The Crane Track: Whooping Crane Migration Story

School is out for the summer and it’s time to get kids to read books. Friends of the Wild Whoopers recommends “The Crane Track: Whooping Cranes’ Migration … A Tale of Survival” by Gene Steffen.

The Crane Track Whooping Cranes' Migration...book cover

The Crane Track…book cover

The Crane Track uses factual information to build an interesting story. It’s about a two adult whooping cranes and their young chick, Leki. It describes some scary events during their time in the Wood Buffalo nesting area. And then it follows them while they make a 2,400 migration from the Northwest Territories in Canada to Texas.

Leki, the young whooping crane has no idea that a spectacular journey is about to begin. He lives with his parents, Toluki and Karla, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Leki has had many adventures there, like the day he ran across wild wolves! Still, his biggest adventure is yet to come as his parents prepare for their annual October migration.

Every year, the whooping cranes travel south to warmer climates for the winter. Toluki and Karla plan to take young Leki 2,400 miles, all the way from their home in Canada to a winter resting place near the Gulf of Mexico. The path they take is called “the crane track,” and it is a journey filled with wild weather and hungry hunters.

Whooping cranes are graceful creatures with white feathers and up to an eight-foot wingspan. Once almost extinct, there are now 304 wild whooping cranes in the population that migrates from Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. All whoopers in this population travel the same path as Leki and his parents. Nature is a carefully balanced, beautiful machine. It’s up to us to protect the path of the cranes’ migratory journey. So is little Leki up for the trip?

Whooping cranes on Texas coast where sea level rise may alter habitat conditions.

Whooping cranes on Texas coast where sea level rise may alter habitat conditions.

The book follows the Track the cranes make twice each year and was featured on a National Geographic special, Flight of the Whooping Crane. The author, Gene Steffen, was the pilot during the making of that film. This is a great story to teach children about geography, endangered species, migration and the general wonder of our natural environment.

One source for the book is Amazon.com

 

 

 ***** FOTWW’s mission is to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population

of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

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FWS Report Spotlights Wetland Loss in Prairie Pothole Region

This article published in the Outdoor News Bulletin, Wildlife Management Institute describes the growing problem of wetland losses in the 5-state Prairie Pothole Region. Regrettably, similar losses are occurring in other regions that include the whooping crane migration route. Friends of the Wild Whoopers will work with all concerned to acquire key wetland stopover sites along the migration corridor for endangered whooping cranes.

Waterfowl in Prairie Pothole Region. Wildlife Management Institute photo.

Waterfowl in Prairie Pothole Region.

A report released July 1 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Status and Trends of Prairie Wetlands in the United States, 1997-2009, estimates that the total wetland loss in the Prairie Pothole Region between 1997 and 2009 was 74,340 acres, according to the Wildlife Management Institute. This amounts to an average net loss of 6,200 acres of wetlands per year. However, the report notes that emergent wetlands (emergent marshes and farmed wetlands) declined by an estimated 95,340 acres and shrub wetlands also declined by 46,080 acres. These losses were offset by the increase of 61,280 acres in forested wetlands and the 5,800 acres of new open water ponds over the 12-year period.

“Extreme weather patterns, rising agricultural commodity prices and oil and gas development are threatening millions of acres of prairie wetlands, putting further pressure on the most valuable breeding area for ducks in the Americas,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. ‘This report highlights the need for continued vigilance in monitoring and protecting the Prairie Pothole Region to ensure it remains healthy for waterfowl for generations to come.”
According to the report, in 2009 there were an estimated 6.43 million acres of wetlands (6.7 percent of the total surface area) in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) that is located in parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota Minnesota and Iowa. The current wetland acreage is a 61 percent reduction from the nearly 17 million acres of wetlands that were estimated in the region in the middle of the 19th century. Even with the loss, the PPR contains about 5.8 percent of all wetlands in the conterminous United States.

Emergent wetlands make up about 87.7 percent of the total wetland area and 93 percent of all wetland basins in the PPR. However, the number of emergent wetland acres lost to agriculture and development accounted for 39 percent of all losses; of the 107,000 wetland basins lost in the region during the study period, 96 percent were classified as temporary emergent wetlands. These emergent wetlands are being converted to deepwater habitats or being drained for agricultural purposes. According to the report, 40 percent of the emergent wetland losses were due to the expansion of deeper, more permanent water areas. The report notes the trend towards fewer individual wetlands that cover larger acreage (mean size of wetlands increased from 2.1 acres in 1983 to 3.2 acres in 2009) with longer periods of wetness.

Whooping Crane current and former range and migration corridors.

Whooping Crane current and former range and migration corridors.

In supporting materials, the FWS concluded: “Despite efforts to conserve and restore wetlands in the PPR these resources continue to decline in number, diversity and extent. This puts the future of wetlands and prairie ecosystems in general in flux depending upon climatic shifts in tem­perature and precipitation with the compounding influences of anthropogenic alterations to local and regional land use and hydrology. Long-term trends continue to change the complexion of prairie wetlands from one of diverse wetland sizes and types to fewer wetland basins characterized by longer periods of high water. Prolonged high water conditions are causing some small wetland basins that flooded and dried on an intermittent basis to move toward becoming larger, more permanent wetland/water basins.”

In 2013, researchers from the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture (PPJV) released a peer-reviewed study in the Wildlife Society Bulletin that assessed the conversion rates of both wetlands and grasslands in the region. That studydetermined that when time is incorporated into the conservation planning process, seemingly small wetland and grassland annual loss rates become far greater challenges. With wetland loss rates ranging from 0.05 to 0.57 percent per year and grassland loss ranging from 0.4 to 1.3 percent, PPJV partners will not be able to keep up with the conversion. The authors determined that the partnership would not be able to reach their conservation goals unless greater funding is targeted towards conservation, landowner interest and acceptance of conservation programs remains high, and wetland and grassland loss rates are decreased through public policy (particularly agriculture programs) or other mechanisms.

The full FWS report and other information is available on the USFWS National Wetlands Inventory web site. (pmr & jas)

***** FOTWW’s mission is to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population
of wild whooping cranes and their habitat
. *****

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Don’t mess with Texas’ Big Cranes

Originally published by the Houston Chronicle.
July 11, 2014 – Updated: July 14, 2014 4:00pm

Leadership needed to spearhead protection of the state’s environment and wildlife.
Texas Whooping Cranes An adult whooping crane feeds on a blue crab in a shallow marsh at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, Texas.  Photo Credit:  Kathy Adams Clark   Restricted use. Photo: Kathy Adams Clark / Kathy Adams Clark/KAC Productions

An adult whooping crane feeds on a blue crab in a shallow marsh at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, Texas. Photo Credit: Kathy Adams Clark

Imagine this conversation 50 years from now when a docent at the Houston Museum of Natural Science walks visitors through the ornithology collection.

“This is the passenger pigeon, which became extinct in the 20th century because of mass deforestation, disease and competition for food. Next, children, we have the whooping crane, one of the most majestic birds to ever inhabit North America. It became extinct in the early 21st century because no one would tell commerce and lobbyists that they would have to use less water. No one demanded innovation.”

Texas Whooping Cranes Whooping cranes are five-feet tall with a seven to eight-foot wingspan.  Roughly 600 whooping cranes winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport Texas.  Photo Credit:  Kathy Adams Clark.  Restricted use. Photo: Kathy Adams Clark / Kathy Adams Clark/KAC Productions

Whooping cranes are five-feet tall with a seven to eight-foot wingspan. Roughly 300 whooping cranes winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport Texas. Photo Credit: Kathy Adams Clark.

The extinction scenario for the most famous avian residents of the Texas coast is not farfetched. And anyone who has marveled at the majesty of the 5-foot-tall birds foraging for blue crabs in their wintering grounds at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport has to be saddened by the June 30 ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel said that U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack abused discretion in finding that 23 cranes had died because of a disruption to their habitat.

In The Aransas Project v. Shaw, plaintiffs were seeking enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. The lower court found that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was responsible for the deaths because it issued permits that ultimately withheld water that would lower the salinity levels in Aransas Bay. Water that’s too salty is not conducive for crabs and wolfberries, two of the cranes’ staple foods. The circuit court overturned the lower court’s ruling and appeals are expected.

Instead of again turning to federal courts to solve a Texas dispute, it is time for our Legislature to show leadership. And this fix is one that will not require a dime of taxpayer money. We need a leader to propose and ensure the implementation of laws that restrict water usage that has a negative impact on the cranes. We need education campaigns and mandates about smart water conservation. We need to tap our new water slush fund to save the birds. And, perhaps most important, we need an economic analysis of water pricing in the state.

If we charged the right price instead of giving the resource away, consumers and industry would not only act smarter, we might be able to fund technology that would keep important bay areas at the correct salinity levels, benefitting birds and business.

Most of all, we need to create an environment in Texas where the view of water isn’t a gushing tap or a resource that exists to fill recreational lakes. We must think of entire ecologies. And when we say with pride, “Don’t Mess with Texas,” we should be sure we’re not messing with something thoroughly Texas – the whooping crane.

To read original editorial on the Chronicle’s website, click here.

 

***** FOTWW’s mission is to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population
of wild whooping cranes and their habitat
. *****

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