Cranes and Cows

Usually when you think of cranes on urban land, you picture yellow tower cranes signaling the newest high rise on the horizon. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of representing Columbia Land Trust (CLT) when it acquired about 500 acres of bottom land inside the city limits of Vancouver, Washington near Vancouver Lake. CLT pictured a different type of crane on the urban horizon. The concept for the land was to raise corn and similar crops, but leave the harvest in place to provide feed for migrating sandhill cranes. CLT dubbed the land “Cranes’ Landing.” As hoped, the site has become a prime nesting and feeding area for the majestic migrating birds, along with other travelers on the Pacific Flyway.

But the cranes and migratory birds are not the only beneficiaries of operations at Cranes’ Landing thanks to innovative management. When the cranes arrive in late winter and early spring, they need open space as well as the corn and soybeans left standing for them to forage. Without open space, the birds cannot keep a watch out for predators. So, CLT also plants and harvests up to three annual crops of alfalfa, oats, and wheat on a portion of the land, that all goes to a neighboring dairy farm for its cows. Due to rapidly changing land use and crop preferences at farms near urban areas, local sources of these grains are scarce, so this is a really welcome nearby source of feed for the dairy. Once the grain crops are harvested, this part of the field provides the open space the cranes need, adjacent to the corn and soybeans that attract them to Cranes' Landing.

This seems like a great example of how to benefit wildlife and domestic animals, bird watchers and dairy farmers, from a single parcel of urban open space. Check out this short video from Columbia Land Trust, to see and hear the arrival of the birds.