A critical stopover for 21,000 Greater Sandhill cranes each year, the San Luis Valley draws thousands of visitors annually to attend the Valley’s Monte Vista Crane Festival. Waste grains in fields are critical to the migration and breeding of these cranes, but as land and agricultural use has changed, availability has declined. New water use regulations & fees in the Valley acerbate pressure on critical roost sites for the cranes.

Colorado Open Lands (COL), in partnership with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and Miller Coors Brewing, launched the Grain for Cranes program to support local agriculture while assuring sufficient habitat and food resources for the migrating Sandhill Crane population. The program incentivizes farmers to leave barley unharvested from their least productive land, with participating farmers compensated at market rates for the value of the unharvested crop. COL’s Grain for Cranes fellow has collected baseline data on the carrying capacity of cranes in the valley, and will initiate implementation of a final plan.

A further COL initiative is an economic impact study of the significant tourism dollars the crane migration brings into the local economy. The nonprofit will be working with the Monte Vista Crane Festival and the local chamber of commerce to see just how far that impact goes and how it can be maximized, with the belief that more participation and broader support from the community could turn the festival into a source of significant and long-term economic gain.