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Whooping cranes at Patoka River NWR, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Steve Gifford.

Whooping cranes at Patoka River NWR, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Steve Gifford.

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership Charts New Course

In an effort to improve the success of the Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership will modify all methods of rearing and releasing whooping cranes. The announcement came as the result of meetings in January among the partners to focus on the long-term viability of the Eastern Migratory Population. Modifications are being made to put emphasis on more natural methods of rearing and releasing young whooping cranes, which means discontinuing ultralight-led migrations and perhaps other techniques that rely heavily on human intervention as recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As the agency responsible for implementing the Endangered Species Act and overseeing the recovery of the whooping cranes nationally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to focus the extremely limited number of whooping crane chicks toward populations and methods that will be most effective toward reaching our goal of self-sustaining populations. As a result, the current ultralight led migration will be the last.

The partnership recognizes the strides made over the past 15 years, with nearly 100 whooping cranes in the eastern population. While survival of the birds is something we are proud of, a critical lack of reproductive success has hampered the partnership’s effort to meet its goal of a self-sustaining population.

WCEP used a collaborative process that engaged all of the partners to set a vision for the next five years of whooping crane recovery. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership will assess all current rearing and release methods to implement those which instill behaviors in chicks that foster future reproductive success. The partnership intends to focus on the quality of released birds, emphasizing methods that use a large percentage as parent-reared chicks. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership recognizes the important contributions of Operation Migration and its contributions to the Eastern Migratory Population and look forward to a continued strong relationship as the partnership evolves to meet the needs of the whooping crane.

Statement from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership



A Note About Operation Migration

It’s truly a pleasure to work with the passionate, dedicated professionals at Operation Migration and the entire Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. Since the project’s inception, we all have worked hard and made sacrifices with the shared goal of a self-sustaining migratory eastern population of whooping cranes. When we began this, we knew it would be no small task and there was no guarantee of success. The only thing we knew for sure was that it would take an immense partnership, working together toward the shared goal, if we were to have any chance of success.

Because much of the work we do is a “first of its kind thing,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates under an adaptive management strategy. We use the best information we have to develop and implement actions. Then we monitor those actions and adjust as we gain more knowledge. This is one of those moments where we have gained enough knowledge and need to adjust our actions.

The one thing we have never needed to adjust is the value of partnerships. Operation Migration has been an amazing partner. They have helped us reach numerical goals, as well as the social goals. Without their efforts, we would not have the possibility for natural productivity of whooping crane pairs on the landscape, as well as the strong public awareness and passion for our work. This support is absolutely critical.

In this time of adaptation, where we move away from a number of various aspects of the costume-rearing program in order to reach our goal of a self-sustaining population, I look forward to working with Operation Migration into the future and standing beside them to celebrate when we do reach this milestone.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service and Operation Migration agree on the vast majority of issues we contemplated on this project, we differ on the aspect of ultralight led migration. Despite our differences, Operation Migration continues to help the Partnership look to the future as we try to mitigate the lack of natural reproductive success of whooping cranes within the Eastern Migratory Population. This, in itself, speaks volumes to the character of Operation Migration staff and supporters – in particular the leadership and vision of Joe Duff.

In the end we all want the same thing – recovery of the whooping crane where birds are raising birds. Let’s keep it going!

Pete Fasbender
Minnesota and Wisconsin Ecological Services Office

Last updated: February 4, 2016