Sierra Harris

Sierra Harris was a PBT intern and staff member from 2011 through 2014. She graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Environmental Studies in 2013.

Sierra's Work

On a beautiful August morning, the sun penetrated through the clouds and reflected off the mucky water as I trekked through a slough on Shoemaker Island, a wet meadow adjacent to the Platte River in central Nebraska.

Invasive wetland plant species, such as common reed (Phragmites australis) and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) have negative impacts on roosting availability for sandhill cranes on the central Platte River.

Every year in late spring and early summer, Rocky Mountain snowmelt travels downstream where it intercepts a series of dams, reservoirs, and diversions.

In recent years, the river has formed an S-shaped route a short distance upstream from the measurement weir and has caused the riverbanks near the gauging station to erode, threatening to bypass the weir itself.

Across the semi-arid landscape of the Nebraska Sandhills, ranchers have utilized the power of wind since the settlement period more than a century ago. Windmills are used to pump groundwater from the underlying aquifer to the surface where it is stored in stock tanks for livestock.

Wet meadows and grasslands are typically hydrologically connected to the river, so they are important for crane courtship, loafing, and bathing areas. They are diverse and secluded, where cranes can roost at times when the river is unsuitable.

Each spring, sandhill cranes communally roost in the braided channels of the Platte River in central Nebraska. The river channel’s shallow areas and in-stream bare sandbars provide protection from predators, allowing the cranes to rest overnight.