U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Friends of the Wild Whoopers agree to assist in the recovery of endangered whooping cranes

Washington (July 10, 2018) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced today the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Friends of the Wild Whoopers to assist in the recovery of endangered whooping cranes.

Per the MOU, USACE and Friends of the Wild Whoopers will jointly assess whooping crane migration stopover habitat at USACE water resources development projects. The assessments will be used by USACE to develop work plans that maintain and improve existing habitat and create additional habitat for this critically endangered bird as part of USACE Environmental Stewardship Program.

U.S.Army Corps of Engineers
A flock of whooping cranes stop to feed and rest in a field at the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers, Kanopolis Lake during their fall migration. In 2017, conservation efforts in the U.S. and Canada have seen the population increase to an estimated 431 birds. (Photo by U.S.Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District)

The whooping crane is one of the most endangered bird species in the world and is commonly seen as America’s symbol of conservation. Standing 5 feet tall with a wing span of 7 feet, it is the largest bird in North America.

Once fairly common, the species was reduced to just 16 birds by 1943. Market hunting and indiscriminate shooting along with habitat loss led to the decline of the species. Conservation efforts in the United States and Canada have seen the population increase to an estimated 431 birds in 2017.

This partnership is consistent with USACE’s responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, which states that federal agencies may use their existing authorities to assist in the recovery of listed species.

Read more here.

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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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friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
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Harlan County Lake (Nebraska) a Safe Haven for Whooping Cranes and other birds

Harlan County Lake (Nebraska)

by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) visited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s (COE) Harlan County Lake recently to assess potential “stopover habitats” for Whooping Cranes. There is a growing need for more quality stopover areas during the Whoopers two 2,500 mile migrations each year. Typically, during migration, they 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 and then continue their journey.

While checking out potential areas to protect and develop for Whooping Cranes, FOTWW also looks for opportunities to help other wild critters. Importantly, Whooping Cranes are compatible with other wildlife and briefly share their habitats. Ensuring that sufficient areas with the proper conditions as stopover sites are available for Whoopers is important for the survival of the species. Practical management techniques implemented by conservation interest can help reduce potential morality that occurs during migration.

FOTWW and COE Tour Harlan County Lake

During FOTWW’s visit, Park Manager Tom Zikmund led us on a tour of the lake property so that we could to examine the most likely places that would provide Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. Many potential areas were observed.

Harlan County Lake is large and has a comprehensive program. At top of conservation pool, the lake covers 13,250 surface acres. At top of the flood control pool, the lake covers 23,100 surface acres. A total of 17,750 acres of land surrounds the lake’s nearly 75 miles of shoreline.

There have been considerable fluctuations in lake water levels over the years. During drawdowns of lake waters large expanses of mud flats and shallow pools are created that favor many wading birds including Whooping Cranes. Importantly much of the lake bed has a gradual rise in elevation. When water levels in the lake rise some shallow areas become too deep for wading birds while new shallow areas are created near the shore.

COE Stewardship Mission

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental stewardship mission is to manage and conserve natural resources, consistent with ecosystem management principles, while providing public outdoor recreation to serve the needs of present and future generations. The Corps works in cooperation with several partners including the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Because of this cooperative relationship, the Corps has been able to enhance and revitalize thousands of acres of land surrounding the lake.

Harlan County Lake’s 7,875 acres of grassland is primarily classified as mixed grass prairie. Native prairies are managed by prescribed fire and hay production. Such practices help prevent invasion by non-native species, enhance prairie community health and increase wildlife habitat values. These grasslands can also provide important foraging areas for Whooping Cranes.

An important and effective habitat enhancement tools is the COE’s Agricultural Lease Program on 3,500 acres. This program makes many acres of public lands available for lease to farmers for the purpose of crop and hay production. Leased lands agreements include specific conditions to protect and conserve soil and water while enhancing vegetation and wildlife resources. Major crops include corn, milo and wheat that are rotated annually. Leases require that portions of the crops be left in the fields to provide abundant food and cover for wildlife. These crop lands are near the lake and can also provide very important foraging areas for Whooping Cranes.

Recreation Uses of Harlan Lake

Although not a primary purpose for the construction of Harlan County Lake, recreation has increasingly become a major component in the Corp’s multiple use approach to managing our nation’s resources. Recreation and favorable fish and wildlife habitats are among those beneficial uses derived from this lake and others like it. With lake property open to all, there are many attractive areas for outdoor recreation including birding, water sports, hunting, fishing, and boating, or just relaxed living.

Harlan County Lake
Figure 1. Whooping Cranes stopping over for the night to rest and feed.

Some of Harlan County Lake’s shore area is developed for recreational use and Whooping Crane “stopover habitat” is not compatible with some of these areas. Importantly, considerable areas of the lake’s nearly 75 miles of shoreline is shallow and is available as good “stopover roosting areas” for the cranes. Whoopers normally roost in areas with a water depth of 2 inches to 10 inches to help protect themselves from predators.

Several Whooping Cranes have been recorded using stopover sites on Harlan County Lake property. Whoopers normally migrate over or near Harlan County Lake during April (northward migration) and fall during October – November (southward migration). Whoopers normally stopover to rest late in the afternoon and depart early the following morning.

A big surprise to FOTWW is the use of Harlan County Lake by many species of birds.

COE Park Manager Tom Zikmund told FOTWW: “It has been an amazing year for migratory waterfowl here at Harlan County Reservoir.  Here are some of the highlights: An estimated one million snow geese stopped over on the lake from about February 26 – March 5. This is one of the largest numbers we have had over the years. In addition we had an estimated 50,000 Canada geese. Canada geese were here this winter from about December 20 thru February 1, 2018. Currently approximately 150 White Pelicans are on the lake. Also, there are currently about 15 different species of ducks on Harlan County Lake including mallards, greenwing teal, redheads, scaups, pintails, gadwalls, shovelers, merganzers, buffleheads, canvasbacks, and goldeneyes. We estimate that there are approximately 25,000 ducks on the reservoir. Likewise, some grebes and coots are showing up as well. We have observed several groups of sandhill cranes loafing on the exposed lake bed but to date no whooping cranes have been reported. Whooping cranes have stopped over on Harlan County Lake in the past but we have not spotted them recently. Some may have visited and were not observed.

Tom added, “The birding tourism is really picking up and we have had several groups and individuals stop by the lake office over the last few weeks to watch the migration.”

Harlan County Lake
Figure 2. The site is typical of the bluff area around north side of Harlan County Lake. The photos illustrate features of an excellent “stopover area” for Whooping Cranes to rest and roost. The flight glide paths to the shore area for approaching cranes is clear of obstructions from several directions. The shore is wide and long making it an excellent site for Whooping Cranes to land. Extensive horizontal visibility from the shore and water roost site allows Whooping Cranes to detect any predators that may be in the area. The slope of the shore and lake edge is gradual and water depths of 2 to 10 inches are readily available for roosting sites. There is little or no emergent or submerged vegetation in lake at this roost area. This area is 200 or more yards from human development or disturbance such as power lines. Over 11,000 acres of foraging areas are located in grasslands and nearby agriculture fields with various grain crops. There are wild foods in adjacent managed grasslands that provide an abundance of insects, wild seeds and other wild food. Numerous other birds use these same habitats.
Harlan County Lake
Figure 3. This site is typical of over a dozen sites along the 75 mile long lake shore. It is located north and west of the dam near Highway 193. It has similar preferred habitat features as those in Figure 2.
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