Whooping cranes return to Texas next month-so what did Harvey leave them?

Corbett Smith, Staff Writer – Dallas News

Harvey

Brown Pelicans fish at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Austwell. Hurricane Harvey damaged the refuge, and staff is trying to get it in shape before the endangered Whooping Cranes and rare sea turtles return to nest.
(Irwin Thompson/Staff Photographer)

AUSTWELL — The panorama from the 40-foot observation deck at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is breathtaking. Stands of live oak dissolve to prairie grasses, which give way to coastal marshes en route to San Antonio Bay.

Look a little closer, though. There’s disorder amid the beauty.

A wooden platform has been blown or washed hundreds of yards away from its footing. A line of debris rings the brush along the service road, indicating the terminus of the storm surge. And nestled in the live oak grove, hundred-year-old trees with leaves stripped from their branches have been knocked over like bowling pins, their roots exposed.

“Nature’s resilient, and I know this area will recover,” refuge manager Joe Saenz said. “But the trees, once they’re gone, they’re gone. And trees here took a beating.”

The impact of Hurricane Harvey is everywhere — like it is in many places throughout Texas’ Gulf Coast. Here, the storm has placed the lone wintering ground for one of world’s most famous endangered species, the whooping crane, under threat.

The heart of the refuge, a 45,000-acre tract on the Blackjack Peninsula south of the tiny town of Austwell, is about 20 miles from the human tragedies found in Rockport, Port Aransas and Bayside. Harvey’s eyewall, bringing 130 mph winds, passed between those communities and the refuge more than two weeks ago.

Satellite imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate a
good deal of beach erosion in another part of the refuge, on Matagorda Island, the barrier that protects the peninsula from the Gulf of Mexico. And as Saenz drives to the observation deck, he gestures to Dagger Point, a part of the shoreline that lost 20 yards from storm erosion.

Even so, things don’t look too bleak. At first glance, the marshes appear to be in good shape. And that’s crucial.

The marshes are the sanctuary for the whooping crane, and home to one of North America’s greatest successes in wildlife conservation.

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

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

 

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Berm-focused Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project to proceed

Berm-focused PRRIP water project to proceed

Lori Potter – Kearney Hub

ELM CREEK — A design and cost estimate might be ready in September for the first new Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project to proceed since the large J-2 water-retiming reservoirs project proposed for southwest of Overton were determined to be too expensive.

The main feature of the new project will be about 6.5 miles of small berms spread over roughly 300 grassland acres in the southeast corner of the 3,000-acre Cottonwood Ranch. It is owned by Nebraska Public Power District and managed by the PRRIP on the south side of the river between Elm Creek and Overton.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Director of Habitat Management and Rehabilitation Jason Farnsworth, left, and Executive Director Jerry Kenny describe for 2017 Nebraska Water and Natural Resources Tour participants a water project at a Cottonwood Ranch grassland southwest of Elm Creek. The plan is to build small berms to hold water on the 300-acre site at times when high flows allow diversions from the Platte River, at the tree line in the background. Lori Potter, Kearney Hub

PRRIP Director of Habitat Management and Rehabilitation Jason Farnsworth said the benefits will be better roosting and foraging habitat for migrating whooping cranes and the ability to retime water in the river.

The Platte Program is a combined effort of the U.S. Department of Interior, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado to protect critical habitat in and around the Central Platte River for threatened and endangered species: whooping cranes, interior least terns and piping plovers.

The three main components for the first 13-year increment are to protect 10,000 acres of land habitat — PRRIP Executive Director Jerry Kenny of Kearney said 12,000 acres have been acquired — and reduce depletions to river target flows by 130,000-150,000 acre-feet on average.

He said program partners brought 80,000 a-f of water toward the goal, leaving 50,000-80,000 a-f still to achieve.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Grazing leases and public access for hiking and waterfowl hunting will likely continue at the Cottonwood Ranch site where a berm-focused Platte River Recovery Implementation Program water project may be built late this year or early in 2018. Lori Potter, Kearney Hub

The Cottonwood Ranch property was acquired as wet meadow and lowland grassland habitat, Farnsworth said, “but we had issues keeping water in this area.”

“Soon, we will incorporate this whole area as a broad-scale recharge project that can hold water from the Platte if there is a flow excess,” he said, beyond targets set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Berms will be 5-6 feet tall.

“It will be a couple hundred acres of water 6 to 12 to 14 inches deep. That’s perfect for these birds,” Farnsworth said about the habitat that will be created to attract migrating whooping cranes.

To read more of this article by Lori Potter of the Kearney Hub, click here.

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

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

 

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