Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation of migratory bird habitat along Nebraska’s Platte River. The trust’s mission is to protect and maintain the physical, hydrological, and biological integrity of the river as a life-support system for whooping cranes, sandhill cranes, waterfowl, and other migratory birds. The trust acquires land and water rights, manages and protects habitat, and conducts research on migratory birds.

In the 1970s, the Missouri Basin Power Project proposed the Grayrocks Dam on the Laramie River (a tributary of the North Platte) in Wyoming. The state of Nebraska and the National Wildlife Federation objected to Grayrocks, claiming it would jeopardize irrigation and wildlife habitat downstream in Nebraska. In 1978 a court-approved settlement provided for certain mitigation and enhancement measures, including the creation of the trust. These measures satisfied the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and allowed construction of Grayrocks to continue.

The trust was initially funded by a $7.5 million payment from the project developers. Income from the fund is used to finance land and water rights acquisition, research, and land management. Three trustees appointed by each of the parties to the settlement agreement administer the trust. Through fee title and conservation easements, the trust protects and manages approximately 10,000 acres. These lands are in active farming and ranching operations, where such activities are compatible with management of migratory bird habitat. The trust also continues to pay property taxes. In addition to land management activities, the trust has participated in legal proceedings, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing of Nebraska’s McConaughy Reservoir and a lawsuit between Nebraska and Wyoming to ensure long-term protection of river flows. A licensing settlement was reached in 1998 with the Nebraska Public Power District and the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, in which water stored in an environmental "account" can now be released specifically for wildlife needs. Nebraska v. Wyoming, a legal dispute over the allocation of Platte River flow, was settled in 2001, with Wyoming agreeing to further restrictions on its consumptive water use.

See also PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT: Bird Migrations.

Paul J. Currier Platte River Whooping Crane Maintenance Trust

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