Who would believe that within a year of the restoration of a Lawrence County, Illinois floodplain, two endangered birds could find it? This recently happened when a breeding pair of whooping cranes took a break from their northern migration to enjoy the newly restored wetland.
Whooping cranes are considered one of the most endangered wetland-dependant species in North America. These magnificent creatures, found only in North America, are the tallest birds on the continent, and are beloved for their distinctive call and intricate mating dance. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that the total population of whooping cranes in the U.S. was fewer than 400. Whooping cranes generally mate for life, and may return to the same watering holes again and again over the years.
The creation of the 330-acre floodplain, in the historical Purgatory Swamp between the Wabash and Embarras Rivers, was an almost immediate boon for migrating and regional wildlife. As soon as the restoration work was completed, water pooled into a wet area that attracted the pair of whooping cranes, who stopped by this week. The cranes had previously been banded as 2009 No.4 Female and 2004 No. 16 Male, according to a source with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and are probably on their way back to their nesting site in Wisconsin or Canada.
This floodplain project was one of 11 Illinois Emergency Watershed Protection – Floodplain Easement Program projects funded by the Obama Administration’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). In the past century, over half of the floodplains in Illinois have been altered by levees, lock and dams, and stream channelization. Water that enters these lands not only takes longer to drain, but also causes millions of dollars in crop damage.
To help reduce damage to flood-prone lands, and the associated costs for farmers and local governments, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service offers landowners a chance to take flood-prone areas out of production through conservation easements, beginning the process of restoring these lands to their original function as floodplains.
Though restoring a floodplain is not a quick process, some benefits are visible almost immediately—like the appearance of the pair of endangered birds! And some of the benefits of wetlands, like downstream flood prevention and water quality protection, are less visible, but just as important.
Learn more about NRCS ARRA Programs.
Follow NRCS on Twitter.
Check out other conservation stories on the USDA blog.