Wildlife refuge in bad shape after hurricane

By Jessica PriestVictoria Advocate

Wildlife Refuge

Whooping Cranes on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Photo by Kevin Sims

Damaged marshland might displace whooping cranes this fall.

Wade Harrell, who is coordinating the endangered species’ recovery for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, got his first look at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday after Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25.

“There was an initial sense of shock and awe,” Harrell said, describing how the live oak trees many visitors are accustomed to seeing were stripped of their leaves by strong winds. “It was a lot to process on top of all the work that needs to be done.”

In the marshes, Harrell found a significant amount of debris. Some of the debris was man-made and might take months to remove.

“There were refrigerators in there. Stuff that probably came out of people’s houses in Rockport,” he said.

Before some debris can be removed, the fish and wildlife service will consult with its experts on contaminants.

“It’s sort of like doctors. When they are sworn in, they promise to do no harm. We want to make sure we’re not doing additional harm to the refuge versus what’s already been done. We want to make sure we go in a slow and methodical way,” he said.

Hurricane Harvey’s storm surge also affected the refuge’s freshwater ponds. It has as many as 70 that the whooping cranes could drink from in the past.

The San Antonio Bay shoreline that borders the refuge has also eroded, he said.

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge covers about 115,000 acres, but the challenge the service faces in its cleanup effort is the refuge is not contiguous. Some parts abut private property, while others are only accessible by boat.

Although many animals call the refuge home, some visitors want to catch a glimpse of the tallest bird in North America, the whooping crane.

Standing at 5 feet, there were only 15 whooping cranes left in 1940. Now, there are more than 300 in the last naturally-occurring flock.

That flock is at Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park but will start migrating south next month.

In the fall and winter, the whooping cranes will forage for food on Texas’ coast, anywhere between Port Aransas to Port O’Connor.

“On any given year, probably about 50 percent of the population is within refuge boundaries,” Harrell said.

The refuge is closed, but Harrell said refuge manager, Joe Saenz, hopes to open a portion to the public as soon as possible.

“We know people are anxious to get out and see some of the changes that I described,” Harrell said.

The hurricane hit the refuge twice, once when it made landfall in Rockport about 48 miles away and then when it traveled back out into the Gulf of Mexico.

The refuge is among eight closed because of the hurricane.

For updates on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, call 361-286-3559.

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A Record 63 Whooping Crane Chicks Fledged on Wood Buffalo

by Friends of the Wild Whoopers admin

Record whooping crane fledging chicks

whooping crane family at Wood Buffalo

Two adults and one juvenile whooping crane. Photo: John McKinnon / ©2014 Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park.

Fort Smith, NWT, August 14, 2017 – A record number of 63 whooping crane fledglings were detected by Parks Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) staff during surveys conducted at and near Wood Buffalo National Park with their parents.

In mid-May 2017, during the nesting survey, Parks Canada and CWS detected a record 98 nests, which was a substantial increase over the previous record of 82 nests in 2014. Then, during the fledgling survey in late July, we detected 63 chicks in total with 4 sets of twins. The previous record was 49 chicks in 2006. Results are preliminary until analysis of data obtained during the nesting and fledgling surveys is completed by CWS in the fall.

The nesting survey is carried out over four days each year in late July. WBNP and CWS staff conduct aerial surveys over sites where nests were detected earlier in the year, to determine which nests successfully produced fledglings.

WBNP and nearby areas provide the last natural nesting habitat for the endangered whooping crane. The birds are hatched in and near WBNP each spring and spend the winter at and near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas before returning to WBNP the following year.

Officials excited with record whooping crane fledging chicks

“This is an exciting development for the Whooping Crane population and we are very pleased.” said Cam Zimmer, superintendent of Wood Buffalo National Park. ”Our cooperative work with the Canadian Wildlife Service, and with partners in the United States, is an important component of our efforts to recover this endangered species. We are proud to celebrate this new conservation milestone during Canada’s 150th year.”

Excellent habitat conditions one reason for increase

Friends of the Wild Whoopers was expecting an excellent fledgling count because of the record number of 98 whooping crane nests found during the May 18-21, 2017 nesting surveys. Parks Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada were elated with the results. Mike Keiser of Park Canada had told us earlier that habitat conditions were excellent with most wetland basins being full. So environmental conditions for a great Whooper chick production were established.

This important success for the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population is incredible. It is the only wild self-sustaining population of Whooping Cranes on earth and has faced many difficulties over the years. This wild population had only 15 members in 1945 and was on the edge of extinction. Unregulated hunting during the 1800s and early 1900s coupled with widespread habitat destruction was the cause of the Whoopers serious decline. Fortunately with legal protection this decline has been reversed as witnessed by their continued increase in numbers during the past approximately 65 years.

51 years of whooping crane surveys at Wood Buffalo

This was the 51st year of annual surveys of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population. The large increase in nests and fledglings chicks from previous years is a result of several things. Very important is the excellent habitat conditions on Wood Buffalo nesting grounds that provided suitable nesting sites for the cranes. The Wood Buffalo staff keeps careful watch over the nesting areas. Importantly, the legal protection by wildlife law enforcement personnel for the past approximate seven decades has been of tremendous benefit. More recently the increase resulted from the arrival at breeding age of the large number of young Whooping Cranes that were produced during the period 2010-2013.

The Aransas-Wood Buffalo wild Whooping Crane population is capable of taking care of itself with two exceptions. These birds cannot protect their habitat nor stop the illegal shooting of members of their population. These endangered birds need man to protect and manage habitat and bring a halt to the illegal shooting.

***** 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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