` International Crane Foundation, Conservation Technology Support Program GIS Stories

Conservation Technology Support Program: GIS Experiences from Prior Recipients

International Crane Foundation

Mission Statement: The International Crane Foundation (ICF) works worldwide to conserve cranes and the wetland and grasslands communities on which they depend. ICF is dedicated to providing experience, knowledge, and inspiration to involve people in resolving threats to these ecosystems. (Full size China map: 245kb)

Explanation: To accomplish this mission, the International Crane Foundation (a private, non-profit organization) relies on a wide range of education and conservation activities directed toward the many countries where cranes occur.

A collection of captive cranes is maintained at our headquarters near Baraboo, Wisconsin, which allows us to pursue two vital techniques for crane preservation: captive breeding and reintroduction into the wild. Our work also demonstrates endangered species management for the public, and facilitates breeding and education efforts with cranes elsewhere in the United States and abroad.

ICF is also concerned with habitat protection and restoration. Cranes are excellent indicators of the health of wetland and grassland ecosystems worldwide. ICF strives to alert scientists, government officials, and the public to the dependence of cranes on their habitats, the causes and remedies for habitat destruction, and the importance of wetlands and grasslands for both wildlife and people.

ICF supports research, serving primarily as a catalyst for research, by making available its facilities and bird collection to scientists, by sponsoring workshops and publications, and by fostering a network among conservationists, biologists, and managers around the world.

Education is also an important component of ICF's efforts to preserve cranes. The first level is Wisconsin and neighboring states, from which families, groups, and schools can easily visit our site and also benefit from outreach programs such as staff presentations and the Midwest Sandhill Crane Count. Second, we strive to inform people throughout the United States, through outreach programs, educational materials and films, and national media coverage of our programs. Third, is our international focus. We train and offer expertise in habitat management, restoration, ecology, captive management and propagation to our colleagues in many countries.

We also sponsor visits for visiting delegations to ICF, other conservation centers in the United States as well as other countries. Our Wisconsin facilities serve as a model for initiating conservation programs in the many countries where cranes are endangered.

ICF differs from most nature centers and conservation facilities in that its activities single out a very specific subject--cranes--rather than treating the natural history and general ecology of a region. But the focus on cranes is not limiting; instead it provides ICF an opportunity to address a series of issues not tied to a particular place: endangered species management, wetland ecology, habitat restoration, and the critical need for international cooperation. (Full size reserve wetlands map: 343kb)

Our programs stress the interdependence of wildlife to their habitats and the relationships that exist between wildlife, habitat, and people. We believe that cranes can serve as a symbol inspiring people from many nations to trust each other and to work together to conserve these magnificent birds.

Briggsville: At the local scale, work is proceeding with a project to model the habitat requirements of Greater Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) near Briggsville, Wisconsin. Sandhill populations in Wisconsin are in the midst of an impressive recovery, from 15 to 20 pairs in the entire state in 1928 to 2,883 observed breeding pairs in 1995. Unfortunately, growing crane populations in a time of shrinking wetlands have led to conflicts between humans and birds. In their feeding, Sandhills have substituted agricultural fields for vanished prairies and savannahs. Non-breeding "bachelor flocks" or breeding pairs can decimate newly planted corn, bringing the birds into conflict with the farmers and other rural people whose goodwill is essential to maintaining quality crane habitat in the future. As crane populations continue to grow statewide, further conflicts seem likely. The problem could be mitigated, though, by predicting where such conflicts are likely to occur and taking steps to alleviate the problem while it was still small. To this end, we are constructing a model of the habitat needs of Sandhill cranes and attempting to come to a more detailed knowledge of how their use of agricultural fields interacts with their need for wetlands. Years of field observations of the locations of banded, breeding cranes will be overlaid on a series of detailed land-cover maps of the Briggsville area. This will allow us not only to quantify the composition of breeding territories in terms of various land cover classes, but to examine the spatial relationships (e.g. adjacency, shape factors) between them. The data thus obtained could be applied to other areas or, conceivably, at a very broad scale to identify other areas where conflicts are likely to occur, so that work on solutions could begin as early as possible. We are still in the process of creating a land-cover map of the area. Our base is the road and stream network, drawn from Digital Line Graphs (DLGs) in the US Census Bureau's 1990 digital TIGER line files. Using this as ground control, we are rectifying 1992 National Aerial Photography Program airphotos from which we digitize the boundaries of fields, forested areas, human structures and other land-cover categories. The result of this is a land cover template which can be updated for each year with specific crop information and relevant changes in land use. Such year-specific modifications are based upon field observations and annual Agricultural Soil Conservation Service (ASCS) air-photos. Crop reports supplied to the US Farm Service Agency may be used as ground-control to estimate our accuracy in classification, while wetland distribution has been obtained separately from the Wisconsin Digital Wetland Inventory (WDWI).

(Full size Briggsville map: 55kb) The map shown is a preliminary result of this project, showing some of the core of the study area immediately West of the city of Briggsville. The primary purpose of this map is part of an educational project conducted with 5 area schools. The Briggsville area contains an unusually high concentration of Sandhill Cranes, and ICF has been striving to promote the local sense of pride and responsibility that should come with such a unique resource. Most of the students are lucky enough to regularly see Sandhill chicks or large flocks of cranes which would be outside the experience of youth in an urban setting. At the same time, many of these students live on farms hurt by the depredations of feeding birds. Classroom discussions allow the students to better understand the many land-use conflicts that invariably arise between people and wildlife, and to come to their own decisions based on sound information.

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Text and graphics: International Crane Foundation
January 2, 1997

Design and Layout: Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.
January 2, 1997