Two federal agencies are working on several conservation projects along the Nebraska-South Dakota border that require land to be set aside for habitat and public access.
Casey Kruse, the Missouri River coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says he’s working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the projects which involve federal land purchases and easements along the Missouri River.
“That is still moving forward through the environmental assessment process,” Kruse says. “It’s slower than we’d all like but it’s still moving forward.”
Nebraska’s two U.S. senators have sent letters to both agencies, questioning the motives of the purchases and the projects and calling for a halt to further actions without more explanation. Kruse says they are still working out the details and outlines of the land to be set aside.
“There’s a lot of work going on relative to the easement language and the parameters for qualification and the area, adding descriptions and those types of things,” Kruse says. “We’re anxiously awaiting the opportunity to use that tool and provide it to folks on a willing basis to help with some of the issues that compound and challenge river management here.”
In their letter, Senators Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer have asked the federal agencies to stop land purchases until they can detail the wildlife benefits expected from the projects. Kruse says they are working with willing landowners in an attempt to either create an easement or a purchase.
Kruse says, “What this is leading and going towards, based on a lot of public input, is really going not to the government owning the land but actually providing easements for folks, particularly in lands that have had damage to them or have been difficult to farm, those types of things.”
He says the actions are always voluntary, working with willing landowners, allowing the government to come in and find conservation and river benefits on properties where people are often struggling.
The letter from Johanns and Fischer asks that the agencies stop any further land purchases by November 1st.
By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton