Partnership Success Story Corps of Engineers Project Office, Harlan Co. Lake

On a big project, one of the most valuable assets an organization can have is partnerships. With the varied work that Twin Valley Weed Management Area (TVWMA) takes on, partnerships with individuals, companies, organizations and government agencies is essential.

TVWMA was established in 2004 out of a concern to control invasive plant species within a 9 county area in South Central Nebraska. The Corps of Engineers located at Harlan County Lake was one of the first agencies to recognize the value of becoming a partner with TVWMA to manage invasive species. Due to record low lake levels, salt cedar and phragmites had become well established on the exposed lake bottom. In 2004, a partnership was developed between TVWMA and the Corps and plans to control these plants implemented. Due to limited funding Habitat was applied utilizing ATV’s and truck sprayers provided by County Weed Departments within TVWMA. Approximately 200 acres were treated.

Since this initial effort, TVWMA partnerships have increased in number and activities, with work continuing at Harlan County Lake. From the period 2005-2015 funding was received for salt cedar and phragmites control at Harlan County Lake totaling $226,700 with approximately 2,860 acres treated. This funding was utilized for aerial application of herbicide with the Corps providing the herbicide and in-kind services for scouting and GPS mapping of infested areas of over $180,000. TVWMA partners have also provided time and equipment annually to treat small isolated areas by ground application.

In 2007, work to clear downed trees and remove sediment in the Republican River channel below Harlan County Dam was completed with similar work on Corps ground west of the reservoir in 2009 and 2011. In 2014, 215 trees were planted as part of a Nebraska Environmental Trust Grant within Corps parks and riparian areas.

It is only through the combined resources of TVWMA, Corps of Engineers, and others that managing salt cedar and phragmites at Harlan County Lake is possible. The Corps of Engineers, by itself, would be unable to provide adequate funding to control these plants resulting in an overgrown lake bottom and continual seed source in the Republican River. With the continued partnership between TVWMA, Corps of Engineers and success of obtaining Nebraska Environmental Trust grants, combating these invasive species will continue.

Pictured above is aerial spraying along the shoreline of Harlan County Reservoir

Planting of Pollinator Trial Plots By Merle Illian, Project Coordinator

This spring the Twin Valley Weed Management Area (TVWMA) worked with several landowners along the Republican River to re-seed areas which had undesirable woody vegetation mechanically removed. This grass seeding mixture included forbes, legumes, and wildflowers (POLLINATORS) within the seed mix. These trial plots are very secluded and next to water, which make them very attractive to butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects. The pollinator plants also provide succulent forage for deer, turkey, and other wildlife.

These types of plantings have been very popular within CRP and other set aside grass seeding programs the past few years. However, to go down along the river and perform these types of seedings in heavily wooded areas that have been mechanically thinned out was somewhat of a challenge. At least 25% tree canopy still exists, the sandy soil type is not conducive to most seeding mixtures, you have tree stumps to contend with and usually rough terrain that you are planting into. TVWMA has selectively thinned out over 2800 acres along the river, and landowners have been questioning what could be done with these idle acres. Pollinator plantings are quite expensive, however funding was provided by Nebraska Environmental Trust and Nebraska Department of Agriculture grants.

TVWMA along with Pheasants Forever, worked up several seeding mixtures with 30 different pollinator species in each mix. Because of the tree canopy that exists, cool season grasses were recommended. 45 acres of trial plots were made, up and down the river. A grassland drill was used in areas that were cleaned up extremely well. A broadcast seeder was used in the remaining areas and followed up with a rollo packer.

Besides trying to find out what seeding mixture is going to work best in these riparian areas, Ron Seymour, Adams County Extension Educator and Entomologist is using these trial plots for an Arthropod Ecosystem Enhancement Demonstration Project. When the habitat is essentially changed to include these pollinators, beneficial arthropods are attracted that provide pest management and plant pollination services.

“If these types of plantings can survive along the river in these wildlife and wasteland areas, it will be a big plus to our pollinating insects,” says Seymour.

Pictured above is Jon Meyer broadcast seeding (left photo) and then following up with a rollo packer.

Revegetation With Pollinators

On a hot July afternoon, Paul Moyer, Ag Inspection Specialist with the Noxious Weed Program, made a trip down the Republican River in Webster County. He was basically concerned about the re-growth of phragmites and the invasion of Canada thistle, which is starting to appear within the river channel. We were also looking at areas along the river perimeter which had the undesirable woody vegetation mechanically remove, and also the re-growth of herbaceous vegetation in these areas. Moyer then got everyone’s attention when he suggested that we strongly consider the planting of grass mixtures including forbs, legumes, and wildflowers (POLLINATORS) within the seed mix, in areas that had vegetation removed or chemically treated. Moyer went onto inform the group of the benefits of pollinators with in the riparian area. Most of the areas are very secluded and next to water, which would make them very attractive to butterflies, bees, and other pollinating insects. Twin Valley Weed Management Area Project Coordinator, Merle Illian felt there would be little opposition from the landowners that had performed these tree thinning projects along the river. Illian was even more encouraged of the pollinator plantings after he discussed them with Mark Brohman, Executive Director of Nebraska Environmental Trust and found out that the NET grant funds could be used for these type of plantings.

Melissa Panella and Gerry Steinaur, both biologists with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, were invited to the next TVWMA committee meeting. They informed the group of the value of pollinator plantings within this area. They discussed seedbed preparation, planting stock and planting recommendations, and the need for follow-up to control weed growth. The committee was very encouraged with their presentation and suggested we make several smaller trial plantings next spring. County weed superintendents will be involved with identifying the sites for these plantings and contacting respective landowners for permission. In addition these plantings will provide excellent habitat and forage for wild life.

Pictured above is Paul Moyer viewing an area that had been chemically treated along the Republican River.


Twin Valley Weed Management Area (TVWMA) will begin work on the Little Blue River this summer. Thus far 98% of the work and funding that TVWMA has received has been earmarked for the Republican River. With this year’s grant funding of $568,000 from Nebraska Environmental Trust over half of it will be allocated to the Little Blue River.

The objective of the project will be to remove woody debris and herbaceous vegetation from the river channel which may impede water flow and thus reduce potential of flooding during high water flows. The work to be completed will be quite similar to the Republican River Restoration Project the past 4 years. A selected contractor will be hired to go down the river with excavator and remove fallen timber and other woody vegetation. Noxious weeds and other invasive vegetation will then be chemically treated within the channel.

The project will cover approximately 120 miles from the Franklin-Webster county line to the Thayer-Jefferson county line. There are 265 different landowners along this stretch of river that were contacted and requested to sign agreement forms to allow the project to proceed across their property.

Pictured above is a tree that has fallen this past year. More woody debris will continue to accumulate here and they create a major blockage that will impede water flows.

Phragmites Spraying Continues on Republican River

The Twin Valley Weed Management continues its effort on an annual basis to eradicate the noxious weed phragmites and attempt to keep it from spreading. “We do our spraying in late fall each year at the optimum time along the 142 miles of the Republican River and its tributaries from Cambridge to Superior, Nebraska,” says Dennis VanWey, Webster County Weed Superintendent. “However, it is no different than musk thistle in its ability to survive and continue to come back the following year.”

“You can look at areas that were sprayed the previous year and the phragmites appears dead. However, you look around the perimeter of the sprayed area and invariably you will see new runners that have rooted down and are starting to grow back. Being a rhizomatous plant it is difficult to completely kill,” says VanWey.

In addition we continue to have new out croppings each year along the river. We have educated the general public in the identification of this plant and we continue to get phone calls each year of new sightings along the river and isolated lowland areas off the river.
“We do have an All-Terrain vehicle equipped to do the spraying ourselves,” says VanWey. “However, on the large patches of phragmites or isolated areas that are inaccessible to get to, we do hire a helicopter to come in each year. It is unbelievable the area in which phragmites are showing up. Regardless of how good a job you think you’re doing, you do continue to miss some affected areas.”

“We have been very fortunate for the continued funding provided by Nebraska Environmental Trust,” says VanWey. “We would like to bring closure to this spraying effort, but certainly don’t see it happening any time soon.

Pictured above is Dennis VanWey, Webster County Weed Superintendent looking at a new sighting of phragmites that has gone undetected thus far.


Without a steady stream flow within the Republican River below Harlan County Reservoir, vegetated islands continue to form on a regular basis. When adequate releases are being made from the dam, the velocity from the river flow keeps these islands scoured out.

Within the past 20 years we have had some very dry years in which inadequate rainfall did not replenish Harlan Reservoir to normal pool levels. Thus, the amount of water being released downstream was reduced. Without the scouring effect on these islands, it enhanced the vegetation to grow out of control. Much of this vegetation included noxious weeds such as salt cedar and phragmites along with willows and cottonwood trees, which can grow to a height of 15 feet in a 5 year period. With the formation of these vegetated islands, it drastically reduces the carrying capacity of the river and creates considerable flooding when we do get increased water flows.

“Twin Valley Weed Management Area (TVWMA) did a trial plot several years ago in Franklin County, Nebraska, in which we burned off the vegetated islands” says Mark Goebel, Franklin County Weed Superintendent. Goebel said, “Next they deep disked the islands to turn the root mass over. Then the Harlan County Corp of Engineers released adequate water downstream, which scoured the islands off. Several of the islands were completely melted away.”

This spring TVWMA is looking to burn off islands within a 30 mile stretch of river in Franklin and Webster Counties and then disk them down. It will then be up to Mother Nature to provide us with the needed moisture to allow for adequate water releases from Harlan Reservoir.

Funding for TVWMA projects are being provided by the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund. In addition to controlling invasive vegetation, the TVWMA is working with the Lower Republican NRD and the Little Blue NRD in effort to comply with the Kansas-Nebraska water compact.

Pictured above is island burning being conducted in the Republican River Channel in Franklin County.

Invasive Weed Control Begins on Little Blue River

The Twin Valley Weed Management will carry out an invasive weed management spraying program later this summer along the Little Blue River in Clay, Nuckolls and Thayer counties. “There is a severe willow growth infestation along the perimeter of the river and islands within the river,” says Bruce Rumsey, Clay County Weed Superintendent. “The carrying capacity of the river has been drastically choked off because of this severe growth. Potential of flooding has increased tremendously because of the slowed channel flow.”

“In addition this heavy vegetation growth is also sucking up a tremendous amount of water which could otherwise be used for irrigation downstream. There are also isolated areas of salt cedar and phragmites inter-mixed with these willows along this stretch of river,” says Rumsey. “Both of these plants are considered noxious in Nebraska.”

“Landowners along the river in these three counties have been notified and they have the option as to whether they want to spray. It is strictly up to each landowner, as willows do have the tendency to stabilize the bank in certain areas and prevent erosion. We will be hiring a contractor with an All-Terrain vehicle equipped with necessary spraying equipment to do the job,” says Rumsey.

It is also planned to follow up in the summer of 2015 with a deep disking of the area that is sprayed. This will break up the root mass of the vegetation and thus allow the scouring to commence and open up the channel once again. This method of river reclamation was performed on the Republican River several years ago and proved to be very effective.

“This entire effort is being funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust,” says Rumsey. “Without their support, none of this work would have been possible.”

Pictured above is an island within the Little Blue River with a severe infestation of willow growth.

LITTLE BLUE RIVER CLEANOUT BEGINS By Merle Illian, Project Coordinator

The Twin Valley Weed Management Area (TVWMA) has put 99% of their effort and grant monies into the Republican River Watershed since it was formed in 2004. This past month the TVWMA has turned their focus to the Little Blue River Watershed. “We specifically had grant funds from this year’s Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) earmarked for this watershed,” says Garold Ohmstede, Chairman of the TVWMA. “Many of the problems that we encountered on the Republican River also exist within the Little Blue Watershed. It will definitely take a couple of years to accomplish what we want to,” says Ohmstede.

“The first item we want to address is the removal of debris and woody vegetation from the river channel,” says Bryan Schardt, Thayer County Weed Superintendent. “We do have segments of the river that pose severe potential for flooding because of river blockage. Next we want to chemically treat willows and other woody vegetation that is growing on islands within the channel and along the perimeter of the river. This vegetation is also starting to choke off the flow of the river and sucking a tremendous amount of water,” says Schardt. We will then be looking to follow up with a deep disking to allow the islands to scour.

For more information of the work being performed, you can contact your respective County Weed Superintendent or call the Twin Valley Weed Management Area office at 402-746-3560.

River channel cleanout on the Little Blue River being performed by Frahm Construction.


The Twin Valley WMA hosted an informational workshop and tour last month, which had all participants amazed by what has been accomplished. “The tour began in Franklin, Nebraska with 140 attendees,” says Mark Goebel, Franklin County Weed Superintendent. “We had excellent support from our tour sponsors, which included Frahm Construction, Sky Copters, Nebraska Environmental Trust, Lower Republican NRD, and Twin Valley WMA. Guest speakers included, Senator Tom Carlson, Mark Brohman, Executive Director of Nebraska Environmental Trust, and Mitch Coffin with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.”

The Tour stops included:

  • Viewing phragmites problem within river channel
  • Viewing a severe "pinch point" area in river that has been excavated and cleared
  • A DVD presentation showing the initial work on the river, including noxious weed spraying, channel cleanout and deep disking
  • Viewing Center Creek and Turkey Creek cleanout and spring water revitalization
  • Tree thinning along the perimeter of the river
  • Invasive vegetation control on Harlan Lake

“The primary objective of the tour was to make everyone aware of the accomplishments, how funding has been spent, and the number of people directly impacted from the project. $3.4 million dollars in grant funding has been received since 2004, with $1.9 million of matching funds and in-kind services provided. This 42% of in-kind to grant fund ration speaks very highly of the partners we have involved and their commitment to the project,” says Goebel.

Pictured above are hay wagons transporting the 140 participants through the riparian forest that had cedar trees and other invasive woody vegetation removed.


The Republican River Valley in south central Nebraska has seen a substantial increase in the noxious weed Phragmites this past year. This was despite concentrated efforts of spraying by air and with ground crews to keep this invasive plant in check the past several years and completely eradicating it in some sections of the river.

However, this past fall during the spray application period, there were numerous new outcroppings of single new plants within the river channel, along with regrowth from existing stands of Phragmites, says Webster County Weed Superintendent, Dennis VanWey. He says it is very important that a follow-up spraying be performed each year to keep this invader in check.

Webster County Extension Agent, Dewey Lienemann feels that the dry weather conditions in the last couple of years is the main reason for this increase. The vegetative compilation such as Reed Canary Grass and Cattails are reduced substantially by dry weather, which allows the Phragmites to get a foothold and re-propagate. In addition many of the tributaries, farm ponds, and low lying wetlands areas up off the river channel have Phragmites growing and are being flushed down into the main river channel. This is where landowners can really help us out, says Lienemann. If they see this plant on their property it is important that they contact their local county weed superintendent. He will spray it in the fall time of the year free of charge. Identification of this plant is very important because the plant has no forage or wildlife benefits what so ever. So often times it is mistaken as Pampas Grass or Shatter Cane.

Pictured above are County Weed Superintendents Mark Goebel, Franklin County, and Dennis VanWey, Webster County, examining the seed head of a Phragmites plant.

TVWMA Implements Cedar Tree Cutting Program from Pastures By Merle Illian, Project Coordinator

A cost share assistance program for cutting cedar trees from grassland has been introduced within the Twin Valley Weed Management Area (TVWMA). This consists of the riparian area of the Republican River from Cambridge to the Kansas-Nebraska state line south of Hardy, Nebraska. Areas eligible must be within one half mile of the Republican River or within one half mile of a perennial or intermittent stream which provides significant water flows and empties into the Republican River.

Cedar trees are sucking up sunlight and groundwater at the expense of other plants and creating headaches for landowners along the Republican River says cattle producer John Haussermann of Republican City, Nebraska. “We have recently cut trees on 2500 acres of rangeland in Franklin County, Nebraska and it is amazing how it has increased the flow of the spring water within the creek channel. I actually poked a stick into the ground at the water edge before we began the tree shearing project. Two weeks later after we had finished, the water was 20 foot beyond that stick.” “Cedar trees are worthless” says Haussermann. “You can have hundreds of different kinds of plants or you can have cedar trees. But you can’t have both.”

Payment will be made at 50% of an hourly rate (not to exceed $85 per hour) for contractual work, with a maximum of $3,000 being paid per cooperator. No matching funds from another program will be allowed. Work must be completed by June 30, 2018. The landowner must also agree to control the cedar tree growth for the next 10 years.

For the past 12 years all manpower and funding has been focused directly on the river channel of the Republican and Little Blue Rivers within the TVWMA. “The red cedar are spreading so rapidly and consuming huge areas of productive rangeland and threatening many of the original prairies.” says Dennis VanWey, Chairman of the TVWMA Committee. “Removal of these trees will definitely increase water flows within the intermittent and perennial streams. This work will definitely complement our primary objective of putting more water into the Republican River.”

Cost sharing funds are being provided by the Nebraska Environmental Trust Grant Program. For more information, you can contact the TVWMA office by calling 402-746-4558.

Pictured above is Cedar Tree Removal on Dennis Dunn property south of Bloomington, NE

Harlan Lake determined as Prime Stopover for Whooping Cranes By Merle Illian, Project Coordinator

Within the past decade the U.S. Corp of Engineers at Harlan Lake and the Twin Valley Weed Management Area (TVWMA) have formed a partnership to eliminate noxious and invasive vegetation around the lake perimeter.

The vegetation consisted of phragmites, salt cedar, Canada thistle, cattails and willows, which were 15-20 feet high. At the time the project was started to remove this mass of vegetation, little thought was being given to the benefit that might be derived from migrating water fowl.

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) have agreed on a joint project to evaluate Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” on USACE lake properties. The project involves the six state migration corridor within the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. FOTWW has completed its evaluation of Harlan County Lake and will be making recommendations to the USACE for future habitat and management recommendations.

There is only one wild self-sustaining population of Whooping Cranes remaining on earth. These birds are America’s symbol of conservation. They are the largest bird in North America standing 5 feet tall with a wind span of 7 feet. They are endangered species and need our help. This population nests and rears their young in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada during spring and summer. After their chicks fledge, they migrate 2,500 miles through 6 states in the midsection of our nation to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast where they spend the winter.

Destruction of nesting habitat and killing the birds for food decimated the population during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Coupled with this is the loss of approximately 15 million wetland acres in the 6 state migration corridor. In 1943 there were only 16 Whoopers remaining. With protection and habitat management the population has slowly increased to an estimated 431 in 2017.

Today, however Whooping Cranes are facing more threats to their habitats. During their 2,500 mile migration they must stop 15 to 20 times to rest and feed. Secure stopover habitats are needed throughout the migration corridor approximately every 50 miles.

Whooping Cranes stopping over for the night at Harlan Lake

Considerable areas of Harlan Lake’s nearly 75 miles of shoreline is shallow and is available as good “stopover roosting areas” for the cranes. Whoopers normally roost in areas with a water depth of 2 inches to 10 inches to help protect themselves from predators.

“As of now the primary objective is to maintain shallow wetlands and invasive weed control around the perimeter of the lake.” says Larry Janicek, Harlan Lake Project Manager. The perception is to continue working with the TVWMA to control invasive vegetation with chemical application by aerial and terrestrial application. Future funding is very critical which is being provided to and administered by the TVWMA from the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund.

FOTWW Wildlife Biologist Chester McConnell, USACE Conservation Biologist David Hoover, and Natural Resource Management Specialist of Harlan Lake Tom Zikmund made a tour of the lake property to examine the most likely place that would provide Whooping Crane stopover habitat. The site pictured below is typical of large areas along the lake shore. It is located about 2 miles west of the dam. The dead plants in the photo are part of a much larger area where plants are chemically controlled during most years. After the dense stands of noxious plants have been controlled, the recovered habitat can become valuable stopover areas for Whooping Cranes, waterfowl, wading birds and other wildlife species.

Photos and narrative excerpts provided by FOTWW

Whooping Cranes and other wildlife need lakes, wetlands and small ponds with the following features as “stopover roost sites” during migration:

  • Lakes/small ponds/wetlands from 0.3 acres and larger in size
  • Lakes/ponds/wetlands with some shallow areas 2 to 10 inches deep for roosting sites
  • Flight glide path clear of obstructions for Whooping Cranes to land near roosting sites
  • No thick bushes or trees in or near landing site
  • Gradual or gentle slopes into lakes/ponds where water is shallow
  • Little or no emergent or submerged vegetation in lake at roost areas
  • Extensive horizontal visibility from roost site so predators can be detected
  • 200 or more yards from human development or disturbance such as power lines
  • Agricultural grain fields or pasture land within one mile of stopover site for foraging

Excellent “stopover roost site” for Whooping Cranes. Number “1” points out the glide path for Whooping Cranes landing on lake shore. The site is clear of obstructions and provides a gradual slope into the shallow water. Horizontal visibility around the roost site is good. Number “2” points out the shallow water from 2 to 10 inches deep in roost area. Whoopers can feed on aquatic animal in the lake and forage on insects and grains in nearby fields.