Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Hooded Crane and a Local Economy

When the Hooded Crane that was being seen in Tennessee disappeared, everyone wondered where it might show up next. Lucky for me and hundreds of other birders from Indiana and around the Midwest, the next stop for this crane turned out to be Goose Pond FWA in Southwest Indiana. It was found on a Wednesday morning, and by the end of the day, around 100 birders had seen the crane. I seriously considered heading to Goose Pond on Thursday, but since I already had plans to go on Friday with my friends Eric and Clare Malbone (to help them add species to their big year), I decided to wait and hope that the crane would stick around.

The Hooded Crane at Goose Pond FWA
We arrived at Goose Pond before sunrise in an attempt to see the crane before it left its roost in Beehunter Marsh Unit 5 North. As we set up our scopes, we could hear the trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes all around us. Scanning the marsh, we realized that this was a huge gathering of cranes with as many as 10,000 present. Everyone kept looking through the flock but could not find anything other than Sandhill. Luckily, after a couple of hours of searching, the crane was located, and we all got awesome scope views! But this is really only the beginning of the story. The real story lies in how a rare bird such as a Hooded Crane affects the whole community that it appears in.

The arrival of this crane has been a huge event for Goose Pond FWA and for Greene County. The current estimate is that around 1,000 people came to view the crane from Wednesday to Sunday, and it sounds like a couple hundred more have been there over the last few days searching for it to no avail. They traveled from near and far for a chance to see this rare visitor. Some stayed in Linton; others ate in town and bought gas. All of this adds up to a significant economic impact from this one bird.

Yet there are still a few people in Greene County who are extremely unsupportive of not just birding but the whole Goose Pond restoration. There were many articles written about the Hooded Crane and the tourism dollars spent in the region, but the comments that followed some of the articles online really surprised me.

A unit of Goose Pond FWA in the summer.
One reader left a comment stating that while it is great that people like to watch birds, they cannot see how this could possibly be bringing money into the area. They refer to the lost revenue from the land not being farmed any longer and the lost tax revenue on the land. I can certainly understand that there is lost tax revenue, but these folks begin to lose me with the frustration over lost farming revenue. From how I understand it, the land wasn’t all that productive for farming, which is part of the reason it ended up being restored as a wetland. Although it was drained, it was prone to flooding, which resulted in crop failures.

The comment that really bothers me and should bother every birder out there is the statement that the reader cannot see how the property brings much money to the area. I have been visiting this area for the past 10 years and have always made a point to fill up with gas in Linton and to eat at one of the local restaurants for lunch.  La Fiesta Mexican restaurant is one of my favorites and is frequented by other birders as well.

In less than a week, around 1,000 people have visited the area. That results in a large economic impact no matter how you slice it, especially since the city of Linton only has population of ~5,500 (according to the US Census).  Visitors arrived in a vehicle that must be filled with gasoline. They also had to eat, and many stayed for multiple meals.  Plus, I know that some birders stayed overnight in local hotels. Each of these actions affects local businesses, which is particularly important for a rural area.  

Please keep in mind that not all of the local residents feel this way. I have spoken with many Greene County residents while out birding on the property, and I have yet to run into anyone that has anything bad to say about the effect of this property on the community. Last year, as a kickoff for the Marsh Madness Festival, there was a premiere of a documentary about Goose Pond at the local Elks Lodge. The event was sold out with many of the tables packed with representatives from local businesses and organizations. The Marsh Madness event the next day was packed, even with the terrible cold rainy weather that we had that day.

A Roseate Spoonbill, like this one,
spent the summer of 2009 at Goose Pond FWA
It is also important to note that this is not an isolated incident of a rare or uncommon bird bringing birders to the area. While the Hooded Crane is by far the rarest species ever to occur on the property, others have drawn in huge crowds before. The most notable of these birds is a first state record Roseate Spoonbill that spent 97 days at Goose Pond during the summer of 2009.

I really hope that all of the supporters in the area are not affected by the cynicism of a few outspoken folks. The Friends of Goose Pond have done a wonderful job working in Linton and the rest of Greene County to gather a tremendous amount of support. I know they will continue to do great work within the community.

If you came to Goose Pond to see the Hooded Crane or if you love having wild places that Hooded Cranes and other rare birds can appear in, please consider supporting the Friends of Goose Pond.


  1. Excellent article Rob. It's a pity I'll miss the Crane but I'm glad so many people are enjoying it and sharing their enthusiasm, as well as their financial support, with a small town.

    Those argument against the preserve strike me as being hollow too. Certainly saving a relatively small piece of land like that for farming would generate no large amount of revenue. In fact, it'd probably be difficult for such a small farm to stay competitive with others in the area, especially if it has drainage problems.

    The birding community brings its money to Linton, and those tourist dollars are also much more dispersed amidst the local economy, and all of that is taxed too. Some folks just don't like it I guess, and will find a reason to justify their displeasure.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for the well-written and well-thought-out post Rob. There is no question that birding has a positive economic impact. I loved that the Midwest Birding Symposium provided business cards for guests to distribute when they stopped in to patronize their business establishment. It gave business people tangible evidence of birding's economic impact. We should encourage bird festivals and birders in general to find some way of putting physical reminders of our power for good in the hands of business people and politicians.

  3. Isn't it exciting when the birding community comes together??!!! The thrill of it. I had the same issue this past winter. One of the locals said to me, "Are you here to see them birds?" I try to understand why residents are so hateful towards things that bring beauty and preserve areas for things beyond human needs.....but I can't. It's frustrating no matter how you look at it. Some communities are better than other. Birding brings a lot of money into areas.

  4. Very informative! Whoosh, we drove 5 hours down and 5 hours back, 714 miles in 48 hours and saw thousands of Sandhills...MAGNIFICENT, but we never saw the Hooded Crane. So how far are you from LaGrange, KY then? It would probably be a waste of my effort, for locating one bird is like a needle in a haystack. You are so fortunate to have seen this rare visitor!!! I agree whole heartedly with each and every sentiment do smart people, get so stubborn sometimes~

  5. I appreciated reading this article and the effort to support the wildlife management area and all the many species it supports. The Hooded Crane was an incredible public relations ambassador in Tennessee at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge prior to our sandhill crane festival. I have posted the second in a three-part series on the Hooded Crane, its endangered habitat in Asia and its appearance in the United States with images graciously provided by Dr Guo Yumin, chief Hooded Crane scientist in China.

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  7. Yes indeed, birding is big business. I only wish more people understood this. Perhaps if some of these non-supporters would take the time to observe some of these beautiful birds, they would change their minds. Terrific post!

  8. An excellent post! Thoughtful and thought provoking. But beyond the economic benefit is the benefit not only to the birds, but to the human soul and spirit as well as the environment. It is too sad that some people must measure success or benefit in dollars alone.