NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — The Republican River augmentation project is believed to be the largest conversion of irrigated cropland to native prairie in Nebraska history.

About 16,000 acres of irrigated cropland is being converted to native prairie and rangeland by the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project. Nearly 13,000 acres have been seeded and the remaining 523 acres will be done this spring, said Bill Sellers, range manager.

Project managers opened 1,600 acres of the grassland for public access, including bird watching and hunting, last fall. A walking-biking trail is under development.

Grassland specialists in the North Platte and Imperial offices of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service helped develop the seed mix of one cool-season grass, seven native warm-season grasses and five varieties of forbs specifically for the Sand Hills location. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission also provided information on establishing native grasses.

Among the varieties planted are sand bluestem, blue grama, prairie sandreed, little bluestem, switchgrass, sand lovegrass, blackeyed susan, leadplant and shell leaf penstemon.

The Nebraska Environmental Trust provided a $700,000 grant for the grassland project.

Nearly 3,600 acres were seeded in 2014, and 9,600 acres in 2015. All of the grassland acres are contiguous or nearly contiguous. 

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