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Nebraska Ranchers Work to Protect the Greater Prairie Chicken

In Nebraska, football is king. Every April more than 50,000 fans buy tickets and pack Memorial Stadium, home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, to watch the spring scrimmage. Water cooler chatter and media across the state celebrate football.

But this April, another celebration shared the spotlight—an event in the state’s Sandhills recognizing how a special group of landowners came together to achieve a fantastic conservation vision.

The Gracie Creek Landowners (GCL) is an association of three families who call the vast, delicate and rolling hills of north-central Nebraska home. GCL worked with WWF to modify their grazing and landscape management practices. The result is a lush, thriving home to some of the Northern Great Plains’ most regal wildlife, including the Greater Prairie Chicken.

The GCL held the state’s first annual Prairie Chicken Festival from April 20-22, 2012. The event was an ecotourism achievement, bringing bird watchers, professional photographers and wildlife enthusiasts to the families’ ranches. Visitors watched the elegant Greater Prairie Chicken mating dance and heard about Sandhills conservation. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman even proclaimed it the state’s official prairie chicken festival.

WWF’s Work to Protect the Northern Great Plains

WWF’s work in the Northern Great Plains centers around four conservation actions:

• Work collaboratively with tribal leaders, private landowners and land and wildlife management agencies to improve land and wildlife management practices.
• Find opportunities to reward landowners for conservation practices, such as helping landowners develop biodiversity management plans.
• Conserve and restore endangered, threatened and keystone species and their habitats.
• Address the most pressing environmental, community or environmental threats.

In a region that’s 75 percent privately owned, these are critical elements to see a conservation vision become a reality.

WWF’s work with GCL is an example of all that coming together.

WWF is assisting the Gracie Creek Landowners in developing a biodiversity conservation plan. We provide financial support as well as wildlife and tourism experts to give technical guidance in writing a plan.

The result is a collective 48,800 acres now under a modified grazing and landscape management practice. These efforts will enhance grassland bird habitat while maintaining essential forage for livestock.