Lydia Ann Channel and Whooping Cranes

by Chester McConnell, FOTWW

Corps of Engineers continuing to accept comments concerning Lydia Ann Channel

The Galveston District Corps of Engineers is continuing to accept comments concerning the Lydia Ann Channel project, a mooring facility where barges can be staged (parked). The barges are mostly filled with toxic chemicals waiting to be unloaded along the Texas coast near Corpus Christi. The project has a disastrous history from a regulatory respect and Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is attempting to help correct the problems.

What if one or more of the barges spills its contents during a hurricane or a large ship sailing into one of them? That is a major concern. A spill could contaminate Gulf of Mexico waters and wetlands for miles along the Texas coast. Such spills could easily effect the Aransas Wildlife Refuge if tides and water currents forced the chemicals eastward.

Major concerns with the Lydia Ann Moorings project

One of FOTWW’s major concerns with the Lydia Ann Moorings project is its potential adverse impacts directly on Whooping Cranes and on their habitats on Aransas Refuge and surrounding private and government lands. The cranes are endangered species and only about 350 remain. They spend six months during fall-winter season on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge which is near the proposed mooring project. Whooping Cranes commonly travel all around in the vicinity of their primary habitat on Aransas Refuge. They have often been observed near the Lydia Ann Channel Moorings project.

Because of the location of the project, numerous identified and unidentified impacts and the tremendous controversy associated with this project, FOTWW firmly believes that the moorings (large metal pipes) should be extracted and removed to a more acceptable location. FOTWW supports the USACE’s letter that stated “The only option to protect Lydia Ann Channel, surrounding waters, fish, and wildlife, is the removal of the mooring structures and restoration of the shoreline”.

If the project is not halted and the site restored then we strongly believe that an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act must be prepared. Threatened and/or endangered species or their critical habitat will definitely be affected by the work and future use associated with all of the alternatives proposed. Importantly, consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service should be initiated to assess the effect on threatened and endangered species.

Lydia Ann Channel

Lydia Ann Channel

Lydia Ann Channel public comment deadline March 2nd

Click this link to get information about commenting to the US Army Corps of Engineers in opposition to the barge mooring facility: http://conta.cc/2lmW506

Let them know, by March 2nd, how you feel about having YOUR public water taken over by a small group of Corpus Christi investors – Lydia Ann Moorings,LLC

For more in-depth information about the Lydia Ann Channel controversy, click on:   Click here to read the Removal and Restoration Plan

 

Friends of Lydia Ann Channel on Facebook

 

 

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Wintering Whooping Crane Update, December 15, 2016

Wintering Whooping Crane Update

Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

Whooping crane at Aransas National WIldlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims.

Whooping crane family at Aransas National WIldlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims.

We completed our annual whooping crane abundance survey this week, flying nearly six surveys. Unfortunately, we were plagued with poor flying conditions throughout the survey period. Of the nine days we had pilots and planes available, only five days (Dec. 9, 10, 11, 13, 14) offered safe enough conditions to fly. Of those five days, only two days (Dec. 9 and 13) had good flying weather most of the day, allowing for complete surveys. Fog, rain, low ceilings and high winds all contributed to poor flying conditions. Fortunately, we had two pilots and planes from our Migratory Birds program and four observers available, allowing us to fly more than one survey a day.

Prep for Whooping Crane survey

Aransas NWR biologist Diana Iriarte and Migratory Birds Program pilot biologist Terry Liddick preparing for the first whooping crane survey of the season

Once again, Terry Liddick, pilot/biologist from our Migratory Birds program, served as a pilot, flying a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cessna 206. This year Phil Thorpe also served as a pilot, flying a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wheeled Kodiak. Observers were Wade Harrell, Jena Moon (Refuges Inventory and Monitoring biologist), Doug Head(Refuges Inventory and Monitoring biologist) and Stephen LeJeune (Chenier Plains Refuge Complex Fire Program). Doug Head (Refuge Inventory and Management biologist) served as survey coordinator.

Whooping Crane abundance survey results to be released in a few months

Data management and analysis once the actual survey is complete is a significant effort conducted by multiple staff members, so we won’t have the final results to present for a few months. But, I will share some general post-survey observations:
We observed whooping cranes using four units of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Blackjack, Matagorda, Tatton and Lamar) and 3 Texas coastal counties (Aransas, Calhoun and Matagorda).

  • Overall, habitat appeared to be in good condition with adequate freshwater resources. Northern portions of the primary survey area (Welder Flats, Matagorda Island Central) appeared to have much more standing freshwater than southern portions of the primary survey area (Blackjack, Lamar-Tatton), presumably due to higher rainfall totals over the last couple months. Coastal marshes had higher than normal water levels due to high tides in the early part of the survey; however tides fell to normal levels this week.
  • We observed significant amounts of water hyacinth, an invasive freshwater plant, floating in San Antonio Bay, presumably having been flushed out of the Guadalupe River after the last flood event in November. Rainfall in November and December has provided positive freshwater inflows into local estuaries.
  • This year we did not have as many large group sizes (>8) of whooping cranes in our primary survey blocks, so it is possible that many of the subadult groups we observed in the past few years have successfully paired.We observed at least one family group that included two juveniles (i.e. commonly referred to as “twins”).
  • Due to poor flying conditions, most of our secondary areas did not get surveyed, but we did have one survey over the Mad Island and Matagorda Peninsula secondary areas. The Mad Island secondary survey area had one family group and two additional adult whooping cranes detected.
  • A family group of whooping cranes was reported in a rice field near Garwood, TX on December 8th. This area has had whooping crane use the last several years and is well outside (north) of our survey area.
  • While coastal salt marsh was the most common habitat type that we observed whooping cranes using during the survey, we observed whooping cranes using a wide variety of other habitat types as well, including freshwater wetlands, upland prairies and shrublands, agricultural fields and open-water bay edges.

There are several opportunities for visitors to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to view whooping cranes in publically accessible areas this winter. Whooping cranes have been consistently sighted from the Heron Flats viewing deck, the observation tower and the tour loop near Mustang Slough. We consistently observed a family group of whooping crane in the Mustang Lake salt marsh in front of the observation tower, so you have an excellent opportunity to view whooping crane behavior with a juvenile in tow in their natural habitat.

Whooping Crane abundance survey a collective effort

I want to note that the annual whooping crane abundance survey is a collective effort, with the pilot and observers in the plane only serving one small role within the overall survey. I want to personally thank Joe Saenz, Aransas NWR project leader, for serving as overall manager of the effort; Doug Head, Refuge Inventory & Monitoring biologist as survey coordinator; Josie Farias, administrative staff at Aransas NWR, for assisting with logistics and dispatch; and Grant Harris and Matthew Butler from our Refuge Regional Office Inventory & Monitoring Team for survey protocol development and data analysis.

We will be flying some additional surveys in February in order to complete our survey of secondary areas and train new observers.

Habitat Management on Aransas NWR:
No prescribed burns have taken place yet this winter; however, we are planning for prescribed burns on the Blackjack
Unit, Tatton Unit and Matagorda Unit of Aransas NWR this winter.

Current refuge conditions

Recent Precipitation/Salinity around Aransas NWR:
November precipitation: 2.57” @ Aransas HQ

December precipitation (as of 12/15): 2.62” @ Aransas HQ

Salinity at GBRA 1: averaging around 13 parts per thousand

 

***** 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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friendsofthewildwhoopers.org

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