Our Conservation

The Niobrara Sanctuary is devoted to the conservation of wildlife and the habitats they rely on, including sustainable ranch management and nature-based tourism opportunities that contribute to the viability of this commitment and enjoyment of these resources.

Our conservation and management strategy includes the restoration of native prairie and grassland communities. We have planted former cropland back to a diversity of native grasses and forbs, removed eastern red cedars (one of the region’s most invasive species) from over 2,000 acres of native grassland, and through sustainable grazing and controlled burning, we work to restore natural plant composition to the extent possible in both grasslands and woodlands. Our prairies support a rich diversity of plant life, from the tall grasses of Big Bluestem and Sand Bluestem to the colorful wildflowers of Bush Morning Glory, Blue Verbain, Beebalm and Sunflowers.

To improve water quality as well as to protect and enhance riparian and aquatic habitat, the Sanctuary is in the process of building four miles of fence to exclude livestock from major sections of Willow Creek, Rock Creek and other sensitive habitats on the property. Four-wire fences, with smooth top and bottom wires, are being constructed for the purpose of reducing injuries to fawn deer and other wildlife that go under the fences or those that jump over–especially Mule Deer which more frequently catch their hind legs between the two top wires on barbed wire fences. Spacing the wires 12 inches apart also adds to wildlife safety.

Stock tanks that are not currently used for livestock watering are maintained to provide water for wildlife, complete with escape devices making it easy for birds to perch and drink and for animals that fall into the tanks to escape by climbing out. Approximately 250 acres of previously cultivated fields have been planted to native grasses, legumes and wildflowers or are otherwise managed to serve as nesting and brood habitat for prairie grouse (Sharp-tailed Grouse and Greater Prairie-chickens) and other grassland birds including Long-billed Curlews, Upland Sandpipers, Western Meadowlarks, Dickcissels and Grasshopper Sparrows. Plantings to serve as pollinator habitats, a critical need for native bees and butterflies, are planned for 2011. Wet meadows near the river are managed for nesting Bobolinks.

The Niobrara Sanctuary has worked with range and wildlife ecologists from the University of Nebraska and government agencies to implement research on topics including nesting bird habitat, fish populations and invasive species control, and we look forward to future opportunities for scientific collaborations—particularly those that enhance wildlife conservation and sustainable range management both on and beyond the Sanctuary.

This website is new and growing, and we hope to make much more information available about our conservation work soon. We hope that you come and visit and see how your stay at the Hutton Sanctuary makes a contribution to our efforts.