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Stripped to its essence, this project is about sand, grass, and water, their interactions, and the stability of the 58,000 km2 Nebraska Sand Hills over the last few thousand years. Although the dunes are almost entirely stabilized by native grassland today, ranchers fight even the smallest blowout for fear that bare sand will spread. Ranchers and scientists alike recognize the Sand Hills, the largest sand dune area in the Western Hemisphere, as a highly non-linear system, a "desert in disguise". The geologic record supports this. The Sand Hills have mobilized several times in the Holocene and most dunes are thought to be less than 5000-8000 years old. Major droughts destabilized significant portions of the Sand Hills as recently as 1000 years BP.

The stability of the Sand Hills affects not only hundreds of cattle ranches, but also the recharge of the High Plains Aquifer, which extends into eight High Plains states. Of the total groundwater stored in this vast aquifer, 65% occurs in Nebraska and over half of that lies under the Sand Hills. The groundwater connection is obvious throughout the region. Due to the high water table, interdunal valleys in portions of the Sand Hills contain extensive complexes of lakes, wetlands, and naturally sub-irrigated wet meadows, which together cover about 10% of the landscape. The wet meadows are dominated by C3 graminoids (in contrast to the uplands dominated by C4 grasses) and contribute roughly 50% of the primary production for the Sand Hills as a whole.