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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Hurricane Harvey and Whooping Cranes

Friends of the Wild Whoopers, (FOTWW) has had several inquiries about what effects Hurricane Harvey may have had to the wild whooping cranes’ wintering habitat on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The whooping cranes of the wild flock and their new fledglings are still in Canada on their nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park. Mike Keizer, Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada told FOTWW, “Hope all goes well in Texas. Glad the Whooping Cranes are still here.”

They won’t start their fall migration until the later part of next month and the first whoopers may arrive at Aransas for the winter right after the middle of October, with the remaining whoopers following until the middle of December, which is after the hurricane season.

What salt water from the storm surge that has gotten into the brackish bays will normally be flushed out with fresh flood water flowing in from upstream. Also with the predicted rainfall of 1 to 3 feet, the system should restore itself soon. It is too early to determine if there was any habitat loss and the priority now it to keep the area’s citizens safe, out of harm’s way and back into their homes and/or rebuilding.

Whatever the damage, if any, to the wild flock’s habitat, the flock will endure and survive as it has done over the years.

FOTWW and everyone is concerned about the refuge and surrounding area and our thoughts and prayers go out to all those citizens affected by Hurricane Harvey. We hope that there is no loss of life and little to no damage to property and habitat.

FOTWW will keep everyone updated as we get information.

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