NEBRASKALAND • MAY 2012
and critical direction under Amack’sadministration – more emphasis onreconnecting Nebraskans, particularlyyoung people, with outdoor recreation.
A Bigger Big-GameState
Just as state park developmenthas been a priority during Amack’stenure, so too has been improvingopportunities for hunters, anglers andwildlife viewers. Two of the biggerwildlife stories to take place duringhis years as director were the returnof two species native to the state butextirpated before 1900 – bighorn sheepand elk.Bighorn sheep reintroduction effortsfirst began in 1981 and have beenongoing ever since (see “From Albertato Nebraska” starting on page 12).After starting out with six sheep ina 500-acre enclosure at Fort RobinsonState Park, today an estimated 300sheep again roam free across theirancestral ground in western Nebraska.Unlike the bighorns, elk returnedto their native haunts in Nebraska ontheir own, first reappearing in the PineRidge in the 1970s, and continuingto expand in numbers and range eversince. Today they are found not onlyin the Pine Ridge, but in the WildcatHills, along the Niobrara, North Platteand Platte rivers and elsewhere insmaller numbers. Their population inNebraska has increased so much, infact, that the first modern day Nebraskaelk season was held in 1986 and hasbecome a yearly event.For most hunters, though, thedramatic increase in deer and turkeynumbers over the past 20 years is of more interest. The year Amack becamecommission director, a total of 67,451deer and 16,984 turkey permits wereissued. Last year, twice as many deerpermits and almost three times as manyturkey permits were sold. This wasdue in large part because the time andlandscape was ripe for it to happen,but Amack played an integral role byworking with Commission biologistsand the Board of Commissioners tomanage those dramatic increases –to maximize hunting and wildlifeviewing opportunities while keepinggame animal populations compatiblewith agriculture and other concerns.The increase in the abundance anddistribution of Canada geese in thestate has been similarly notable.Pheasant and quail populations, onthe other hand, have been harder tomanage as agricultural uses of the landhave become more intensive. Whenthe $1 Upland Game Bird Stampwas replaced with the $7.50 HabitatStamp in 1977, the thinking was thatthe Commission needed to buy landand operate it as wildlife managementareas, but Amack and others soonbegan to realize that their resourcescould be stretched a lot further byleasing land and partnering with othersto get shared goals accomplished.“Public lands managed for pheasantsand other wildlife represented onlya small percentage of the totallandscape,” said Amack.One of the many such partnershipsthat Amack helped foster began in1997, when the Commission partneredwith Pheasants Forever to start theConservation Reserve Program –Management Access Program (CRP-MAP), which pays private landownersto open their CRP fields to walk-inhunting and to disk and interseedlegumes into a portion of their land toincrease food and cover for pheasants.The Commission expanded that effortin 2002 in a partnership with PheasantsForever and the Nebraska office of the United States Department of Agriculture by launching the Focus onPheasants initiative, concentrating onregions of the state where the potentialfor increasing pheasant numbers byworking with private landownersseemed most promising. And in 2009,the new Open Fields and WatersProgram started, paying landownersto open private acres to public walk-inhunting and fishing access.
More Fish andFishing Waters
On the angling side of the ledger, itis impossible to look back at Amack’stime as director and not wonder if thebiggest thing that happened was theconstruction of Calamus State FishHatchery northwest of Burwell. That,perhaps, is only true if quantified asthe biggest thing to happen in oneplace. This state-of-the-art hatcherywas dedicated in September 1991 at acost of $8.6 million and produces bothcool-water species such as walleye andtrout, as well as warm-water specieslike yellow perch and northern pike. Itscapacity to produce fish is astounding,measured in tens of thousands of fishof different species annually.Fish raised at Calamus and otherCommission hatcheries across the stateare often used in another program of particular interest to Amack: the UrbanFisheries Program that started in 1999with the goal of improving recreationalfishing in and around Nebraska citiesand providing more opportunities forurban residents, particularly youth andfamilies, to go fishing. As with manywildlife management programs thatAmack encouraged collaboration on,this one partners with other groupssharing the same interest, such as cityparks and recreation departments,schools, civic groups and otherorganizations, to make every dollar gofurther.The Aquatic Habitat Program wasanother border-to-border Commissionprogram launched under Amack’sguidance. Passed by the NebraskaLegislature in 1996, the programrequires anglers to purchase a $7.50Aquatic Habitat Stamp, and thefunds raised by the stamp are usedto leverage federal and other fundingsources for projects that enhancefishing opportunities; such asrenovations to removeundesirable roughfish, excavation ordredging to removesilt, and constructionof breakwatersto protectshorelinesfrom erosionand createfish-spawningshoals. Theprogram isnow in itssecond phaseand putsincreasedemphasis in providing angleraccess to lakes, pondsand streams.Fish hatcheriesand programs toencourage people topick up a rod
The state’s fishing programs encourage anglers of all ages to pick up a rod and reel.
P H OT OB Y D O U G S T E I NK E
The state-of-the-art Calamus Fish Hatchery opened in 1991, doubling the capacity of hatchery production in the state.
P H OT O S T HI S P A GE A ND OP P O S I T E B OT T OMB Y E RI C F OWL E R