- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

DENVER (AP) - Wildlife officials say Colorado’s effort to replenish its aquifers by cracking down on pumping groundwater threatens to leave thousands of sandhill cranes that arrive in the state each February without the water they need.

“This certainly has the potential for changing the dynamics of what we have witnessed for the last 50 years,” said Michael Blenden, federal manager of the San Luis Valley complex of three national wildlife refuges and the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area.

The Denver Post reports (http://bit.ly/1hXgjXu ) the cranes will be OK this year, but rules are kicking in that would prevent federal wildlife managers from pumping the 2.67 billion gallons of water they typically draw to create artificial wetlands for migratory birds.

About 25,000 cranes are gathering in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley this month, and they need the food and the protection the marsh provides. But state officials have been working for years to control over-pumping of the groundwater and to prioritize who gets scarce water in a semiarid region.

“Just like every other groundwater user, the refuges will have to remedy the injurious stream depletions that occur due to their groundwater use,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Scientists believe sandhill cranes in lesser numbers have migrated through the San Luis Valley for thousands of years, and the artificial wetlands now draw 95 percent of the cranes across a six-state region.

Dried-up marshes would be less appealing and may not allow the cranes to build up strength for their flight to nesting and breeding areas in Wyoming and Idaho.

Cranes roost at night in wetlands, which protect them from coyotes and other predators.

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com