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High Plains Scoping Meeting - Summary

Purpose

On June 6-7, 2006 a scoping meeting was held at Texas Tech University to support the CEAP Wetlands Regional Assessment in the High Plains. The focus of the meeting was on playas since they are the dominant hydrogeomorphic feature in the region. This meeting focused on playas in the High Plains of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska. The objective of the meeting was to identify key conservation programs and practices for evaluation, wetland ecosystem services throughout the region, and data sets that could be used in subsequent High Plains wetland evaluations.

The purpose of CEAP is to quantify environmental effects of conservation practices used by private landowners participating in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. Wetlands are being evaluated under CEAP at a regional scale throughout the United States.

Meeting Program

Information presented on the first day of the conference included an overview of CEAP (by Diane Eckles, USDA, NRCS) and progress made on an ongoing CEAP assessment for depressional wetlands in the prairie pothole region (Ned Euliss, USGS, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center). In addition, various research scientists from Texas Tech, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) presented current research and knowledge on playa ecology (Loren Smith), vegetation and avifauna (David Haukos), amphibians (Scott McMurry), role of playas in aquifer recharge (Dennis Gitz and Ken Rainwater), and playa bioeconomics (David Willis). NRCS State Office staff from Kansas and Nebraska presented information on conservation practices and Farm Bill programs that involve playa wetlands in those states. The New Mexico NRCS, although unable to attend the meeting, also submitted similar information. Billy Teels (USDA/NRCS) provided an overview of the NRCS National Central Region Wildlife Technology Team activities and products, and possible cooperative efforts with the High Plains assessment, including training opportunities. Norman Melvin (USDA/NRCS) provided additional information on potential training opportunities that could be provided or coordinated by the NRCS National Central Region Wetland Technology Team to enhance playa conservation in the High Plains region.

The second day of the conference included a round table discussion focused on implementing the CEAP evaluation for playas in the High Plains. Andy Bishop made a presentation on GIS work occurring in the Rainwater Basin and plans for High Plains GIS work in the northern portion of the region.

Existing Datasets

GIS data bases exist at Texas Tech University for the Southern Great Plains and for other portions of the High Plains with the Playa Lakes Joint Venture. Andy Bishop will prepare a more extensive GIS source for the High Plains region that will be used to select study playas for the upcoming evaluation. This will be available for wetland selection in October 2006. The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture has an extensive GIS database for that 17 county region of Nebraska. Texas Tech University and USFWS have a plant community database for the Southern Great Plains playas. Other data sets existing at Texas Tech include avian and amphibian landuse/hydroperiod influence studies, eroded soils influence on playa hydroperiod and volume investigations, and extensive avian carrying capacity information. A recharge investigation is under way with ARS that could be used to model effects of sediment deposition on recharge in the Southern Great Plains. A 1-m resolution DEM database exists for some counties in the Southern Great Plains with NRCS that may be valuable for watershed and flood water storage estimates. The National Resources Inventory database may possibly also be useful for evaluations associated with current bioeconomic analysis using the APEX model.

Tentative Sample Wetlands

Playas (n = 300) sampled for the study will be stratified by region and conservation type. The two geographic regions will include playas in the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska and playas from southwest Nebraska to the western plains of Texas. Sample playas will include wetlands embedded in native grasslands, agricultural fields, and conservation types. Conservation types surrounding sample wetlands will include Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), including CP 23a, and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). The study will also differentiate between playas with exotic and native vegetation in their watersheds. Wetlands will be selected from the GIS database made available from USFWS (A. Bishop).

Wetland Services and Variables for Assessment

Potential wetland services that could be assessed for different USDA conservation practices in the High Plains includes groundwater recharge, biodiversity (specifically plants and amphibians), wildlife habitat (predicted bird-use days based on hydroperiod and vegetation), floodwater storage potential, and erosion/sedimentation.

Plant communities will be assessed in each playa twice a year. Vegetation data will be used to assess wildlife habitat (carrying capacity for migratory birds) and biodiversity values (e.g., ratio of natives to exotics). Data on plant community composition will also be used to estimate the effects of conservation practices on evapotranspiration and ultimately on water budgets. Amphibian surveys will be conducted using transects and sweep nets in all playas. Playa volume and floodwater storage will be estimated using field watershed determinations and potentially with 1-m DEM data bases mentioned above. Sediment depth will be measured in each playa and its influence on storage volume will be calculated. Sediment depth will also potentially be used to examine its influence on aquifer recharge using data from the ongoing ARS study. Sediment influence on plant communities will be assessed using existing community data. The relationship of groundwater depths to surface level conservation practices will be determined in the southern portion of the region to examine another facet of recharge. Due to low amounts of carbon in playa soils, this variable would not be studied in the current investigation.

Potential Assessment Time Frame

The field portion of the study would take place over two years with approximately 150 playas being sampled per year. A third year would be used for compilation, data analysis, and synthesis. The GIS database provided by USFWS in October 2006 would be used to identify study wetlands. Permission to collect data on private wetlands and their watersheds would be obtained by direct landowner contact with assistance from NRCS staff once potential sites are identified from the GIS database.

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