-6 feet tall.

“It will be a couple hundred acres of water 6 to 12 to 14 inches deep. That’s perfect for these birds,” Farnsworth said about the habitat that will be created to attract migrating whooping cranes.

To read more of this article by Lori Potter of the Kearney Hub, click here.

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.



Court throws out policy on whether or not to prosecute on kills of endangered species

FOTWW is pleased to see a court ruling that properly interprets the law to protect endangered species.

Flawed ‘McKittrick’ Policy Ruled Unlawful

Endangered Species

Two adults and one juvenile Whooping Cranes. Photo by Chuck Hardin

TUCSON, Ariz. — Wednesday, a federal judge threw out the Department of Justice’s flawed ‘McKittrick Policy’ under which the government only prosecuted killers of animals on the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) list of imperiled species when it could prove the killer knew the exact biological identity of the species s/he was harming. The decision came as a result of a challenge brought by WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance in 2013.

Because of the defective policy, the government declined to prosecute people who killed protected species, including critically endangered Mexican wolves, gray wolves like ‘Echo’ the Grand Canyon wolf — who was shot by a coyote hunter — whooping cranes, condors, and grizzly bears.

“The end of the McKittrick Policy is a crucial victory for critically imperiled animals including Mexican wolves and grizzly bears,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Wildlife killers who are either profoundly careless or worse, who intentionally target protected animals, no longer have a get-out-of-jail-free card by claiming they did not know the identity of the animals they kill.”

The Court held: “…the Court agrees with Plaintiffs that the McKittrick policy is outside the range of prosecutorial authority set out in [the] ESA’s comprehensive conservation scheme because it eviscerates the deterrent effect of the ESA criminal enforcement statutes. In other words, prosecutions prevented by the McKittrick policy result in little to no protection for the Mexican wolf and cause direct and real harm…to this protected species.” Opinion at 11.

“The Court’s ruling is a victory for endangered species across the country, but especially for those like the Mexican gray wolf, whose highest cause of mortality is illegal killing,” said Judy Calman, staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “This decision is an affirmation of Congress’s intent that endangered species recovery should be the highest priority for federal agencies, and that people who harm listed species should be held accountable under the law”

The Court reasoned: “In adopting ESA’s public welfare offenses, Congress recognized that killing wildlife is not an entirely innocent act because a killer is knowingly engaged in a lethal activity, using a deadly device, which places him or her in a position of responsibility in relation to the public. Congress placed the burden to know the identity of the wildlife species being killed on the killer.” Opinion at 40.

“This internal DOJ policy to arbitrarily limit its own prosecutorial discretion was abhorrent and directly conflicted with its enforcement responsibilities. This abdication resulted in dozens of wolves being illegally shot without penalty, which in turn undoubtedly led to additional killings,” said Mark Allison, executive director at New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “We’re gratified by the ruling and eager to take other necessary steps to ensure that the Mexican gray wolf recovery effort is successful.”

The court’s ruling means the Department of Justice may no longer rely on the unlawful McKittrick policy when making decisions whether to prosecute those who illegally kill wildlife protected by the Endangered Species Act.

“This ruling is important because it ensures careless hunters can no longer hide behind the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mindset that led to the tragic deaths of many endangered Mexican wolves and other imperiled animals,” said John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians. “The case powerfully affirms the longstanding ethical tenant that hunters are responsible for knowing their prey—before they shoot to kill.”

The organizations were represented by attorneys Steve Sugarman and Judy Calman.


Additional excepts from the ruling:

“Necessarily, the narrow construction of criminal liability under the McKittrick policy, which DOJ has consciously and expressly adopted, is a complete abdication of DOJ’s statutory responsibility under ESA.” Opinion at 17.

“The McKittrick policy, implemented as a prosecutorial policy, moots the power retained by the trial courts to say what the law is and ensures they will not be afforded opportunities to decide what law is warranted and appropriate on facts analogous to those that existed in McKittrick.”

Opinion at 18.

“The McKittrick policy violates the APA because it is based on the DOJ’s incorrect belief that it cannot prosecute mistaken and/or careless wolf takings. The ESA is a public welfare statute and this context defeats the general presumption that mens rea attaches to every fact constituting the offense. Under ESA, it is a misdemeanor offense to knowingly shoot wildlife, if the animal shot is a protected species. Because Congress created this vigorous enforcement scheme to conserve endangered and threatened species, including the Mexican gray wolf, the DOJ has abdicated its statutory responsibility by adopting the McKittrick policy which precludes, without discretion, prosecutions for mistakenly and/or carelessly taking, i.e., shooting, a wolf.” Opinion at 41.

You can read and/or download the court ruling here.


***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.