November 02, 2006
By Ben Moffett
For the Socorro Mountain Mail
SOCORRO, N.M. (STPNS) -- No whooping cranes are in Bosque del Apache’s future – not immediately, not in the long term planning, maybe not ever, according to someone who should know – Tom Stehn, whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.For newcomers to the area, an experimental flock of the perilously endangered large, white whoopers once migrated into Bosque del Apache from nesting grounds in Gray’s Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho. The experiment failed for a number of reasons – the most important being that the whoopers were hatched under sandhill crane foster parents and never appreciated their own species. They never mated.
There were other problems, too, not the least of which was the State Game and Fish Departments in Idaho, New Mexico and along the way not wanting the whoopers to interfere with sandhill crane hunts. Another problem was that predators and power lines took a toll on the population, which climbed to about two dozen at one point.The decision to end the experiment somehow never seemed irrevocable when the last whooper finally died in 2002, somewhere between Idaho and New Mexico.
Rumors were that if a new experimental flock between Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida were to fail, the experiment would revert back to the West. Another rumor was that if the new experiment were to succeed wildly, another flock would be created here as a safety valve. Yet a third rampant rumor was that “second eggs” from whooper nests would be taken, incubated and used more abundantly to restart the Bosque del Apache flock. Maybe even a non-migratory flock could be installed at Bosque del Apache. None of the above.
“You never want to say never, but there is no thought of bringing a flock back to the Rockies,” Stehn said. Then he ticked off a list of reasons. The Game and Fish departments in this part of the world are still unfriendly to the idea. There is barely enough budget to get the current flocks flying. Any extra eggs collected would go to the eastern migratory flock or to a second flight that hangs around Florida.While predation and power lines are problems in the East as well as the West, neither have been overwhelmingly negative factors in the East. And using humans in whooping crane costumes to raise young whoopers (instead of sandhill parents) has jump-started the breeding program in the East.
This new strategy just came too late to help the Western flock.What in Socorro birders’ wildest fantasies could make it happen, Tom? “It would take a lot of loud voices, jostling, pushing and demanding, and the states would have to be a big part if it,” he said. Any such public relations push would cause the hunting community to push, jostle and demand just as stringently in opposition, he added.
Hunters don’t like whoopers because they know if they shoot an endangered species they’ll be fined and make the front page in a way they never imagined. One of the hunting lobby’s chief arguments is that the whoopers never existed naturally in this part of the world, and Stehn says you can make a case from either point of view. All in all, it looks like Socorroans will have to go East – as least as far as Texas – to see a whooper, and it’s not all that difficult.
More than 500 whoopers exist in North America now, up from a handful in the 1940s. The original Canada-to-Aransas, Texas, flock is going great guns these days with a record 2006 hatch.If anybody wants to whoop up whoopers for New Mexico, the state has a tourism-minded leader in Gov. Bill Richardson, the force behind new horse facilities, a high-speed commuter train, a spaceport, new movie studios and professional sports. Maybe he could be convinced to go after cranes. Or not. Visitors to Socorro during the Festival of the Cranes will get a chance to get all the details on whoopers from the woman who has followed the Necedah flock south to Florida for the last four years.
She’s Joan Garland and she will be a Festival of the Cranes keynote speaker at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at Macey Center. The cost is $5.Garland is the education outreach coordinator of the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisc. She will present an update on the progress of the current experimental flock that is currently heading south. She’s also give details on how the cranes are raised and taught their new migration route, now in its sixth year. She’ll also take questions. To get a daily update on the progress of the eastern flock going to Florida for the winter, dial in to www.operationmigration.org.Ben Moffett is a San Antonio, N.M., native. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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