TN Wildlife Resources Agency seeks public comment on 2017-2018 Sandhill Crane hunting season

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According to a source at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), the Mississippi Flyway Council met in late August where they voted on and submitted recommendations to USFWS regarding frameworks for the 2017-18 hunting seasons and bag limits, based on this year’s population and harvest data.  The recommendations also included a request for operational status of Tennessee’s Sandhill Crane hunting season (now entering its fourth  year “experimental” season). The Service Regulation Committee considers the  Flyways recommendations and will publish a set of proposed frameworks in the Federal Register. At that time, the USFWS will accept public comment on the proposed frameworks.  Shortly after the comment period, they will make any necessary adjustments to the frameworks and then finalize them.  These become the overall set of “rules” under which each state can establish their hunting seasons.

The deadline for your comments to TWRA is November 15, 2016.

The following is the TWRA press release:

“The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is soliciting comments for its 2017-18 waterfowl and other migratory bird hunting regulations, including sandhill cranes. This is an opportunity for the public to provide ideas and share concerns about hunting regulations with TWRA staff. The comment period is open Oct. 15-Nov. 15, 2016.

Due to recent changes in the timing of the federal regulation process, waterfowl and other migratory game bird hunting seasons are now proposed to the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission at its January meeting and voted upon at its February meeting.

Public comments will be considered by TWRA’s Wildlife Division staff and may be presented as proposals for regulation changes. Comments may be submitted by mail to: 2017-18 Hunting Season Comments, TWRA, Wildlife and Forestry Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204 or emailed to twra.comment@tn.gov. Please include “Waterfowl Season Comments” on the subject line of emailed submissions.”

Additional information: The number of permits issued for 2017-2018 TN hunting season remains the same as the 2015-2016 season, 400 permits – 3 cranes per permit. However, the 2016-2017 season has been extended from 28 days to 53 days. The hunt zone also remains in  southeastern Tennessee – South of Interstate 40 and east of State Highway 56. Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge is within this zone. The hunt will be stopped only for the weekend of the annual Sandhill Crane Festival. With the issuance of the new rules there is the distinct possibility that the  hunt will be extended statewide, with an increase in both the number of permits issued and the number of cranes allowed to be killed.

 

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Changes to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership: Q&A

Whooping Crane_photo by Ryan Hagerty USFWS

Whooping Crane/photo by Ryan Hagerty (USFWS)

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is a group of non-profit organizations and government and state agencies formed to restore a migratory population of Whooping Cranes to eastern North America.  WCEP is just one element of a diverse strategy to save Whooping Cranes from extinction.

On January 22, 2016, USFWS announced recommendations modifying WCEP’s methods for Whooping Crane rearing and release. While the program was successful in building the number of migrating Whooping Cranes in the eastern U.S., very few of the cranes were successfully breeding. Therefore, USFWS made the decision to shift the focus from rearing chicks “artificially” with costumed handlers, to early contact and learning with adult Whooping Cranes.

Recently the International Crane Foundation (ICF) answered questions about these  changes and what they mean for Whooping Cranes and our investment in the species and the International Cane Foundation. Following is a list of the questions covered:

  • What is “WCEP” and what is the International Crane Foundation’s role in this partnership?
  • What is WCEP’s goal? Is it actually achievable?
  • What changes in crane releases did the USFWS recommend for WCEP?
  • Who made the decision to end the ultralight migrations and why?
  • Do these changes from USFWS mean something went wrong with the WCEP project?
  • What’s next for the International Crane Foundation and Whooping Cranes?

To read ICF’s post of the Questions and Answers please click here.  Or, to contact ICF with any further questions please click here.

 

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4th Wheeler NWR Festival of the Cranes a success

Whooping Cranes at Wheeler NWR Decatur AL_10 Jan 2016_2H6A0761_MWYandell

Whooping Cranes seen from the refuge observation building, left to right: #18-11 “Nougat,” #27-14, #1-11, DAR #59-13 “Latka,” and juv. #14-15

This year, approximately 4,500 individuals attended the 4th annual Wheeler NWR Festival of the Cranes, in Decatur, Alabama the weekend of January 9th – 10th, 2016.

Hope the ICF Whooping Crane and Lizzie Condon

Lizzie Condon, “I Give a Whoop” coordinator, with ICF’s new Whooping Crane mascot, “Hope.”

What easier way to learn about North America’s rarest and tallest bird then at the Wheeler Festival of Cranes? Organizers offered a wide variety of events and programs that included art exhibits, sunrise breakfast at the Refuge, nature walks, children’s activities, painting and nature photography lessons, learning how to dance like a crane, a film premiere about the life of Rachel Carson, a keynote presentation by George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation (ICF), guest appearances by President Theodore Roosevelt (portrayed by Joe Wiegand); Auburn University’s Southeastern Raptor Center presentations and the opportunity to meet ICF’s “Hope,” a 7-foot tall Whooping Crane “Muppet.”

For many, however, the most exciting part of the weekend was getting to observe 5 Whooping Cranes that stayed within sight of the refuge observation building the entire weekend.  It was a great festival so mark your calendars for next year!

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Whooping Cranes UL #1-11 and DAR #59-13, “Latka” walk over to join the other Whoopers.

Wheeler NWR and Whooping Cranes

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, located along the Tennessee River between Huntsville and Decatur, was established in 1938 to provide habitat for wintering and migrating birds. Considered the easternmost Refuge in the Mississippi flyway, this 35,000-acre Refuge attracts thousands of wintering waterfowl each year.

The Refuge is made up of a wide diversity of habitat types such as bottomland hardwoods, wetlands, pine uplands, agricultural fields, and backwater embayments. This varied habitat provides excellent feeding, loafing, and roosting sites for waterfowl, as well as nesting sites for migrating songbirds.

In January of 2006, two Whoopers from one of the Operation Migration cohorts were discovered on Wheeler NWR.  Since then, Whooping Cranes have wintered there each year. During the winter of 2012-2013, up to 12 Whoopers spent a portion of their winter on the refuge. In recent years, they have frequented areas around the visitor center and wildlife observation building, allowing thousands of refuge visitors the opportunity to view them and learn their amazing story.

The International Crane Foundation (ICF) works to protect Whooping Cranes from threats like fresh water shortages, wetland destruction, power line collisions, illegal shootings, and more.  According to ICF’s Lizzie Condon, Keeping Whooping Cranes Safe Coordinator, last winter, a total of 36 whooping cranes were spotted in Alabama before the birds began their northward migration in March and April. This year she hopes the total will be more than 40. Simply by attending the Wheeler NWR Festival of the Cranes, an individual helps protect Whooping Cranes by showing their support for the cranes in the north Alabama region.

“I think Alabama’s really lucky in that you do have a very good public viewing site for Whooping Cranes,” said Condon.  “In Texas people pay to take boats to go see them, but here you can just roll into the parking lot at Wheeler and there they are.”

PR 14-15_Wheeler NWR Decatur AL_10 Jan 2016_2H6A0739_MWYandell

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Juvenile #14-15 (female) joining Sandhills, and with adult Whoopers #27-14 and #1-11, as seen from the Wheeler NWR observation building.    Photos by Mary W. Yandell

Who were those Whoopers attending the Festival?

During this year’s festival five Whooping Cranes, among thousands of Sandhill Cranes, were visible at any given time from the wildlife observation building. Refuge staff are able to identify the individual Whoopers by the color-coded bands on both legs – color combinations unique to each crane.

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Parent-reared (PR) juv. #14-15 with Sandhills

The five Whooping Cranes seen during the festival represented three different programs used in the reintroduction of the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes:

Ultralight-led migration: Captive-born chicks learned the migration route following Operation Migration’s ultralight planes. Sadly, the just ended 2015-16 migration was the last for this program.

Direct Autumn Release (DAR) program: In the fall, captive-born chicks are released on Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds will hopefully learn the migration route.

Parent-reared (PR) program: Captive-born chicks are each released near a wild crane pair in hopes the pair will “adopt” the chick and lead it on migration. This part of the Whooping Crane reintroduction program began in 2013.

Learn about the life history of the Whooping Cranes seen during the festival by clicking on the following links: DAR #18-11 “Nougat” (male); Parent-reared (PR) #27-14 (female); Ultralight #1-11 (male); DAR #59-13 “Latka” (female); Parent-reared (PR) #14-15 (juvenile female)

To learn more about Whooping Cranes, join in protecting them, and take the “I Give a Whoop” pledge please visit www.savingcranes.org.

To learn the life story of each Whooping Crane in the eastern migratory population click here: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/crane/SurvivalResearch.html

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Accused shooter of 2 Whooping Cranes pleads not guilty

The International Crane Foundation submitted comments to the United States Attorney scheduled to hear the case of the accused shooter of two Endangered Whooping Cranes killed on January 11, 2016 in Beaumont, Texas (click here to read ICF’s full statement).

“The non-migratory, reintroduced population of Whooping Cranes that lives in Louisiana has had the highest shooting rate of any of the populations, with 8 Whooping Cranes being poached since the reintroduction began in 2011. The number includes the two Whooping Cranes illegally shot on January 10 of this year. At the end of 2015, there were just 46 birds in the Louisiana flock, with 3 considered “long term missing” but not yet declared dead.…the recent shooting of the 2 Whooping Cranes represents a loss of more than 4% of the entire flock.” 
                                                                 – from the ICF statement submitted to the U.S. Attorney

The accused shooter, Trey Joseph Frederick, was arraigned on Monday, January 25, 2016 and pleaded not guilty to the charges of shooting and killing the two endangered Whooping Cranes.  Representatives of the International Crane Foundation were in court attendance and asked that Frederick be prosecuted to the fullest extent to deter future perpetrators of shooting crimes.

Photo by AP

Photo by Associated Press

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Ultralight guided migrations to end

Last week members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, including Operation Migration, met with USFWS representatives to discuss the future of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) of Whooping Cranes. After all was said and done it was decided that there would be no more aircraft led releases.

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Juvenile Whooping Cranes learned their southern migration route with the help of OM’s ultralights. Photo courtesy of Operation Migration

“…There are a number of inhibitors to a successful reintroduction of Whooping cranes. Firstly, you need a method of teaching them migration. Then you must get enough of them onto the landscape so a high percentage will survive to reach breeding age. You must ensure they exhibit wild behavior and mate with their own kind.

Operation Migration team has been very successful in achieving those goals. In fact, the Ultralight led method we pioneered comes closer than any other technique yet developed. It provides the highest survival rate, greater pairing and the only fledged chicks produced in the Eastern Migratory Population.

Despite those achievements, you can only judge the success of a wildlife reintroduction by fecundity or the ability for the population to produce young and grow to a self-sustaining level.  Of the 240 plus birds released into the EMP, only ten chicks have survived to fledge. We have taken pride in the fact that all of those successes have been the result of UL pairs, but it’s a long ways from sustainability.”  

– Joe Duff, from Operation Migration’s announcement of the end of the ultralight guided releases

The Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes wishes to join all other “craniacs” in saying a huge “thank you” to Operation Migration for its fifteen years of tireless work towards bringing the Whooping Crane back to the eastern United States. When this experiment began, who could have predicted that the sight of an ultralight followed unwaveringly (for the most part) by a line of young cranes would capture the hearts of so many?  We wish the entire Operation Migration team well, not only now but in their future work with our Whooping Cranes.

Read Operation Migration’s announcement of the end of the ultralight guided releases here: http://operationmigration.org/InTheField/2016/01/23/end-of-ultralight-guided-migration/

Read the USFWS strategic plan here: The Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes FWS Vision for the Next 5 year Strategic Plan

 

 

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USFWS ‘Vision’ may end ultralight-led migration

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Juvenile Whooping Cranes learning migration route, as seen from Operation Migration’s ultralight. – Photo operationmigration.org/InTheField/

Last year in a document outlining its “vision” for Whooping Crane conservation over the next five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP*) switch to exclusively using adult Whooping Cranes to lead younger birds on southerly migrations each fall. Currently, the partnership relies on a mix of crane-led migrations, and those led by Operation Migration’s (OM) ultralight craft.

Operation Migration points to data derived from the WCEP database supporting the argument that the ultralight method is still the most successful thus far in terms of survivability, migratory behavior, and breeding success. In fact, this method most closely replicates the natural life history of the species in that OM teaches the young Whooping cranes a suitable migration route and cares for them until the following spring — just as adult Whoopers would.  However, if USFWS’s “vision” is adopted, the work begun in 2001 by OM towards building the eastern population of Whooping Cranes will come to an end.

The WCEP is committed to working together to continue building the eastern migratory population of Whooping Cranes. The group will be discussing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service vision document at its January 20-21, 2016 meeting in Wisconsin as part of the development for the next five year strategic plan.

For those in support of continuing Operation Migration’s ultralight-led migrations, please click here to sign the petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/safeguard-the-future

 

Questions and concerns about the USFWS vision document should be directed to Georgia Parham at USFWS (812-334-4261 x 1203, Georgia_Parham@fws.gov)

*WCEP founding members included U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), International Crane Foundation (ICF), Operation Migration (OM), Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF).  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) have assisted the partnership since its inception.
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Juvenile Whooping Cranes following ultralight. Photo, operationmigration.org/InTheField/

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Louisiana Whoopers killed in Texas

Two federally endangered Whooping Cranes were found dead in a rural area about 18 miles west of Beaumont, Jefferson County, Texas on January 11, 2016. Federal game officials arrested 18-year-old Trey Joseph Frederick after witnesses reported having seen Frederick in the area with a hunting rifle claiming to have been hunting geese. Federal agents contacted Frederick at his home where he admitted to killing the cranes.  Whooping Cranes are migratory birds and are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act making it unlawful to capture, kill, or attempt to capture or kill these birds anywhere in the United States.

Frederick was charged on January 14 with illegally shooting and killing the cranes. If convicted of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act violation, he could be sentenced to up to six months in federal prison and fined as much as $15,000.

“…All hunters are spoon fed Whooper 101 in Hunters Education. Regardless, all hunters are responsible for the consequences of pulling the trigger. If it is too dark, too foggy, or you just don’t know what you are shooting at – don’t pull the trigger. It’s as simple as that.…The kid may be young but he is avid and experienced duck and goose hunter; born and raised in an area where everyone knows Whoopers are critically endangered…”

                       – Hunter comment on the Texas Hunting Forum, read more here.

Although originally released in Louisiana at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WLWCA) near Gueydan, the two Whooping Cranes, along with two other birds from Louisiana, had been in southeast Texas for more than eight months.  Part of an experimental reintroduction effort (by LDWF, USFWS, USGS, and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit), the deaths of the two-year old male and female Whooping Cranes has reduced the Louisiana group to 44 birds in the wild. Read more about the Louisiana Whoopers here.

The deaths of the cranes are being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Whooping Cranes are considered a critically endangered species and protected under the federal Endangered Species and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts, and by Texas and Louisiana state law.

Anyone encountering a whooping crane is advised to observe the bird from a distance and to report their sighting to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) here: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/webform/whooping-crane-reporting-form

Anyone witnessing suspicious activity involving whooping cranes is advised to report that information to LDWF’s Enforcement Division by calling 1-800-442-2511 or using the tip411 program, which may offer a cash reward for information leading to arrests or convictions. To use the tip411 program, citizens can text LADWF and their tip to 847411 or download the “LADWF Tips” iPhone app from the Apple iTunes store free of charge. Citizen Observer, the tip411 provider, uses technology that removes all identifying information before LDWF receives the text so that LDWF cannot identify the sender. 

Read the LDWF press release here.

For more information on this case, contact the Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office at 409-981-7902.

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