Dawson Public Power District Spends $25,000 to Protect Sandhill Crane Population


Every year, over half a million sandhill cranes migrate to Nebraska's Platte River -- a sight that has tens of thousands of tourists coming to watch, each season.

"They're just an amazing bird, and the phenomena of having hundreds of thousands of birds here all at once in this small area on the Central Platte is just amazing," Greg Wingfield, conservation director at Rowe Sanctuary, said. "They're a charismatic bird, they're long-lived, they mate for life until they lose a mate. So they do have kind of a lot of characteristics that we humans have, and I think that's something that people kind of attach to."

But after officials saw that hundreds of the birds were being electrocuted every year after flying into power lines, they developed a device to help reduce the deaths -- but it came at a cost.

"They estimated prior to taking measures, that we might have been losing two or 300 cranes each migration season, or at least each spring," Wingfield said.

That's when the Dawson Public Power District stepped in. And although their main priority is providing power, they felt it was their duty to help out.

"We want to be environmentally responsible, too, and when Rowe Sanctuary approached us with this problem, we started looking at different opportunities," Gwen Kautz, general manager of the Dawson Public Power District, said.

So they installed devices called FireFlies to help protect the crane population.

The reflective tags were installed in 2009, and recent studies show they've reduced crane mortality by 50 percent. The devices are snapped onto power lines and spin in the wind, helping cranes to avoid them in the dark.

"Rowe Sanctuary purchases the devices and pays for them, and we supply the labor and manpower to put them up," Kautz said.

At an initial cost of $25,000, that manpower wasn't cheap.

"I do believe that the cost to put up the devices is well worth what it does for the crane population," Kautz said. "We wanted to work with Rowe Sanctuary to make sure that their visitors were having very positive experiences."

But not everyone is a fan of these birds. NTV News had dozens of people commenting on our Facebook page that they think they're a nuisance, and that Nebraska should legalize Sandhill crane hunting. However, Rowe Sanctuary says they're happy with the results they've gotten since installing the FireFlies, and think it will help keep the species from eventually becoming endangered.