We’re losing our wetlands

“Wetlands provide us with water, they protect us from floods, droughts and other disasters, they provide food and livelihoods to millions of people, they support rich biodiversity, and they store more carbon than any other ecosystem. Yet, the value of wetlands remains largely unrecognized by policy and decision makers.” (The Global Wetland Outlook, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands)

Wetlands in Saskatchewan and the U.S. are being lost and that’s a big problem

The world’s freshwater supplies are threatened as never before says Jay Famigletti, Executive Director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute for Water Security. World-wide, wetlands are being destroyed at 3 times the rate of forests (35% losses since 1970) and one-quarter of wetland plants and animals are at risk of extinction. Improved water management and governance are essential if we want to ensure future water and food security.

When the glaciers receded after the last Ice Age, they left behind an array of shallow depressions providing the Prairie Pothole Region with a wealth of small wetlands storing water and providing habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals. In the past, farmers worked around the wetlands, but large farms, massive equipment, and a drive for greater efficiency and productivity have led to farmers draining the potholes.

There’s a strong sentiment among landowners that they can do what they want on their own land and that they should be applauded for their contributions to feeding the world. However, the farmers’ short-term interests are at odds with the long-term interests of the general public. Draining wetlands leads to flooding downstream, increases erosion, lowers the water table, and reduces the supply of water in times of drought. It also fails to recognize wetlands’ important role in carbon sequestration.

To read more about Saskatchewan’s wetland losses, click here.

With the continual loss of wetlands in Saskatchewan where the whooping cranes stage during their annual migration south, the article shows why saving stopover habitat along the 6 state flyway is so important.

wetlands
Large ditch draining a 100 acre wetland with bush clearing to turn the area into cultivated land. Photo courtesy of the Citizens Environmental Alliance – Saskatchewan

Effects of wetland losses on one species, the Whooping Crane

By Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Since 1941, the Aransas Wood Buffalo Population (AWBP) of Whooping Cranes has increased from 15 birds to an estimated 526 as of winter 2018. Despite the increasing population trend, the whooping cranes of the AWBP remain defenseless against two depredations: habitat destruction and gunshot. During the 200-year period from 1780 to 1980, wetland acreage in the whooping crane migration corridor within the United States declined by over 14,826,000 acres  (6 million ha).  The whooping crane migration corridor in the United States includes the six states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Whooping Cranes migrate 2,500 miles two times each year through the six states. They migrate from their Wood Buffalo National Park nesting area in Canada to their winter habitat in Texas on the Gulf of Mexico coast. During each migration, the cranes must “stopover” 15 to 30 times to rest and feed.  Regrettably loss of stopover habitats continues.

The full extent of threats to and loss of Whooping Crane stopover habitats within the migration corridor are difficult to quantify, but real. These habitats are being diminished and degraded due to a variety of factors, including intensified management on agricultural lands, construction of wind energy facilities and power lines, wetland drainage and reduction in river flows.  Changes in agricultural programs are continuing to further reduce the stopover habitats available for whooping cranes.

The Whooping Crane Recovery Plan (Canadian Wildlife Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2005) includes numerous references that describe various wetlands used as stopover sites. Important migration stopover sites in the United States include Cheyenne Bottoms State Waterfowl Management Area and Quivira NWR, Kansas; the Platte River bottoms between Lexington and Denman, Nebraska; and Salt Plains NWR, Oklahoma. These large sites have been designated as critical habitat for conservation of the species.  Critical habitat is defined in the U.S.Endangered Species Act as habitat that contains those physical or biological features, essential to the conservation of the species, which may require special management considerations or protection. Importantly, other stopover areas have also been documented, both large (e.g., Audubon NWR and Long Lake NWR in North Dakota;) and small. Moreover, whooping cranes are not site-specific each migration and rarely use the same wetland basins year to year.  For these reasons, Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) emphasizes that numerous other smaller stopover sites are also essential to ensure diverse opportunities for potential stopover use along the migration corridor

The Whooping Crane Recovery Plan calls for the protection of existing wetlands as whooping crane stopover areas and the enhancement of those wetlands that have been degraded by woody plant encroachment, silting, and/or draining within the migratory corridor. More specifically, the Recovery Plan spells out the need to: “Ensure long-term protection of migration stopover sites; Work with landowners and managers to ensure migration habitat remains suitable for cranes: Pursue stewardship agreements and conservation easements when needed, focusing on providing wetland mosaics”.

Actions by FOTWW to prevent wetland losses

Unfortunately, the Recovery Plan offered no specific entity to protect and manage potential stopover sites. FOTWW emphasizes that a realistic action plan should be developed to name specific agencies to protect and manage existing stopover wetlands and to create new ones. Within the United States’ portion of the migratory corridor, FOTWW could find no ongoing concerted effort that focuses on protection or enhancement of many stopover areas. Private conservation groups and government agencies have played a significant role in protecting wetlands used by whooping cranes, waterfowl, and many other wildlife species throughout the migration corridor. Funds from the sale of Duck Stamps have helped protect over 6 million acres (2.4 million ha)but many of those are managed for waterfowl in ways that may not be suitable for cranes (e.g., presence of tall emergent vegetation around the perimeter or deeper water that would deter cranes from roosting).

To address this gap in information and activity, FOTWW initiated a survey of entities with large land holdings that could possibly provide additional stopover areas. The project consisted of three phases: U.S. military bases, Indian Reservations and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer lake properties within the migration corridor. As of December 2018 FOTWW has evaluated potential “stopover habitats” on 32 military facilities, 8 Indian Reservations and 21 USACE lakes within the wild Whooping Crane migration corridor. Some of these properties currently have suitable stopover wetland habitats while other areas could be enhanced with minor work. FOTWW has prepared management reports for each area visited describing habitat management practices needed. Currently FOTWW is continuing to evaluate Corps of Engineer lakes and associate lands.  The most expensive part of establishing or improving habitat is land cost. If projects can be accomplished on government lands and Indian Reservations, the cost will be relatively minimal.

***** 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.

 

Share

Corps of Engineer lakes in Oklahoma being evaluated for Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”

By Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Whooping Cranes migrate 2,500 miles two times each year between their nesting area in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada and their Aransas Wildlife Refuge winter habitat on the Texas coast. During these migrations they must stop to rest and feed 15 to 30 times. Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is searching for areas to provide these essential “stopover habitats”. Stopover habitats are equally as important as nesting and winter habitats.

Fort Supply Lake

Fort Supply Lake in northwest Oklahoma is one of four Corps of Engineer (COE) Lakes that have recently been evaluated to determine if they have any existing or potential “stopover habitat” for migrating Whooping Cranes.  FOTWW visited the four lakes as part of its continuing efforts to encourage protection and management of decreasing habitat for migrating Whooping Cranes.

Despite heavy rainfall, flooding and high water levels in three lakes FOTWW‘s wildlife Biologist Chester McConnell explained that: “Our evaluation team continued towork in the challenging conditions. Fortunately COE and Oklahoma Wildlife Division (ODWC) personnel accompanied me and they were well informed about the lake’s habitats. So, together, we successfully identified some good stopover habitat sites.” Fort Supply Lake is just one of many COE lakes that FOTWW has, and will be evaluating. The Operation Management Plan FY 2014 thru 2018 covers information for the COE area of primary management responsibility. The “Wildlife Management/Hunting program” is described in a separate document prepared by ODWC. The lake was authorized under the Flood Control Act approved June 22, 1936. Construction of the lake was begun in October 1938 and completed in August 1942.  There is a total of 9,899 acres of project land and water. The lake covers 1,786 surface acres of open water. A total of 8,079 acres are used for wildlife management, recreation and project operations. Although the primary mission is flood control, important secondary benefits are water supply, recreation, and natural resource management. Importantly one of the natural resources needing the lake is the only wild population of wild Whooping Cranes remaining on earth.

Whooping Cranes observed at fort supply lake

FOTWW is aware that Fort Supply Lake, has been used by Whooping Cranes and we expect that to continue and increase. Both USACE and ODWC personnel have observed Whooping Cranes on the lake several times.

Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma. Figure 1.  Two members of the team returning from a cruise around Fort Supply Lake to evaluate potential Whooping Crane "stopover habitats". Eric Summers, Assistant Lake Manager, Corps of Engineers (on right) guided the evaluation team on lake waters.  Eddie Wilson, Senior Biologist, Oklahoma Wildlife Division (on left) guided us on a tour of the wildlife management areas around the lake. These men are very informed about the lake and its surrounding wildlife habitats, vegetation and water levels. McConnell said “Their assistance was invaluable and greatly appreciated.”  Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Figure 1.  Two members of the team returning from a cruise around Fort Supply Lake to evaluate potential Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. Eric Summers, Assistant Lake Manager, Corps of Engineers (on right) guided the evaluation team on lake waters.  Eddie Wilson, Senior Biologist, Oklahoma Wildlife Division (on left) guided us on a tour of the wildlife management areas around the lake. These men are very informed about the lake and its surrounding wildlife habitats, vegetation and water levels. McConnell said “Their assistance was invaluable and greatly appreciated.”  Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma Figure 2. The short grass, shallow water and absence of trees and bushes in this photo cause it to be suitable for Whooping Crane “stopover habitat” during normal water levels. During our evaluation, abundant rain (8+ inches) caused the lake depth to be deeper than normal. Water depths vary occasionally due to abundant rain and long drought periods. Importantly, due to various shore configurations, when one area of a lake is not suitable, some other area of the lake will likely be suitable. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Figure 2.  The short grass, shallow water and absence of trees and bushes in this photo cause it to be suitable for Whooping Crane “stopover habitat” during normal water levels. During our evaluation, abundant rain (8+ inches) caused the lake depth to be deeper than normal. Water depths vary occasionally due to abundant rain and long drought periods. Importantly, due to various shore configurations, when one area of a lake is not suitable, some other area of the lake will likely be suitable. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma Figure  3. This photo identifies a 3 to 4acre site near the lake that could be developed into a shallow water“stopover  habitat” (3 inches to 6 inches deep) for Whooping Cranes and other wild creatures. The vegetation in the area could be treated with herbicide and burned when dry. A low level berm as outlined can be constructed around the developed pond to hold shallow water for a “stopover habitat”. This small wetland would operate independently from the water levels in the lake. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Figure 3.  This photo identifies a 3 to 4 acre site near the lake that could be developed into a shallow water“stopover  habitat” (3 inches to 6 inches deep) for Whooping Cranes and other wild creatures. The vegetation in the area could be treated with herbicide and burned when dry. A low level berm as outlined can be constructed around the developed pond to hold shallow water for a “stopover habitat”. This small wetland would operate independently from the water levels in the lake. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma. Figure 4. This photo and figure 3 reveals conditions at the 3 to 4 acre site near the lake that could be developed into a shallow water habitat for Whooping Cranes and other wild creatures. The area vegetation could be treated with herbicide and burned when dry. A low level berm (Fig. 3) can be constructed around the pond to hold shallow water (3 inches to 6 inches deep) for a “stopover habitat”. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Figure 4.  This photo and figure 3 reveals conditions at the 3 to 4 acre site near the lake that could be developed into a shallow water habitat for Whooping Cranes and other wild creatures. The area vegetation could be treated with herbicide and burned when dry. A low level berm (Fig. 3) can be constructed around the pond to hold shallow water (3 inches to 6 inches deep) for a “stopover habitat”. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma. Figure 5. ODWC operates the wildlife management and hunting programs on 5,418 acres ofFort Supply Lake. This photo illustrates one of their 21 food plots on the lake property. Whooping Cranes will forage for grain and insects in such plots.
Figure 5.  ODWC operates the wildlife management and hunting programs on 5,418 acres of Fort Supply Lake. This photo illustrates one of their 21 food plots on the lake property. Whooping Cranes will forage for grain and insects in such plots. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.

***** 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.

Share

Friends of the Wild Whoopers’ President to speak at Fort Worth Audubon

Friends of the Wild Whoopers' PresidentFriends of the Wild Whoopers’ president, Chester McConnell, will be speaking this Thursday night, Nov. 8, 2018 at the Fort Worth Audubon’s monthly meeting. He will be speaking briefly about the biology of the only wild population of Whooping Cranes on earth. He will also explain the efforts by Friends of the Wild Whoopers to protect, improve and develop “stopover habitats” for these endangered birds.

McConnell spent most of his professional career of 54 years evaluating land use and stream projects, wetland protection, conducting wildlife research, monitoring populations and managing wildlife habitats. Since retiring, he has focused his time on Whooping Cranes, wetland protection and stream protection.

McConnell became interested in Whooping Cranes when he was in the 5th grade. He read a brief article in the Weekly Reader which explained that the Whoopers had returned to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. The article also explained that no one knew where the birds went to in the summer months.

McConnell eventually became a lifetime member of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. He was appointed as a Trustee and served as President one term. He managed their web page and newsletter (wife was Associate Editor) for 14 years. Currently, McConnell serves as President of Friends of the Wild Whoopers, a private, non-profit group whose mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. He has evaluated potential Whooping Crane habitats on 21 military bases, 8 Indian Reservation and 14 Army Corps of Engineers lakes.

Friends of the Wild Whoopers now works under an official Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate all lakes within the 6 state migration corridor (TX, OK, KS, NE, SD and ND). Services to the military, Indian Reservations and the Corps have been performed at no cost to the recipients.

Time and Location of Meeting

The meeting will begin at 7:30 pm with a short 15 minute business meeting followed by McConnell’s presentation. Meetings are held in Everett Hall, Room 100, in the Research and Education (RES) building at the University of North Texas Health Science Center on 3500 Camp Bowie Boulevard (at Montgomery Street) Fort Worth TX 76107. Use Parking Lot 6 on Clifton Street. Enter the RES building ground floor at the northwest corner of Parking Lot 6.

Share

Wildlife service releasing water to Platte River for whooping cranes

Platte River
Whooping Cranes – Rowe Sanctuary Photo: © John Smeltzer

Whooping cranes are passing through Nebraska for their annual migration, and wildlife officials are helping them by releasing more water into the Platte River at Grand Island.

The release will provide and maintain adequate roosting and feeding habitat for whooping cranes on the Platte River, and is expected to continue through early to mid-November when the whooping cranes leave the region.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release water from their Environmental Account beginning on Oct. 19. The cranes use the Platte River in Nebraska as a stopover site during their migration in the Central Flyway south to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas for the winter.

Read more here.

Share