Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Operation Migration hangar vandalized

From Operation Migration's on-line Field Journal...

Date: November 25, 2009 - Entry 2
Reporter: Joe Duff
Location: Livingston Co. IL

Keeping a small non-profit afloat is never easy and in this economic climate it is considerably more challenging. When times are tough, people understandably have other priorities demanding their attention, and charitable donations must take a back seat. Even in the best of times, conservation causes like ours attract only three percent of all the philanthropic dollars given by Americans.

Operation Migration is a lean organization with a small staff and a 600 square foot, one room, basement office. Everyone works long hours for modest pay, and none us have a job that doesn’t demand multiple talents. We each cover all the bases from working with the birds, to fundraising and public speaking. We design our own equipment, build our own pens, write our own copy, and prepare our own presentations.

We are conscientious about every dollar we spend. Accountants audit the financials at the end of each year and we answer to our membership and a volunteer Board of Directors. That is why it hurt so much to hear that sometime after we left Necedah in October, the hangar we use during the summer was robbed and vandalized.

What we don’t need with us on the migration is left behind locked up in the hangar, as are some of the crew’s vehicles. Both Bev and Geoff left their cars there until they could return to pick them up once we got the birds to Florida. Their tires were slashed and lights smashed.

Brooke lives with the bird all year long. He moves to Patuxent for the hatch and early training, spends the summer in Necedah, and the fall en route to Florida. He helps to monitor the birds over the winter at St Marks, returning once again to Patuxent in the spring. His entire life is spent on the road so he uses the hangar to store all the belongings that the rest of us would keep at home. Most of them are now gone or destroyed in some distorted expression of violence that we simply can’t comprehend.

Thanks to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund we have new wings for our aircraft. The old Zoom wings had a king post protruding out the top that supported all the wires that keep them ridged in flight. The new ones don’t need that superstructure and our birds are safer because of it. Because the old wings fly slower, we use the them during the summer to train the fledgling birds. All four of these wings were slashed. A few minutes of senseless destruction by a mindless hooligan(s) and we’re looking at a bill for $20,000 to replace the wings.

When Richard van Heuvelen is not flying with birds he bends metal to his own whims. Out of solid steel he creates lifelike sculpture, and if he were not trying to safeguard an endangered species, he would likely be a famous artist and far richer. One of his pieces was a full size Whooping crane. He told me it was his hardest work because he knows so well what it was supposed to look like. He captured it perfectly. Now, the wings are broken, the body smashed and the rest spray painted in an obscene gesture of cowardice.

We still have two of the original aircraft originally purchased for the making of Fly Away Home. They were used first to lead geese, then swans and eventually Sandhill cranes. I flew one and Deke Clark flew the other when we led the first flock of Whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida. In fact we only have one now because the other was donated to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The second aircraft was in the hangar and has now suffered the ravages of someone with too much anger and too little self-control. Hopefully it can be salvaged as it cannot be replaced.

It’s hard to understand why anyone would do this. The things destroyed were worth far more than the things stolen. Was Operation Migration targeted and if so, for what? What could we have done to deserve such vengeance? Or were we just an easy target for the same kind of displaced aggression we see so often in the birds.

All of us lost something in that willful destruction of property, but mostly we lost faith. Who knows what motivates such unrepressed anger. I know what motivates mine. So now it’s time to prove that we are made of better stuff. Instead of lashing out, we will redirect our anger at this cowardly act of destruction into more resolve.

Link: Read the story on Birder's World Blog

Link: Donate to Operation Migration