WISCONSIN STATE-JOURNAL

Operation Migration Hangar Vanadlized

Nov 25, 2009 | Wisconsin State-Journal by George Hesselberg | Related Press

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The Operation Migration effort that is escorting young whooping cranes to refuges in Florida, already beset by weather-caused delays, received a major blow this week when a break-in and heavy damage from vandalism was discovered at its Necedah aircraft hangar.

The Juneau County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the break-in, but was unable to supply details.

In the daily Operation Migration field journal, which reports on the progress of the migration, Joe Duff wrote Wednesday from Livingston County, Ill., that the small nonprofit’s hangar used during the summer was “robbed and vandalized.” The lights were smashed and tires slashed on the stored vehicles of two staff members. One of the staff members, who lives with the endangered birds all year, lost all of his belongings, Duff reported.

“His entire life is spent on the road so he uses the hangar to store all of the belongings the rest of us would leave at home. Most of them are now gone or destroyed in some distorted expression of violence that we simply cannot understand,” Duff wrote.

Four wings for the ultra-light aircraft, used to escort the birds, were slashed, something that will cost $20,000 to replace. The group does not have insurance. A full-sized sculpture of a whooping crane, made by one of the ultralight pilots, was smashed and spray-painted. One of the ultralights used in the past to lead geese, swans, sandhill cranes and whooping cranes was damaged.

Duff wrote that it was hard to understand the motivation for the damage. “The things destroyed were worth far more than the things stolen,” he wrote.

Liz Condie, who is in the escort team, said Wednesday the hangar is located just outside of Necedah adjacent to the airport runway. The damage was extensive to aircraft and aircraft parts, and that imperils the entire project as the group’s ultralights are designed to be identical and that particular model is no longer manufactured.

“We just can’t easily replace an aircraft,” Condie said.

She said the break-in was discovered Nov. 19 by a volunteer last week who was returning equipment to the hangar.

The migration effort of the 20 birds has been delayed by bad flying weather, and so far has gone 239 “air” miles of its 1,285 mile journey.

“We’re holding up pretty well, and not that far off last year’s pace,” Condie said. “It’s not like we are unaccustomed to delays.”

The field journal can be reached here, where a fundraising effort has been started to pay for replacement and repair of the damaged items.

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