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A joint effort: Nebraska landowners come together to save Schramm Bluffs

NE - Development in the Omaha metro area could fragment historically and ecologically rich land, but a group of landowners are doing their part to make sure that this land stays intact.
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A joint effort: Nebraska landowners come together to save Schramm Bluffs

Working together

Development in the Omaha metro area could fragment historically and ecologically rich land, but a group of landowners are doing their part to make sure that this land stays intact.

"Preservation of the Schramm Bluffs will be a long, steep trail to climb, and we are just getting started, but thanks to landowner interest, the Nebraska Environmental Trust, and many others, the destination appears to be in reach," said Dave Sands, director of the Nebraska Land Trust.

The land trust will use a $1.1 million grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to create conservation easements with local landowners in the Schramm Bluffs region between Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska. The grant will ensure long-term survival of the area.

Funds from the grant can be used for annual monitoring expenses and enforcement, if necessary, said Lisa Beethe, grants administrator of the Nebraska Environmental Trust. “We needed to be sure there were sufficient funds,” Beethe said. “We felt if we were willing to make the initial investment that we should require a defense fund to ensure its survival far into the future.” Beethe said the Nebraska Environmental Trust thought of the idea after analyzing ways to improve its evaluation of prospective properties during the grant review process.

“We wanted to be sure we were looking at these with a critical eye and could really substantiate why public funds should be used for these transactions,” Beethe said. “One thing the board felt strongly about was long-term survival of our investment.”

Taking a stand

Twelve local landowners have expressed interest in creating conservation easements to protect the land in perpetuity. Each of the 12 landowners were given assessments and ranked using criteria such as the presence of threatened or endangered wildlife, presence of historic sites, size of property, and scenic views from public places. The land trust is now negotiating with several landowners.

Sands said the cooperation of local landowners is crucial to protecting Schramm Bluffs.

“Only landowners can open the door to permanent protection of private land. In this case, the Nebraska Land Trust recognized that many doors were open, several properties are contiguous to each other, and it was clear that there are significant resources to protect,” Sands said.

The landowners are aware of the importance of this particular easement as well, Beethe said.

“The program is asking for a 25% contribution from the landowners - that's significant,” said Beethe, “Protecting this land will be their legacy and will allow future generations of their family and others to enjoy the scenic vistas, wildlife and water that are currently threatened.”

A unique region

Sands said Schramm Bluffs was chosen for conservation because of its exceptional natural and historical resources, development pressure and landowner interest in the easement program.

Schramm Bluffs, which includes the 331-acre Schramm State Park, is located in the fastest growing county in Nebraska. Although efforts have been made to enact restrictive zoning in the 11,000-acre district, zoning can be reversed, so it does not ensure the permanent protection of the land.

The site includes an eastern oak/hickory forest, and has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, due to the abundance of migrating songbirds that visit the area each spring.

The Bluffs also border the Platte River, which has been designated as a Biologically Unique Landscape, and is home to several threatened or endangered species.

“In addition to federally protected bald eagles that nest in cottonwoods along the banks of the Platte, endangered pallid sturgeons use the river itself, while endangered interior least terns and threatened piping plovers nest on the sandbars in the river,” Sands said.

Along with the area’s ecological value, it also includes numerous Native American archaeological sites.

The perils of development

Located near the Omaha metro region, the area faces tremendous pressure from development, Sands said. “If farms are carved up for one-to-three-acre subdivisions, much of the habitat would be fragmented and the over-population of deer, which is damaging the woodlands, would probably get worse.”

He added, “The area also contains a number of steep watersheds, so erosion, septic systems, and sediment are a concern, especially since the area is just up-river from one of Omaha’s major municipal drinking water well fields.”

Story by Tina Deines

Photo courtesy of Nebraska Land Trust

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