By Casey Gallagher
In 2008, under the authority of the Secretary of the Army through the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC) was established to provide a collaborative forum for developing a shared vision and comprehensive plan for the ecosystem restoration of the longest river in North America.
MRRIC is a 70-member committee made up of federal, state, tribal and stakeholder representatives from throughout the Missouri River basin, which includes 388 conservation districts in all or portions of 10 states (Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri) from western Montana to the confluence of the Missouri River to the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Mo. The committee provides guidance and recommendations to federal, tribal, state, local and private entities in the basin on the current Missouri River Recovery Plan (MRRP) for the river’s threatened and endangered species and on the Recovery Program’s Science and Adaptive Management Plan (SAMP) to restore habitat while sustaining the river’s many uses by its stakeholders and tribes.
Moody County Conservation District Supervisor Jack Majeres in South Dakota served on the charter development committee over 10 years ago establishing MRRIC, and served as one of the two conservation district representatives until 2010, when he was elected as an officer for NACD. In 2014, he resumed his role upon the board, replacing Brian Lovett from Wyoming. In 2019, Richard Iversen of Richland County Conservation District in Montana was selected as the primary representative for one of two conservation district stakeholder seats on MRRIC, and Casey Gallagher will serve as his alternate representative. Iversen also serves on the Missouri River Conservation Districts Council (MRCDC), of which Gallagher is the coordinator. Iversen and Gallagher will serve three-year terms, representing the 388 conservation and natural resource districts in the river basin.
Iversen is a familiar face among the MRRIC stakeholders, where he champions local decision making to implement plans and procedures that comply with the Endangered Species Act to recover three federally-listed threatened and endangered species associated with the Missouri River: the pallid sturgeon, Northern Great Plains piping plover and the interior least tern. He was appointed to the Human Considerations Work Group and was involved with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to implement test flows out of the Ft. Peck Dam meant to increase recruitment of the endangered Pallid Sturgeon fish in the river segment below the Ft. Peck Dam to Lake Sakakawea. His involvement with the work group and presentation to the full MRRIC group resulted in the Corps modifying their test flow proposal to best accommodate the interests of irrigators who use 150 pump sites between Ft. Peck Dam and the Yellowstone River confluence on the Missouri River. Currently, the Corps is reviewing high-flow alternatives and plans to publish a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in spring with a public comment period to follow. Local irrigators will need to maintain their engagement during this process and work with their local conservation districts to ensure the viability of using water resources for farmland irrigation.
Since the development of the council more than 10 years ago, the group has accomplished much in the name of species recovery, although they acknowledge that adjustments are almost always needed to Species Recovery Adaptive Management Plans. MRRIC members have partnered to provide guidance and recommendations to the USACE and USFWS to spearhead numerous initiatives, including:
- Established an Independent Science Advisory Panel (ISAP) of noted scientists in various fields to review and advise MRRIC, USACE and USFWS on proposed projects and procedures;
- Oversaw the development of needed bird habitat to allow the USFWS to submit a recommendation in November 2019 to have the Interior Least Tern delisted as an endangered species;
- Convinced the USFWS that the Piping Plover bird uses off-river habitats besides the Missouri River, such as the alkali lakes and prairie pot holes in the Dakotas, to nest and raise their chicks, which will increase the population count and allow that bird to be delisted sooner;
- Since 2008, over 400 adults presumed to be wild Pallid Sturgeon fish have been captured and tagged from the Missouri River;
- Over 11,000 acres of shallow, low velocity aquatic habitat have been created in the Lower Missouri River to benefit the ecosystem that supports the Pallid Sturgeon;
- Evidence of successful spawning in the Missouri River below Gavins Point Dam was confirmed by collection of seven larvae since 2014.
“Conservation districts are vital to any work the USACE does on the Missouri River in Montana,” Iversen said. “Through MRRIC, the conservation districts are at the table and able to express their needs and suggestions on planned projects. It is absolutely necessary that Montana conservation districts and producers are at the table. “