British Columbia Coast



Grant Proposal:  Identification and Conservation of Temperate Rainforest Ecosystems in coastal British Columbia, Canada, through Determination of Importance to Sandhill Cranes.

 Grant Amount Proposed:  $50,000


From: The West Coast Crane Working Group,

a technical workgroup of the

North American Crane Working Group


October 23, 2006


Primary Contact for the West Coast Crane Working Group: 


Thomas J Hoffmann

25-2641 Whistler Road

Whistler, BC V0N 1B2



Project Leader: Dr. Briony Penn, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada




Cranes are a charismatic group of birds, revered by peoples around the world.  North America’s Sandhill Cranes were once hunted to the verge of extinction.  Their numbers have mostly recovered, but the cranes now rely on our diminished wetlands, grasslands and agricultural areas that are under pressures from development.  Cranes have migrated along the Pacific Flyway on the West Coast of the United States and Canada for millions of years. Maintaining adequate ecosystems for cranes at wintering grounds, migrational staging areas and their breeding grounds will not only help meet the needs of cranes but protect wetlands and agricultural areas for a wide range of economical and ecological purposes.


Cranes are an umbrella species. A variety of wetland birds nest in association with Sandhill Cranes. These wetland-nesting areas are important to a wide range of other wildlife.  Wetland and agricultural ecosystems that support wintering cranes are important to waterfowl and a great variety of other wildlife. Cranes are a sentinel species, indicating the overall health of critical wildlife ecosystems.  Conservation of crane ecosystems will help maintain populations of cranes as well as their wild allies, helping ensure the future of our native wildlife in the Pacific Flyway.




Our appreciation of the crane grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history. His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene. The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed with in the hills. When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.   Aldo Leopold “Marshland Elegy” (1937)


Little information exists on the geographic distribution of subpopulations of Pacific Flyway Sandhill Cranes over their annual cycle.  Three subpopulations recognized (Lesser, Canadian, and Greater) have different breeding areas and vary in their population status. The Pacific birds primarily winter in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Joaquin Valley of California, although some also winter along the lower Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. Their breeding territory is along the western coast of British Columbia


Until recently, few studies were being conducted on Sandhill Cranes in the Pacific Flyway.


The West Coast Crane Working Group is currently funding a $170,000, 2006-2007 crane research and citizen education project in the Glenwood Valley of Washington. Joseph D. Engler, Biologist of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex, has undertaken a study of the nesting Greater Sandhill Cranes in Washington State and the WCCWG employs a biologist working in the area.


The WCCWG funded a two year study by Gary Ivey and Caroline Herziger, independent biologists, tracking the movements of Pacific Flyway Sandhill cranes via satellite technology, and documented their spring migration routes and destinations, see attached. Based on the data they obtained, it appears that the birds move from a staging area at Ridgefield NWR and Sauvé Island down the Columbia River, follow the Washington coast northward, cross Cape Flattery, across Vancouver Island, and up the coast of British Columbia (BC). The study identified coastal British Columbia as the breeding habitat for this subpopulation of approximately 4,000 cranes. The present study follows through on the findings and recommendations of this study.




The addressed information is needed to identify where ecosystem conservation and management for the species should be directed in British Columbia. There is a pressing need to obtain information on the range, composition and status of Pacific Flyway Sandhill Cranes in British Columbia.


Management of migratory birds has required an increasing amount of scientific information to promptly detect changes in populations, prevent degradation of important ecosystems and manage public uses of migratory birds.  There is very little baseline information on Pacific Flyway Sandhill Cranes in British Columbia.


Continued ecosystem loss to logging and mining projects on breeding and staging ecosystems in British Columbia are likely to result in a further reduction in the population of Pacific Flyway cranes and other associated wildlife through ecosystem degradation or increased disturbance.


Sandhill Cranes are listed as endangered in Washington, threatened in California and sensitive in Oregon and British Columbia and there is a need to increase the crane population in the Pacific Flyway to achieve de-listing.


Cranes are dependent on secure feeding grounds in their staging areas, freedom from human intervention, safe breeding grounds and over wintering areas—a complex array of ecosystems which, with the exception of the over wintering areas near the Columbia River and in California, are presently available to them in the network of the Great Bear rainforest wilderness areas. This coastal subpopulation are deemed endangered by the US and blue listed by the British Columbia government. The unique use of island and forested habitat is little understood so habitat loss through logging practices will affect these cranes. The river estuaries where they are observed staging once stretched from California to southern Alaska.  About half have been severely altered by clear-cut logging and other human activities, especially in California, Oregon and Washington. The British Columbia system appears critical to the continued health of this population.


Recently, however, the future of this remnant population is in question. The recent land use decisions leading to the new Spirit Bear Conservancy Area will still allow extensive resource extraction to occur on the islands and valleys not placed in proposed protection.   


Long term Objectives


§         Delineate breeding grounds, migration routes, and staging areas of Pacific Flyway Sandhill Cranes in British Columbia and develop refined maps of distribution across their breeding ranges.


§         Identify important ecosystems and geographic areas of cranes in coastal British Columbia.


§         Determine threats to cranes in British Columbia such as loss of habitat due to logging and mining activities.


§         Develop public education and advocacy programs to protect threatened ecosystems in areas of crane concentration.




Cranes, because of their striking beauty and unique significance in many cultures, have inspired awareness and action on behalf of wildlife and wetlands, serving as important symbols for conservation.  Because of their dependence on large expanses of wetlands, cranes have likewise catalyzed conservation action for wetlands and grasslands on many continents, activities that have benefited vast ecosystems and thousands of plant and animal species. 


The project leaders chief role will be integrating the results of the various scientific and ethnographic research  projects over the 12 months and using those results and the inspiration of the cranes to develop a strong integrated educational and conservation message. This message will be delivered in a creative and innovative way to a broad spectrum of stakeholders from planning committees to the general public within a communication strategy that involves public lectures, a media campaign and outreach in local communities.


WWCWG programs reflect the following beliefs:


Cranes can provide a compelling and simple link between local issues and regional conservation.  WCCWG programs provide that link between local communities and the Pacific Northwest region.


Individual caring and involvement are the crucial ingredients to securing a healthy and peaceful future for our planet (cranes are the symbols for good fortune and peace).  WCCWG programs empower individuals, providing them tools for effective action.


Solving conflicts and resource problems requires people to work together.  WCCWG uses the cranes as a bond unifying diverse peoples. We build up on common interests and shared action, thus bridging the destructive divisions so strong in today’s world.




bulletAttending working group meetings for coastal planning processes of First Nations and provincial governments
bulletDeveloping a communication strategy on the cranes
bulletLiaising with first nations, government, public and other non-governmental organizations on the cranes
bulletWriting of popular articles for major Canadian publications/media on the cranes
bulletPreparation of educational materials for talks, including print and video
bulletLecture circuit for public events and to organizations
bulletCampaign coordinator for crane conservation campaign, tying in with lecture circuit (winter of 2007).
bulletLiaison and contact person for crane researchers for Raincoast (cultural outreach project, ethnographic research and PhD candidate); mentoring student researchers
bulletPrepare feasibility report on private land acquisition of critical crane habitat in Beale’s Lagoon
bulletCollecting images in field for educational/advocacy work,
bulletFund raising for field costs for both principal investigator and graduate student in conjunction with Raincoast Conservation Society.


Expected Deliverables


bulletProtocols established and integrated into coastal planning processes both with First Nations and provincial government for inclusion of crane data as it develops
bullet Media/magazine publications coverage of cranes
bulletPreparation of educational materials on cranes
bulletLectures given on cranes in Victoria, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Seattle, as well as local communities, organization e.g., International Crane Foundation
bulletThree researchers mentored through year and trained to take on educational and advocacy roles. (Jessie Housty, Heiltsuk Nation, Krista Roessingh, UVic  and cultural liaison – to be hired by Qqs Society, a First Nations organization located in Bella Bella, BC)
bulletFundraise an additional $25,000 to cover research field costs
bulletFeasibility report on private land acquisition
bullet Recommendations for future research


Proposal Budget (April 2007 to April 2008)


Project Leader Fees 150 days over 12 months @ $300/diem.             $45,000.00

Travel to Bella Bella 5 times ($600 round trip from Victoria)                $3,000.00

Travel to Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo for committee

meetings/lectures                                                                          $2,000.00

Attending North American Crane Working Group workshop

and delivering paper                                                                       $1,900.00

Admin and office costs  $300/month                                                 $3,600.00

Supplies and equipment (GPS, VHF)                                                  $2,000.00

Field costs 21 days (either at station or with boat)$250/diem              $7,000.00

Aerial surveys 10 hours at $750/hr                                                   $7,500.00

Field Assistant Salary 20 days @ $100/diem                                      $2,000.00

Video/camera expenses and editing costs                                         $2,000.00

Preparation of educational materials                                                $3,000.00

Total                                                                                                                                           $79,000.00


Counterpart Funding


In-kind donations of boats and helicopters                               $10,000.00

Raincoast Conservation Foundation                                         $16,000.00

Principal Investigator 10 days volunteer donation                      $3,000.00

Total                                                                                                                               $29,000.00


We are continually working to diversify our sources of support.                                        


Project Accountability and Evaluation


Our research team intensively evaluates results of our projects.  Program participants provide written and verbal feedback.  We also network with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, who provide their perspectives on our work. Results and success for the project are directly measured by decreased threats to cranes and associated wildlife and increased crane populations as measured by counts. The West Coast Crane Working Group has selected this project as a priority project that merits the dedication of resources.

Current Projects


May 2006 Pilot Study


In May 2006, the WCCWG funded a study of crane habitat on the British Columbia coast, in the vicinity of Shearwater/Bella Bella conducted by Dr. Briony Penn. She observed a highly distinctive and predictable pattern of habitat use by crane breeding pairs that included


§         an estuarine complex of meadow, river channel and rockweed shingle beach for foraging during the day. These can be very small estuaries, i.e.<100 m2

§         mature forest fringe (200 meters) which provided cover (when required)for foraging birds and a forest trail for escape through that forest fringe to the bog behind. Nesting sites were typically between 30 and 70 meters above sea level.

§         bog nesting territory (and or night time roosting) that had reasonable openings of at least 200 meters in diameter and had a shallow lochan with islets that was typically close to the end of the forest trail


This combination of landscape features correlated so closely to known nesting sights that Dr. Penn started using it as a predictive model and found cranes this way, despite covering a huge territory, during the reconnaissance phase. It is hypothesized that this is probably first-choice territory for nesting pairs. In some instances, cranes were found farther away from the shoreline than 200 meters, as was observed in the Shearwater cranes.  It is hypothesized that these more distant sites that are linked by trail to shorelines are taken by the non-breeding individuals who don’t require the same ground access to shoreline and security cover for non-flying chicks etc.


A second very characteristic pattern she observed at Beale’s Lagoon, Cunningham Island, and to a lesser extent in Gullchucks Lagoon, Denny Island—what Dr. Penn assumed was a ‘non-breeder hangout.’ Beale’s is a hugely productive lagoon with lots of feeding habitat and security cover but with no adjacent bog for many kilometers. This lagoon is frequented by grizzly bears and wolves (it is a known wolf den) and has large shorebird populations feeding and staging here. Congregations of up to 13 birds used this lagoon reliably from dawn to dusk in early May then dispersed heading west and south to what we suspect is Denny Island bogs at least six kilometers away.


This is a unique use of temperate rainforest by breeding Sandhill cranes.


Biogeography and Phenology of Cranes - Graduate Student


Krista Roessingh of the University of Victoria is applying for an National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Scholarship for a study entitled Biogeography and phenology of Pacific Sandhill cranes in the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia. Her proposed research would fill scientific knowledge gaps in the life history of this population, and prioritize areas for conservation based on its habitat use in the GBR.

The biogeography objectives of the research are to: 1) map breeding distribution and population boundaries,  2) estimate breeding territory size, 3)  estimate population size, 4) document habitat use and dependence on outer island forests, 5) develop predictive models of habitat for both breeding pairs and non-breeders, 6) study the impacts of logging island, coastal fringe, and valley bottom forests on distribution and productivity, 7) determine whether this population of Pacific Sandhill cranes can act as an umbrella species (Noss et al., 1999).

Conservation biology objectives are to: 8)) document breeding phenology and associated behavior, 9) determine food habits and observe interactions with other species, 10) study nest and egg characteristics, productivity, and predation in relation to habitat quality, and 11)  test whether trail use is particularly important for non-flying pre-fledged young to access feeding grounds. The NSERC scholarship will provide $20,000/annum for this research. An additional $20,000 will be needed to cover her field costs over two years. These funds will be raised through the educational program created.


 Local Knowledge of Cranes Project – Citizen Science Summer 2007


Qqs Society, a Heiltsuk educational non-profit organization, is establishing a mechanism for getting local and visiting people to report crane sighting information. The project will develop the model for types of citizen science forms that would be scientifically defensible. It has been funded by the WCCWG.


Cultural Research of Cranes – Undergraduate Directed Study Spring 2007


Comprehensive research into the First Nations traditional and historical populations using oral histories, ethnographies and stories. Identify links to culture and traditional uses. This is to be completed in 2007 by Jessie Housty, Heiltsuk, for an undergraduate directed study under Dr. Briony Penn in the School for Environmental Studies at University of Victoria. This is entirely funded through the student and Dr. Penn is providing voluntary supervision.


Land Acquisition Feasibility Study Spring 2007


In conjunction with The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, the private land holdings of Beale’s Lagoon, Cunningham Island, will be researched and a feasibility report will be prepared for the acquisition of this highly important habitat for non-breeding cranes by the principal investigator. TLC will provide some staff support for this report.


Project Leader


The project leader is Dr. Briony Penn, CV attached. Dr. Penn will devote at least 150 days to this project during the grant year.


Board of the North American Crane Working Group


Dr. Glenn Olsen, President, DVM, US Geological Service, Patuxent, Maryland

Dr. Felipe Chavez-Ramirez, PhD., Vice-President, Executive Director, Whooping Crane Trust, Nebraska

Thomas Hoffmann, Treasurer, Volunteer, British Columbia and Ohio

Tracy Grazia, Secretary, Biologist, Vermont

Richard Urbanek, International Crane Foundation, Wisconsin

Marilyn Spalding, Department of Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Florida

Jane Austin, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Nebraska


Other than Tom Hoffmann, none of the board members will be directly involved in the project.




The North American Crane Working Group (NACWG) is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit Nebraska corporation.  The West Coast Crane Working Group is a regional technical workgroup of the NACWG. The NACWG is a member of the Crane Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of The World Conservation Union (IUCN) based in Gland, Switzerland.


IUCN was created in 1948. It is the world's largest conservation-related organization, bringing together 76 states, 111 government agencies, 732 NGOs, 36 affiliates, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique worldwide partnership. For more than half a century IUCN has endeavored to shape a just world, which values and conserves nature. Its mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. IUCN is the world's largest environmental knowledge network. Within the framework of global conventions IUCN has promoted sustainability and helped over 50 countries to prepare and implement National Conservation Strategies.

The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) is a science-based organization, comprising 7,000 volunteer experts from a variety of fields. SSC offers to the conservation and development communities the knowledge and tools needed for sound decisions regarding ecosystems and the people who depend on them.

The Crane Specialist Group is one of 110 species specialists groups.  Dr. George Archibald of the International Crane Foundation is Chair of the Crane Specialist Group.  The 250 member North American Crane Working is the regional crane specialist group for Mexico, the United States, Canada, Cuba and Mexico.


The West Coast Crane Working Group promotes science-based research on crane conservation and management, fosters better understanding and appreciation of cranes and their ecosystems among the general public and addresses conservation issues affecting their wetland ecosystems.  The Working Group accomplishes these goals through research, education, and advocacy.


Thomas Hoffmann is a member of the Board of Directors of the North American Crane Working Group and Chair of the West Coast Crane Working Group and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of The International Crane Foundation. He has been volunteering for over ten years to enhance conservation of cranes and their habitat on the west coast of North America.






The West Coast Crane Working Group is a regional technical workgroup of the North American Crane Working Group (NACWG). The NACWG is a member of the Crane Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of The World Conservation Union (IUCN) based in Gland, Switzerland. 


The WCCWG receives support from The Paul L King Charitable Foundation, The Foley/Frischkorn Wildlife and Conservation Fund, and Chevron Research and Technology Company and other appreciated supporters.

The WCCWG supports the listed research projects relating to Sandhill cranes of the Pacific Flyway