Sandhill Cranes in Teton Valley

(September 11, 2020) Teton Regional Land Trust leads the Greater Yellowstone Sandhill Crane Initiative, which is a project focused on the protection of habitat for Sandhill Cranes. Sandhill Cranes are one of the most iconic species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and are especially effective drivers for conservation initiatives due to their status as an umbrella species. Each fall, Sandhills from around the Greater Yellowstone, including Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, congregate in large numbers in Teton Valley to build up the energy reserves needed for their long migration to their wintering grounds because of the valley’s unique alignment of wetland roosting habitat and farmland. As a result, the Valley hosts the largest pre-migration staging population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and one of the most important pre-migration staging areas for the Rocky Mountain Population of Sandhill Cranes.

The Sandhill Cranes of Teton Valley and the Greater Yellowstone Region are part of the Rocky Mountain Population which is about 20,000 strong. The majority of the population winters in New Mexico at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, but can also be found in other areas of the southwest and Mexico. During the spring, these Sandhills migrate north with many nesting in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This population is unique and distinct from the large population (over 500,000) of Lesser Sandhill Cranes that migrate along the Platte River in the central US.

In 2018, we started the Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival in honor of the amazing Sandhill Cranes. Although the festival will be virtual this year, we will still celebrate the Sandhill Crane migration and the exceptional natural and agricultural resources of the Teton Valley and raise awareness about efforts to conserve critical habitat for cranes and other iconic species of the Greater Yellowstone.

The Teton Regional Land Trust has been working strategically to protect the wetland roosting habitat and partnering with landowners to provide grain in the Teton Valley. To date, we have protected over 80% of the documented crane roosts. Since 2016, we have also implemented our Grain for Cranes program that ensures food resources for staging cranes in close proximity to the protected wetlands by creating grain food plots to supplement the foraging resources of grain left over after harvest along the west bench of the Teton River. This alignment of resources is unique and irreplaceable. With development pressure increasing across the region, the farm fields that Sandhills rely on for food is becoming fragmented and disappearing, replaced by homes and subdivisions

While the Land Trust is proud of the permanent protection of staging habitat in Teton Valley, there is more work to be done if we want staging Sandhills to continue to return to the Teton Valley. Not only that, staging habitat is a limited resource across the region, so if we lose staging habitat in Teton Valley, we are risking losing nesting cranes across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This is because Sandhills nest near staging areas to ensure the ability to complete their annual cycle. If there are not sufficient staging resources in Teton Valley, we will likely see fewer and fewer Sandhills nesting in the region over time.

The Land Trust hopes that by raising awareness of this unique and important natural resource in the Teton Valley, our community will be inspired to help protect the habitat Sandhills need to persist. This is the inspiration behind the Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival. As an umbrella species, protecting habitat for Sandhills protects habitat for a whole myriad of other wildlife that calls the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem their home. And it’s not just wildlife that benefits from the protection of staging habitat, by conserving farmland, we are also contributing to the sustainability of our region’s agricultural economy and ensuring open lands for the production of food.

You can learn more about staging Sandhill Cranes and the conservation efforts of the Teton Regional Land Trust by participating in the upcoming Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival. The festival highlights the connection between the natural world and the human spirit and celebrates nature through art. While this year’s festival has gone virtual, there are still many ways to participate.

Our virtual festival will be from September 14 to 19 and will include daily programming and themes related to Sandhill Cranes. This will be delivered through email, our Facebook page, and our website. One of the elements we are still able to include this year is the Crane Art Sculptures which have been beautifully decorated by artists and community members. You can view them in the Driggs City Building foyer in the Teton Arts Gallery and you can vote for your favorite to win the “People’s Choice” award on our website. If you want to own one of these works of art, you can bid on them in our Crane Fest auction along with additional crane themed artwork.

Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival Schedule:

Monday 9/14 – Welcome and Overview of the Festival

Tuesday 9/15 – Cranes in the Classroom presentation and program description

Wednesday 9/16 – Cranes in Culture, the historic and global context, poetry feature, and dance feature

Thursday 9/17 – Staging Cranes in Teton Valley Virtual Event

Friday 9/18 – Cranes and Art, last day to vote for the Crane Art Sculpture “People’s Choice” award

Saturday 9/19 – “People’s Choice” awards will be announced, last chance to bid on the auction until 6pm

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