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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis


Nebraska Legislative Update

Photo of a red-shouldered hawk mid-flight, with beak open, with a gray backdrop of sky.

Photo: Red-shouldered Hawk, by Ryan Johnson

The Nebraska Legislative year is well underway and there are several bills that we will be actively engaged in and monitoring relating to encouraging prescribed fire, supporting clean energy and supporting healthy river systems with emphasis on the Platte River. 

First, it is worth noting that there were no bills introduced that attacked conservation easements! We have launched many education efforts to celebrate easements as a valuable tool for conservation, so we consider the lack of bills to eliminate easements a success!

The Riparian Protection and Water Quality Practices Act – LB 40 – establishes a policy for the Department of Agriculture to create buffer zones of native perennial plants around river banks. This is a so-called “natural solution” that provides several benefits: Nebraska’s native prairie plants have deep root systems that help to filter pollutants from water, prevent erosion, and create floodplains to reduce damage. In addition, native prairie grasses are extremely effective carbon sinks, pulling pollution from the air and turning it into enriched soil. The “Riparian Protection and Water Quality Practices Act” is an expansion of the Nebraska Buffer Strip program, which provides private landowners with financial incentives funded by a tax on pesticides. Habitat destruction and lack of continuous habitat constitute the number one threat to most endangered species. This policy shows that commonsense progress is within reach – and 30 feet at a time is no small step.

Second, LB 218 appropriates $6 million annually for grant programs to manage bank and flood plain vegetation, to curb invasive species that disrupt streamflow. Audubon recognizes that ecosystem level riparian conservation in highly managed systems requires investment.  The type of work needed on the Platte River and other large rivers includes innovative control methods or land management practices that respond to introductions or infestations of invasive plants that threaten or potentially threaten the hydrology and associated habitats. 

Third, LB 237 – will appropriate $2 million over the next two years for the Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program, to aid in carrying out energy efficiency audits and weatherization improvements. In conjunction with this bill, we support 

LB 556 – which will increase assistance for nonprofits to deliver low-income weatherization programs. Nationally, low-income households spend a larger portion of their income on home energy costs, which is referred to as the “energy burden.” It is imperative that consideration is given to those who face disproportionate energy burdens, and implementing cost-effective energy efficiency measures helps reduce consumption of electricity and other fuels. In neighboring states, funding energy efficiency audits and funding weatherization improvements have been found to significantly reduce energy generation needs and has proved to be cost effective.   

LB 534 declares a state of emergency on the level of cancer-causing nitrates in Nebraska’s water. More importantly, it would allocate $150 million in grants for filtration infrastructure in rural communities, many of which rely on well water. Nitrate pollution in Nebraska is primarily caused by nitrogen-based fertilizer; according to the Nebraska Water Center, up to a third of the nitrogen applied to corn is leaching into the water supply. High nitrate levels are closely linked to colorectal cancer, thyroid disease, neural tube defects, and pregnancy complications, including anemia, premature labor, and miscarriage. While this bill is extremely important, it does not address the root of the problem: overuse of nitrate fertilizer that seeps into the Ogallala Aquifer.  

Next, LB 576 protects local fire departments that use prescribed fire from liability in the rare instance of collateral damage. It also allows fire chiefs to delegate their powers and duties to other members of their departments. Prescribed fire is one of the most effective methods for restoration of native grasslands and preventing wildfires, especially where invasive species have taken over. Audubon Nebraska has a long history of cooperation with local fire departments and private landowners; we will always support policies that give more power to local fire departments to ensure planned burns are done safely. 

Finally, LB 655 would fund two statewide firefighting crews with technical expertise to support rural communities, to provide extra resources for wildfires, and to assist local fire departments in the prescribed burning to control the spread of Eastern Red Cedar trees by partnering with the Nebraska Forest Service.

However, there are also bills introduced that would hinder our ability to protect the state’s wildlife.

One of these is LB255. This bill would block NPPD, OPPD, and LES from pursuing “community-based energy development” projects meant to sell renewable energy to Nebraska electric utilities. NPPD has developed community solar farms in Scottsbluff, Ogallala, and other communities. This includes solar or wind farms or plants that generate electricity with biomass, landfill or methane gas, hydropower, fuel cells or microturbines. This would also prevent these utilities from federal IRA funds.

We will also oppose LB 398, which will change provisions relating to in lieu of tax payments by the Game and Parks Commission (NGPC). NGPC manages property across Nebraska for wildlife conservation and for the enjoyment of the public. Budgets remain tight to achieve their mission, and this bill would increase their budget by potentially 3 million dollars. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission already pays an in lieu of tax payment on wildlife lands that have been acquired since 1977. Taxes are being paid the same as they would be if the land was in private ownership. The existing system is straightforward to apply because the value is determined by the county assessor at the time of acquisition. By adding the language of “highest and best use,” it would add significant complexity, inconsistency, and undue administrative burden annually based on what a potential highest use could be across counties. This would divert funds needed to manage and restore our natural resources on both public and private land. 

And finally, LB 400 – Pheasant Restoration Act – is a misguided attempt to protect Pheasants from “nest predators” such as badger, coyote, opossum, raccoon, red fox, and striped skunk. This bill establishes a bounty program that would unnecessarily endanger common Pheasant predators. In Nebraska, if more Ring-necked Pheasants are desired, address their greatest threats – habitat loss and degradation. That would have the greatest impact. Predator reduction would have minimal population level impact. 


Thank you for your engagement and your work protecting our birds!


Partners in Conservation