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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)

 

The Price of a Whooping Crane

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

An article titled, “The Price of a Whooping Crane” can be read on the website “The Drinking Bird” (April 22). The author, “Nate” describes his concerns about the recent shootings of these beautiful birds and their values to us.

Nate writes:  “With all the time and effort that has gone into the reclamation of the Whooping Crane population, you might get the impression that this is a valuable bird and you’d be right in strictly monetary terms  The FWS has spent on the order of $6.1 million annually on Whooping Crane recovery.  Given the long lifespan of the birds, their low recruitment, and the fact that it takes nearly 10 years to build a population of 100 individual birds, we’re looking at an estimated outlay of something on the order of $126 million through 2035, according to published budgets . You would be justified in setting the cost of a single Whooping Crane, at minimum, at just over $12,000 per year.”

Nate continues: “Perhaps it’s not appropriate to think of the birds like that.  After all,  the population of Whoopers is more important than any individual.  But when the number of individual birds is so low it’s impossible to deny that the loss of any one bird, by natural or unnatural means, resonates in ways quantifiable and not.   Worth isn’t just something quantifiable, it’s the knowledge that the Whopping Crane exists somewhere.  It’s the adrenaline shivering through your veins at the sight of a line of massive white birds rising over a Kansas horizon, or dancing on a Texas saltmarsh.  It’s both subjective and objective in difference measures, but the bottom line is that it matters.”

To read this entire interesting article click on :   http://thedrinkingbirdblog.com/2011/04/22/the-price-of-a-whooping-crane/

Citizen Tip Leads to Closure of Whooping Crane Shooting in Indiana

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Whooping CranesThe Midwest Region External Affairs Office of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a press release late yesterday describing the arrest and conviction of two persons who killed a whooping crane.

The release included this photo taken by Steve Gifford of a Whooping crane pair near the Patokah River National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana as they migrated south.

A tip from a local citizen led to identifying the individual who shot female Whooping crane #217 in Vermillion County, Indiana in 2009.
The crane killed by the shooter was the matriarch of the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population who, in 2006, with her mate #211, produced, hatched and fledged the first wild, migratory Whooping crane chick (Wild1-06) in the U.S. in more than a century.
Wade Bennett and a juvenile of Cayuga, IN pled guilty and were charged and sentenced on March 30, 2011. Both received probation, and were assessed fines and fees for their involvement in the shooting of the crane.

Law enforcement agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources investigated the shooting of the crane. The crane, last observed alive by an International Crane Foundation (ICF) staff member on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009, was found dead by an ICF volunteer found on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, in rural Vermillion County, Ind.

In early spring 2010, a citizen came forward with information concerning the shooting of the crane. The citizen’s information was valuable to investigators during subsequent interviews of Bennett and the juvenile. Both Bennett and the juvenile confessed to their involvement in the shooting of the Whooping crane.

Observations reported by the public play a key role in solving wildlife crime, according to USFWS Special Agent Buddy Shapp. “People who live in an area notice details that can tell us a lot,” Shapp said. “They sometimes see something or hear something that strikes them as unusual but not necessarily criminal. People might not realize that their observation is significant.

Whooping cranes face monumental challenges in the wild; mortality due to predators and disease, and the threat of continued habitat loss. “The senseless killing of a Whooping crane by a human hand is inexcusable and entirely preventable,” notes Dr. John French, of the US Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and a member of the US-Canada Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

With fewer than 400 Whooping cranes in the wild, every bird is important in our efforts to keep this species from extinction. This particular bird was extremely valuable to the recovery program and this unnecessary killing is a setback. It is encouraging there are so many citizens across country who continue to champion the whooping crane recovery, and can help prevent this from happening again,” said French.

In addition to the Endangered Species Act, whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Visit the web site to learn more about USFWS wildlife conservation efforts.

Louisiana's New Whooping Crane Reintroduction Program

Friday, April 15th, 2011

The LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is working cooperatively with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Geological Survey, the International Crane Foundation and the LA Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit to restore the whooping crane within Louisiana.

The last Whooping crane nest in Louisiana  was found at White Lake, Louisiana  in 1939 . It is also the site of the newest whooping crane Reintroduction Program.

During 2010 eleven chicks were raised at the U.S.G.S. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD and transferred to the Louisiana reintroduction and release site in early 2011. The young birds were held in a pen where they could become familiar with their new surroundings.

The young whooping cranes were recently released from their pen to take their chances in the wilds of Louisiana. The video was taken as the pen doors were opened for the young cranes to be released into the wild:

For more details visit the Louisiana whooping crane reintroduction project web site

Rewards offered in Bald Eagle and Whooping Crane Shooting Investigations

Monday, March 14th, 2011

article by Anne Paine and published in The Tennessean – March 10, 2011

A second Bald eagle has been killed in Tennessee in less than a month, this one east of Crossville, in Cumberland County. The other was found shot dead 30 miles away in Bledsoe County, the next county over.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating. The penalty is up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison for a federal offense.

These join a rash of shootings of highly protected species, notably five federally endangered whooping cranes killed since Dec. 30 in two separate incidents in Georgia and Alabama. They were part of a small group of cranes that have been re-introduced to the wild — some learning to migrate behind an Ultralight aircraft through Tennessee.

Bald eagles are no longer on the endangered species list as their numbers grow, but they’re still a protected species under two separate federal laws.

An $8,500 reward is offered in each eagle case to the first person providing information that results in the successful prosecution of the person or people responsible.

Both eagles were mature with a white head and white tail. One was found in the Crab Orchard Community and the other near Big Springs Gap Road. Tennessee has 140 eagle breeding pairs, said Scott Somershoe, ornithologist with the TWRA.

Most Bald eagles, which primarily eat fish are found near lakes and rivers. It generally takes four or five years for birds to mature but many don’t start breeding until much older. They can live up to 25 years in the wild.

Anyone with information about the eagle found in Cumberland County is asked to call Special Agent John Rayfield at (615) 736-5532, or TWRA Cumberland County Wildlife Officer Casey Mullen at 800-262-6704.

Anyone with information about the other is asked to call Special Agent Bo Stone at (865) 692-4024, or TWRA Bledsoe County Wildlife Officer Mark Patterson at 800-262-6704.

Ed note: In the case of the two Whooping cranes found shot near Weiss Lake on the Alabama/Georgia border a reward of $23,250 is being offered for additional information leading to successful prosecution of the perpetrator(s).To provide information, call Special Agent John Rawls at 334-285-9600, or e-mail him at john_rawls@fws.gov
The USFWS is leading a joint investigation with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to apprehend the person or persons who shot the three Whooping cranes discovered in Calhoun County, GA on December 30, 2010. The reward in this case stands at $20,800 for any information leading to the prosecution of the perpetrator in this case. If you have any knowledge concerning the deaths of these cranes please contact USFWS Special Agent Terry Hastings at 404-763-7959 or terry_hastings@fws.gov

Five Year Strategic Plan Announced

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) today announces the release of a comprehensive Five Year Strategic Plan for the reintroduction of a migratory population of Whooping Cranes to the eastern United States.  

The partnership, in its tenth year, underwent an external review in 2010 leading to the development of a revised Strategic Plan that outlines project goals and guidelines for 2011 – 2015. The Five Year Strategic Plan is available at the Partnership’s Web site, http://www.bringbackthecranes.org/design/pdf/WCEP_5YearStrategicPlan.pdf 

The effort over the past ten years to reintroduce migrating cranes has been very successful, with a current population of about 100 birds in the Eastern migratory flock. The new Five Year Strategic Plan shifts the focus of the partnership to balancing reintroducing new birds to the population with understanding and promoting successful reproduction by older birds at levels that will lead to the establishment of a self-sustaining population.  

The primary focus of WCEP over the next five years will be on achieving successful reproduction in the wild flock by overcoming the current pattern of nesting failures through management of released and wild-hatched birds, while continuing to promote growth of the population through releases of captive-reared birds. Key to this effort will be identifying the factors that are contributing to the nest failure, and identifying management actions that address those factors and promote successful reproduction. This effort is the highest priority of the partnership.  

WCEP researchers are currently conducting an analysis to determine the most suitable breeding habitat to target for future whooping crane releases. By April 2011, WCEP tentatively plans to identify specific additional release sites for whooping cranes and to seek landowner approval for releases in summer 2011. Since whooping cranes have been absent from the upper Midwest for over 120 years, WCEP plans to continue studying how reintroduced whooping cranes use the habitats they encounter following release. These data will refine understanding of the habitat requirements for whooping cranes in this region.  

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge will continue to play an important role in the reintroduction including enabling the research identified, and possibly to raise cranes for release at new introduction sites or to experiment with new release techniques. 

Whooping cranes reintroduced to the Eastern migratory flock are hatched at theU.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD., and at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI. To prepare captive young cranes for survival in the wild, chicks are raised by biologists under a strict isolation protocol meaning that handlers adhere to a no-talking rule and wear costumes designed to mask the human form.  

In 2001, Operation Migration’s pilots led the first whooping crane chicks, conditioned to follow their ultralight aircraft, south from Necedah NWR to Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida. Each subsequent year, WCEP biologists and pilots have conditioned and guided additional groups of juvenile cranes to Florida. Having been shown the migration route south in the fall, the young birds are able to migrate north on their own in the spring, and in subsequent years, continue to migrate on their own. In 2008, St. Marks NWR along Florida’s Gulf Coast was added as an additional wintering site for the juvenile cranes.  

In the spring and fall, project staff from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service track and monitor the released cranes in an effort to learn as much as possible about their unassisted journeys and the habitat choices cranes make both during migration and on their summering and wintering grounds.  

Most of the whooping cranes released in previous years spend the summer in central Wisconsin, as well as other public and private lands. 

Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 570 birds in existence, approximately 400 of them in the wild. There is one remaining wild population of about 250 whooping cranes that nest at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada and winters at Aransas NWR on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migrating flock of approximately 20 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region.  

Whooping cranes, named for their loud and penetrating unison calls, live and breed in wetland areas, where they feed on crabs, clams, frogs and aquatic plants. They are distinctive animals, standing five feet tall, with white bodies, black wing tips and red crowns on their heads.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not approach birds on foot within 200 yards; remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle within 100 yards. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph whooping cranes. 

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding members are the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, Inc., Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team. 

Many other flyway states, provinces, private individuals and conservation groups have joined forces with and support WCEP by donating resources, funding and personnel. More than 60 percent of the project’s budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, public donations and corporate sponsors.

Reward fund now at $20,800

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

GEORGIA DNR BOARD PASSES RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF INVESTIGATING WHOOPING CRANE KILLING
SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (Jan. 27, 2011) – The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Board passed a resolution today supporting the investigation of the recent killing of three whooping cranes in Calhoun County, Ga.   Members of the Georgia DNR Board and the Georgia DNR Foundation also are contributing an additional $4,800 to the reward fund.  This addition brings the total reward fund amount to$20,800.
 
“This generous contribution comes at a time when there are no real leads in the investigation,” said Philllip Watt, DNR Board Chairman of the Wildlife Resources Committee. “We hope that the additional funds will entice someone to come forth with new information that will help solve the case.  We are proud to be able to show our support in this way.”
 
The DNR Board resolution urges the Wildlife Resources Division to continue cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to use “all available resources to investigate and prosecute the individual(s) responsible for killing the whooping cranes.”
 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents are leading a joint investigation with Georgia DNR conservation rangers. The cranes were shot sometime before Dec. 30, 2010, and were discovered and reported by hunters. An examination by scientists at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory, it was  determined that the birds had injuries consistent with gunshot wounds.
 
“The DNR Board is putting its money where its mouth is,” said Joe Hatfield, Vice Chairman of the Board’s Wildlife Resources Committee.  “We will continue to monitor this case and help DNR provide all appropriate resources appropriate to help apprehend the individual or individuals who shot the cranes.”
 
Other recent contributions to the reward fund include $2,500 from The Environmental Resources Network (T.E.R.N.) and $1,000 from the Atlanta Audubon Society.  The reward will be provided to the person or people who provide information leading to an arrest and successful prosecution of the perpetrator(s). T.E.R.N., is the friends group of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
 
The cranes were part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership effort to reintroduce whooping cranes into the eastern United States.  There are about 570 whooping cranes left in the world, 400 in the wild. This was the three crane’s first migration.  They were banded and equipped with transmitters and were not part of the ultralight aircraft-led migration effort.  Their identities were confirmed by recovery of their bands.  The three cranes, 20-10, 24-10, and 28-10, were part of a group of five 2010 Direct Autumn Release cranes.  According to Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership trackers, they had last been tracked in Hamilton County, Tenn., where they roosted on Dec. 10, 2010, with cranes 6-05, 6-09, and 38-09.
 
In addition to the Endangered Species Act, whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
 
Any information concerning the deaths of these cranes should be provided to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Terry Hasting at 404-763-7959 and/or Georgia Department of Natural Resources 24hr. TIP Hotline at 1-800-241-4113.

Nebraska Meeting

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

“WCCA to meet with other organizations in Nebraska in March 2011

The WCCA will hold a business meeting in association with the 12th North American Crane Workshop. Details of when and where the WCCA will meet will be shared with our members prior to the event. There will be awesome field trips and many presentations on cranes and other water birds. It will be a great event!

THE TWELFTH NORTH AMERICAN CRANE WORKSHOP will be held in Grand Island, Nebraska, March 13 – 16, 2011 and will be held jointly with the Waterbird Society.  The workshop is open to all those interested in crane research and conservation. Workshop details and registration information coming soon. Contacts for the meeting are: FELIPE CHAVEZ-RAMIREZ, Local Committee Chair (EM: fchavez@whoopingcrane.org<mailto:fchavez@whoopingcrane.org>) and DAVID ABORN, Scientific Program Chair (EM: david-aborn@utc.edu<mailto:david-aborn@utc.edu>).

The Platte River and nearby wetlands in mid-March provide staging habitat for nearly 10 million waterfowl and half a million Sandhill Cranes–a phenomenon of global significance. Due to its use by large numbers of migrating shorebirds, the area also is designated a Landscape of International Importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Additional information on the meeting can be found at the websites of the Waterbird Society (http://www.waterbirds.org/annual_meeting) and North American Crane Working Group (http://www.nacwg.org/).”

This email is to let you know that in association with the Workshop described above, the WCCA Trustees will be holding a meeting at 7pm on Monday the 14th of March. All members of the WCCA are welcome to attend the Trustee meeting. If you have questions about this event you may contact WCCA newsletter editor Marty Folk at 1475 Regal Ct., Kissimmee, FL 34744, email marty.folk@myfwc.com<mailto:marty.folk@myfwc.com> or phone 407-348-3009.