Archive for July, 2011

Wind Farm Update

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

An interesting twist on the wind farm story from the Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN

Your comments needed…

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

See earlier posts:

Vast wind energy proposal could kill endangered birds

Wind Farms and Whooping Cranes

 

Opportunity to provide your comments to:

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, Fish and Wildlife Service concerning effects of wind turbines on Whooping Cranes.

Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Habitat Conservation Plan for Commercial Wind Energy Developments Within Nine States

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent; announcement of public scoping meetings; request for comments.

———————————————————————–

SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, as lead agency advise the public that we intend to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) on a proposed application, including a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. The potential ITP would include federally listed and candidate species within portions of nine states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas).

The activities covered by a potential ITP would include regional-level construction, operation, and maintenance associated with multiple commercial wind energy facilities. The planning partners are currently considering, for inclusion in the HCP, certain species listed as federally threatened or endangered, or having the potential to become listed during the life of the HCP, and having some likelihood of being taken by the applicant’s activities within the proposed permit area. The intended effect of this notice is to gather information from the public to develop and analyze the effects of the potential issuance of an ITP that would facilitate wind energy development within the planning area, while minimizing incidental take and mitigating the effects of any incidental take to the maximum extent practicable.

We provide this notice to (1) Describe the proposed action; (2) advise other Federal and state agencies, potentially affected tribal interests, and the public of our intent to prepare an EIS; (3) announce the initiation of a 90-day public scoping period; and (4) obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues and possible alternatives to be included in the EIS.

Click on the following for the total Federal Register Announcement

Wind Farms and Whooping Cranes

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

The development of wind farms is occurring at a rapid pace in the Central Flyway with many of the best wind sites located in the whooping crane migration corridor. Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) advised the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) that multiple wind farms have already been built with more planned. Stehn stated, “It is important to analyze the potential impact of literally tens of thousands of wind turbines that may be placed in the whooping crane migration corridor in the coming years.      

Current estimates are that 2,705 turbines are operational at 40 wind farms in the U. S. whooping crane migration corridor.  The average wind development project consists of 57 turbines (data generated by the Great Plains Wind Energy Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) in March, 2011).      

The majority of wind farms do not require federal permits and thus there is no nexus for the companies to consult with USFWS under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, the projects must avoid “take” of endangered species under Section 9 of the ESA. USFWS’ Stehn advised that: “For the totality of wind energy development, there is a very definite issue of “take”.  Wind farms have the potential to directly kill whooping cranes from the turbines themselves or associated power line development, or could result in “take” of hundreds of square miles of migration stopover habitat if whooping cranes tend to avoid wind farms.”  The National Academy of Science Report in 2004 on Platte River endangered species confirmed unequivocally the threat to whooping cranes if migration habitat is lost.      

Early on in discussions with wind companies, USFWS talked of two possible scenarios for offsetting anticipated impacts of wind farms.  These were to set aside whooping crane migration stopover habitat in perpetuity to counter potential loss of habitat from wind farm construction, as well as to mark new power lines, as well as some existing power lines to offset the threat of whooping cranes colliding with a wind turbine or power lines built to support wind development.      

According to Stehn: “At the urging of USFWS at meetings held in Denver and Houston as well as regular conference calls, 19 of the largest wind development companies joined together to work on endangered species issues throughout the whooping crane migration corridor in the U.S.  With the support of the State of Oklahoma, the industry group received a grant of $1,080,990 to develop a landscape level, multi-species HCP that would include the lesser prairie chicken.  The grant was awarded through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund under the HCP Planning Assistance Program. The HCP will be designed to avoid and minimize impacts to endangered and threatened species associated with wind energy development.”        

This multi-species HCP will be the first of its kind to involve alternative fuel sources while protecting endangered species.  In a meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma in November, 2010, four species were added to the HCP (Sprague’s pipit, mountain plover, piping plover and interior least tern), joining the whooping crane and lesser prairie chicken.  An additional meeting was held in March, 2011 in Albuquerque.  It does appear that this industry group will agree to have the wintering grounds of the whooping cranes as off- limits to wind energy development.  However, projects in the migration corridor are currently being built and are not waiting for this HCP to be completed.      

In 2010, monitoring for cranes was done at the Titan I wind facility in South Dakota.  In the spring, a group of 5 whooping cranes spent 3 days approximately 2 miles from the project.  The closest they were ever on the ground from a turbine was 1.2 miles.  When they resumed migration, the nearest turbine was shut down in a very rapid response as the monitor called in that the cranes were flying.  The cranes passed by that turbine at a distance of about one-half mile.  In the fall, two groups of whooping cranes (2+1 and 2) flew within 0.5 and 0.3 miles from an operating turbine but did not seem to alter their flight behavior.       

Research on sandhill cranes in west Texas done by Laura Navarrete of Texas Tech University documented two observed instances of cranes being killed by wind turbine blades.  Although sandhill cranes definitely avoided wind farms, she also observed accommodation with cranes foraging right at the base of turbines.  Research done by U.S. Geological Survey at Horicon NWR in Wisconsin also showed some avoidance by sandhill cranes from wind farms.

WCCA article based on communications with Tom Stehn, USFWS

Vast wind energy proposal could kill endangered birds

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters)| Thu Jul 14, 2011 6:13pm EDT

The Obama administration is evaluating a plan to allow a 200-mile corridor for wind energy development from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico that would allow for killing endangered whooping cranes.

The government’s environmental review will consider a permit sought by 19 energy developers that would permit turbines and transmission lines on non-federal lands in nine states from Montana to the Texas coast, overlapping with the migratory route of the cranes.

The permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would allow the projects to “take” an unspecified number of endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act, “take” is defined as killing or injuring an endangered species

The government can issue permits to kill or injure listed species with no penalties or risks of lawsuits to developers who agree to craft conservation plans. According to federal officials, the large scale of the review will help streamline the permitting process by lumping many projects into a single study.

The Obama Administration has been working to speed development of renewable energy projects by improving coordination among various state and federal agencies. Environmentalists, however, say the “fast track” process results in inadequate environmental reviews.

The Administration’s latest wind energy proposal raises concerns among wildlife advocates because the developments would overlap with habitat imperiled birds such as whooping cranes rely on, including the Central Flyway, a migratory path that cuts through North America’s midsection between the Arctic and the Tropics.

The leading cause of death for the nation’s last historic population of whooping cranes, which stand at 5 feet and have a wingspan of more than 7 feet, is overhead utility lines, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Conservationists say the Central Flyway’s population of 280 cranes — which make a refueling stop along Platte River in Nebraska along with tens of thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese — would suffer with the loss of just a single adult breeding bird.

‘RAREST OF BIRDS’

“I can hardly imagine what the government is thinking. Whooping cranes are the rarest of all the cranes, the rarest of American birds,” said Paul Johnsgard, author of several books on the cranes and professor emeritus of ornithology at the University of Nebraska.

Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said wind energy is crucial to the nation’s future economic and environmental security, which is why the agency is paving the way for a renewable energy project with an undetermined number of wind turbines generating an unidentified amount of electricity along the 200-mile-wide corridor.

“We will do our part to facilitate development of wind energy resources, while ensuring that they are sited and designed in ways that minimize and avoid negative impacts to fish and wildlife,” he said in a statement.

Whooping cranes, North America’s tallest bird, once numbered in the tens of thousands before hunting and habitat loss caused their populations to plummet to 16 in the 1930s.

The cranes, which annually migrate thousands of miles from wintering grounds in coastal Texas to breeding and nesting areas in Alberta, Canada, were at the forefront of an emerging wildlife conservation movement in the 1960s that gave rise to a series of landmark laws aimed at preventing extinctions of rare and declining animals.
Whooping cranes were among the first creatures added to an early version of the Endangered Species Act in 1967.

Few other populations of whooping cranes exist in the United States, with an introduced flock in central Florida that does not migrate and a fledging group in Wisconsin that biologists have trained to fly to the winter refuge of Florida by following ultralight aircraft.

Attempts to establish crane populations elsewhere, including Idaho and Colorado, have failed.

Government scientists have not yet determined how many whooping cranes, other threatened and endangered birds and imperiled bats would be killed or otherwise harmed because of the wind project, said Amelia Orton-Palmer, conservation planner with the service.

“It’s so early in the process we won’t begin to speculate on what that might be,” she said.

Whooping Cranes Return to White Lake

Friday, July 15th, 2011
Costumed caretakers process a bird at the release pen in Louisiana. Photo by Brac Salyers, LDWF

Costumed caretakers process a bird at the release pen in Louisiana. Photo by Brac Salyers, LDWF

There are many success stories on species recovery associated with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and in February 2011 LDWF added one more. The department’s Coastal and Nongame Resources Division (CNR) moved forward with a whooping crane re-population project that will be as challenging as any previous effort.

“LDWF biologists have a proven track record for bringing back species from threatened or endangered status to robust population levels readily noticeable around the state,” said LDWF Secretary Robert Barham. “From the alligator and the brown pelican, to the bald eagle and the white-tailed deer, our citizens can see the results of years of tedious field work. The expertise and dedication that LDWF biologists bring to a long-term restoration plan is truly impressive.” For Louisianans, the sight of a whooping crane in the wild has been only a distant memory. The last record of the species in Louisiana dates back to 1950, when the last surviving whooping crane was removed from Vermilion Parish property that is now part of LDWF’s White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WLWCA).

The whooping crane is the most endangered crane species. Fifteen species of cranes occur throughout the world; only two of the 15 species, sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) and whooping cranes (Grus americana) occur in North America. Today, sandhill cranes are prevalent, but whooping cranes are in great peril, having suffered severe population declines during the late 1800s and most of the 1900s. Due to these declines, whooping cranes were placed on the federal endangered species status list on March 11, 1967. The population slowly increased over the last 30 years with approximately 565 individual whoopers in North America as of Jan. 31, 2011.

Historically, both resident and migratory populations of whooping cranes were present in Louisiana through the early 1940s. The massive birds, with males growing to 5 feet tall at maturity, inhabited the marshes and ridges of the state’s southwest Chenier Coastal Plain, as well as the uplands of prairie terrace habitat to the north. According to Dr. Gay Gomez, professor of geography at McNeese State University and Louisiana whooping crane historian, “Records from the 1890s indicated ‘large numbers’ of both whooping cranes and sandhill cranes on wet prairies year round.”

The Louisiana whoopers are not the only cranes in the wild. A self-sustaining wild population of whooping cranes migrates between Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Like those in an eastern migratory population, the Aransas group remains vulnerable to extinction from continued loss of habitat and catastrophes, either natural or man-made. Multiple efforts are underway to reduce these risks and bring this magnificent bird further along its path to recovery. This includes increasing populations in the wild, ongoing efforts to establish a migratory population in the eastern United States and establishing a resident (non-migratory) population in Louisiana. The White Lake marshes and vast surrounding coastal marshes of southwest Louisiana was a positive factor in the decision making process that led to the experimental population approval.

The Louisiana crane population did not withstand the pressure of human encroachment, conversion of nesting habitat to agricultural acreage, hunting, and specimen collection, which also occurred across North America. Dr. Gomez’s research indicates “In May of 1939, biologist John Lynch reported 13 whooping cranes north of White Lake and that in August 1940, flood waters associated with a hurricane scattered the resident White Lake population of cranes and only six of the 13 cranes returned. By 1947, only one crane remained at White lake and in March of 1950, the last crane in Louisiana was captured and relocated to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.”

Whooping cranes currently exist in three wild populations and within captive breeding populations. Captive breeding facilities are responsible for providing eggs that will eventually be released back into the wild. The 10 juvenile cranes relocated to White Lake on February 16 were raised at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. The eggs were hatched in May and June 2010 by birds in four locations including the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Necedah, WI. Audubon Species Survival Center in New Orleans and Patuxent facility. The young cranes were then flown to Jennings, La. and transported to the White Lake property.

The process preceding the cranes arrival, which involved project approval by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), public meetings and a public comment period, spanned more than two years. “Without our cooperative partners, which includes USFWS, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and International Crane Foundation (ICF), this project would not have come to fruition,” said LDWF-CNR Division Administrator Robert Love. “We will continue to work closely with this group for years to come.”

Acclimation pen. Photo by Michael Seymour, LDWF

Acclimation pen. Photo by Michael Seymour, LDWF

Upon their arrival in February, the birds were placed in a small, netted acclimation pen within a larger 1.5-acre pen located at WLWCA. The birds remained in the netted acclimation pen for approximately one month to allow proper transition to their new locale and to allow researchers and biologists the opportunity to ensure all birds were healthy and well acclimated to their surroundings. The birds adjusted quickly and within 24 hours of their arrival, one individual was observed catching and eating a wild crawfish. In addition to wild caught food, the birds have been receiving supplemental pelletized food referred to as crane chow. While contained within the acclimation pen, each bird was fitted with unique leg band colors, a USFWS I.D. band and satellite transmitter. The bands and transmitters will allow biologists and researchers the opportunity to study and follow each bird through its lifespan.

The White Lake cranes were released from the netted acclimation pen on March 14. Biologists conduct daily monitoring activities and continued supplemental feeding activities. The birds can roam free within the larger pen and actively fly in and out of the pen at their own discretion, roosting at night as they continue to acclimate to the marshes. “Providing access to food sources in the pen early on was designed to attract the group back to the safety of the predator-proof enclosure at night,” said Tom Hess, LDWF-CNR biologist program manager. “Our concerns early on were for the birds to develop predator avoidance skills in a marsh environment also inhabited by alligators, bobcats and coyotes.”

The goal of the state’s reintroduction project is to establish a self-sustaining whooping crane population on and around White Lake, which contains over 70,000 acres of freshwater marsh. A self-sustaining population is defined as a flock of 130 individuals with 30 nesting pairs, surviving for a 10-year period without any additional restocking. Whooping cranes do not generally nest until 3-5 years of age, so the nesting success of the Louisiana group may take several years to be determined. The long-term goal of this reintroduction is to move whooping cranes from an endangered species status to threatened status. Future plans for the project include re-introductions of additional juvenile cohorts once or twice a year for the next two years. At that point, the project will be evaluated to determine the number of birds for released in future years.

The newly established whooping crane population at White Lake is designated as a nonessential experimental population (NEP) under the provisions contained within section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. The population is considered experimental because it is being reintroduced into suitable habitat that is outside of the whooping crane’s current range, but within its historic range. It is designated nonessential because the likelihood of survival of the whooping crane as a species would not be reduced if this entire population were not successful and lost. The NEP status will protect this whooping crane population as appropriate to conserve the population, while still allowing the presence of the cranes to be compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area. Examples of such activities include recreational hunting and trapping, agricultural practices (plowing, planting, application of pesticides, etc.), construction or water management.

Although designated as NEP, the Louisiana whooping cranes are still protected under law. Because of the experimental non-essential designation in this rule, if the shooting of a whooping crane is determined to be accidental and occurred incidentally to an otherwise lawful activity that was being carried out in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, no prosecution under the Endangered Species Act would occur. In the case of an intentional shooting, however, the full force and protection of the Endangered Species Act could apply. Additionally, the birds are protected under applicable state laws for non-game species and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects all birds that migrate such as herons, egrets and songbirds.

“We want anyone in the marsh near White Lake to enjoy the moment should they encounter one or more of the experimental birds in the wild during this re-population effort,” said Love. “As long as the cranes are observed at a distance, they should adapt to occasional human encounters.”

Project funding for Louisiana’s whooping crane project is derived from LDWF species restoration dedicated funds, federal grants and private/corporate donations. LDWF’s budget for the initial year of the project is $400,000. The project costs escalate in year two and beyond as the project expands. LDWF estimates it will be necessary to raise three to four million private dollars to help fund a portion of this 15-year project.

Private and corporate donations supporting the whooping crane project can be made to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation. Gifts should be designated as “support of the Whooping Crane Project.” For information on the foundation and to obtain a donation form go to http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/lwff. For more information on the historic re-introduction of  whooping cranes to Louisiana, visit http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wildlife/whooping-cranes.

Carrie Salyers, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Whooping Crane Telemetry Project Update

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

As the previous newsletter detailed, in August 2010 researchers captured nine whooping crane chicks at Wood Buffalo National Park. This ongoing project intends to answer questions regarding whooping crane migratory ecology and behavior during migration using GPS. The project uses solar Argos Global Positioning System (GPS) Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTTs) attached to tarsal bands. Birds are also marked with color leg bands similar to those used from 1977-1988. At least eight of the chicks thus banded fledged, and successfully migrated to Aransas NWR. After spending the winter months in Texas, the family groups began heading north in late March, with most of them having reached WBNP by the first week of May.

Whooping crane family with banded individual.

Whooping crane family with banded individual. Photo by Cathie Foster

 

 

Researchers also conducted capture efforts at Aransas NWR this past January. Crane Capture Guru David Brandt (Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center) was ably assisted by Felipe Chavez-Ramirez (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory), Barry Hartup (International Crane Foundation), Edgar Lopez-Saut (CIBNOR La Paz), Claudia Doria-Treviño (UNANL) and Walter Wehtje (The Crane Trust). Using corn, fishing line and a fishing pole, we were able to capture an adult female whooping crane at the ANWR’s Lamar Unit on 8 January 2011. Given that this bird‘s territory included Lamar’s 8th Street, it quickly became the most viewed and photographed banded Whooping Crane in south Texas (pictured left). Adding the chicks banded at Wood Buffalo NP and the two birds banded in December 2009 at Aransas, we are now following 11 members of the Aransas Wood Buffalo Population of whooping cranes.

 

Under ideal conditions, the PTTs provide four GPS locations per day. These data are stored by the device and every 56 hours uploaded via satellite to Argos. From here, we download the data and analyze it using ArcGIS. This allows us to follow their migration in near real-time. With each PTT expected to provide data for at least three years, we are looking to learn much about the lives of these birds. The preliminary analysis has provided a wealth of detail and greatly increased our understanding of their migratory habits.

Spring migration routes taken by whooping cranes with gps transmitters. Figure courtesy The Crane Trust, Inc.

Spring migration routes taken by whooping cranes with gps transmitters. Figure courtesy The Crane Trust, Inc.

One of the most gratifying findings was that all of the juveniles survived their first migration experience. Except for one PTT that only functioned intermittently, we were able to follow each bird’s movements from Wood Buffalo down to Aransas (Pictured right). While the time spent in migration by the families varied from 14 to 48 days, the number of days during which they actually covered more than 30 km (18 mi) in flight ranged from 9 to 12. The balance of their time was spent at staging grounds in Saskatchewan, North Dakota and South Dakota. The maximum distance covered by one family in a day was 965 km (600 mi) at the end of which they spent the night in a recently harvested corn field; they must have been tired (cranes normally spend the night roosting in shallow water). The sub-adult that was banded in 2009 traveled with Sandhill Cranes throughout much of the fall. Once he reached Aransas he quickly moved to the salt marshes and associated with other whoopers for the whole winter.

 

The first banded family group departed Aransas on 21 March and the last left on 6 April. As of this writing most of the birds have arrived at Wood Buffalo NP and the adult female banded this past January is moving very little, suggesting she may already be incubating. Equally interesting has been the behavior of the yearling birds. One of them flew up to Wood Buffalo, but then flew back south and has now been in central Saskatchewan for the past week, where it appears that two other yearlings have also ended up. It looks as if every season will continue to bring new insights and surprises.

Walter Wehtje, The Crane Trust, Inc.

Human Developments Threaten Whooping Cranes

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

The following article describes threats to whooping cranes from habitat loss and human disturbance. In recent years, there have been ongoing habitat losses and we thought our viewers would benefit from articles by biologists who work closely with the birds.  This article was originally published in our Whooping Crane Conservation Association’s (WCCA) Grus Americana newsletter. We thought you may like to review it to learn what prompted WCCA to recently purchase whooping crane habitat in Texas.

 Land development is happening on the Texas coast, and happening quickly. I know of 4 developments planned for lands on which I have observed whooping cranes foraging. The proposed developments are waterfront canal lot subdivisions, places for folks from Houston and San Antonio to keep a boat on the coast and have a second house. This pressure near the crane wintering area has literally sprung up in the last 3 years; I don’t know of anyone that expected it to happen this rapidly.

This type of development is not unprecedented. The small town of Holiday Beach on the Lamar Peninsula was built next to salt marsh that is now occasionally used by whooping cranes. When that development was built, whooping cranes numbered less than 70 in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock and the cranes had no need back then to use the salt marshes next to what is now Holiday Beach.

What does all the impending development mean for whooping cranes, and can the species be adequately protected? Let me give you some examples of what is happening. Two developments will potentially impact the 24 whooping cranes that utilize Welder Flats which is located across San Antonio Bay north of Aransas. In 2006, a developer applied to build 776 homes on 680 acres in a development to be called “The Sanctuary” located across the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from one whooping crane winter territory near Port O’Connor. I had seen whooping cranes on a few occasions using the salt marsh on the edge of the proposed development, and once watched a family group walk from the marsh into the uplands to forage. In the process of formal consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, the USFWS decided that the development would not likely jeopardize the continued existence of the whooping crane.

 The Service negotiated with the developer who agreed to do certain things to avoid and/or minimize impacts to the cranes. These included not building any houses in the salt marsh, protecting the salt marsh with a non-development easement, creating freshwater wetlands on one edge of the development to replace wetlands impacted, and providing $200,000 to a conservation group to be used to purchase non-development easements on lands important to whooping cranes. Although a salt marsh and freshwater marsh will be created and include a buffer between them and the homes, no buffer was established along the existing salt marsh strip, so I anticipate that whooping crane use in the remaining narrow strip of salt marsh will be very low due to human presence. A permit for this development was granted by the Corps of Engineers and construction is ongoing.

  

“The Sanctuary” development near Port O’Connor, Texas that has begun construction. The photo shows the close proximity of the developed area (light color) to a whooping crane territory on nearby Dewberry Island. Photo by Tom Stehn, taken 8/3/07.

 Currently, the pending application by a developer to build 918 residential lots and marina on 700 acres near Seadrift, Texas will remove 136 acres of whooping crane critical habitat. However, that habitat is not the valuable salt marsh used by the cranes on a daily basis. Instead, it is more of an upland/drier marsh habitat, the type of habitat that the cranes only occasionally use to search primarily for wolfberries in the fall or for other food items when foods in the marsh are scarce. Again, I anticipate some kind of conservation easement will be provided to create a buffer between the houses and the salt marsh used by the cranes. I have recommended 300 yards as a reasonable buffer that the cranes need for areas they use to be mostly protected from human development. The developer will also create some small freshwater marshes and provide a permanent source of drinking water needed by the cranes.

 It is important to note the size of these two developments (918 homes and 776 homes). Presently, the only 2 towns in that immediate area are Port O’Connor (population 1,184) and Seadrift (population 1,352). Each development will basically be adding another small town to the Texas coast, increasing demand for fresh water and electricity, and putting more recreational pressure on the lands where the whooping cranes winter. So far, the 2 developments have not physically destroyed the valuable salt marsh habitat preferred by the cranes, but the presence of so many houses near the marsh has me very concerned about human disturbance issues. The purchase of non-development conservation easements on salt marsh and adjacent upland properties used by the cranes would adequately provide needed habitat with a minimum of human disturbance and is an action needed to protect the cranes.

I hope in the next year to update a paper I wrote in 1985 about territory size and the slow expansion of the crane range at Aransas that I have observed in 25 years of doing census flights. With the help of our refuge GIS person, we will measure the acreage of the current crane range, assess how it has changed in size over the years, measure how much adjacent unoccupied habitat is available, and come up with a figure of how many whooping cranes the existing habitat at Aransas will support. I’ve always said there is enough habitat to support 500 whooping cranes at Aransas as the cranes continue to spread out the length of Matagorda and San Jose Islands. But I’m anticipating that our analysis will show that there is not enough existing habitat to provide for 1,000 whooping cranes, the minimum number required for downlisting from endangered to threatened status. And as the Texas coast gets developed, will enough habitat be preserved to winter 5,000-7,000 whooping cranes, possibly the minimum number needed for recovery?

Whooping cranes face many threats including development, reduction of fresh water inflows that will reduce blue crab populations, sea level rise that is expected to make much of the crane marshes too deep for the cranes to use, increasing development in the migration corridor (power lines, wind farms, cell towers), and introduced diseases. I am working closely with the USFWS –Ecological Services to analyze the cumulative impacts that the cranes are facing to determine at what level jeopardy would occur. Currently, I feel strongly that the whooping cranes are facing “death by 1,000 cuts” which is hindering the recovery of the species.

               ****Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator, USFWS****

                              (From WCCA’s Newsletter section, Fall 2008)

 

Trustees Approve $286,750 for Habitat Purchases

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Trustees of Whooping Crane Conservation Association recently approved expenditure of $286,750 to acquire three tracts of private land currently used by whooping cranes.  These sites are located within the lands designated as Critical Habitat wintering area for whooping cranes along the Texas Coast.  Critical habitat contains those habitat qualities essential to conservation and recovery of the species.  The Trustees believe it is important for the Association to do everything possible to protect these sites from residential and commercial development and to preserve them for continued use by the cranes.  A majority of the funds committed for these acquisitions came from bequests to WCCA from two women. Lurae A Brinkerhoff provided $281,515 in 1998 and Elizabeth F. Overton gave $36,260 in 1999.  The Association is deeply grateful for the donation by these women that will do so much to preserve habitat for the cranes.  The purchase of these sites, scheduled for this summer, will support goals of the Canada/U.S. International Recovery Team.

The Association is partnering with The Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, and The Nature Conservancy, to purchase fee title on two tracts totaling 168 acres of freshwater and estuarine marshes, tidal mudflats, and saline uplands on Copano Bay.  The total cost is estimated to be $348,800 with 25 percent ($86,750) being WCCA’s share.  The southern unit is part of a territory that a pair and their chicks have used for several years.  The northern unit is used by subadults and unpaired adult whooping cranes.  We anticipate that the properties will eventually be transferred into the public trust, and possibly become part of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  Other protected lands in the vicinity are Goose Island State Park, the Lamar and Tatton Units of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve.

The Association is also partnering with The Nature Conservancy to acquire a conservation easement on 108.8 acres of private land bordering San Antonio Bay.  The easement will restrict any action that would be detrimental to the conservation purpose for whooping cranes and their habitat.  This area is used as wintering habitat by two dozen whooping cranes often referred to as the Welder Flats population.  The easement would prohibit further development or construction on this tract which borders resort properties known as Falcon Point Ranch. 

 The property is a prime piece of the Ranch, suitable for development, which borders salt marsh used by whooping cranes.  Other protected crane habitats in the vicinity are Welder Flats Wildlife Management Area, Welder Flats Coastal Preserve, Guadalupe River Wildlife Management Area, and Aransas National Wildlife Area.  The Whooping Crane Conservation Association’s $200,000 contribution for the easement will be combined with other public and private funding to fulfill the total real estate, contractual and land acquisition cost of $1,050,187.

Two Women’s Donations Preserve Wintering Habitat

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

Thanks to the love of two women for the beautiful whooping cranes, and their desire to see these birds survive as a species, our Whooping Crane Conservation Association is able to preserve critical wintering habitat on the Texas Coast.  Both women named our Association in their wills.  We wish to honor their memory and contributions.

LURAE AHRENDES BRINKERHOFFF, of Green River, Wyoming, died April 20, 1996.  Born in Los Angeles, California, March, 1940, she earned a degree in music education and continued her training in music, teaching, wildlife, photography, and calligraphy until her death.  She believed that one’s education should never end.  Lurae taught instrumental music in public schools for 24 years and upon her retirement she continued to teach classes on Wyoming Wildlife and served as a conservation volunteer.  From 1986 to 1994 she served as a volunteer at Gray’s Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho, assisting with administrative details, greeting visitors, and doing field studies.  She loved to watch sandhill cranes and cross-fostered whooping cranes, keeping records on their behavior and movements in southeastern Idaho.  She assisted in banding sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans and retrieved and cared for sick or injured birds.  In 1990, the Whooping Crane Conservation Association awarded Lurae a Certificated of Appreciation in recognition of her conservation efforts.  In 1996, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized her substantial contribution towards recovery of the whooping crane.  During her lifetime she received other awards for music, leadership, and photography.  The Gray’s Lake Marsh Overlook, on the refuge, is dedicated in her memory.  In her will she bequeathed $281,515 to the Association and these funds provided a major portion of the monies now committed to acquire wintering habitat for whooping cranes.

ELIZABETH F. “BETTY” OVERTON, of Pueblo, Colorado, died August 27, 1998.  Born August 24, 1915, in Attleboro, Massachusetts, she and her husband Robert B. Overton made generous contributions to the Whooping Crane Conservation Association throughout their lifetime.  Robert, a newspaper columnist and conservationist, preceded her in death in 1994.  Betty worked as a Girl Scout Professional in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Michigan City, Indiana, before joining the Red Cross to work in military hospitals in Hawaii with wounded servicemen during World War II.  After the war she became head of the Girl Scouts in Pueblo, Colorado and first Director of Camp Lazy Acres.  After marriage she became a fifth grade teacher at Central Grade School in Pueblo.  In 1996, Betty received the Whooping Crane Conservation Association’s Certificate of Appreciation for her untiring efforts as Chair of the Information and Education Committee.  Other recognitions of her abilities include the Arkansas Valley Audubon Society Environmental\Education Award, runner-up in the Colorado conservation NACO-Allis Chalmer contest, and a Certificate of Merit from the Silver Star Lodge for service to community youth.  In her will she donated $36,260 for continued support of conservation efforts for recovery of whooping cranes.  Her donation, and that of Ms. Brinkerhoff, made it possible for the Association to protect Texas crane habitats and set them aside as sanctuaries for whooping cranes.