Columbia Land Trust project benefits sandhill cranes

Crops, berms aim to make Vancouver parcel inviting

By Dameon Pesanti for The Columbian
Published June 9, 2016 |  Original source article

MAP TEMPLATE 2014 Noshing local cuisine is one of the pleasures of travel, and soon hungry migrating sandhill cranes will have another menu item to choose from during their stopovers in the Vancouver area.

Starting this week, farmers began plowing parts of a roughly 540-acre property to prepare for planting six different types of corn, peas and sorghum for migrating sandhill cranes.

“Corn is very nutritional for them; they seek it out,” said Dan Friesz, natural area manager for the Columbia Land Trust.

The cranes, which are listed as endangered species in Washington, have been landing near Vancouver Lake for years. But for at least the last 15 years, Andersen Dairy left only about 5 percent of its crop for the birds. Now, all of it will be left for not only cranes, but also for dabbling ducks, wintering subspecies of Canada geese, crows and black birds.

Although the Land Trust knows cranes like to dine on corn, officials don’t yet know what kind of ambiance the birds prefer. To figure it out, the Land Trust plans to grow several test plots with plant varying concentrations, row widths, densities and orientations per acre.

“It’s all experimental phase,” Friesz said.869163-Sandhill-cranes_06

Agricultural lands provide valuable feeding grounds and resting areas for migratory birds along the West Coast, but those lands have been disappearing due to urban development.

“A lot of agricultural land has been eliminated in the area; we’re trying to bring it back with what we can,” Friesz said.

The Land Trust also is planning to create a permanent sanctuary for the birds by shielding the property from human activity. The organization applied for permits with the city of Vancouver to build berms at the property 5 to 6 feet taller than the existing walking trail and state Highway 501, Lower River Road. If approved, the berms will be built from existing flood control levees on the property; no extra material will be imported, Friesz said. They will later be planted with native shrubs and other plants. Parts of the road and walkway won’t have berms and will be screened with new hedges instead.

“The berms are visual barriers, so cranes can land on the property and not feel stressed while they’re getting their energies up for migration,” Friesz said.

He also said the Land Trust might build elevated platforms around the perimeter for people to view the cranes in the future.

Friesz said “it would be a miracle” to get the berms completed before the end of year. He also said he’ll be meeting with planners later this month to learn more about the final permitting requirements.

The project is expected to be an important resting point for 1,000 to 2,000 migrating sandhill cranes during the late fall, winter and early spring. There won’t be any public access to the property itself because it could interfere with the migratory birds.

The site is the product of a deal struck between the Port of Vancouver, which originally owned the property, and the Land Trust after bird conservationist Paul King sued the port in 2003.

King agreed to drop the lawsuit to prevent the port from deepening the Columbia River shipping channel if the port didn’t develop the 541 acres.

The port later agreed to set aside the 541 acres for conservation so it can develop 400 acres for marine and industrial development. The port announced in December the land would be donated to the Land Trust along with $2 million to establish the wildlife habitat and $5.5 million over time for stewardship projects.

The Columbian reporter, Dameon Pesanti, can be reached at Dameon.Pesanti@columbian.com.