Notes from the President – Our Conservation Legacy

Whoop! Whoop! THANK YOU for joining us for Let’s Whoop It Up! last week. It was so fun to be “live” with my International Crane Foundation co-hosts and friends after so many months of safer-at-home during the pandemic. We loved sharing stories from South Africa, China and Texas in real-time from our beautiful new George Archibald Welcome Center. We hope you enjoyed your preview of our new crane exhibits and grounds. Thanks to your generosity, we exceeded our fundraising goal for the event, and our current and emeritus Board of Directors matched your gifts—dollar for dollar! That kind of trust and investment from our members and board means the world. Click here to view the Let’s Whoop It Up! event recording.

I wish I could say that we are on the verge of sharing our breathtaking new site with you in person or traveling together to meet our overseas staff and projects. But it seems we still have a long way to go before we can safely do so. Rest assured, we will host more events like Let’s Whoop It Up! to share news and stories from our staff on the frontlines of conservation worldwide.

Today we are celebrating the largest single gift in the history of the International Crane Foundation. Through a bequest from the estate of the late Phyllis Brissenden, we received nearly $7 million to advance our programs and conservation impact worldwide. I would love to share some personal stories about Phyllis and how wonderful she was, but the truth is I never met her. We were honored to learn that one of her ancestors was a law partner of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. We know she was an ardent supporter of environmental causes, loved birds and was an International Crane Foundation member for more than twenty years. She never visited us in Baraboo, but back in 1998, Phyllis traveled to Muraviovka Park in Russia to see the Endangered Red-crowned Cranes and other wildlife. There, she met Sergei and Elena Smirenski, members of our staff who have dedicated their lives to the conservation of Muraviovka.

Was it that visit, so long ago, that inspired Phyllis to give us such a generous gift? Or was it her confidence in the International Crane Foundation, as she watched us grow over 20 years, to leave a profound and lasting conservation impact as her legacy? We may never know. But we are so grateful to Phyllis, and all of our Crane Heritage Society members whose planned giving is assuring that we will persevere during this crisis and continue stronger than ever.

Thanks to Phyllis’s generosity, and yours, we will expand our efforts for cranes, wetlands and communities where the needs are greatest. What does it really take to secure just one of the 11 species of endangered cranes, like the Wattled Crane in Africa? We made a 20-year commitment with the government of Zambia to restore the immense and magnificent Kafue Flats, home to a third of the world’s Wattled Cranes, as well as all the world’s endangered Kafue Lechwe antelope and more than 475 bird species. With our team in Zambia, we will restore and manage two national parks and surrounding lands, reduce invasive species, control fires and improve water conditions. We’re hiring people from surrounding communities to serve as community scouts, working together with park law enforcement to reduce poaching on the flats. We’re working with community leaders to find a shared vision for sustainable grazing and fisheries on the floodplain. We’re helping create better market chains to sell their healthy floodplain-raised products. We’re monitoring cranes, rare and threatened waterbirds, and the ecological health of the flats to make sure our efforts are working. And when we get it right on the Kafue Flats, we will take these lessons to the other big floodplains that support the rest of these magnificent birds.

Phyllis’s generous investment in our mission is a testament to our good work, but more importantly, it is a challenge for all of us to continue fighting for a healthier planet. Thank you for aligning yourself with an organization that never wavers from its singular mission. We need you. We always will.

Wishing you good health and peace in the days ahead,

Rich Beilfuss
President and CEO