Report shows economic impact of crane-watching

jbrehm2, January 26, 2010 | View original publication

Report shows economic impact of crane-watching

The Sandhill cranes, long considered one of the state's treasures, have an annual impact of at least $10.33 million on central Nebraska's economy, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln report estimates.

The report, published in the fall by UNL's Bureau of Business Research, calculated the figure as part of a targeted economic impact study of central Nebraska conservation and research centers that focus on the cranes' migration through the region each spring.

Researchers estimated both the impact of these conservation centers' operational expenditures and also outside spending by visitors to them, and found that they created a combined economic impact of $5.15 million in 2009. Then they mixed in the estimated spending by other crane-watchers coming to the

UNL economics professors Eric Thompson and Rick Edwards, who authored the report, said their findings may point to new economic prospects in the northern Great Plains. In particular, they noted the potential for "eco-engagement," which occurs when participants travel with the main purpose of engaging in a learning experience directly related to a location's specific wildlife and ecology.

One of the centers cited in the bureau's report, the Audubon Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon, can be thought of as a venue for a "second stage" of eco-tourism, the researchers said. The first phase is a simple, straightforward eco-tourism of the camera-and-binocular variety; with the second stage of eco-engagement — volunteering to help, and even in some cases paying to be allowed to volunteer — naturally following.

Rowe is a private, non-profit operation that focuses on conservation research and education. It is supported by donors and grants and has a significant economic impact on their surrounding areas that extend beyond their boundaries.

The report estimates that Rowe has an annual impact of $2.08 million on central Nebraska's economy — a majority of it from spending on food, lodging and shopping by visitors when they are away from the sanctuary. A significant portion of the figures also can be attributed to a rise in eco-engagement activities, Thompson and Edwards said.

"As opposed to being just purely tourist destinations, these research centers attract lots of people who want to do more than just look. They want to stay and learn," Thompson said. "Travelers come not just to see (cranes) but to participate in conservation, education and outreach with the centers."

The complete study is available at The Bureau of Business Research is an applied economic and business research entity of the UNL College of Business Administration. Located in the Department of Economics, the bureau provides relevant information and data on economic conditions in Nebraska, the Plains and the nation as a service to individuals and businesses in the state. It also provides economists opportunities to conduct applied economic research and trains students of economics and business in the conduct of applied research on economic and business topics. For more information, visit