Wetlands, Watersheds and Whooping Cranes

Wetlands, Watersheds and Whooping Cranes: Wetland Habitat Restoration in the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska

By , on April 3, 2014

The Whooping Crane (Grus americana) remains one of the most imperiled species in the United States. This Endangered species once ranged throughout the plains and prairies of central North America. It bred in central Canada and the north-central United States and wintered on the Gulf Coast, parts of the Atlantic coast, and as far south as northern and central Mexico. But by the early 1940s habitat loss and unregulated hunting caused the population to shrink to just over 20 birds in the world.

Whooping Cranes at Funk Lagoon Waterfowl Production Area in Nebraska. (The buildings in the background are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District headquarters). Photo by Ronnie Sanchez.
Whooping Cranes at Funk Lagoon Waterfowl Production Area in Nebraska. (The buildings in the background are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District headquarters). Photo by Ronnie Sanchez.

Fortunately, conservation efforts have led to a limited recovery. By 2011, there were an estimated 437 birds in the wild and more than 165 in captivity. Today, the largest and only naturally occurring flock breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada, on the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories. These birds migrate through the central and western U.S. to their wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Although we have made great strides in bringing Whooping Cranes back from the brink of extinction, the situation remains critical. Much of the conservation efforts have focused on the breeding and wintering grounds. Just as important are the areas where Whooping Cranes stop to rest and ‘refuel’ during migration. For the Wood Buffalo National Park breeding population, partners are working to ensure that they have quality habitat along their 2,500 mile journey (over 5,000 miles round-trip).

The Rainwater Basin region of Nebraska lies along this migratory corridor. This wetland complex contains many playa wetlands scattered throughout a 21-county area in the southern part of the state. These shallow, ephemeral ponds provide resting and feeding habitat during migration for millions of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wetland species. Historically bison and wildfire kept the wetlands open, with plants growing only during dry summer months and droughts. With bison gone and wildfires controlled, we now need other ways to maintain habitat for the species that rely on these areas.

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Whooping cranes to benefit from USFWS water release

Kearney Hub

Releases expected to continue until May 10

Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 1:15 pm

KEARNEY — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started releasing into the Platte River water from its environmental account stored in Lake McConaughywhooping cranes
primarily to benefit endangered whooping cranes during their migration stopover in central Nebraska.

The releases started Saturday and are expected to continue until May 10. They should increase Overton-to-Grand Island flows to about 1,700 cubic feet per second.

That is the minimum flow in a dry year that USFWS officials believe is necessary to provide and maintain adequate roosting and feeding habitat for whooping cranes on the Platte River. Such flows are not unusual at this time of year and are well-below flood levels.

All the environmental account water should be past Grand Island by around May 24.Whooping cranes use the Central Flyway to migrate to Canada for the summer. It’s the same route used by hundreds of thousands of other migrating birds, including around 500,000 sandhill cranes. They all stop in the Central Platte Valley in March and April to feed in area fields and roost overnight in the river.

The environmental account was established in 1999 and is managed by the USFWS to benefit four federally listed threatened or endangered species — whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers and pallid sturgeon.

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Judge Deals Blow to Keystone XL Pipeline.

AP| by  GRANT SCHULTE

Posted: 02/19/2014 4:08 pm EST Updated: 02/19/2014 5:59 pm EST

 

FILE – In this April 19, 2012 file photo, a truck travels along highway 14, several miles north of Neligh, Neb. near the proposed new route for the Keystone XL pipeline. The Canadian company trying to build the disputed Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. submitted a new application for the project Friday after changing the route to avoid environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska judge on Wednesday struck down a law that allowed the Keystone XL oil pipeline to proceed through the state, a victory for opponents who have tried to block the project.

Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy issued a ruling that invalidated Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman’s approval of the route. Stacy agreed with opponents’ arguments that law passed in 2011 improperly delegated the decision-making power to Heineman to give the company eminent domain powers within the state. Stacy said the decision should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines and other utilities.

The lawsuit was filed by three Nebraska landowners who oppose the pipeline.

“Under the Court’s ruling, TransCanada has no approved route in Nebraska,” Dave Domina, the landowners’ attorney, said in a statement. “TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property against Nebraska landowners. The pipeline project is at standstill in this state.”

Domina said the ruling means that the governor’s office has no role to play in the pipeline, and decisions within the state must be made by the Public Service Commission. The decision on a federal permit still rests with President Barack Obama.

The ruling could cause more delays in finishing the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to Texas refineries.

Phone messages left with pipeline developer TransCanada were not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.

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Associated Press writer Josh Funk in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/19/keystone-pipeline-nebraska_n_4818171.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009

 

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