Clive Ostenberg was an avid sportsman in western Nebraska, and as his life neared its end, he challenged his lifelong friends to preserve one of his greatest loves: the land.
In honor of Ostenberg, those friends formed Platte River Basin Environments (PRBE) Inc. That was more than 30 years ago. Currently, PRBE owns and manages tens of thousands of acres in western Nebraska. These lands are composed of arid rangelands, pastures, riparian corridors, spring creeks, wooded hillsides, rock escarpments and wetlands. The team works diligently to preserve, conserve, enhance and sometimes restore vital wildlife habitats and grazing lands.
Families that have no generational successor for their lands are the most common contact point for PRBE. These families have great love and appreciation for the lands and want to see them managed and cared for as they have done for generations. PRBE is their first choice. If the property meets PRBE’s long-term conservation and management goals and if funding resources are available, then PRBE will move forward. Acquired lands are eventually leased to operators that are in agreement with PRBE’s conservation management protocols. These protocols are not “one size fits all” but unique to each property. All lands are working, tax-paying landscapes kept in agricultural production. Obviously, some landscapes can “work” harder than others. PRBE and the lessees work together on capital improvements, on restoration and in developing long-term management plans.
“We don’t solicit for land. Families come to us. They wish to keep their land intact and available to their future generations. History is very important to them. That’s really important to us, as well,” says Bob Smith, PRBE property manager.
“Managing so much land is no small task. PRBE works with various local, state and national organizations, including University of Nebraska-Lincoln, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, Ducks Unlimited, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska Environmental Trust, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and National Wild Turkey Foundation.
At the start, Hod Kosman, PRBE president, contacted The Nebraska Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited about Ostenberg’s bequest. If PRBE could find projects that met the scope and purpose of their organizations, they said they would be willing to partner, Kosman explains.
“It was three years of planning before we found a good project,” Kosman says. “First, we flew 100 miles east and west and found many areas we didn’t even know about.” The group encouraged a group of biologists to survey those lands, working with landowners to secure permission to complete the surveys. No one turned them down. Ultimately, the collaboration led PRBE to its first project.
“From there we were hooked,” Kosman says. “We thought we would do one project to commemorate Clive, but that wasn’t enough. So, we found some more partners and projects, and it just snowballed from there.”
In the beginning, PRBE focused on wetland restoration. As time went on, word got around about the good work. Soon, PRBE began to acquire grasslands, rangelands and Biologically Unique Landscapes in the Wildcat Hills.
“We let the land tell us what it needs,” Kosman says. “We don’t go in and make quick decisions; we make long-term plans that do what’s right for the land and translate to what’s best for the producers and their resources.”
For PRBE, and the organizations and producers it partners with, it’s important to preserve the heritage of the land, Smith says. The opportunity to restore lands to what they always should have looked like is one of the biggest rewards.
“Invasiveness changed the landscape,” Kosman says. “If you remove the invasive species, the landscape returns to what it should’ve been all along. Eventually, you see the wildlife, flowers, grasses and native species that were here in a natural rotation return.”
Native plant species flourish when PRBE clears the way. Having chemical control options to help manage the undesirable, invasive species that crowd out native species has been critical.
“Anything you can do to improve a ranching family’s land, like removing invasive weeds, adds value to their life and income. It translates to better grazing patterns, fresher grass, more wildlife and rates of gain they didn’t have before,” Kosman says.
Each property PRBE owns faces its own set of invasive species challenges from Russian olive and saltcedar to mullein and thistles. Depending on the nature of each individual operation, the products PRBE uses vary over time and property. For many years, PRBE relied on Milestone® herbicide for the selective broadleaf control and Remedy® Ultra herbicide for brush control. More recently, PRBE has added DuraCor® herbicide to its toolbox for increased control of invasive species.
“We originally thought we could just cut the Russian olive, but the year after cutting them, there were 10 more that came up from the previous root system, so we turned to a more permanent solution,” says Bruce Rolls, PRBE vice president.
The best piece of advice PRBE offers producers looking to improve their land is to be patient and work with companies that want you to be successful.
“These invasive species are not invasive because they’re weak; they’re strong and resilient,” Kosman says. “For our organization, having companies like Corteva that develop products that take the bad and leave the good has been game-changing.”
All the PRBE properties are open to the public in some fashion. Activities include nature walks to educating children on native species to hunting lands, some of which are dedicated to trips for disabled veterans, allowing the organization to give back to the community is vital.
“It’s important to get kids, our future, involved in learning about our natural resources and getting them off their computers and outdoors in nature,” Smith says. PRBE helped raise money to build on a new addition and improve the existing building to their local Nebraska Game and Parks Nature Center. Many local schoolchildren take field trips to the center to learn about present and past wildlife that inhabit the Wildcat Hills. The educational director for the center involves the students in hands-on exhibits and materials for a lasting educational experience. The center normally hosts 7,500 students and several thousand tourists annually. They also, with PRBE, operate the High Plains Science Camp each year for fourth, fifth and sixth graders.
PRBE is not just about the land ownership. It is about the future of wild resources, as their motto states: “What we do is forever and forever is a very long time™.”
To learn more about PRBE, the organizations it partners with and events and educational opportunities it offers, visit the website: nebwild.org.
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