Last week I traveled to Greene County, Indiana—along with about a thousand other birders—to see the Hooded Crane at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area (GPFWA). Like many wetlands in the midwest, GPFWA was bottomland agricultural parcels that had been purchased, the drainage tiles removed, and allowed to refill and regrow.
The results, from one point of view, have been spectacular. If you follow the Indiana birding listserve, you will be familiar with the acronym above, as well as names like “Beehunter Marsh”. In the past two to three years, the birds have reclaimed this land with a vengeance. Breeding Black-necked Stilt and Least Tern. The largest known inland breeding population of King Rail. Vagrants including Roseate Spoonbill, Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Ibis and more.
And of course, cranes. Lots and lots of cranes. Last week, and estimated 15,000 Sandhill Cranes were at Goose Pond, along with a number of Whooping Cranes (from the Necedah, WI flock) and one Hooded Crane.
While I was there, dozens of birders trolled all of the roads in the area looking for the hoodie, and birding in general. The locals who passed us as we scanned the marshes and cornfields seemed indifferent to us. But the comments section of a story about the crane in the Greene County Daily World tell another side of the story…
It is great people like to watch birds, but I do not believe it actually brings much money into our area. We lost so much when the farming was destroyed there. Besides the tax income, think of the annual crops that are not produced anymore. In a world that is overpopulated, it is amazing to me that this will ever be as productive as it was before.Too many acres in our country are being trashed in the name of the wetlands. How much did the Goosepond project cost? That is not ever going to be seen here.— Posted by minerette on Tue, Feb 14, 2012, at 11:10 AM
“How much did the Goosepond project cost?” I believe the state paid $8M for the land. I haven’t found what the work to “restore” the area cost. The land hadn’t been farmed since at least 2000 when it was placed in the Wetland Reserve Program.— Posted by James30096 on Tue, Feb 14, 2012, at 12:46 PM
I think Mr Feaster should try driving around more than he does because if he were to drive for instance 900 W & travel north or south he will find people parked in the middle of the blacktopped county road, he will also find motorists out of their vehicles and gazing at the sky with their binoculars! This is Dangerous! The speed limit has not been lowered, so, our county roads are traveled at 55 mph there needs to be more people working for the GPWF to make motorists aware that in our county and state the county roads are traveled as if you are on a highway. would they stop in the middle of a highway?? I’ve seen alot of unbeleivable motorists this weekend!!— Posted by abc123… on Tue, Feb 14, 2012, at 3:28 PM
For the most part, when I’m out birding in rural areas, the local people are friendly, inquisitive and pretty much how you’d expect. But I have had a few instances where, during a Christmas count, for example, our cars were followed and our license plate numbers reported to police. Another time we were chased by a local resident who reported that we were “watching things” while wearing black ski masks (we weren’t … but it makes a good story). And there is the famous story of a local resident in Michigan that shot a Great Gray Owl to keep people off “his” road.
These kinds of situations are, thankfully, rare. But as the comments above illustrate, many of the people in rural areas come from a tradition of “taming” and “improving” the land, believing that the best use for land is agriculture. Purchasing the bottomlands with the intention of allowing them to re-flood is nearly blasphemous.
Enter into this situation extremely endangered species like Whooping Cranes. Whoopers have been shot and killed in southern Indiana (one in 2010, and another just a few weeks ago), Georgia (three birds in 2010) and Louisiana (two birds last year). In one of the Indiana cases, the shooter was a minor, who was sentenced to a year of probation and a one-dollar fine (yes, one dollar.) The defense was that it was just stupid kids out shooting at things. But the cynical side of me has to think that they knew what they were doing, and may have been encouraged to do so. Get rid of the cranes, and maybe the refuge will go away too. I know of similar situations where farmers are afraid to have Barn Owls on their property for fear that the government will take the land from them. So they “discourage” the owls.
Preserving and reclaiming wild places in rural America is a worthwhile cause for everyone. Yet, the communication gap is wide and sometimes treacherous.
I think that the cranes, the farmers and the birders can all get along very happily. But we have a long way to go, and at this point I think it is upon the birding community to reach out, be respectful, and most importantly, engage the locals when we’re out in the boonies. If someone pulls over to ask what you’re up to, don’t just say “looking at birds”. Say hi, and let them have a look through your scope. Tell them how far you’ve travelled to enjoy their home. Help the reclamation of wetlands, prairies and such become a source of pride, rather than disdain.Share on Facebook