Large Waterbird Identification
Please don’t shoot Whooping Cranes!

Please don't shoot Whooping Cranes!

Please don’t shoot Whooping Cranes!

The excellent identification guide (above), was prepared by the International Crane Foundation for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership after a Louisiana farmer was quoted as saying the Whooping Cranes shot early this month were seen in the presence of Snow Geese and a reporter surmised the shootings were possibly a case of mistaken identification.

Operation Migration asks those concerned to share this guide on your social media pages. For those living near wetlands, please consider printing out a few and asking permission to post wherever they would get exposure – parking and visitor areas as well as observation platforms.  Any and all help is appreciated in educating the public about Whooping Cranes.

Whooping Cranes Need Your Voice!

Get involved!  Click here.

Get involved! Click here.

The following was posted today on the International Crane Foundation’s website. Please read, pass along to others and get involved!

“The International Crane Foundation (ICF) is deeply concerned about the recent reports of Whooping Cranes being shot in Kentucky and Louisiana, adding to the frightening series of shootings of these highly endangered birds. In the past five years, at least 16 Whooping Cranes have been shot. These disturbing acts of vandalism have happened in all three Whooping Crane populations – from breeding grounds in Wisconsin, to wintering areas in Texas, and all along the cranes’ flyways. For the population re-introduced in the eastern U.S. migratory flyway, about 20% of all crane deaths have been from shootings – putting the future of this population at risk.

Court sentences to date have clearly been an insufficient deterrent to these shootings. In one case, a juvenile was charged in Indiana state court with a misdemeanor and a $1 fine. The actual cost of rearing and releasing one crane is estimated to be over $100,000. In a Texas case, prosecutors chose not to bring charges under the tougher Endangered Species Act, because a hunter who killed a Whooping Crane claimed to have mistaken it for a legally hunted Sandhill Crane. When the courts assign penalties that are woefully small compared with the value of Whooping Crane recovery efforts, they do not deter tragedies like this from happening in the future and they degrade the strength of the Endangered Species Act.…”

Read the entire post by the International Crane Foundation here.

Get Involved!
To get involved, contact your regional Fish & Wildlife office and US Attorney and urge them to apply the maximum possible penalties for those found guilty of shooting a Whooping Crane, or other endangered species.

Reward for information leading to arrest now at $16,000

The following is from an update on Operation Migration’s In The Field  (read the entire entry here) :

OM_logo12_brwn_small“…Fifteen Whooping cranes have been shot in the eastern flyway by vandals or people who don’t believe the rules apply to them. It is hard to understand what motivates someone to shoot a whooping crane. Maybe it is ignorance of the law or an arrogant disregard for it. Some who have been caught, claimed they didn’t know what it was but that excuse is as indefensible as allowing someone that stupid to use a gun.

It is time consuming, tedious and expensive to place a reintroduced Whooping crane in the wild in a migratory situation. It took years of experiments to learn how to raise and breed them in captivity and a number of failed projects before we accumulated the knowledge to make them migratory. Each year since 2001 we have hatched a new generation, imprinted them at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, conditioned them to follow our aircraft in Wisconsin and led them 1200 miles to Florida. On average we add thirteen birds a year to the wild population so the fifteen that have been shot so far represents an entire year of hard work and the support of thousands of people just because someone wanted to kill something.

In the wildlife management community this kind of crime is officially known as thrill killing or wanton waste.…”

Help find the killer of the Hopkins Co. Whooping Cranes!

How to make individual donations to the Reward Fund

For individuals who would like to contribute to the reward fund it can be done through Operation Migration – the organization that has played a lead role in the reintroduction of endangered Whooping Cranes into eastern North America since 2001. The reward now stands at $15,250, read more here.

If you would like to contribute by credit card to the reward fund, please visit this link on the Operation Migration website. https://secure.operationmigration.org/np/clients/om/donation.jsp
In the DONATION NOTE COMMENT FIELD, type “REWARD FUND” so that Operation Migration can designate accordingly.

Personal checks can also be made out to Operation Migration.
Please write in the memo line on the check REWARD FUND.

Mail to:
Operation Migration – USA
1623 Military Rd., PMB# 639
Niagara Falls, NY 14304-1745

Whooping cranes 5-09 and 33-07. Photo by Ted Thousand, International Crane Foundation

Whooping cranes 5-09 and 33-07. Photo by Ted Thousand, International Crane Foundation

When asked specifics as to how the donations would be handled, Heather Ray, Director of Fund Development for Operation Migration gave the following answer:

“Donations collected which are specified to the reward fund will be held in our financial institution until such [time] they need to be paid.

IF nobody comes forward in this case, we will hold the funds until the next time a reward is offered (which we hope won’t happen!)

If after 5 years [when the statute of limitations ends for prosecution of this crime] we’ve had no rewards offered, we will use the funds for education and outreach to teach others about Whooping cranes.”

Read the January 16, 2014 In the Field post by Operation Migration about the Kentucky shootings here.

Two Whooping Cranes illegally shot
in Hopkins County, Kentucky

reward offered

WHooping Crane male #33-07. Photo courtesy of the International Crane Foundation

Whooping Crane male #33-07. Photo courtesy of the International Crane Foundation

Anyone with information about the killings is urged to contact Special Agent Bob Snow at (502) 582-5989, ext. 29, or the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources dispatch at 1-800-25ALERT (800-252-5378).
Read USFWS press release here.

Two Whooping cranes found dead and injured in Hopkins County, KY in November were likely shooting victims. The female of this pair, number 5-09, was discovered at the end of November with injuries and taken to a Kentucky rehabilitation center for surgery but later had to be euthanized.

The scavenged remains of male number 33-07 were found nearby. Bullet fragments from a rifle were discovered in crane 5-09 when the wildlife forensics lab in Oregon performed a necropsy, leading officials to surmise both Whooping cranes had been shot.

Whooping cranes #5-09 and #33-07 were both graduates of the Operation Migration aircraft-led migration release method.  For the last three years the pair nested unsuccessfully in Adams County, WI.  The mated pair was first reported in Hopkins County in January 2011.  In 2012 they had returned to their Kentucky wintering grounds by November 30 where they remained until heading north to Wisconsin in March 2013.   On the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) sponsored site “Journey North”, the last entry for both birds is  Fall 2013: Male #33-07 and his mate #5-09 again migrated south to Kentucky for the winter.”

Whooping Crane pair #9-05 and #33-07 shown nesting in Wisconsin. Photo: Eva Szyszkoski/ICF

Whooping Crane pair #5-09 and #33-07 shown nesting in Wisconsin. Photo: Eva Szyszkoski/ICF

Read more from BirdWatchingDaily.com
Whooping Cranes found dead in Kentucky; at least 12 eastern birds have now been shot

Update: $7,200 reward offered in Kentucky crane shootings
(Contributors to the reward fund include the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Foundation, International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, St. Marks Refuge Association, Wisconsin Natural Resources Foundation, the Environmental Resource Network of Georgia, and Friends of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge)

Download Whooping Crane REWARD flyers to spread the word!
For an updated (2/11) color flyer click here.
For an updated (2/11) B&W flyer click here.

Anyone with information about the killings is urged to contact Special Agent Bob Snow at (502) 582-5989, ext. 29, or the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources dispatch at 1-800-25ALERT (800-252-5378).

Help Us Save the Whooping Crane

Third Kentucky season ends with
87 Sandhill Cranes killed

Sunday January 12, 2014 was the last day of the 2013-2014 Sandhill Crane season in Kentucky. And, as in the two previous seasons, most of the birds were killed in Barren County.  Sandhills killed by county: Barren Co. – 75;  Hardin Co. – 3;  LaRue Co. – 3; Todd Co. – 2; Allen Co. – 3;  Adair Co. – 1

Sandhill Cranes flying at dusk in Oldham County, KY, January 8, 2014

Sandhill Cranes flying at dusk in Oldham County, KY, January 8, 2014

During the 30-day season KDFWR issued only one press release reporting the presence of five Whooping Cranes (WHCR) – including a juvenile – in Hopkins County and one in Barren County. While the season did not stop, hunters were cautioned to be sure of their targets before shooting.  The Hopkins County WHCRs remained in the area for the duration of the season with seven reported there on the last day of the hunt.

It seems Kentucky will not be applying to USFWS for “operational status” in the 2014-2015 season. Due to the fact that the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will not have had the chance to completely assess all information received from hunters this season before an early February Flyways Council meeting. Therefore, the department plans to request a one year extension of the experimental season with no changes from the previous seasons.

Kentucky Sandhill Crane season begins
Saturday December 14, 2013

Tomorrow begins the last in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 3-year experimental season on Sandhill Cranes in Kentucky. Based on data collected from the three seasons, it will be decided at the spring Flyways Council meetings whether the season continues in the state.

Currently, there are six Whooping Cranes present in Kentucky – in Hopkins and Barren counties.  As part of its policy, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources provides the public with notification about the presence of whooping cranes in the state when sandhill crane season is open or about to begin. People drawn for a sandhill crane quota hunt must pass an online bird identification test before they may receive a permit.

The following link is to an announcement  issued this week concerning the presence of the Whooping Cranes.
http://www.kyforward.com/2013/12/six-protected-whooping-cranes-reported-in-kentucky-species-is-off-limits-to-hunting/

The alert also mentions several large birds Whooping Cranes might be mistaken for – Snow Geese are white with black wingtips and Tundra Swans are large white birds – both currently in the state along with Sandhills.

While there is a legal season on Snow geese, Tundra swans may NOT be hunted in Kentucky.  Therefore, it is particularly upsetting that on December 9, both an adult and a juvenile Tundra Swan were found shot and dumped in a ditch in the vicinity of Bowling Green, KY. There were no ponds in the area. KDFWR collected the bodies to confirm the cause of death.  Update: Read the USFWS December 17, 2013 news release here. Wildlife Officers Seek Information on Tundra Swan Killings – $1,000 reward offered

Hunters should always be sure of their target before firing a gun, regardless of the species being hunted.  – Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

“Next steps” after third-year Sandhill Crane experimental season ends?

Sandhill Crane, Barren KY. Photo by David L. Roemer

Sandhill Crane, Barren KY. Photo by David L. Roemer

On Feb. 1, 2013, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) Wildlife Committee received a staff update on the 2012-2013 Sandhill Crane (SACR) hunting season, the second season of a 3-year experiment.

On February 6 the following “next steps?” questions were sent to Commissioner Dr. Jon Gassett and all the Wildlife Committee members. The purpose of this being a continued effort to get answers to share with and involve the public in the discussion of what happens after the 2013-2014 (third year) experimental season ends?

  1. What scientific methodology and criteria will be used for evaluating and documenting KDFWR’s 3-year experimental hunting season of the Eastern Population of the Sandhill Crane?
  2. What measures are being taken to monitor and protect endangered Whooping Cranes that migrate with the Sandhill Cranes during hunting season?
  3. How will information from KDFWR’s study, “Monitoring Migrating and Wintering Sandhill Cranes in Cecilia” (Erin Harper, KDFWR Research Highlights 2011) be incorporated in the policy decision on the 3-year experimental hunt? Study completion date is June 30, 2013.
  4. How will the information and decision-making be shared with the public?
  5. Which governmental bodies will be involved in the rule-making process to continue the hunt?
  6. What will be the timeframe for the public comment period about the 3-year experimental hunt:
  • a) at the Flyway Commissions level relating to the 2010 Management Plant for the      Eastern Population of the Sandhill Cranes;
  • b) at KDFWR at the Committee and Commission levels;
  • c) before the Kentucky Legislative Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee; and
  • d) in the Federal Register?

Rocky Pritchert, KDFWR Manager of the Migratory Bird Branch, addressed the submitted questions. In a nutshell, the state and federal process/timeline to move from an experimental three-year SACR season to a permanent season here in Kentucky is the same as was followed in 2010 when KDFWR pushed to start a Sandhill season.

It appears the key time for public input is at the February/March Flyways Council meetings (information for submitting comments will be posted as soon as available) before everything is signed off on and a done deal – making review by subsequent committees seemingly just a  formality.  

“At the flyway level, the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway Councils Technical Section’s Webless Migratory Bird Committees review the Kentucky season each February, as set forth by the EP Management Plan [Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes]. Comments regarding the management plan and Kentucky’s season would be considered during these meetings. Recommendations involving the EP Plan and Kentucky’s hunting season will be reviewed by the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways Councils in March of each year. Flyway council meetings are open to the public. Comments addressing specific issues can be presented in person at the flyway council meeting or in writing by submission to the presiding council chairman.”     - Response to question 6a

To read KDFWR’s response in its entirety and review the 2010 EP Management Plan click here: KDFWR response to SACR season next step questions

Aransas-Wood Population of Whooping Cranes threatened by North Dakota Wind Project

Whooping Cranes by Laura Erickson

Whooping Cranes by Laura Erickson

Seventy-six groups led by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), one of the nation’s leading bird conservation organizations, have called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the possible consequences of the proposed North Dakota, Merricourt Wind Project to the endangered Whooping Crane. FWS is considering issuing the first-ever Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to a wind farm for the killing of endangered Whooping Cranes and threatened Piping Plovers.

The project proposes to build approximately 100 turbines and 33 miles of access roads within a 22,400-acre area. Wetland stopover habitat is located in the project area and used during both spring and fall migration by all of the highly endangered Aransas-Wood Buffalo population of Whooping Cranes. FWS has already stated that the “mortality of any birds in such a small population also represents a loss of genetic material and represents a setback for recovery efforts.” Because of a recent change in the methodology of counting the cranes in this population, DOI does not even know with any degree of certainty, how many of these Whooping Cranes are actually left.  Read the entire story here.

American Bird Conservancy Coalition letter

Kentucky Wetland Restoration Attracts Endangered Cranes

For those of us in Kentucky who are having a hard time understanding how a Sandhill Crane season and the well-being of the eastern migratory population of  Whooping Cranes can possibly work together, the following is a thin ray of light in a dark landscape.

A wetland restoration project completed by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on nearly 900 acres of former cropland in western Kentucky has attracted a pair of Whooping Cranes! According to the USDA post, the cranes have been on the conservation easement since December 2012.  Kudos to the work done by NRCS to restore the bottomland hardwood wetlands into a haven for migratory wildlife, and to the landowner for putting it into a conservation easement.

To read more at the USDA blog:

http://blogs.usda.gov/2013/02/01/kentucky-wetland-restoration-attracts-endangered-cranes/

USDA post by Ray Toor_Kentucky Wetland Restoration Attracts Endangered Cranes

“The season for sandhill cranes does not close based on the presence of whooping cranes in the state”

KDFWR press release_20 DEC 2012_Whooping Cranes Spotted in KY Species off limits to Hunting

The headline and following response is by Rocky Pritchert, CWB Manager,  Migratory Bird Branch, KDFWR to the question of whether Kentucky had a plan in place to stop the Sandhill hunt if Whooping Cranes were reported in the state? 

“As you know, the whooping cranes that migrate through Kentucky are part of an experimental release effort conducted by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) of which KDFWR is a partner.  KDFWR and I have supported this project since WCEP’s inception. The WCEP recognizes the potential for sandhill crane hunting in eastern North America and does not advocate against legal hunting activity.  Legal hunting activity does not pose a threat to the success of the project.

KDFWR is following the protocol of our Sandhill Crane Hunting Plan.  This protocol was reviewed and approved by the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the lead agency responsible for the eastern whooping crane recovery effort.  KDFWR carefully considered the issue of whooping cranes when developing our hunt plan.  We have taken a number of steps to minimize the impact of a sandhill crane hunting season on whooping cranes.  Some of these actions are similar to those used in Kansas where whooping cranes from the truly “wild” population may be present.  These steps include, but are not limited to:

  1. Delaying season opening until mid-December.  The mid-December opening day is two weeks after the primary movement of fall migrating and Operation Migration lead whooping cranes.
  2. Hunters who apply for a permit must take and pass a bird identification test before that permit will be issued.
  3. Shooting hours are delayed until sunrise to ensure adequate light to assist in species identification.
  4. If a whooping crane is reported in the state during the hunting season, KDFWR will issue a news release alerting hunters of possible presence within the region but we encourage them to be vigilant at all times.…”

A Whooping Crane (WHCR) was reported on December 12, before the 2012-2013 season began, at the Sloughs WMA near Henderson, KY (WMA is closed to the public until March 15, 2013).  This area attracts large numbers of snow geese, ducks and therefore hunters.  The two WHCRs reported in Hopkins County had left the state, according to WCEP, by December 10, 2012.

The only KDFWR news release announcing the presence of Whooping Cranes in the state during the 2012-2013 season appeared on the KDFWR website December 20, 2012.


Ongoing Concern for Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes

Whooping Crane photographed through windshield, Henderson KY, December 12 2012. Photo by Charles Crawford.

Whooping Crane photographed through windshield, Henderson KY, December 12 2012. Photo by Charles Crawford.

There is continuing, widespread concern concerning the safety of Whooping Cranes during the Kentucky hunt season as Sandhills and Whoopers often migrate together (on December 12, a Whooping Crane was photographed in Henderson, KY). While it is required by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to take and pass an on-line ID test prior to being issued a season permit, there is no guarantee a Whooper won’t accidentally be shot during low light conditions, misidentified plumage in juveniles, etc.

Hunters are directed to check daily by calling or monitoring the KDFWR website for updates as to the presence of Whooping Cranes in the state. While it is a good idea to close hunting when Whooping Cranes are present to prevent accidental shootings, it remains to be seen as to how well that works. The Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes is considered by USFWS as “experimental, non-essential” because the birds are part of a reintroduction program. They, therefore, are not classified as endangered as is the case with the Mid-continent Population – the Aransas/Wood Buffalo Population – that migrates between Canada and Aransas, Texas.

The EMP is highly sensitive to adult mortality and accidental shootings could easily cause the EMP to decline.  Currently, there are 115 Whooping Cranes in the eastern U.S. thanks to the reintroduction program of Operation Migration and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

Hunting could hurt genetic diversity
of Eastern population Sandhill cranes

Sandhill Crane, Barren KY. Photo by David L. Roemer

With the first of a three-year, experimental Kentucky season on Sandhill Cranes just ended, a Wisconsin lawmaker has introduced a bill to allow hunting of the species in his state. At the heart of the bill is the alleged issue of crop predation by the cranes.

A red flag has been raised by Wisconsin scientists. In a recent study by avian genetics specialists at the University of Wisconsin, findings suggest genetic diversity may be key to long-term survival rates and stability of the eastern population of Sandhill cranes (differs genetically from western Sandhills).   Any hunt could adversely effect this vulnerable population only now rebounding from near extinction in the early 20th century.  Read more about the research here.

 

Prior to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918, sandhill cranes were “harvested” in an unregulated fashion, so that by the beginning of the 20th century the North American population had plummeted to an extraordinary low. The MBTA established protection for birds from uncontrolled hunting activities, and as a direct result, the
crane population slowly began to rebound.

The Sandhill Cranes that migrate through Kentucky each spring and fall are part of
the “Eastern Population” (EP), nesting primarily in southern Ontario, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and formerly wintering primarily in central Florida. However, in recent years, increasing numbers have short-stopped in migration to winter at places like Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge near Chattanooga, Tennessee and at Barren River Lake (making use of exposed mudflats) in south-central Kentucky.

This increase over the last decade in the eastern population of Sandhills prompted USFWS and the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways Councils to approve a hunting season on the formerly protected, migratory species that has taken almost a century –
97 YEARS! – to recover from being hunted.

However, according to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) this hunt will have no negative impact on the eastern population of Sandhill Cranes or effect wildlife viewing opportunities. A point that would probably be argued
by the 400-500 cranes that may die this season, and by those opposed to the hunt (thousands of individuals not only from Kentucky but almost every state in the eastern United States), and shown otherwise by scientific data presented by the International Crane Foundation.

It is our hope that the other states in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways will make the right decision and celebrate Sandhill Cranes as a wildlife-watching resource rather than game bird.

So now, with heavy hearts, Kentuckians will scan the skies hoping for a glimpse of swirling cranes usually long preceded by their haunting, gurgling garoo calls  – bookends to the seasons – and wish them safe journey.

                                                                         – The Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes

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