Unlike most parks and scenic rivers, the great majority of the land within the Niobrara National Scenic River corridor is privately owned and vulneralbe to uncoordinated or inappropriate development. Thus, land protection is one of the most significant directives of the Niobrara Council. Two main land protection tools are at the Council's disposal: corridor zoning oversight and the right to hold conservation easements.
Niobrara National Scenic River Corridor Zoning Authority
The Niobrara Council works closely with the zoning administrators of Brown, Cherry, Keya Paha, and Rock Counties to assure that development within the corridor is consistent with its historic (primarily agricultural) uses and scenic character. An individual wishing to initiate a project obtains a zoning permit application from his county. If the application fulfills the county zoning requirements, the zoning administrator forwards it to the Council for full-board review and action.
Niobrara Council Authority to Hold Conservation Easements
As a tax-exempt charitable organization, the Niobrara Council has the authority to hold conservation easements. A conservation easement is a restriction on the use of one's property that protects the land against future real estate development, while permitting current residential, recreational, agricultural, forestry, or ranching uses. Conservtion easements serve to protect the scenic vistas, open spaces, and habitats of the river corridor. Conservation easements are generally donated to a charitable institution, often for the federal tax savings they impart. Less frequently, they are purchased by the institution. Through funding received from the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the federal government, the Niobrara Council was able to purchase its first easement in 2003.