Rowe Sanctuary Buys 84 Acres Along Platte River, Expanding Conservation Lands

Dec. 18, 2020, 5:27 p.m. ·

(Photo by Flickr user Hemant Kulkarni)

The Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon is a destination for bird lovers across the state, preserving habitats for Sandhill cranes and other migrating birds.

The organization will soon expand its Platte River property by more than 80 acres, after buying land from a local farmer. But it will take about a year before the restoration process will begin, converting the land from row crop production back into native grassland.

Director Bill Taddicken says his team will spend much of next year raising funds to buy a diverse native seed mix for the plot — one acre can cost upwards of $300 to plant. After a good snowfall next winter, they'll sprinkle the blend across the 84 acres, once ruled by conventional commodities. Planting while there's snow on the ground makes it easier for seeds to lodge into the earth: as the ice melts, mud forms, securing the grasses while they take root.

And then? Director Bill Taddicken says you walk away.

"Usually you have a lot of broadleaf weeds and sunflowers, things like that for the first two or three years," he explained. "And then the native grasses start to come on. Usually we say they sleep for a year, then they creep for a couple years, and then they leap."

All told, the process takes around four to six years. The grass will take its time, but migrating birds won't have to wait to reap the benefits of more land. Cranes stop in Nebraska to bulk up and relax before heading to far off places like Siberia for the winter. Most of their meals include waste grain, but grasslands offer more diverse snacks.

"Sandhill Cranes will eat just about anything, except fish," Taddicken said. "They'll eat frogs and baby birds and snakes. And so what they're doing in the grasslands is fulfilling that nutritional need of calcium and proteins, and things that they can't get from waste grain."

Grassland birds are one of the fastest declining fleets of birds in the world, and most of the wet meadows and grasslands cranes used to rely on during migration are gone.

“So it gives us a chance to help connect that habitat back to some of those birds,” he said.

The purchase was made possible by the Caruthers Family Foundation based in Colorado. "They've been friends of Rowe for a long time. And their concern for land is one of the things that they're concerned for, especially land for cranes," Taddicken said.

But the purchase will directly benefit Nebraskans, too: property taxes paid by the organization on the plot will support local schools. Plus, the extra property is situation across from one of the sanctuary's prime viewing locations, and will be used in outdoor education programs.

"All of our education programs are experiential, [to] get the kids out on the land, get bugs in their teeth and mud in their hair ... the protection of these lands is really about the future of our natural world, and it lies in the hands of our children," he said.
"They need to have these protected places now, and for their children to learn to love nature, so they can help protect it far into the future."