Waste sand groomed for bird habitat

Jason Farnsworth of Headwaters Corp. explains why the two trees behind him will be bulldozed later this week to create habitat for the interior least tern and piping plover at a former sand quarry site. Photo by Morgan Ledermann.

A sand pit purchased from a gravel-mining operation near the Platte River is being turned into experimental habitat to attract nesting pairs of interior least terns and piping plovers.

The project, part of the $320 million effort to restore lost habitat, will use waste sand from the quarry operation to offer a safe place for the birds to nest.

Much of the restoration work is being done on riverfront property, but this type of work offers off-channel habitat away from the flooding risk along the river.

The 500 acres, which also includes an adjacent field to grow corn for whooping cranes, cost $2.1 million.  Management is expected to cost $40,000 to 60,000 per year.

Jason Farnsworth of Headwaters Corp., the private firm overseeing the entire restoration project, said the program expects to initially attract three or four nesting pairs each of interior least terns and piping plovers. The terns are an endangered species and piping plovers are classified as a threatened species in Nebraska.

Eventually, he said, the site could accommodate 10 to 15 pairs of each species.

“The big challenge is that we’re not talking about a lot of birds,” Farnsworth said.

Farnsworth said the cost of the project is offset by the potential for expensive lawsuits over the endangered and threatened birds that could involve taxpayer money.

“We can use the money for conservation instead of fighting about it,” Farnsworth said.

– Rebecca Lewis

Food plot targets rare whooping cranes

Whooping cranes are so rare that sightings are kept secret to help protect them.

A small number of whooping cranes pass through the same stretch of the Platte River that attracts nearly 500,000 sandhill cranes each spring – along with visitors from around the world.

The total population of the whooping cranes that make short stopovers in sandhill crane country is estimated at less than 250.

Whooping cranes are the targets of an off-channel project adjacent to the sand pits being created for least terns and piping plovers. Headwaters Corp. plans to flood a field of corn to provide food for the giant whoopers.

– Rebecca Lewis

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