News & Events

The Prairie Pulse



For thousands of years, nature governed the land. When standing upon the majestic prairie you’d see massive herds of bison roaming the tall grass. Natural wildfires would sweep across the land, cleansing it, and pave the way for new life to take hold. And the beautiful sunrises would create colors in the sky that the imagination could barely comprehend. All this was set against the backdrop of the Great Sandhill Crane Migration, where hundreds of thousands of birds gathered annually on the glistening Platte River, which stretched a mile wide. This was nature in perfect balance.

Today, bison numbers are a mere fraction of what they once were, fires to cleanse the land are now done by prescribed burns as they rarely occur naturally, and 99% of the prairie has been converted to cropland that feeds the world. And while hundreds of thousands of birds, including Sandhill Cranes and the endangered Whooping Cranes, still gather on the Platte River annually, dams divert most of the water long before it reaches central Nebraska.

The Crane Trust is working to protect what little natural habitat is left so that future generations may experience the inspiring beauty that once existed. However, as hard as the Crane Trust is working, the land is still under immediate and critical threat from further development.

The Crane Trust became aware of the development of a sand and gravel pit southwest of the I-80 and Alda Road junction being developed on 143.5 acres. This is directly across from the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center’s front door, and visible from the trail system that welcomes over 45,000 people every year.

While a bag of gravel may look fairly harmless, the process of producing it is anything but benign. The daily barrage of travel, noise, dust and exhaust produced by large tractor-trailers loading and unloading gravel and asphalt products will lead to physical changes to the landscape and significant environmental impacts. One of the first processes that occur when developing land for a gravel pit is to strip off all of the topsoil … topsoil that provides the base for our historic prairie. There is no going back once this development occurs.

The Crane Trust’s mission is to protect habitat as well as this fragile ecosystem. Today, the Crane Trust owns and protects over 10,000 acres of habitat. This ground would almost certainly be plowed and tilled, and would no longer be the same prairie that our ancestors first saw from covered wagons on their journey west. This historic area should not be lost to time.

Threats such as the gravel pit face the Crane Trust every day. Tomorrow, a piece of land owned by a family for 100 years could go up for sale. There is one opportunity to protect this land from turning into another gravel pit or housing development. Without the resources to move quickly, the land will be destroyed forever. 

Thirty years from now, when there is no more gravel to mine, the land is left dead. It cannot be tilled for farming, and cannot be converted back to natural prairie. Most often, once a gravel pit is ready to shut down, the land is turned into a housing development. With a new housing development comes more people. The more people that arrive, the more the land changes to suit the population’s needs. Most of the time this leads to the decimation of an ecosystem. We cannot stop these threats without your help.

There are already housing developments and gravel pits to take care of the human need; it is time to say enough. Without your immediate action, we may not be able to protect this unique and beautiful ecosystem. Your support is crucial to enabling the Trust to take action.

Most sincerely,

Chuck Cooper