The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is wading through comments about the proposed Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Areas.
The proposal calls for the federal government to purchase 1.4-million acres for the areas from as many as 1,500 landowners in both Nebraska and South Dakota.
Wayne Nelson-Stastny, a spokesman for the agency based at Gavins Point Dam, says there’s been a lot of input on the plan, both for and against.
“We’ve heard from landowners who pulled together with their neighbors and have a couple thousand acres they may want to sign up,” Nelson-Stastny says. “Some folks have some riverfront property they would like to sign up as part of this plan. We’ve heard from other folks who don’t want to see the government in the area.”
The proposal would cover land in Nebraska and South Dakota along the Missouri River, from the mouth of the Niobrara River to near Ponca State Park. The plan calls for the federal agency to acquire about 80% of the land access through voluntary easements.
Nelson-Stastny says the service will have a formal response to the many comments.
“We’re going to look at the comments and look for responses to them,” he says. “We’ll look at potential modifications to the plan as it was proposed because we do listen to the people of the area and want to be responsive to their request.”
Nelson-Stastny says U.S. Fish and Wildlife may make changes to the plan in response to the public comments.
“It’ll be several months before we see those changes come out,” Nelson-Stastny says. “There were quite a few comments that came in on the plan as proposed. We appreciate the public providing that input into this effort. It is really about working with the people and hearing from them helps us adjust things appropriately.”
The public comment period was extended into early fall, but senators and representatives from South Dakota and Nebraska have asked the Interior Department Secretary to re-open the plan to more public input.
Nebraska Senators Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer oppose the plan, as does Congressman Adrian Smith, in addition to a congresswoman from South Dakota.
By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton