LINCOLN – Wilkinson Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Platte County has reopened to the public following a temporary closure in place to protect whooping cranes using the area.
Three whooping cranes present at the WMA since March 25 left the area and continued their migration north on April 5.
Whooping cranes are an endangered species and their wild population totals only about 300 individuals. The entire population migrates through Nebraska each spring and fall between wintering sites along the Texas coast and breeding areas in northern Alberta. Whooping cranes are protected by both the federal Endangered Species Act and the Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act.
The wetland at Wilkinson WMA was acquired and restored in the mid-1990s and current management has focused on providing habitat for migratory birds.
“Without the collective efforts of a number of individuals and partners, the beneficial habitat these endangered birds used during their extended stay would not have been available to the birds,” said Karie Decker, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s acting wildlife division administrator.
Partners on the wetland acquisition and restoration project included The Todd Valley Wetland Foundation, Nebraska Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Conservation Service (Wetlands Reserve Program), Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nebraska Game and Parks, and local citizens and landowners.
The three whooping cranes were viewed by nearly 400 individuals since information about their presence was made public March 31. Several viewers were local residents, but others came from Omaha, Lincoln and Topeka, Kansas, specifically to see the rare birds. People from South Dakota, North Carolina, Michigan and Minnesota, who came to Nebraska to see sandhill cranes along the central Platte River valley, also viewed the whooping cranes at Wilkinson.
“WMAs not only provide habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, but they are important because they provide the public with diverse recreational opportunities, including wildlife viewing,” Decker said. “Nebraska Game and Parks appreciates the cooperation and assistance of the public and local landowners during the closure and whooping cranes’ stopover.”