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Sandhill cranes in Nebraska get some backing from Soviets

In an unprecedented move, a Soviet environmental group has intervened in an wildlife dispute in Nebraska _ on behalf of the sandhill crane. The Soviet Association for Ecology and Peace on Friday wrote the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urging it to take steps to protect the crane during re-licensing proceedings involving the Kingsley Dam on the Platte River in Nebraska.

Alexander Mischenko, deputy chairman of the private Soviet group, said that the Platte River habitat was a prime staging grounds for the cranes, 10 percent of which nest in Siberia after their spring migration from the U.S.

His appeal to commission secretary Lois D. Cashell was made at the urging of the U.S. unit of Friends of the Earth and was thought to be the first time a Soviet environmental group had tried to influence U.S. regulatory proceedings.

"It is unprecedented for the Soviets to express environmental concern about U.S. environmental issues and regulatory activity," said Brent Blackwelder, vice president for policy of Friends of the Earth. He said that it was a sign of growing recognition that environmental issues often transcend political boundaries.

American environmentalists have complained that the Kingsley Dam has held back too much water from the Platte River, threatening the habitat of 300 species of migratory birds.

Mischenko said under an international migratory bird treaty, the United States is committed to take measures to protect feeding areas important to migratory birds.