FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 1, 2001
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) announced today that sandhill cranes led by ultralight aircraft on last fall’s longest human-led migration have returned to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin. The cranes’ radio transmitter signals were simultaneously picked up by a crane biologist and volunteer around 1:30 p.m. on Friday, April 27th. The experimental flock departed their wintering grounds at St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve in central Florida on February 25th, where they had been since landing there with ultralights last November.
"My radio receiver all of a sudden went crazy," said Rori Paloski, a recent graduate in conservation biology from University of Wisconsin/Eau Claire, and Necedah Refuge volunteer. "For the last three weeks, I’ve been listening for the ultralight cranes every Friday as part of my volunteer work on the refuge. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone when I finally heard the right signals and knew the birds were back."
The sighting confirms the success of last year’s sandhill crane experiment, and could pave the way for a similar experiment with endangered whooping cranes following the same migration route. The public comment period regarding a draft Environmental Assessment and proposed rule to reintroduce migratory whooping cranes to the eastern United States recently ended. One option for a reintroduction involves rearing and training a flock of whooping cranes for an ultralight-led migration using the same methods. If the Service adopts the proposal, WCEP will attempt to establish an eastern migratory flock. A decision could come in early June.
Crane biologist Richard Urbanek tracked the ultralight cranes Friday evening to the same pre-migration training area where the specially-trained birds fledged last summer, and visually observed them Saturday morning. Crane chicks traditionally follow their parents south to wintering grounds, and may also follow them back the next spring. These young cranes found their way back to their nesting grounds on their own, as have other ultralight study birds, after having been successfully led on the 40-day, 1,250-mile southern migration last fall by costumed-human surrogate ‘parents’ and ultralight aircraft.
"The return of the sandhill cranes from last year’s study is very encouraging." said Joe Duff, co-founder of Canada-based Operation Migration, Inc., a founding partner of WCEP. "It was the largest flock of sandhill cranes led on a migration like this and our hope was to show them the way south while maintaining their wildness. It seems that we’ve accomplished that. We are not surprised that they have returned on their own, though naturally we are ecstatic."
"I am amazed that they found their way back over 1,250 miles to right where they fledged on the refuge." said Larry Wargowsky, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Manager. "It’s been an exciting year here, and if we are able to proceed with whooping cranes, it will be even more exciting."
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is a coalition of multiple government agencies and nonprofit organizations formed to deal with the huge scope and complexity of this project, which involves two Canadian Provinces and twenty States. Founding partners include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Operation Migration, Inc., Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, International Crane Foundation, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team. Many other flyway States, private individuals and conservation groups have joined with and supported WCEP by donating resources, funding and personnel. For more information on the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, visit http://bringbackthecranes.fws.gov
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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