Outdoor notes: Nebraska’s wildlife appears to have fared well through storm, flood

LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska’s wildlife seems to have fared well overall in the wake of March’s blizzard and catastrophic flooding.

While some individual animals likely died, some new habitat to benefit wildlife has been created. The full impact of the blizzard and flood, in many cases, won’t be known for some time.

Upland Game – There likely were not many upland gamebird death because of the flooding, which occurred prior to the nesting season, as these birds are mobile and likely fled the rising water. It is too early to determine what nesting impacts there may be on pheasants and quail but brood surveys and whistle counts, in conjunction with the Rural Mail Carrier Survey (RMCS), should provide a better picture on the impact of this winter and floods. The April RMCS appears to indicate that this winter may not have been as hard on pheasants and turkey as initially thought. In addition, biologist still are finding prairie grouse in all their traditional lekking areas, but it appears the peak breeding activity may be slightly behind schedule compared to average years.

Waterfowl – It is too soon to know if the blizzard hurt Canada goose nesting, but the precipitation should provide good nesting conditions through May. Flooding likely didn’t impact waterfowl negatively, but instead created habitat for foraging spring migrators.

Furbearers and Carnivores – Some semi-aquatic furbearers, such as mink, muskrat, beaver and river otters, may have drown or been killed when dens were blocked or destroyed. Beaver dams and lodges likely were blown out by floodwater and debris. The long-term outlook may be good, as surge flooding creates new channels, sloughs, and backwaters that will provide new habitat.

Nongame Birds – In general, floods likely are beneficial to ecosystems and species in the long-term. The March blizzard and flooding produced a tremendous amount of wetland habitat, which would benefit millions of migratory birds. Some birds, especially some early-arriving insectivores likely perished in the blizzard, but most cold-sensitive species do not arrive until the latter part of April.

Big Game – There have been dead deer observed after the blizzard; diet, malnutrition and disease seeming to contribute to the loss. However, good numbers of deer still are being seen in many areas. No losses of bighorn sheep, elk, antelope or turkey have been reported.

Other Wildlife – While individual animals may have been impacted, most species were likely not affected at the population level. For the most part, flowers were not blooming yet, most migrant species were not in Nebraska, and birds were not nesting during the time of increased precipitation. Some benefits include the increase in connectivity of waterways, scouring of invasive vegetation, and aggregation of sandbars.

Commission approves deer, antelope and elk hunting recommendations

LINCOLN, Neb. – The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved recommendations for 2019 deer, antelope and elk hunting seasons at its meeting April 24 at Ponca State Park.

The most significant approved changes to Commission orders for big game include:

— Addition of a second antlerless whitetail bonus tag in the Loup East and Loup East Season Choice Area units to increase antlerless whitetail harvest due to high densities.

— Split of the Niobrara River elk unit in to East and West, and absorb the Boyd Unit into the Niobrara East Unit.

— Split of the Box Elder Unit antlerless elk season for non-landowner permits.

— Addition of a doe/fawn bonus tag on October landowner antelope permits, also making them Season Choice permits, valid in open seasons with weapons legal for each season.

— Shift of deer permits in Pine Ridge from Any Deer to Any Whitetail in response to public reported and research recorded mule deer deaths over winter and spring.

— New allocation of doe/fawn antelope permits in Dismal Late Unit.

— Expansion of the Frenchman West deer unit boundary and increase in Frenchman Antlerless Only Season Choice, Frenchman West Antlerless Only Season Choice and Frenchman Whitetail unit quotas in response to depredation complaints.

The 2019 big game seasons are:

Deer: Archery – Sept. 1-Dec. 31; November Firearm – Nov. 16-24; Muzzleloader – Dec. 1-31; Statewide Buck – Nov. 16-24; Mule Deer Conservation Area – Nov. 16-24, Dec. 1-31; Season Choice Antlerless – Sept. 1-Jan. 15, 2020; River Antlerless Private Land – Sept. 1-Jan. 15, 2020; Youth – Sept. 1-Jan. 15, 2020; Landowner – Sept. 1-Jan. 15, 2020; Statewide Whitetail Buck – Sept. 1-Dec. 31

Antelope: Archery – Aug. 20-Dec. 31; Muzzleloader – Sept. 21-Oct. 6; October Firearm – Oct. 12-27; Late Doe/Fawn – Nov. 1-Jan. 31, 2020

Elk: Archery Bull – Sept. 1-Oct. 31; Firearm Bull – Sept. 21-Oct. 31; Early Antlerless – Aug. 15-Oct. 31; Late Antlerless – Dec. 1-Jan. 15, 2020

A public hearing was held for input regarding the listing and delisting of state threatened and endangered species in the Commission’s District 3, which is northeastern Nebraska. Staff made a presentation on the northern river otter, western silvery minnow, plains minnow, flathead chub and the sicklefin chub.

In addition, the Commission approved the acquisition of 74.97 acres in Banner County adjacent to Williams Gap Wildlife Management Area and designated it as an addition to the area.

Conservation Officer Levi Krause was presented the Award of Valor for his “tireless efforts in helping rescue individuals from their homes during Nebraska’s catastrophic flooding of March 2019.” For four days, he operated his airboat to help first responders evacuate 60 people from their homes amid high winds and rising waters. In addition, all Game and Parks staff who assisted in flooding efforts were recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty to keep people safe.

The Commission also heard several staff updates, including the new Take ’em Fishing challenge, which invites anglers to pledge to take a new or lapsed angler fishing for a chance to win prizes. All of the commissioners took the pledge to accept the challenge.

Service awards also were presented to Hunter Education instructors in northeastern Nebraska. Awards for 30 years of service went to: Theresa Pronske, Ervin Pronske, John Ross, James “Mike” Morgan, Robert Watts, Ken Hoppe, Dan Sutherland and Edwin Wellman. Forty-year awards went to Ken Gill and Charlie Mahler.

There also were reports on bighorn sheep and mule deer research, a presentation on the fish, wildlife and park resources in northeast Nebraska, and a report on how the Spalding Dam/Cedar River Fishway is benefitting fish species.

Free Fishing and Park Entry Day is May 18

LINCOLN, Neb. – Free Fishing and Park Entry Day in Nebraska is May 18. Enjoy a Saturday of fishing or state park activities without the need to purchase a fishing or park entry permit for the day.

Free Fishing and Park Entry Day, held annually in Nebraska on the Saturday preceding Memorial Day weekend, means anyone can explore outdoor opportunities at any Nebraska state park, state recreation area or state historical park. Anglers must observe all fishing regulations. Camping, lodging and all other user fees still apply at state park areas.

Several family-friendly activities are scheduled in state park areas across the state to celebrate Free Fishing and Park Entry Day, including:

— Wildlands Day, Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area: This daylong celebration includes a bird hike, wildflower walk, kids’ crafts and more.

— Youth Fishing Clinic, Platte River State Park: Youth can take part in a free fishing clinic, with loaner fishing poles available on a first-come, first-served basis.

— Bird Hike, Smith Falls State Park: Participate in bird identification along the Niobrara River.

The grand opening of the Schramm Education Center at Schramm Park State Recreation Area is also scheduled for May 18, so visitors can visit the new facilities without a park entry fee. In addition, the admission fee will also be waived for this day. The facility features newly renovated and expanded aquariums featuring Nebraska’s natural aquatic habitats, a 2,200-gallon touch tank, 17 live animal tanks and a virtual reality mountain biking experience.

May 18 also is a great opportunity to participate in the Take ‘em Fishing challenge, in which anglers pledge to take new or inexperienced anglers fishing. Fish permits typically are required for anglers age 16 and older – but not on Free Fishing and Park Entry Day. Visit outdoornebraska.gov/takeemfishing/ for more information.

Nebraska boasts 76 state park areas with innumerable opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, including fishing, kayaking, boating, hiking, horseback riding, wildlife watching, and even learning about history at a state historical park. Visit a park on May 18 to make memories with family, try a new challenge and spend time relaxing in the outdoors.

For more details on park events taking place on Free Fishing and Park Entry Day, visit Calendar.OutdoorNebraska.gov.

Women’s archery events scheduled in May

LINCOLN, Neb. – Take your archery skills to a new level with the Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Program’s archery classes in May at Platte River State Park.

Classes are May 1, 8 and 15 at 6 p.m. Each class will have a different topic. The cost is $10 a class.

In addition, the Nebraska Game and Parks Outdoor Education Center in Lincoln will host a Ladies’ Lunch and Lessons Beginning Archery program May 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30. These sessions are perfect for beginners and provide a thorough introduction to archery. Lunch is provided. The fee is $20.

The Education Center is located at 4703 N. 44th St.

Visit outdoornebraska.gov/bow/ for more information or to register for these events.

Trout to be stocked at Omaha’s Fontenelle Park Pond

LINCOLN, Neb. – Omaha’s Fontenelle Park Pond will receive 1,200 rainbow trout from the Grove Trout Rearing Station on April 24.

The City of Omaha temporarily will waive a restriction that limits fishing to children younger than 16 years, adults with actively fishing children, and adults 65 or older. All ages of anglers will be allowed to fish this pond April 24 through June 23. A fish permit is required.

Also being stocked this week are: Lake Helen, Gothenburg; Plum Creek Park Pond, Lexington; Sand Springs (Plum Creek Valley Wildlife Management Area), Johnstown; Lake Ogallalla, Ogallala.

Explore outdoor activities at Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo May 11

LINCOLN, Neb. – Learn new skills and discover more ways to enjoy the outdoors at the 13th annual Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo on May 11.

This free Expo, designed for family members of all ages and experience levels, will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area, located just southeast of Kearney. A park entry permit is required of each vehicle entering the park.

With more than 50 hands-on activities, demos and presentations to enjoy, the Expo offers a full day of outdoor fun. Those who attend can try kayaking, fishing, bow fishing, archery, slingshots, crossbows, and spear and tomahawk throwing. Other activities include do-it-yourself backyard games, gaga pit, air guns, Dutch oven cooking contest, shooting ranges, a live snake presentation, and kids’ turkey gobbling contest with local celebrity judges. Take a break to enjoy the free hotdog roast from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., or while supplies last.

Special guest Sam Larson, a wilderness instructor, author and speaker, will share the inspirational story of how he won the world’s most difficult and dangerous survival reality TV challenge, “Alone,” on the History Channel.

New this year is the Hunter Education Trail, which introduces kids ages 10 and older to the enjoyment of hunting and key safety basics. The expanded Kids’ Discovery Zone allows kids to hunt for bugs, dig for fossils and gems, create music, design with sidewalk chalk and play in a large water stream wall.

Other exciting features include a ropes course, fish filleting, a cowboy fast draw, a 6,000-gallon fish aquarium, aquatic touch tank, blacksmithing demonstrations, and education about tools and skills employed by Old West pioneers. Enter your kids in the Youth Lifetime Half-Price Permit drawing for the chance to win a lifetime hunting or fishing permit for half the price.

The Fort Kearny Expo Advisory Board and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission host the Expo. Learn more at FortKearnyExpo.com.

River access for paddlers closed at lower Platte River park areas

LINCOLN, Neb. – River access for kayaks and canoes remains closed for safety reasons at Platte River State Park, Schramm Park State Recreation Area and Louisville State Recreation Area, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The lower Platte River along these park areas in Sarpy and Cass counties is experiencing above-normal flows.

May outdoor calendar

LINCOLN, Neb. – The following is a listing of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission events and important dates in May. Get more event details at Calendar.OutdoorNebraska.gov. Visit OutdoorNebraska.org for a list of hunter education classes and boating safety classes.

May 1, 8, 15 – Beyond Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Archery Class, Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Education Complex, Platte River State Park (SP), Louisville

May 2-4 – Cornhusker Trapshoot, Nebraska Trapshooting Association grounds, Doniphan

May 4 – Take Pride in America Day, Verdon State Recreation Area (SRA), Verdon

May 4 – Hooked for Life, Medicine Creek Reservoir SRA, Trail 3, Cambridge

May 4 – Lake Cleanup, Holmes Lake, Lincoln

May 4 – Community Fishing Day, Holmes Lake, Lincoln

May 4-5 – Spring Muster, Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park (SHP), Burwell

May 4-5 – National Bird Day, Arbor Lodge SHP, Nebraska City

May 4-5 – Living History, Fort Atkinson SHP, Fort Calhoun

May 4-5 – Becoming an Outdoors Family for Hearing Impaired, Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Education Complex, Platte River SP, Louisville

May 6, 20 – Hunt Safe Session, Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Education Complex, Platte River SP, Louisville

May 10-11 – Sip Nebraska wine and beer festival, Eugene T. Mahoney SP, Ashland

May 11 – Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo, Fort Kearny SRA, Kearney

May 11-12 – Mother’s Day Weekend, Arbor Lodge SHP, Nebraska City

May 12 – Mother’s Day Buffet, Ponca SP, Ponca; Platte River SP, Louisville; Fort Robinson SP, Crawford

May 12 – Community Fishing Night, Riverside Discovery Center pond, Scottsbluff

May 17-19 – Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, Experience Fort Robinson SP, Crawford

May 18 – Free Fishing and Park Entry Day, statewide

May 18 – Bird Hike, Smith Falls SP, Valentine

May 18 – Wildlands Day, Wildcat Hills Nature Center, Gering

May 18 – Wildlife and Bird Identification, Mormon Island SRA, Doniphan

May 18 – Free Family Fish Day, Ash Hollow SHP, Lewellen

May 18 – Feeder Fun, Pawnee SRA, Emerald

May 18 – Kids’ Fishing Derby, Fort Robinson SP, Crawford

May 18 – Youth Fishing Clinic, Platte River SP, Louisville

May 18 – Fly with the Birds, Medicine Creek Reservoir SRA, Cambridge

May 18 – Bill Morris Memorial Fishing Derby, Ponca SP, Ponca

May 18 – Schramm Education Center Grand Opening, Schramm Park SRA, Gretna

May 20-June 7 – Eligible landowners may apply for one elk permit

May 22, 29 – Beyond Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Shotgun Class, Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Education Complex, Platte River SP, Louisville

May 24 – Take Aim at Summer Open House, Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Education Complex, Platte River SP, Louisville

May 24-27 – Vintage Flag Collection, Arbor Lodge SHP, Nebraska City

May 25 – Early-Bird Bird Watching, Niobrara SP, Niobrara

May 25 – Migratory Bird Day, Indian Cave SP, Shubert

May 25 – Nebraska Humanities Program: George Drouillard, Niobrara SP, Niobrara

May 25-27 – Migratory Bird Day Celebration, Lewis and Clark SRA, Crofton

May 26 – Sidewalk Chalk Art and Bird Program, Niobrara SP, Niobrara

May 28 – Community Fishing Night, Holmes Lake, Lincoln

May 28-Aug. 12 – Summer Season at Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Education Complex, Platte River SP, Louisville

May 30 – Community Fishing Night, Halleck Lake, Papillion

May 31 – Spring turkey seasons close

May 31 – Becoming an Outdoors Family Dutch Oven Cooking Class, Eugene T. Mahoney SP, Ashland