Whitney Lake – Corps of Engineers’ Jewel for Whooping Cranes

by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” are increasing in importance on Corps of Engineer lakes according to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW). Chester McConnell, FOTWW’s wildlife biologist explains that, “due to numerous land use changes on private lands, many wetlands and ponds that once served as Whooping Crane habitat are being drained and converted to other uses. So the large Corps of Engineer lakes are being used more and more by the cranes.”

Mostly, during migration Whooping Cranes “stopover” on lakes, natural wetlands and small ponds on private farms just to eat and rest overnight. Like humans on a long trip they just need a small place to briefly stop, feed, rest and then continue their journey. Importantly, Whoopers are compatible with other wildlife and briefly share their habitats. Ensuring that sufficient areas with the proper conditions as stopover sites are available is important for the survival of the species. Sensible practices applied by conservation interest can help reduce potential morality that occurs during migration.

FOTWW’s evaluations continue

FOTWW is continuing its evaluations of Corps lakes to identify areas with good Whooper habitat; habitats that need improvements; and areas that can be developed into good habitat. McConnell reasons that: “Corps lakes are federally owned and, if we can design projects that do not interfere with the Corps mission, then projects that help endangered Whooping Cranes should be authorized. Land cost are the major expense in such projects and using federal lands would eliminate that cost.”

Whitney Lake visited

McConnell visited Whitney Lake on April 12, 2018 to assess potential habitats for Whooping Cranes. Michael Champagne, USACE – Natural Resources Specialist, Fort Worth District made arrangements for our trip. Nickolus Mouthaan, Park Ranger led us on a tour of the lake to examine all potential places that could provide Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. Brandon Mobley, Natural Resource Specialist, Fort Worth District Office participated in the tour. We discussed the natural resource objectives for Whitney Lake and needs for management (Figure 1).

Whitney Lake

Figure 1. Brandon Mobley, Natural Resource Specialist, Fort Worth District Office (on left) and Nickolus Mouthaan, Park Ranger (right) joined Chester McConnell, FOTWW during evaluation of “stopover habitats” on Whitney Lake. These men are standing on a broad expanse of grassland adjacent to a large lake inlet in H-10 Hunting Area. This is an excellent area to serve as “stopover habitat” for Whooping Cranes. Any cranes choosing to stopover here would have a wide glide path to land on the lake shore. The site is clear of obstructions and provides a gradual slope into the shallow water which is 2 to 10 inches deep in the roost area. Horizontal visibility around the roost site is good and allows the Whoopers to spot any predator that may be lurking nearby. Whoopers can feed on aquatic animal in the lake and forage on insects and grains in nearby fields.

About Whitney Lake

Whitney Lake was authorized by the Flood Control Acts of August 18, 1941 to provide flood control, hydroelectric power, water conservation for domestic and industrial uses, recreation and other beneficial water uses. The lake is located along the county lines of Hill and Bosque Counties on the main stem of the Brazos River. It encompasses a total of 49,820 acres and has a flood capacity of 1,372,400 acre-feet of water. At elevation 533 feet above Mean Sea Level (MSL), the normal pool level, the lake covers 23,560 acres and has a capacity of 627,100 acre feet.

Approximately 13,500 acres of government-owned land surrounding the lake are dedicated as natural areas. Primarily used for flood storage, this land is also intended for low impact public use with a minimum of facilities provided. The lake’s large size and diverse habitat support a number of native and introduced species of fish. The lake is a common stopping, resting and feeding area for Whooping Cranes, ducks, geese, shore birds and other waterfowl. This same land is primarily where FOTWW has recommended projects to increase benefits for Whooping Cranes (Figure 2).

Whitney Lake

Figure 2. This shore area on Whitney Lake is clear of obstructions and vegetation is short due partially to fluctuations in lake water levels. Any nearby predators could be easily detected. The water is shallow (2 to 10 inches) making it an excellent roost area. Overall it is an excellent Whooping Crane “stopover site”.

 

***** 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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More wetland ponds needed on Navarro Mills Lake says FOTWW

by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

About Navarro Mills Lake

Navarro Mills Lake is, located in central Texas about 20 miles west of Corsicana, Texas and about 35 miles east of Waco, Texas. It is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District.  The primary purpose of the lake was flood control and water supply, although recreation is now a major economic factor. Recreation has become a major component in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ multiple use approach to managing our nations’ natural resources. Improving recreational opportunities and improving fish and wildlife habitat are important facets of the Corps’ management policies. Hunting, fishing, and water sports are available to the public.

FOTWW Recommendations

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) eagerly recommends that more endangered Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” be added to the management list needs at Navarro Mills Lake in Texas. The recommendation was made by FOTWW after their recent evaluation of potential Whooping Crane habitats on lake properties.

FOTWW President Chester McConnell complimented U.S. Corps of Engineers managers for the wetland development accomplishments made in the past at Navarro Mills Lake. McConnell explained that, “Development and management of the existing wetland ponds in the lake’s Wetland Units 1 and 2 currently provides a diversity of “stopover habitats” for endangered Whooping Cranes and thousands of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and other wildlife species that need wetlands.”

McConnell continued by explaining that, “There are additional sites within Wetland Unit 1 and 2 that could be developed to increase the number of shallow wetland ponds. FOTWW urges the Corps to set a firm goal to increase the number and size of the shallow water wetlands within the two wetland complexes.”

Navarro Mills Lake

Figure 1. This shallow water pond in Wetland Unit 1 serves as an excellent “stopover habitat” for migrating Whooping Cranes and thousands of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and other wildlife species that need wetlands. FOTWW asserts that there is ample space for more ponds like this in Wetland Units 1 and 2.

Whooping Crane Stopovers on Lakes

Navarro Mills Lake

Figure 2 . Many species, including white tailed deer share habitats with Whooping Cranes.

Mostly, during migration, Whooping Cranes “stopover” on lakes, natural wetlands and small ponds on private farms just to rest overnight. Like humans on a long trip they just need a small place to briefly stop, feed, rest and then continue their journey. Importantly, Whoopers are compatible with other wildlife and briefly share their habitats. Ensuring that sufficient areas with the proper conditions as stopover sites are available is important for the survival of the species. Proactive projects implemented by conservation interest can help reduce potential mortality that occurs during migration.

Whooping Cranes make two 2,500 mile migrations each year. They migrate to and from their winter habitats on the Texas coast to their nesting habitats in northern Canada. They must stop over 15 to 30 times during migration to rest and forage for food.

FOTWW believes that the wild Whooping Cranes in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population are capable of taking care of themselves with two exceptions. They need (1) humans to protect their habitats and (2) to stop shooting them. We firmly believe that the USACE can do much on their lakes to protect and manage many “stopover habitats” within the migration corridor.

***** 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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