- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Omaha World Herald. January 3, 2019

New farm bill will boost conservation efforts in Nebraska

Each year the federal government receives applications from Nebraska farmers seeking to participate in the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program. The applications are rated according to their potential to protect and bolster habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife.

The program had brought major benefits in Nebraska, helping protect more than 80,000 acres of wetlands and other lands, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says.

The commission points to the program as one of several notable conservation efforts in Nebraska supported by federal funds - programs, the commission says, that are strengthened under the new five-year farm bill passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. Midlands lawmakers in Washington have noted the conservation provisions’ importance for Nebraska and Iowa.

The farm bill boosts the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program by $450 million a year, says Jim Douglas, the director of Game and Parks. As a result, he says, the commission will be able to “do even more work with landowners, (the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s) Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency and our partner organizations to provide habitat essential for maintaining healthy wildlife populations in Nebraska.”

Such easements are important in Nebraska because almost all wildlife habitat in the state is on privately owned lands, Douglas says.

Here are some other ways in which the new farm bill will enhance conservation in Nebraska, according to Game and Parks:

“ It increases acreage available for the Conservation Reserve Program to 27 million acres, up from the current 24 million. The program pays landowners in exchange for planting perennial cover on environmentally sensitive cropland and is important in protecting habitat for pheasants, quail, deer, wild turkey, grassland songbirds and pollinators.

“ It provides $1.5 billion over five years to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. In Nebraska, more than $1.8 million in those funds have helped Game and Parks work with USDA and conservation partners for “targeted grassland management, cover crop initiatives, wetland conservation and more working with Nebraska landowners.”

“ It increases funding for the Voluntary Public Access-Habitat Incentives Program. The commission uses the funds to increase hunting and fishing access on privately owned lands through its Open Fields and Waters Program. More than 317,000 acres of private lands, an all-time record, were most recently enrolled in the program.

“ It increases the percentage of Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds spent on wildlife-related habitat practices. In Nebraska, the funds have supported red cedar removal and stream restoration.

Information on conservation programs for landowners in Nebraska is available at this Game and Parks site: http://outdoornebraska.gov/landownerhabitatprograms.

The farm bill, Douglas says, “provides much needed resources and policy improvements for private agricultural producers that are also a good fit with fish, wildlife, soil and water conservation.” Such cooperative ventures are a win-win, allowing farmers to pursue cultivation while preserving vital wildlife habitat.

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Lincoln Journal Star. January 4, 2019

Lincoln’s saline wetlands are worth saving

Just as the Salt Creek tiger beetle is endangered, so are the area’s saline wetlands they call home.

However, coordinated efforts by a variety of government agencies, nonprofits and businesses have teamed up to preserve this exceedingly rare habitat - one that’s found only in the Lincoln area - for future generations. Lincoln recently added to land protected by these collaborative efforts.

Using money from the Nebraska Environmental Trust and park acquisition funds, the city purchased another 61 acres of land along Salt Creek within its 3-mile jurisdiction beyond city limits. That parcel, adjacent to another city-owned marsh, joins more than 6,100 acres of such habitat in and around Lincoln that are owned by conservation groups or preserved by conservation easements.

Lincoln is one of the founding members of the Greenprint Challenge, which was founded near the turn of the century to preserve wetlands, prairie, flood plains and streams. To go from zero to 6,100 acres in 14 protected areas in that time is astounding and deserves praise.

Much of this natural heritage has been turned over to the public for hiking and other activities that add to humans’ quality of life, too, with plenty of access points in northern Lancaster and southern Saunders counties. The newly acquired land will one day be a park as well.

The Salt Creek tiger beetle is perhaps the best known denizen of these wetlands. This endangered insect, one of the rarest in the world, has seen its small habitat reduced to four known colonies in and near its namesake waterway. (The bug has generated its fair share of frustration, too, in lawsuits and the slowing of construction and roads projects in the protected area.)

But these rare ecosystems, ones where groundwater can contain nearly as much salt content as oceans, are home to other plant and animal species that depend on them for survival. With much of the remaining habitat degraded by development, keeping and restoring the remaining pieces has become that much more critical.

Rarely in journalism do we use the word “unique.” It’s infrequent, at best, for something to be truly one-of-a-kind. But these wetlands fit the bill.

Though it may pass by largely unnoticed by many Lincolnites, this habitat belongs to us - and no one else. Years of effort to preserve and redevelop these saline wetlands are a worthy endeavor that we should treasure now and in the years to come.

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Kearney Hub. January 3, 2019

Election officer must be impartial

Incoming Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen has big shoes to fill. A Republican and Lincoln attorney, Evnen will take over on Jan. 10.

The office holder Evnen will replace, John Gale, is retiring after 18 years as our state’s top election official. The secretary of state also is Nebraska’s chief record keeper and guardian of state symbols.

As chief record keeper, Gale presided over an evolution of government services. Today, every department of state government provides services online. Regardless of where they live, Nebraskans are within a few computer keystrokes of accessing state services, from reserving a site at a state campground to registering their corporations.

As guardian of our state symbols, Gale appeared at numerous elementary schools to talk about our state’s rich heritage and to drum up enthusiasm for Nebraska’s 150th anniversary.

As chief election official, the secretary of state at times must referee disagreements. Gale was called upon to settle a number of controversies about petition drives and other matters that required impartiality and fairness. If any decision had appeared partisan, it may have been challenged in court, but Gale took care so that didn’t occur.

One of Gale’s first acts as secretary of state came in 2000 in reaction to Florida’s presidential election debacle in which scores of ballots were disqualified, causing some voters to feel disenfranchised. Under Gale, Nebraska became one of the first states to modernize its election technology with ballot tabulation equipment and statewide computerized voter registration.

The paper ballots and scanning technology introduced in 2000 remain tamper-proof and contribute to Nebraskans’ faith that their votes are counted and accurately recorded.

Evnen should continue the focus on election integrity and increasing voter participation, but he said this week he plans to look into voter ID. We advise caution pursuing any proposal that might make it more difficult for Nebraskans to register and vote, especially elderly and minority voters.

Rather than seeking the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, Evnen should keep voter ID on the shelf and instead continue the push to register more voters and promote larger election turnouts. We have to believe Nebraskans are more concerned about outside hacking than the possibility of voter fraud throwing an election.

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