Floodplain Attracts Endangered Crane

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iStockphoto.com/Jim Kruger
A breeding pair of whooping cranes, an endangered species, have found their way to a restored wetlands in Illinois.

Who would
believe that within a year of restoring a floodplain, an endangered species
could find a newly restored wetland along an Illinois
River? But more important, it is a breeding pair of whooping
cranes. These cranes are considered one of the most endangered wetland
dependant species in North America. To have a
pair stop along their migration, well, “it was spectacular,” says Dave Hiatt,
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) wildlife biologist.

Immediately
after its restoration, the floodplain in Lawrence County
began storing rainwater and floodwaters, creating an oasis for migrating and
regional wildlife. The area provided food and shelter for birds and mammals all
winter. “To see an endangered species return to former migration patterns so
soon is remarkable,” says Bill Gradle, NRCS State Conservationist. “This is a
real testament to what these restored floodplains have to offer.”

The land resides
in the historical Purgatory Swamp which lies between the Wabash and Embarras Rivers. Over time it has been drained
and farmed. “When I first saw this land I thought it was fantastic for restoration,”
says landowner Ray McCormick. “It was a restoration just waiting to happen.” It
didn’t take long for the 330-acre site to respond. As soon as the restoration
work was completed, the rains came and it began ponding water. After the winter
thaw, the river swelled and created a nice wet area that apparently was
attractive for the pair of whooping cranes. The cranes had previously been
banded as 2009 No.4 Female and 2004 No. 16 Male, according to a source from the
Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Wildlife Management Area.

Another
important feature of this floodplain is its location. Hiatt says, “This
particular floodplain easement is located within a contiguous area of 453 acres
of floodplains along the Embarras River.” It
is becoming evident, contiguous wetlands like these offer significant benefits
for wildlife. Additional benefits include flood prevention downstream and water
quality protection.

The floodplain
restoration was one of 11 restorations in Illinois
funded through the Administration’s 2010 America’s Recovery and Reinvestment
Act (Recovery Act). The NRCS used Recovery Act funding to offer landowners the
opportunity to apply through the Emergency Watershed Protection – Floodplain
Easement Program (EWP-FPE). The goal was to take cropland in flood prone areas
out of production and restore the land back to original conditions.

Though restoring
a floodplain is not a quick process, it is obvious some benefits are visible
almost immediately. Not only have the whooping cranes arrived, but the
landowner has noticed a large increase of ducks and other waterfowl.  “This is a great program,” McCormick says, “I
encourage birdwatchers to come out and enjoy. I believe the public has the
right see these areas. USDA wetland programs are just what the whoopers
ordered.”

To learn more
about NRCS programs and services go to the NRCS website.