Wildfires Near Whooping Crane Nesting Area at Wood Buffalo

There are currently four wildfires in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP), Canada according to Tim Gauthier, Fire Information Officer. Wood Buffalo is the nesting area of the only remaining self-sustaining population of whooping cranes in the world.

“There is currently no threat to nesting whooping cranes on Wood Buffalo” according to Gauthier. Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) learned that Fire 3 is closest to the whooper’s nest but presents no harm to the cranes. Fire 4 is ~35 km SE of the nearest whooping crane nesting area. Gauthier explained that the whooping crane nesting area is located in a vast wetland area and that any fires that do occur there would only burn small tree/brush borders around the wetlands.

wildfire status map at Wood Buffalo National Park Fire
WBNP Fire Status June 17, 2014. ~ Click on image to enlarge.

Gauthier provided FOTWW a bulletin that identified locations of the fires: “Fire 1 is located in the Caribou Mountain five kilometers to the west of Isidore Lake. It is currently 8000 hectares and moving to the west. It is being monitored. WBNP Fire 2 is located four kilometers north of Pine Lake and one kilometer west of the Pine Lake Road. A Parks Canada Incident Management Team has been called in to work with local WBNP Fire Management in managing this fire. It is currently 10,000 hectares. Fire 3 is a 200 hectare fire located approximately 10 kilometers south of NWT Highway 5 and 75 Kilometers west of Fort Smith. It is being monitored and currently poses no threat to any values at risk. Fire 4 is a spot fire located 20 Kilometers south of Highway 5 and 45 kilometers to the west of Fort Smith. It is being monitored.”

Weather

The long range forecast for the Wood Buffalo National Park region calls for drying conditions over the next several days and southerly winds. Temperatures are forecasted to be in the high twenties through-out the week. The high temperatures and low relative humidity have created extreme fire conditions.

Air Quality

There are currently no smoke warnings for the Wood Buffalo National Park region. For the latest update on air quality, please contact the WBNP Fire Information Officer at 872-0107. 

Visitor Services

For the latest information on Visitor Services, please contact the Visitor Information Centre at 872-7960.  

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

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Canadian Ronnie Schaefer and Whooping Cranes

Ronnie Schaefer is a person who loves to be outdoors and in contact with wild things. He was born and raised in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada which is in the midst of an abundance of wild places and wild critters.  Ronnie claims that Fort Smith is one of the best small towns in Canada and is the gateway to Wood Buffalo park. So he is contented. He feels fortunate to live in the area. One of Ronnie’s passions is whooping cranes. For the past 18 years he has been observing whooping cranes near Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. This is his hobby.

Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park is the nursery habitat where whooping cranes perform their courtship dances, build their nest, lay their eggs and hatch their chicks. According to Environment Canada, an estimated 300 whoopers made the 2,500 mile migration back from Aransas Refuge on the Texas coast to Wood Buffalo during April and May. A Canadian Wildlife Service official explained to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) that “This flock is the only self-sustaining, wild whooping crane flock on the planet and we need to do our best to protect the birds and their habitats”.

Whooping crane in Wood Buffalo nesting habitat. photo by Ronnie Schaefe
Whooping crane in Wood Buffalo nesting habitat. photo by Ronnie Schaefer. Click on photo to view full size.

Ronnie told FOTWW that “I watch the whooping cranes as they migrate onto Wood Buffalo National Park. And then I drive out into the rugged terrain in my 4-wheel vehicle and set up an observation blind.” Ronnie explained that he does not want to interfere with the whoopers so he is careful not to get too close to them.

As part of his mission he also tries to keep other people from getting too close to the birds. He places signs in appropriate locations to warn people not to encroach near to the birds. Then, from his special location Ronnie watches some of the cranes perform their mating dances and build their nests.

Ronnie explained, “I focus my attention on whoopers that use the Salt River First Nation reserve lands downstream from Lobstick Creek. The Reserve is about 20 miles from Fort Smith.” According to his observations, the whoopers returned to Wood Buffalo from Aransas, Texas about 3 weeks ago.  Soon thereafter they began nesting. He advised that 2 whooping crane nest can be observed from his observation site. The 2 nests are about 3 miles apart.

Interestingly, Ronnie told FOTWW, “ The original ‘famous’ Lobstick pair of whooping cranes actually nests near my observation site which is outside the boundary of Wood Buffalo National Park. The pair has been nesting there for the past 18 years.” Also, he informed us that 2 offspring of the Lobstick pair had been nesting in the same vicinity for the past 3 years and that they had produced 3 chicks. Ronnie named the 2 Lobstick offspring “Snow flakes” and “Snowball”.

As part of his voluntary commitments Ronnie cooperates with officials of the Canadian Wildlife Service. He advises them about his whooper observation as well as providing information about potential problems in the area. During recent discussions with a Wildlife Service official Ronnie was told that 82 whooping crane nests had been counted as of June 4, 2014. FOTWW is waiting on the official report for final verification. 82 nests would be the largest whooping crane nest count ever made.

FOTWW is delighted to have linked-up with Ronnie Schaefer. He is one of those rugged individuals who is committed to the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock of wild whoopers and we need more like him.

by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

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

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