[Federal Register: June 26, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 123)]
[Rules and Regulations]               
[Page 33903-33917]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AH46

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Establishment of a 
Nonessential Experimental Population of Whooping Cranes in the Eastern 
United States

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), will 
reintroduce whooping cranes (Grus americana) into historic habitat in 
the eastern United States with the intent to establish a migratory 
flock that would summer and breed in Wisconsin, and winter in west-
central Florida. We are designating this reintroduced population as a 
nonessential experimental population (NEP) according to section 10(j) 
of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended. The geographic 
boundary of the NEP includes the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, 
Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, 
Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, 
Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
    The objectives of the reintroduction are: To advance recovery of 
the endangered whooping crane; to further assess the suitability of 
Wisconsin and west-central Florida as whooping crane habitat; and to 
evaluate the merit of releasing captive-reared whooping cranes, 
conditioned for wild release, as a technique for establishing a self-
sustaining, migratory population. The only natural wild population of 
whooping cranes remains vulnerable to extirpation through a natural 
catastrophe or contaminant spill, due primarily to its limited 
wintering distribution along the Texas gulf coast. If successful, this 
action will result in the establishment of an additional self-
sustaining population, and contribute towards the recovery of the 
species. No conflicts are envisioned between the whooping crane's 
reintroduction and any existing or anticipated Federal, State, Tribal, 
local government, or private actions such as agricultural practices, 
pesticide application, water management, construction, recreation, 
trapping, or hunting.

DATES: The effective date of this rule is June 26, 2001.

ADDRESSES: The complete administrative file for this rule is available 
for inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
Green Bay Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1015 Challenger 
Court, Green Bay, Wisconsin 54311.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Janet M. Smith at the above address 
(telephone 920-465-7440).



1. Legislative

    Congress made significant changes to the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (Act), with the addition of section 10(j), which 
provides for the designation of specific reintroduced populations of 
listed species as ``experimental populations.'' Previously, we had 
authority to reintroduce populations into unoccupied portions of a 
listed species' historical range when doing so would foster the 
recovery of the species. However, local citizens often opposed these 
reintroductions because they were concerned about the placement of 
restrictions and prohibitions on Federal and private activities. Under 
section 10(j), the Secretary of the Interior can designate reintroduced 
populations established outside the species' current range, but within 
its historical range, as ``experimental.''
    Under the Act, species listed as endangered or threatened are 
afforded protection primarily through the prohibitions of section 9 and 
the requirements of section 7. Section 9 of the Act prohibits the take 
of a listed species. ``Take'' is defined by the Act as harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt 
to engage in any such conduct. Section 7 of the Act outlines the 
procedures for Federal interagency cooperation to conserve federally 
listed species and protect designated critical habitats. It mandates 
all Federal agencies to determine how to use their existing authorities 
to further the purposes of the Act to aid in recovering listed species. 
It also states that Federal agencies will, in consultation with the 
Service, insure that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is 
not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or 
result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated 
critical habitat. Section 7 of the Act does not affect activities 
undertaken on private lands unless they are authorized, funded, or 
carried out by a Federal agency.
    Section 10(j) is designed to increase our flexibility in managing 
an experimental population by allowing us to treat the population as 
threatened, regardless of the species' designation elsewhere in its 
range. Threatened designation gives us more discretion in developing 
and implementing management programs and special regulations for a 
population, such as this rule, and allows us to develop any regulations 
we consider necessary to provide for the conservation of a threatened 
species. In situations where we have experimental populations, certain 
section 9 prohibitions that apply to threatened species may no longer 
apply, and the special rules contain the prohibitions and exceptions 

[[Page 33904]]

and appropriate to conserve that species.
    Based on the best available information, we must determine whether 
experimental populations are ``essential,'' or ``nonessential,'' to the 
continued existence of the species. An experimental population that is 
essential to the survival of the species is treated as a threatened 
species. An experimental population that is nonessential to the 
survival of the species is also treated as a threatened species. 
However, for section 7 interagency cooperation purposes, if the NEP is 
located outside of a National Wildlife Refuge or National Park, it is 
treated as a species proposed for listing. Regulations for NEPs may be 
developed to be more compatible with routine human activities in the 
reintroduction area.
    For the purposes of section 7 of the Act, in situations where there 
is an NEP located within a National Wildlife Refuge or National Park, 
the individuals of the NEP are treated as threatened and section 
7(a)(1) and the consultation requirements of section 7(a)(2) of the Act 
would apply. Section 7(a)(1) requires all Federal agencies to use their 
authorities to conserve listed species. Section 7(a)(2) requires that 
Federal agencies consult with the Service before authorizing, funding, 
or carrying out any activity that would likely jeopardize the continued 
existence of a listed species or adversely modify its critical habitat. 
When NEPs are located outside a National Wildlife Refuge or National 
Park, only two provisions of section 7 would apply: Section 7(a)(1) and 
section 7(a)(4). Federal agencies are not required to consult with us 
under section 7(a)(2). Section 7(a)(4) requires Federal agencies to 
informally confer with the Service on actions that are likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of a species proposed for listing. 
However, since we determined that the NEP is not essential to the 
continued existence of the species, it is very unlikely that we would 
ever determine jeopardy for a project impacting a species within an 
    Individuals used to establish an experimental population may come 
from a donor population, provided their removal is not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of the species, and appropriate 
permits are issued in accordance with our regulations (50 CFR 17.22) 
prior to their removal.

2. Biological

    The whooping crane (Grus americana) was listed as an endangered 
species on March 11, 1967 (32 FR 4001). The whooping crane is 
classified in the family Gruidae, Order Gruiformes. It is the tallest 
bird in North America; males approach 1.5 meters (m) (5 feet (ft)) 
tall. In captivity, adult males average 7.3 kilograms (kg) (16 pounds 
(lb)) and females 6.4 kg (14 lbs). Adult plumage is snowy white except 
for black primary feathers, black or grayish alulae, sparse black 
bristly feathers on the carmine (red) crown and malar region (side of 
the head), and a dark gray-black wedge-shaped patch on the nape. The 
bill is dark olive-gray, which becomes lighter during the breeding 
season. The iris of the eye is yellow; legs and feet are gray-black.
    Adults are potentially long-lived. Current estimates suggest a 
maximum longevity in the wild of 22 to 24 years (Binkley and Miller 
1980). Captive individuals are known to have survived 27 to 40 years 
(McNulty 1966, Moody 1931). Mating is characterized by monogamous 
lifelong pair bonds. Individuals re-mate following death of their mate. 
Fertile eggs are occasionally produced at age 3 years but more 
typically at age 4. Experienced pairs may not breed every year, 
especially when habitat conditions are poor. Whooping cranes ordinarily 
lay two eggs. They will renest if their first clutch is destroyed or 
lost before mid-incubation (Erickson and Derrickson 1981, Kuyt 1981). 
Although two eggs are laid, whooping crane pairs infrequently fledge 
two chicks. Only about one of every four hatched chicks survives to 
reach the wintering grounds (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1986)
    The whooping crane first appeared in fossil records from the early 
Pleistocene (Allen 1952) and probably was most abundant during that 2-
million-year epoch. They once occurred from the Arctic Sea to the high 
plateau of central Mexico, and from Utah east to New Jersey, South 
Carolina, and Florida (Allen 1952, Nesbitt 1982). In the 19th century, 
the principal breeding range extended from central Illinois northwest 
through northern Iowa, western Minnesota, northeastern North Dakota, 
southern Manitoba, and Saskatchewan to the vicinity of Edmonton, 
Alberta. A nonmigratory breeding population existed in southwestern 
Louisiana until the early 1900's (Allen 1952, Gomez 1992).
    Through the use of two independent techniques of population 
estimation, Banks (1978) derived estimates of 500 to 700 whooping 
cranes in 1870. By 1941, the migratory population contained only 16 
individuals. The whooping crane population decline in the 19th and 
early 20th century was a consequence of hunting and specimen 
collection, human disturbance, and conversion of the primary nesting 
habitat to hay, pastureland, and grain production (Allen 1952, Erickson 
and Derrickson 1981).
    Allen (1952) described several historical migration routes. One of 
the most important led from the principal nesting grounds in Iowa, 
Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Manitoba to coastal Louisiana. 
Another went from Texas and the Rio Grande Delta region of Mexico 
northward to nesting grounds in North Dakota and the Canadian 
Provinces. A route through west Texas into Mexico probably followed the 
route still used by sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis). These whooping 
cranes would have wintered in the interior tablelands of western Texas 
and the high plateau of central Mexico.
    Another migration route crossed the Appalachians to the Atlantic 
Coast. These birds apparently nested in the Hudson Bay area of Canada. 
Coastal areas of New Jersey, South Carolina, and river deltas farther 
south were the wintering grounds. The latest specimen records or 
sighting reports for some eastern locations are Alabama, 1899; 
Arkansas, 1889; Florida, 1927 or 1928; Georgia, 1885; Illinois, 1891; 
Indiana, 1881; Kentucky, 1886; Manitoba, 1948; Michigan, 1882; 
Minnesota, 1917; Mississippi, 1902; Missouri, 1884; New Jersey, 1857; 
Ohio, 1902; Ontario, 1895; South Carolina, 1850; and Wisconsin, 1878 
(Allen 1952, Burleigh 1944, Hallman 1965, Sprunt and Chamberlain 1949).
    Atlantic coast locations used by whooping cranes included the Cape 
May area and Beesley's Point at Great Egg Bay in New Jersey; the 
Waccamaw River in South Carolina; the deltas of the Savannah and 
Altamaha Rivers, and St. Simon's Island in Georgia; and the St. 
Augustine area of Florida. Gulf coast locations include Mobile Bay, 
Alabama; Bay St. Louis in Mississippi; and numerous records from 
southwestern Louisiana, where the last bird was captured in 1949. 
Coastal Louisiana contained both a nonmigratory flock and wintering 
migrants (Allen 1952, Gomez 1992).
    There is evidence to suggest that whooping cranes occurred in 
Florida, perhaps well into the 20th century (Nesbitt 1982). Nesbitt 
described various sighting reports including one by O. E. Baynard, a 
respected field naturalist, who stated that the last flock of whooping 
cranes (14 birds) he saw in Florida was in 1911 near Micanopy, southern 
Alachua County. Two whooping cranes were reported east of the Kissimmee 
River on January 19, 1936, and a whooping crane was shot (and 
photographed) north of St.

[[Page 33905]]

Augustine, St. Johns County, in 1927 or 1928 (Nesbitt 1982).
    Records from more interior areas of the Southeast include the 
Montgomery, Alabama, area; Crocketts Bluff on the White River, and near 
Corning in Arkansas; in Missouri at sites in Jackson County near Kansas 
City, in Lawrence County near Corning, southwest of Springfield in 
Audrain County, and near St Louis; and in Kentucky near Louisville and 
Hickman. It is unknown whether these records represent wintering 
locations, remnants of a nonmigratory population, or wandering birds.
    The historic breeding range of the whooping crane in the United 
States included Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota, with the 
largest number of confirmed nesting records in Iowa (Allen 1952). There 
are at least five reliable reports from Wisconsin; although there are 
no confirmed records of nesting in Wisconsin, there is a nesting record 
from Dubuque County, Iowa (Allen 1952), which is adjacent to Grant 
County, Wisconsin.
    Whooping cranes currently exist in three wild populations and at 
six captive locations. The only self-sustaining natural wild population 
nests in the Northwest Territories and adjacent areas of Alberta, 
Canada, primarily within the boundaries of Wood Buffalo National Park. 
These birds winter along the central Texas Gulf of Mexico coast at 
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent areas. Fifty pairs from 
this population nested in 2000, and 176 adult whooping cranes were 
reported in spring 2001. The flock recovered from a population low of 
15 or 16 birds in 1941. This population is hereafter referred to as the 
Aransas/Wood Buffalo National Park population (AWP).
    The second largest wild population is found in the Kissimmee 
Prairie area of central Florida. We designated this population as an 
experimental nonessential population in January 1993 (58 FR 5647-5658). 
Since 1993, 228 isolation-reared whooping cranes have been released in 
this area, in an ongoing reintroduction effort to establish a 
nonmigratory flock. As of February 2001, there are 86 surviving 
individuals in the project area. Birds in this population have reached 
breeding age within the past several years. During the 2000 nesting 
season, a total of 15 pairs defended territories, 3 pairs laid eggs, 
and 2 of these pairs failed prior to hatching. The remaining pair 
hatched both eggs, but no chicks survived to fledging.
    The third wild flock consists of two remaining individuals from an 
effort to establish a migratory population in the Rocky Mountains 
through cross-fostering with greater sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis 
tabida) (Drewien and Bizeau 1977, Bizeau et al. 1987), and an 
experiment in 1997 when four whooping cranes were led behind an 
ultralight aircraft between Idaho and New Mexico (Clegg et al. 1997). 
The cross-fostering project began in 1975 and has failed to produce any 
chicks or mated pairs (Ellis et al. 1992a). The term, ``cross-
fostering'' refers to the foster rearing of the whooping crane chicks 
by another species, the sandhill crane. The cross-fostered whooping 
cranes have never bred with other whooping cranes. The females in that 
group may be improperly sexually imprinted on male sandhill cranes. As 
a consequence of the lack of breeding, and the inordinately high 
mortality experienced by this population, the project was phased out.
    The whooping crane captive breeding program, initiated in 1967, has 
been very successful. The Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service 
(CWS) began taking eggs from the nests of the wild population in 1967, 
and raising the resulting young in captivity. Between 1967 and 1993, 
181 eggs were taken from the wild to captive sites. Birds raised from 
those eggs form the nucleus of the captive flock (USFWS 1994). The 
captive population is now located at three primary locations: Patuxent 
Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland; the International Crane 
Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, Wisconsin; and the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, 
Canada. An additional captive population was started in 1998 at the 
Audubon Species Survival Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
    The total captive population as of February 2001 stood at 120 
birds, with 109 birds present in the 3 primary captive breeding 
centers, and an additional 11 birds present at 3 other locations. Six 
whooping cranes are located at the San Antonio Zoological Gardens, 
Texas; four at the Audubon Institute, New Orleans, Louisiana; and one 
at the Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida.
    Whooping cranes adhere to ancestral breeding areas, migratory 
routes, and wintering grounds, leaving little possibility of pioneering 
into new regions. The only wild, self-sustaining breeding population 
can be expected to continue utilizing its current nesting location with 
little likelihood of expansion, except on a local geographic scale. 
This population remains vulnerable to destruction through a natural 
catastrophe (hurricane), a red tide outbreak, or a contaminant spill, 
due primarily to its limited wintering distribution along the 
intracoastal waterway of the Texas coast. The Gulf Intracoastal Water 
Way (GIWW) experiences some of the heaviest barge traffic of any 
waterway in the world. Much of the shipping tonnage is petrochemical 
products. An accidental spill could destroy whooping cranes and/or 
their food resources. With the only wild breeding population so 
vulnerable, it is urgent that additional wild self-sustaining 
populations be established as soon as practical.

3. Recovery Efforts

    The first recovery plan developed by the Whooping Crane Recovery 
Team (Team) was approved January 23, 1980. The first revision was 
approved on December 23, 1986, and the second revision on February 11, 
1994. The short-term goal is to downlist the whooping crane from 
endangered to threatened. The criteria for attaining this downlisting 
goal is achieving a population level of 40 nesting pairs in the AWP and 
establishing 2 additional, separate, and self-sustaining populations 
consisting of 25 nesting pairs each. The recovery plan recommends these 
goals should be attained for 10 consecutive years before the species is 
reclassified to threatened. These new populations may be migratory or 
    In 1985, the Director-General of the Canadian Wildlife Service and 
the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed a memorandum 
of understanding (MOU) entitled ``Conservation of the Whooping Crane 
Related to Coordinated Management Activities.'' The MOU was revised and 
signed again in 1990 and 1995. It discusses disposition of birds and 
eggs, postmortem analysis, population restoration and objectives, new 
population sites, international management, recovery plans, 
consultation and coordination. All captive whooping cranes and their 
future progeny are jointly owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Consequently, both nations are 
involved in recovery decisions.

4. Reintroduction Sites

    In early 1984, pursuant to the recovery plan goals and the 
recommendation of the Team, potential whooping crane release areas were 
selected in the eastern United States. At that time the prognosis was 
favorable for successfully establishing a western population by use of 
the cross-fostering technique. Consequently, key considerations in 
selecting areas to

[[Page 33906]]

evaluate for the eastern release were (1) large areas of potentially 
suitable wetland habitat; (2) a healthy sandhill crane population 
sufficient to support recovery using the cross-fostering technique; (3) 
public and State agency support for such a recovery effort in the 
release locale; (4) low-to-moderate levels of avian disease pathogens, 
environmental contaminants, and powerlines; (5) the potential of the 
habitats to simultaneously support whooping cranes and sandhill cranes; 
and (6) a reasonable certainty that the new population would not have 
contact with the AWP.
    The areas identified were the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and 
adjacent areas of Ontario, the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia, 
and three sites in Florida. The Michigan site was projected to 
eventually support a migratory population. The Georgia and three 
Florida sites would each support a nonmigratory population. The 
Michigan/Ontario wetlands are occupied by greater sandhill cranes that 
winter in Florida and the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia. The wetlands in 
Georgia and Florida are occupied by the nonmigratory Florida sandhill 
crane (Grus canadensis pratensis) and in winter by greater sandhill 
cranes, which nest primarily in southern Ontario, Michigan, eastern 
Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Three-year studies were initiated at each 
site in October 1984 to evaluate their respective suitabilities.
    Results of the studies were presented in written final reports to 
the Whooping Crane Recovery Team in fall 1987 (Bennett and Bennett 
1987, Bishop 1988, McMillen 1987, Nesbitt 1988) and in verbal reports 
in February 1988. By 1988, the Team recognized that cross-fostering was 
not working to establish a migratory population in the West. The 
possibility of inappropriate sexual imprinting associated with cross-
fostering, and the lack of a proven technique for establishing a 
migratory flock influenced the Team to favor establishing a 
nonmigratory flock. A nonmigratory population has features that make it 
easier to achieve success: (1) Released birds do not face the hazards 
of migration (over one half of the losses of fledged, cross-fostered 
birds occurred during migration); and (2) released birds inhabit a more 
geographically limited area year-round than do migratory cranes, which 
increases the opportunity for the cranes to find a compatible mate.
    Studies of whooping cranes (Drewien and Bizeau 1977) and greater 
sandhill cranes (Nesbitt 1988) have shown that, for these species, 
knowing when and where to migrate is learned rather than innate 
behavior. Captive-reared whooping cranes released in Florida were 
expected to develop a sedentary population.
    In summer 1988, the Team selected Kissimmee Prairie in central 
Florida as the area most suitable for the next experiment to establish 
a self-sustaining population. Since 1993, captive-reared birds have 
been released annually in an attempt to establish a resident, 
nonmigratory flock. We expect releases to continue for the foreseeable 
    In 1996, the Team decided to investigate the potential for another 
reintroduction site in the eastern United States, with the intent of 
establishing an additional migratory population. Following a study of 
potential wintering sites by Dr. John Cannon (Cannon 1998), the Team 
selected the Chassahowitzka NWR /St. Martin's Marsh Aquatic Preserve as 
the top wintering site for a new migratory flock of whooping cranes. 
Based on concerns that a reintroduced population in Saskatchewan or 
Manitoba might mix with the wild AWP, the Team requested that Dr. 
Cannon see if suitable summering sites were present in Wisconsin, an 
area well east of the AWP migration corridor. The location of the 
release area was chosen to fulfill the criteria set forth by the 
Whooping Crane Recovery Team, that is, to establish a new migratory 
flock in a location where there would be a minimal chance of contact 
with the existing natural wild flock. This criterion was established 
out of concern for adverse impacts to the wild flock due to exchange of 
disease or undesirable behavior between any newly established migratory 
flock and the existing wild flock.
    After preliminary data were gathered, a decision was made in 1998 
to focus on three potential release sites in Wisconsin: Crex Meadows 
State Wildlife Management Area (WMA), central Wisconsin including 
Necedah NWR and several Wisconsin WMAs, and Horicon NWR.
    Detailed analysis was presented at the Team's meeting in September 
1999 (Cannon 1999), and the Team then recommended that releases be 
started in central Wisconsin. This recommendation was based on the 
presence of suitable habitat and food resources, favorable local 
attitudes, and geographic separation from the AWP population. The 
recommendation also was contingent upon the results of studies to 
further clarify the level of risk to cranes at this location from two 
separate sources. These were risks from local contaminants in the form 
of agricultural chemicals, and the disturbance caused by aircraft 
overflights associated with operations at the nearby Hardwood Air-to-
Surface Bombing Range. The two issues were investigated to the 
satisfaction of the Team with results indicating a minimal likelihood 
of occurrence for both concerns, although the Patuxent Wildlife 
Research Center may conduct noise impact studies on whooping crane 
chicks. The wintering site is the Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida.
    The objectives of the reintroduction are: (1) To implement a 
primary recovery action for a federally listed endangered species; (2) 
to further assess the suitability of Wisconsin and the Gulf coast of 
Florida as whooping crane habitat; and (3) to evaluate the suitability 
of releasing captive-reared whooping cranes, conditioned for wild 
release, as a technique for establishing a self-sustaining, migratory 
population. Information on survival of released birds, movements, 
behavior, causes of losses, reproductive success, and other data will 
be gathered throughout the project. Project progress will be evaluated 
    The likelihood of the releases resulting in a self-sustaining 
population is believed to be good. Whooping cranes historically 
occurred in the Upper Midwest, and the release area is similar to that 
which supported nesting whooping cranes in adjacent Illinois and Iowa. 
The minimum goal for numbers of cranes to be released annually is based 
on the research of Griffith et al. (1989). As captive production 
increases, annual release numbers will be increased, dependent upon 
availability. For a long-lived species like the whooping crane, 
continuing releases for a number of years increases the likelihood of 
reaching a population level that can sustain fluctuating environmental 
conditions. The rearing and release techniques have proven successful 
in building the wild population of the endangered Mississippi sandhill 
    It is expected that whooping cranes released in Wisconsin and 
wintering in Florida will eventually interact with the existing flock 
present in the Kissimmee Prairie area. Whooping cranes led to 
Chassahowitzka NWR behind the ultralight aircraft may choose not to 
stay in the coastal saltmarsh when released, or may return to the 
Kissimmee Prairie the following winter and interact with the 
nonmigratory flock. The nonmigratory population is prone to wander 
considerable distances, and has been observed outside of the area where 
introduction efforts are under way (Marty Folk, pers. comm.). Some 
interaction during winter between migratory and nonmigratory cranes is

[[Page 33907]]

expected to occur. This raises the possibility that individual birds of 
each of the two flocks may acquire either migratory or nonmigratory 
behavior through association, especially if pairs form between members 
of the different populations. However, research with sandhill cranes in 
Florida has shown that migratory and nonmigratory populations mix 
during winter and yet maintain their own migratory and nonmigratory 
behaviors. The same would be expected with whooping cranes. In light of 
this knowledge, we expect that any shift in individual migratory 
behavior would be limited. Therefore, we expect that, even though 
individuals of the two populations may associate, the two flocks will 
remain distinct and each will represent a separate population as 
specified in the Whooping Crane Recovery Plan (USFWS 1994). As such, 
while the levels of protection will be the same, the two populations 
may be managed differently.
    We may select additional release sites later during the project 
life to increase potential breeding range. Multiple release areas may 
increase the opportunity for successful pairing because females tend to 
disperse from their natal site when searching for a mate. Males, 
however, have a stronger homing tendency towards establishing their 
nesting territory near the natal area (Drewien et al. 1989). When 
captive-reared cranes are released at a wild location, the birds may 
view the release site as a natal area. If they do, females would 
disperse away from the release area in their search for a mate. In such 
a circumstance it may be advantageous to have several release sites to 
provide a broader distribution of territorial males. It is impossible, 
however, to predict which areas will be chosen by the birds. To allow 
for adapting release techniques that will maximize the chances for 
success, some flexibility will likely be necessary in the future. 
Therefore, it is possible that we will pursue future releases at other 
sites, which we may select based upon dispersal patterns observed in 
the cranes from initial releases. Several areas previously examined for 
suitability that may be candidates for future releases (Cannon 1999) 
include Horicon NWR and Crex Meadows State WMA in Wisconsin, and Seney 
NWR in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
    This project has been coordinated with potentially affected State 
and Federal agencies, private landowners, and the general public. The 
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages several 
wildlife management areas in the primary release area; the Wisconsin 
DNR will be actively involved as a cooperator in releases, and has 
actively endorsed the project. The Canadian Wildlife Service, a partner 
with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as noted in the Memorandum of 
Understanding, has approved the project. The project also was 
coordinated with both of the State of Florida's natural resource 
management agencies, particularly regarding migration and wintering 
aspects of the project. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation 
Commission (FWCC), the State agency with responsibility for management 
of fish and wildlife resources, has expressed its support of the 
project. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is 
charged with environmental protection and administration of Florida's 
public conservation and recreation lands. We coordinated with the 
Florida DEP and received approval for use of the St. Martin's Marsh 
Aquatic Preserve during the overwintering phase of the sandhill crane 
migration experiment conducted in 2000-2001. We do not anticipate 
further involvement by the Florida DEP for the whooping crane 
reintroduction. If use of State lands becomes necessary in the future, 
we will coordinate further to obtain additional approvals.
    We also have coordinated with the Department of Defense (Hardwood 
Air-to-Surface Bombing Range), which conducts training flights in the 
vicinity of Necedah NWR, and other landowners near the release site to 
advise them of the proposed whooping crane reintroduction and obtain 
their input. All have been cooperative and generally supportive of the 

5. Reintroduction Protocol

    We will conduct an initial release of 10 to 25 juvenile, captive-
reared whooping cranes in the central Wisconsin area. These birds will 
be captive-reared to 20-40 days of age at Patuxent Wildlife Research 
Center in Laurel, Maryland, the International Crane Foundation in 
Baraboo, Wisconsin, and at other captive-rearing facilities. They will 
then be transferred to facilities at the Wisconsin release site, and 
conditioned for wild release to increase post-release survival (Ellis 
et al. 1992b, Zwank and Wilson 1987) and adaptability to wild foods. 
The cranes will be radio-tagged at release and monitored to discern 
movements, habitat use, other behavior, and survival. Whooping cranes 
would be released in the fall. The primary technique associated with 
migration will be leading the cranes by ultralight aircraft to the 
wintering site in Florida. If results of this initial release are 
favorable, releases will be continued with the goal of releasing up to 
30 whooping cranes annually for about 10 years. Total numbers available 
for release will be dependent upon production at captive propagation 
facilities and the future need for additional releases into the 
Kissimmee flock.
    Since the migration route is a learned rather than an innate 
behavior, captive-reared whooping cranes released in Wisconsin, or 
other northern areas of suitable habitat, will need to be taught where 
to migrate in order to develop the habit of migrating to a suitable 
wintering area. Captive-reared cranes are conditioned for wild release 
by being reared in isolation from humans; by use of conspecific role 
models (puppets), and by exercising with animal care personnel in crane 
costumes to avoid imprinting on humans (Ellis et al. 1992a, Horwich 
1989, Urbanek and Bookhout 1992). This technique has been successful in 
supplementing the population of endangered nonmigratory Mississippi 
sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis pulla) (Zwank and Wilson 1987, Ellis 
et al. 1992b). Aircraft motor sounds are played to young crane chicks 
to get them acclimatized to engine noise. The ``following'' instinct of 
crane chicks is utilized to get them conditioned to walk behind 
motorized vehicles and/or aircraft. Once acclimatized, the cranes will 
follow the taxiing ultralight aircraft and soon learn to fly behind the 
ultralight. Using this technique (Clegg et al. 1997, Lishman et al. 
1997), sandhill cranes were led in migration between Ontario and 
Virginia in 1997; four whooping cranes and eight sandhill cranes were 
taught a migration between Idaho and New Mexico in 1997. In a further 
migration experiment, eleven sandhill cranes were led from Wisconsin to 
Florida by ultralight aircraft in the fall of 2000. At least nine of 
the eleven cranes returned on their own to the release site in 
Wisconsin in the spring of 2001. The status of the other two cranes is 
unknown; they have not been sighted, nor were their radio-transmitted 
signals recorded as of May 2001. They may have returned as well, but 
were not detected because their radio transmitters may have 
malfunctioned, or because they returned to a remote area unmonitored.
    Several different strategies for accomplishing migration to the 
Florida wintering site may be utilized: (1) Leading the cranes using an 
ultralight aircraft that the birds have been conditioned to follow; (2) 
allowing the released whooping cranes to migrate guided by wild 
sandhill cranes

[[Page 33908]]

(Urbanek and Bookhout 1994), or after the first year, guided by 
previously released whooping cranes; or (3) some combination of these 
two techniques. The rationale is to use the technique that is thought 
to have the highest probability of success, but to retain the option of 
using another potentially promising technique if conditions warrant. As 
the project proceeds, the intent is to use techniques that seem 
reasonable in light of present understanding of whooping crane biology. 
However, for the first fall migration season, the primary technique is 
expected to be use of the ultralight aircraft to lead the cranes to the 
chosen wintering site in Florida; birds not trainable to follow 
aircraft may be released with wild sandhills and then relocated to the 
appropriate wintering area or returned to captivity.

Status of Reintroduced Population

    We determine this reintroduction to be nonessential to the 
continued existence of the species according to the provisions of 
section 10(j) of the Act. This designation is justified because no 
adverse effects to extant wild or captive whooping crane populations 
will result from release of progeny from the captive flock. We also 
have a reasonable expectation that the experiment will result in the 
successful establishment of a self-sustaining, migratory flock, which 
will contribute to the recovery of the species. The special rule is 
expected to ensure that this reintroduction is compatible with current 
or planned human activities in the release area.
    We have concluded that this experimental population is nonessential 
to the continued existence of the whooping crane for the following 
    (a) For the time being, the AWP and the captive populations will be 
the primary species populations. With approximately 120 birds in 
captivity at 6 discrete sites, and approximately 176 birds in the AWP, 
the experimental population is not essential to the continued existence 
of the species. The species has been protected against the threat of 
extinction from a single catastrophic event by gradual recovery of the 
AWP and by increase and management of the cranes at the captive sites. 
Loss of the experimental population will not jeopardize the species' 
    (b) For the time being, the primary repository of genetic diversity 
for the species will be the approximately 296 wild and captive whooping 
cranes mentioned in (a) above. The birds selected for reintroduction 
purposes will be as genetically redundant as possible with the captive 
population, hence any loss of reintroduced animals in this experiment 
will not significantly impact the goal of preserving maximum genetic 
diversity in the species.
    (c) Any birds lost during the reintroduction attempt can be 
replaced through captive breeding. Production from the extant captive 
flock is already large enough to support the release of birds for this 
project, in addition to continued releases into the Kissimmee Prairie 
flock, with over 30 juveniles available annually. We expect this number 
to increase to over 40 as young pairs already in captivity reach 
breeding age. This illustrates the potential of the captive flock to 
replace individual birds proposed for release in reintroduction 
    The hazards and uncertainties of the reintroduction experiment are 
substantial, but a decision not to attempt to utilize the existing 
captive breeding potential to establish a second, wild, self-sustaining 
population could be equally hazardous to survival of the species in the 
wild. The AWP could be annihilated by catastrophic events such as a 
Gulf coast hurricane or a contaminant spill on the wintering grounds 
that would necessitate management efforts to establish an additional 
wild population. The recovery goal of 3 self-sustaining wild 
populations--consisting of 40 nesting pairs in the AWP and 2 
additional, separate and self-sustaining, populations consisting of 25 
nesting pairs each--should be in existence before the whooping crane 
can be downlisted to threatened status. Dependent upon future events, 
the nonmigratory Florida population would potentially be the second 
such population. An eastern U.S. migratory flock could be the third 
population. If this reintroduction effort is successful, conservation 
of the species will have been furthered considerably by establishing 
another self-sustaining population in currently unoccupied habitat. It 
would also confirm that captive-reared cranes can be used to establish 
a migratory, wild population.

Location of Reintroduced Population

    Section 10(j) of the Act requires that an experimental population 
be geographically separate from other populations of the same species. 
The designated NEP area covers most of the eastern United States, with 
the expectation that most whooping cranes would be concentrated within 
the States of Wisconsin and Florida, as well as adjacent States, and 
those States within the migration corridor. States within the NEP area 
include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, 
Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North 
Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and 
Wisconsin. All of these States are considered to be within the probable 
historic range of the species. Any whooping crane found within this 
area will be considered part of the experimental population. Initial 
releases are planned for central Wisconsin, with plans for a wintering 
location on the Florida Gulf coast. It is difficult to predict where 
individual whooping cranes may disperse following release within the 
project area. Designation of this NEP allows for the possible 
occurrence of cranes anywhere within most of the eastern United States.

a. Potential Release Areas

    The potential release areas in Wisconsin include Necedah NWR, 
Horicon NWR, and Crex Meadows State Wildlife Management Area. Initial 
releases will be at the Necedah NWR in Juneau County, Wisconsin. The 
location of future releases will depend upon habitat use and dispersal 
patterns of released cranes.
    A majority of the movements of the released cranes are expected to 
occur within the central Wisconsin area, which comprises approximately 
2,000 square kilometers characterized by a mosaic of forest and open 
wetlands. Numerous small streams cut across the landscape, many of 
which have been ditched for purposes of agricultural drainage. Much of 
the landscape is forested, consisting of mixed forests interspersed 
with open expanses of sedge and shrub wetlands, small streams and 
    On surrounding private lands, a significant amount of historic 
wetland habitat has been converted to cranberry culture. Land ownership 
includes a number of larger private holdings devoted to cranberry 
production and six large public ownerships totaling 83,222 hectares 
(ha) (205,651 acres). County-owned lands within the four-county area 
surrounding Necedah NWR include significant acreage, primarily devoted 
to forestry, totaling 65,810 ha (162,624 ac).
    The principal private land uses are forestry, cranberry culture and 
other agriculture, and recreational hunting. Upland forests are managed 
for sawtimber and firewood production, on either a clear-cut rotational 
basis or selective harvest, dependent upon forest type and management 
objectives. Wetland habitat utilized for cranberry culture is managed 
mainly through the manipulation of water regime, in the form of 
seasonal flooding. The public

[[Page 33909]]

lands are managed for wildlife values, recreation, water conservation, 
and to maintain natural habitat conditions. Compared to other areas in 
Wisconsin, the central Wisconsin area has experienced limited human 
population growth over the past 30 years due to its distance from major 
population centers and low suitability for agriculture. The presence of 
large public land holdings is at least in part a result of unsuccessful 
agricultural development. Cannon (1999) has estimated that 
approximately 37,000 ha (92,000 ac) of suitable whooping crane habitat 
exists in the central Wisconsin area.

b. Primary Wintering Area

    The primary wintering site is on the Chassahowitzka NWR, of which 
55 percent (6,908 ha or 17,070 ac) is suitable crane habitat. The 
refuge comprises over 12,500 ha (31,000 ac) of saltwater bays, 
estuaries, and brackish marshes with a fringe of hardwood swamps along 
the eastern boundary. Dispersed throughout the salt marsh in a jigsaw 
puzzle fashion is 4,048 ha (10,000 ac) of estuarine habitat in the form 
of shallow bays and tidal streams; the largest of the streams being the 
Chassahowitzka and Homosassa Rivers. Because of three transitional 
salinity stages (ranging from fresh spring water, to brackish, and then 
to the saline waters of the Gulf of Mexico), a wide range of aquatic 
plant and animal life flourishes within all parts of the system. A 
wintering site study (Cannon 1998) rated Chassahowitzka NWR as an 
excellent site for wintering whooping cranes based on available 
habitat, adjacent expansion possibilities, adequate isolation, and 
abundant food resources.
    Adjacent to the Chassahowitzka NWR, are two State of Florida-owned 
properties that support suitable crane habitat the wintering cranes may 
occasionally use. These areas are the 36,000-acre (14,568 ha) St. 
Martin's Marsh Aquatic Preserve and the 9,308 ha (23,000 ac) Crystal 
River State Buffer Preserve. Both sites contain habitats similar to 
those in Chassahowitzka NWR.


a. Monitoring

    Whooping cranes will be intensively monitored by project personnel 
prior to and after release. The birds will be observed daily while they 
are in the conditioning pen. Facilities for captive maintenance of the 
birds will include the same facilities used for sandhill cranes during 
an experimental migration project in 2000; these facilities were 
modeled after facilities at the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent 
Wildlife Research Center (PWRC) and the International Crane Foundation. 
They conform to standards set forth in the Animal Welfare Act and 
Florida Wildlife Code (Title 39.6 F.A.C). To further ensure the well-
being of birds in captivity and their suitability for release to the 
wild, facilities incorporate features of their natural environment 
(e.g., feeding, loafing, and roosting habitat) to the extent possible. 
Pre-release conditioning will occur at facilities near the release 
    To ensure contact with the released birds, each crane will be 
equipped with legband-mounted radio telemetry transmitters. Subsequent 
to gentle-release, the birds will be monitored regularly to assess 
movements and dispersal from the area of the release pen. Whooping 
cranes will be checked regularly for mortality or indications of 
disease (e.g., listlessness, social exclusion, flightlessness, or 
obvious weakness). Social behavior (e.g., pair formation, dominance, 
cohort loyalty) also will be evaluated.
    A voucher blood serum sample will be taken for each crane prior to 
its arrival in Wisconsin. A second sample will be taken just prior to 
release. Any time a bird is handled after release, a blood sample may 
be taken to monitor disease exposure and physiological condition. One 
year after release, when possible, all surviving whooping cranes may be 
captured and an evaluation made of their exposure to disease/parasites 
through blood, fecal, and other sampling regimens. Monitoring will 
continue, opportunistically, for multiple years whenever cranes are 
recaptured to replace radio transmitters. If preliminary results are 
favorable, the releases will be continued annually, with the goal of 
releasing up to 30 birds per year for about 10 years and then 
evaluating the success of the recovery effort.

 b. Disease/Parasite Considerations

    Both sandhill and whooping cranes are known to be vulnerable, in 
part or all of their natural range, to avian herpes (inclusion body 
disease), avian cholera, acute and chronic mycotoxicosis, eastern 
equine encephalitis (EEE), and avian tuberculosis. Additionally, 
Eimeria spp., Haemogroteus spp., Leucocytozoon spp., avian pox, lead 
poisoning, and Hexamita sp. have been identified as debilitating or 
lethal factors in wild or pre-release, captive populations.
    A group of crane veterinarians and disease specialists have 
developed protocols for pre-release and pre-transfer health screening 
for birds selected for release to prevent introduction of diseases and 
parasites into the eastern flyway. Exposure to disease and parasites 
will be evaluated through blood, serum, and fecal analysis of any 
individual crane handled post-release or at the regular monitoring 
interval. Remedial action will be taken to return to good health any 
sick individuals taken into captivity. Sick birds will be held in 
special facilities and their health and treatment monitored by 
veterinarians. Special attention will be given to EEE because an 
outbreak at the PWRC in 1984 killed 7 of 39 whooping cranes present 
there. After the outbreak, a vaccine was developed for use on captive 
cranes. In 1989, EEE was documented in sentinel bobwhite quail and 
sandhill cranes at the PWRC. No whooping cranes became ill, and it 
appears the vaccine may provide protection. EEE is present in 
Wisconsin, so the released birds may be vaccinated. Other strains of 
encephalitis (St. Louis, Everglades) also occur in Wisconsin. The 
vaccine for EEE may also provide protection against these arboviruses.
    When appropriate, other avian species may be used to assess the 
prevalence of certain disease factors. This could mean using sentinel 
turkeys for ascertaining exposure probability to encephalitis or 
evaluating a species with similar food habits for susceptibility to 
chronic mycotoxicosis.

c. Genetic Considerations

    The ultimate genetic goal of the reintroduction program is to 
establish wild reintroduced populations that possess the maximum level 
of genetic diversity available from the captive population. Early 
reintroductions will likely consist of a biased sample of the genetic 
diversity of the captive gene pool, with certain genetic lineages over-
represented. This bias will be corrected at a later date by selecting 
and re-establishing breeding whooping cranes that, theoretically, 
compensate for any genetic biases in earlier releases.

d. Mortality

    Although efforts will be made to minimize mortality, some will 
inevitably occur as captive-reared birds adapt to the wild. Collision 
with power lines and fences are known hazards to wild whooping cranes. 
No major power lines cross the release or wintering sites. Tall woven-
wire and barbed-wire fencing is commonly used in the central Wisconsin 
area and presents some collision hazard. If whooping cranes begin 
regular use of areas traversed by power lines or fences, the Service 

[[Page 33910]]

Wisconsin DNR will consider placing markers on the obstacles to reduce 
the probability of collisions.
    Wolves are known predators of adult sandhill cranes and would be 
potential predators of adult whooping cranes, as would coyotes and bald 
eagles. Red fox, bobcats, owls, and raccoons are potential predators of 
young cranes. Natural mortality from predators, fluctuating food 
availability, disease, and wild feeding inexperience will be reduced 
through predator management, vaccination, gentle release, supplemental 
feeding for a post-release period, and pre-release conditioning. This 
conditioning will include teaching the habit of roosting in standing 
water. Predation by bobcats has been a significant source of mortality 
in the Kissimmee Prairie, Florida flock, and teaching this roosting 
behavior to young birds should help to reduce losses to wolves, 
coyotes, and bobcats. Human-caused mortality will be reduced by 
information and education efforts directed at landowners and land 
users, and review and management of human activities in the area.
    Recently released whooping cranes will need protection from natural 
sources of mortality (predators, disease, and inadequate foods) and 
from human-caused sources of mortality. We will minimize human-caused 
mortality through a number of measures such as: (a) Placing whooping 
cranes in an area with low human population density and relatively low 
development; (b) working with and educating landowners, land managers, 
developers, and recreationists to develop means for conducting their 
existing and planned activities in a manner that is compatible with 
whooping crane recovery; and (c) conferring with developers on proposed 
actions and providing recommendations that will reduce any likely 
adverse impacts to the cranes.

e. Special Handling

    The Service, State employees, and their agents are authorized to 
relocate whooping cranes to avoid conflict with human activities; 
relocate whooping cranes that have moved outside the appropriate 
release area or the NEP area when removal is necessary or requested; 
relocate whooping cranes within the NEP area to improve survival and 
recovery prospects; and aid animals that are sick, injured or otherwise 
in need of special care. If a whooping crane is determined to be unfit 
to remain in the wild, it will be returned to captivity. The Service, 
State employees, and their agents are authorized to salvage dead 
whooping cranes.

f. Potential Conflicts

    Conflicts have resulted in the central and western United States 
from the hunting of migratory birds in areas utilized by whooping 
cranes, particularly the hunting of sandhill cranes and snow geese 
(Chen cerulescens), which to novice hunters may appear similar to 
whooping cranes.
    In recent years, only two to three crane mortalities have been 
documented incidental to hunting activities. Sandhill cranes are not 
hunted in Wisconsin although a future hunting season is being 
considered, and snow geese are an uncommon migrant and have not been 
present in large numbers. Sandhill cranes and snow geese are not hunted 
in the area of the wintering site in Florida. Accidental shooting of a 
whooping crane in this experimental population occurring in the course 
of otherwise lawful hunting activity is exempt from take restrictions 
under the Act in this special regulation. Applicable Federal penalties 
under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and/or State penalties, however, 
may still apply. We will minimize mortality due to accidental shootings 
by providing educational opportunities and information to hunters to 
assist them in distinguishing whooping cranes from legal game species. 
There will be no federally mandated hunting area or season closures or 
season modifications, including conservation order seasons, resulting 
from the establishment of the eastern U.S. whooping crane NEP.
    We established a conservation order in a final rule published in 
the December 20, 1999, Federal Register (Volume 64, Number 243). The 
conservation order is aimed at reducing the populations of lesser snow 
geese (Anser caerulescens caerulescens) and Ross' geese (Anser rossii) 
that breed, migrate, and winter in the mid-continent portion of North 
America, primarily in the Central and Mississippi Flyways. These geese 
are referred to as mid-continent light geese (MCLG). We established the 
order allowing take of the geese to prevent further habitat degradation 
by the MCLG population, which had reached such a high level that the 
geese were seriously injuring their arctic and subarctic breeding 
grounds through their feeding actions. We set a management goal to 
reduce the MCLG by 50 percent by the year 2005. The conservation order 
can be implemented in the States, or portions of States, contained 
within the boundaries of the Central and Mississippi Flyways, including 
Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, 
Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, 
Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, 
Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
    The bulk of traditional hunting in the primary release area has 
been for deer (Odocoileus virginianus), turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), 
and small game. Conflict with traditional hunting in the release area 
is not anticipated. Access to some limited areas at release or 
wintering sites and at ultralight migration stopover points could be 
temporarily restricted at times when whooping cranes might be 
particularly vulnerable to human disturbance (i.e., around rearing and 
training facilities in the spring/summer and conditioning and holding 
pens in the fall/winter). Any temporary restricted access to areas for 
these purposes will be of the minimum size and duration necessary for 
protection of the NEP cranes, and will be closely coordinated with and 
at the discretion of the respective States. Any such access 
restrictions will not require Federal closure of hunting areas or 
    States within the NEP area maintain their management prerogatives 
regarding the whooping crane. They are not directed by this rule to 
take any specific actions to provide any special protective measures, 
nor are they prevented from imposing restrictions under State law, such 
as protective designations, and area closures. None of the States 
within the NEP area have indicated that they would propose hunting 
restrictions or closures related to game species because of the 
whooping crane reintroduction.
    Overall, the presence of whooping cranes is not expected to result 
in placement of constraints on hunting of wildlife or to affect 
economic gain landowners might receive from hunting leases. The 
potential exists for future hunting seasons to be established for other 
migratory birds that are not currently hunted in some of the States 
within the NEP area. The action will not prevent the establishment of 
future hunting or conservation order seasons approved for other 
migratory bird species by the Mississippi or Atlantic Flyway Councils.
    The principal activities on private property adjacent to the 
release area are agriculture and recreation. Use of these private 
properties by whooping cranes will not preclude such uses. The special 
regulation accompanying this rule authorizes incidental take of the 
whooping crane in the NEP area when the take is accidental and 
incidental to an otherwise lawful activity.

[[Page 33911]]

    An additional issue identified as a possible conflict is the 
potential for crop depredation. There is evidence that some sandhill 
cranes have caused locally significant losses of emerging corn in some 
areas in Wisconsin. It is possible that whooping cranes could engage in 
this type of behavior as well. Whooping cranes are socially less 
gregarious than sandhill cranes, and tend to restrict the bulk of their 
foraging activities to wetland areas. Therefore, they are believed to 
be less likely to cause significant crop depredations. If such 
depredations occur, they can be eliminated through use of bird scaring 
devices and other techniques. Ongoing research on seed treatments as a 
deterrent to corn depredation is promising (Blackwell, Helon and 
Dolbeer, in press).
    Other agricultural crops found in the release area include 
cranberries. Some concern has been expressed that whooping cranes may 
consume cranberries. Although potential habitat is present near 
cranberry operations, cranberries are not likely to be an attractive 
food item as compared to animal matter, during most of the time period 
that whooping cranes would be present in Wisconsin. Cranberry beds are 
flooded at harvest time, and when large numbers of berries are gathered 
they could be more vulnerable to depredation. However, this event 
occurs in late fall, after whooping cranes would have departed for 
their wintering grounds. In addition, the numerous sandhill cranes in 
Wisconsin have not caused cranberry crop depredation. Therefore, we do 
not expect that whooping cranes will pose a significant threat to crop 
depredation on cranberries.
    Released whooping cranes might wander into other States or other 
locations in the eastern United States outside of the expected 
migration corridor, or even outside the NEP area. We believe the 
frequency of such movements is likely to be low. Any whooping cranes 
that leave this experimental population area will be considered 
endangered. However, for any whooping cranes known to be from the 
eastern United States NEP, that move outside the NEP area, including 
those that move into the migration corridor of the AWP, attempts will 
be made to capture and return them to the appropriate area if a 
reasonable possibility exists for contact with the AWP population or if 
removal is requested by the State which they enter.
    Birds from the AWP flock have rarely been observed in any of the 
States within the NEP area except as a result of an extreme weather 
event; they are expected to be in the NEP area very infrequently and 
only temporarily. Any whooping cranes that occur within the NEP area 
will be considered to be part of the NEP and will be subject to the 
protective measures in place for the NEP. Because of the extremely 
limited number of incidents anticipated, the decreased level of 
protections afforded AWP cranes that cross into the NEP is not expected 
to have any significant adverse impacts to the AWP.
    For at least the first year of project life, whooping cranes will 
be led to the Florida wintering site utilizing ultralight aircraft and 
stopping at a series of previously chosen stopover locations en route. 
During subsequent migration periods, it will be difficult to predict 
which specific sites will be utilized by the birds, and some cranes may 
use stopover sites with which they have no previous experience. 
Whooping cranes that appear in undesirable locations while in migration 
will be considered for relocation by capture and/or hazing of the 
birds. Possible conflicts with recreational and agricultural interests 
within the migration corridor will be minimized through an extensive 
public education program.
    Access to whooping cranes may be temporarily restricted in limited 
areas near rearing and acclimatization facilities and at ultralight 
migration stopover locations to minimize disturbance at times of 
greatest vulnerability and sensitivity. Any temporarily restricted 
access to areas for these purposes will be, (1) of the minimum size and 
duration necessary for protection of the NEP cranes, (2) will not 
require Federal closure of hunting or conservation order areas or 
seasons, and (3) will be closely coordinated with and at the discretion 
of the respective States.

Previous Federal Action

    We held public meetings in Florida in December of 1997 and in 
Wisconsin in May of 1999, to determine public interest and concerns 
regarding the potential reintroduction of a migratory flock of whooping 
cranes to the eastern United States. In 1999, the Service, the 
Wisconsin DNR, and International Crane Foundation representatives met 
to identify issues and concerns related to whooping crane 
    The Wisconsin and Florida informational meetings offered the 
general public an opportunity to review and offer informal comments on 
the proposed action. The public has appeared extremely supportive of 
the proposed action, provided it does not interfere with existing 
lifestyles and current and potential income. We attempted to notify all 
known or determinable affected parties and other interested agencies, 
groups, and individuals of the opportunity to comment on this rule. We 
held four public hearings during the public comment period as a further 
measure to encourage public input on the proposed action. We have 
incorporated those comments into this final rule.
    We have made presentations to numerous organizations and 
potentially affected interest groups, government representatives of 
States along the potential migration route, the Atlantic and 
Mississippi Flyway Councils and their Technical Sections, the Wisconsin 
Natural Resources Board, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation 
Commission (FLFWCC), and other interested agencies to obtain input on 
the potential for reintroduction of a migratory whooping crane 
population in the eastern United States. We have conducted extensive 
coordination, both formal and informal, with all States within the NEP 
area. We asked all States to give their formal endorsement to the 
project prior to implementation, and we have received the concurrence 
and support of all States within or adjacent to the expected migration 
    An extensive sharing of information about the program and the 
species, via educational efforts targeted toward the public throughout 
the NEP area and nationally, will enhance public awareness of this 
species and its reintroduction. We will encourage the public to 
cooperate with the Service, Wisconsin DNR, and the Florida FWCC in 
attempts to maintain and protect whooping cranes in the release areas 
and wintering area.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    In the March 9, 2001, proposed rule (66 FR 14107), we requested 
comments or recommendations concerning any aspect of the proposal that 
might contribute to development of the final decision on the proposed 
rule. A 45-day comment period was provided. We sent copies of the rule 
and other informational materials about the project to State and 
Federal agencies, Congressional representatives, Tribes, Flyway 
Councils, conservation and hunting groups, and numerous private 
citizens who had expressed an interest in receiving further information 
on the project.
    Changes in the final rule as a result of public comments: Minor 
changes have been made to the special rule as a result of comments 
received. These additions or changes do not alter the predicted impact 
or effect of the final rule:

[[Page 33912]]

    1. We amended 50 CFR 17.84(h)(8) to include conservation order 
seasons to clarify areas where there will be no federally mandated 
closures of areas or closures or modification of hunting seasons for 
protection of this NEP.
    2. We also clarified, within Sec. 17.84(h)(8), that we would remove 
clearly marked individuals of this NEP from States outside of the 
boundaries of the NEP, when requested by the State.
    We held four public hearings to receive comments on the proposed 
rule, at locations along the expected migration corridor. We received a 
total of 116 responses on the proposed rule, including 16 oral and 100 
written comments. Of these comments, 14 were from State, county, or 
city governments, 87 were from individuals, 14 were from organizations 
and industry, and 1 was from Canada. Of these commentors, 94 supported 
the proposal of designating a nonessential experimental population, 9 
expressed support under certain conditions, 10 disagreed with certain 
aspects of the proposal, 3 expressed no position, and none expressed 
direct opposition. Analysis of the comments revealed 11 issues that are 
identified and discussed below.
    Issue 1: Reintroduction should be pursued in the Rocky Mountain 
States, along a migration corridor that was utilized in previous 
reintroduction attempts. The Service should not forget the Rocky 
Mountain flyway, and should keep this option open for some future 
reintroduction effort.
    Our Response: The current proposal for reintroduction in the 
eastern United States reflects the most recent recommendation of the 
International Whooping Crane Recovery Team. This recommendation was 
arrived at only after complete and careful consideration of all factors 
likely to influence the re-establishment of another self-sustaining 
flock of whooping cranes, to contribute towards recovery of the 
species. Some of these factors are discussed within the ``Background'' 
section in this rule. Factors addressed include the presence of 
suitable breeding and wintering habitat and food resources, geographic 
separation from the existing natural wild flock, and support from 
States and the public. All States within the NEP area have gone on 
record as supporting the project. While some segments of the western 
public continue to be very supportive of reintroduction efforts in the 
western United States, not all the States within the Rocky Mountain 
flyway are supportive of reintroduction of the whooping crane in that 
area. Some aspects of reintroduction in the Rocky Mountain States hold 
promise, and the area will remain under consideration for a future 
reintroduction when conditions are more favorable for the effort.
    Issue 2: No closures of hunting areas should occur due to the 
presence of NEP whooping cranes. In addition, the Service should 
include conservation order seasons when discussing hunting seasons.
    Our Response: We will not mandate any closure of areas, including 
National Wildlife Refuges, during hunting seasons or closure or 
modification of hunting seasons for the purpose of avoiding take of the 
NEP. While this will preclude federally mandated closures within the 
NEP area, States still retain the power to impose closures at their 
discretion. However, no States have indicated any desire to institute 
such closures. We agree that adding conservation seasons is more in 
line with our intent of this section of the rule. We have modified the 
final rule to include conservation order seasons.
    Issue 3: The Act should be modified to provide protections against 
``citizen lawsuits'' to prevent groups or individuals from filing suit 
at some future date forcing the Service to institute protective 
measures for this NEP that adversely affect private property rights.
    Our Response: We have made every effort to ensure that the 
reintroduction proposal covered by the rule does not interfere with 
private property rights. This rule provides that take of whooping crane 
that is accidental and incidental to an otherwise lawful activity is 
not prohibited. Activities such as agricultural practices, pesticide 
application, water management, construction, recreation, trapping, or 
hunting, if performed in the above described manner, should continue as 
before. We are the Federal agency given responsibility for 
administration of the Act; however, we do not have independent 
authority to revise the Act to provide protection from citizen 
lawsuits; that would require an act of Congress.
    Issue 4: Eastern U.S. NEP cranes or their offspring could stray 
into the Central Flyway States at some future date resulting in adverse 
effects to the AWP, or to ongoing human activities. All released 
cranes, and all their future progeny, should be permanently marked so 
they could be monitored, and removed from any undesirable areas (i.e., 
Central Flyway States).
    Our Response: We will mark all released cranes with color bands 
and/or radio or satellite transmitters, and implant coded electronic 
microchips under the skin which will allow identification of these 
birds even if the transmitters or bands are lost. In addition, we will 
make every effort within the 10-year life of the project, to capture 
and similarly apply color bands to any future offspring of reintroduced 
NEP whooping cranes. This would be accomplished by capturing and 
marking offspring prior to fledging. With little nesting expected 
during the early phase of the project, we believe that nearly all young 
birds would be captured and marked. Later in the project, however, it 
may become more difficult to mark offspring if increased nesting occurs 
in remote locations. For at least the 10-year life of the 
reintroduction project, the color banding of all offspring will include 
attempts to capture any unmarked juvenile cranes that migrate with, and 
are clearly part of, NEP family groups.
    Issue 5: Any whooping crane originating from eastern U.S. 
reintroduction efforts should maintain the NEP status, even if one 
occurs outside the designated NEP area.
    Our Response: If one or more whooping cranes from the eastern U.S. 
NEP moves out of the designated eastern U.S. NEP area, the status of 
those birds would then be considered endangered. Section 10(j) of the 
Act, which provides for the establishment of experimental populations, 
directs that experimental populations be delineated by geographic 
boundaries, and that an NEP cannot overlap or include currently 
occupied range of the species. In the event that one of the eastern 
U.S. NEP whooping cranes wanders into the Central Flyway, we will 
immediately initiate discussions with the involved State or States to 
determine the appropriate action to take. This action could include 
non-intervention if the crane is moving through on migration and no 
adverse impacts are expected, or some form of intervention to attempt 
to remove or relocate the bird or birds, if determined necessary by us 
or if requested by the involved State. As provided for in paragraph 
(8)(i) and (ii) of this final rule, the course of action will not 
include closure of hunting areas or seasons, including those pertaining 
to conservation orders, for the purpose of protecting individual cranes 
known to have originated from the eastern U.S. whooping crane NEP.
    The Service, the recovery team, and the reintroduction partnership, 
in consultation with the States, will constantly evaluate the behavior 
of all reintroduced cranes and will attempt to remove or relocate birds 
that exhibit unsatisfactory behavior. In addition, we will reevaluate 
the eastern U.S. whooping crane reintroduction if significant numbers 
of cranes move into

[[Page 33913]]

the Central Flyway on a routine basis, or if any mixing with the AWP 
population occurs. The reevaluation could result in modifications to 
the project, or termination if warranted. Mixing of the AWP and eastern 
U.S. reintroduced population is undesirable due to the potential for 
disease transmission or other adverse impacts and was a primary reason 
for the recovery team recommendation to pursue the Wisconsin-to-Florida 
migration route. Based upon research with sandhill cranes, and 
migration behavior of the AWP population, it is believed that any 
mixing which may occur will be extremely rare. However, we agree to 
manage eastern U.S. NEP whooping cranes that move into the Central 
Flyway to the maximum extent possible to prevent disruption of human 
activities, but still meet the requirements of the Act.
    Issue 6: It is inappropriate to allow for penalties less than those 
of the Act in the event of an accidental shooting. Current restrictions 
against the illegal take of protected migratory birds, as well as those 
restrictions in place for the Mexican wolf, a federally listed 
endangered species, dictate that the hunter is responsible for 
identification of their quarry before shooting.
    Our Response: We stated in the proposed rule that in the event an 
accidental shooting occurred in the course of an otherwise lawful 
activity (i.e., hunting in accordance with all laws and regulations), 
Endangered Species Act penalties would not apply; however, applicable 
Federal penalties under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and/or State 
penalties may still apply. The incidental take provision was proposed 
in an effort to allay concerns of hunters and other sectors of the 
public. They were concerned that their property rights, business, or 
recreational activities would be negatively impacted by Federal 
restrictions and penalties if a whooping crane was injured or killed 
accidentally as a result of an activity they were carrying out legally. 
We do not believe this provision of our regulation is likely to lead to 
the increased incidence of illegal shooting of whooping cranes. In 
recent years, shootings, intentional or otherwise, of wild whooping 
cranes from the AWP flock or the reintroduced Florida nonmigratory NEP 
have been rare. We believe that mortality to the eastern U.S. whooping 
crane NEP from shooting, even with the relaxation of penalties in 
place, is likely to be low. Substantial outreach efforts will be made 
to seek the cooperation of the hunting public and emphasize species 
identification to minimize potential mishaps. In the event a whooping 
crane is shot intentionally, (for example, if shot deliberately when no 
hunting season was open), the penalties of the Act would still apply.
    Issue 7: Tax dollars should not be spent on this project or any 
other endangered species recovery effort.
    Our Response: We are responsible for the protection and recovery of 
federally listed threatened and endangered species, as mandated by the 
Act. The Act does not provide us with the discretion to refuse to 
pursue recovery of any individual species; rather, we are mandated to 
apply our resources in an effective manner to accomplish the recovery 
of all federally listed species. This project is being coordinated with 
the multiple-partner Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), a 
collaborative group of government and non-government entities working 
together to accomplish the reintroduction of the whooping crane to the 
eastern United States. The WCEP is committed to raising over 50 percent 
of the project budget from private sources. This will reduce the amount 
of Federal tax dollars necessary to implement the project.
    Issue 8: Wild sandhill cranes should not be used to guide released 
whooping cranes to the wintering area. The Service has not demonstrated 
the ability to retrieve whooping cranes from the central Florida 
sandhill crane wintering grounds and bring them to the desired 
wintering location at Chassahowitzka NWR.
    Our Response: We agree that it may prove difficult to retrieve 
whooping cranes that migrate to central Florida and relocate them to 
Chassahowitzka NWR. However, we support the recovery team's recommended 
approach that multiple reintroduction methods be available so that 
strategies may be adapted to a wide range of possible scenarios in 
accomplishing this reintroduction. We will not use the wild sandhill 
crane guided migration method for the first year of the project. As 
indicated in the ``Reintroduction Protocol'' section, we will use 
ultralight aircraft to lead the initially released whooping cranes in 
migration to Florida. In the future, before we consider using wild 
sandhill cranes to guide released whooping cranes in migration, we will 
consult with the State of Florida and obtain the State's concurrence 
before proceeding with that approach.
    Issue 9: It is appropriate to expand the proposed NEP area to 
include the 11 additional northeastern States discussed in the proposed 
rule. To do so at this time would be an efficient use of the Service's 
rulemaking resources, rather than putting off this action until a later 
    Our Response: In the proposed rule, we specifically asked for 
comments on the appropriateness of including 11 additional States in 
the northeastern United States in the designated eastern U.S. whooping 
crane NEP area. This action could help minimize potential for conflicts 
with human activities that may result from an eastern United States NEP 
whooping crane wandering into one of those States, where the status of 
such birds would be considered as endangered. During the comment period 
we received one comment about adding the States to the NEP. No comments 
were received from any of the 11 northeastern States. After further 
consideration, we have decided that including those States within this 
NEP area is not necessary at this time. We believe the likelihood that 
a whooping crane from the eastern U.S. NEP will stray into those States 
is slight. If future movements of whooping cranes indicate that 
including the northeastern States within the eastern United States NEP 
area would be prudent, we will consult with the affected States and 
propose adding them through a separate rulemaking.
    Issue 10: Why are species still considered endangered when humans 
can clone animals and any living thing?
    Our Response: While cloning techniques have advanced significantly 
during the past few years, and it is now technically possible to clone 
higher organisms, the technology is far from being perfected to a point 
where it could be applied on an operational scale. In addition, 
extensive questions and issues still remain from many standpoints 
including science, genetics, ethics, economic feasibility, as well as 
national and international laws and policies. As such, it is premature 
to consider cloning as a viable strategy for restoring endangered 
species. Even if cloning does prove to be effective in the future, it 
is not likely that cloning would be implemented exclusively as the only 
method used to achieve species' recovery. In addition, the purpose of 
the Act goes beyond restoring the number of individuals but is to 
conserve populations in the wild and the ecosystems upon which they 
    Issue 11: Whooping cranes should not be released in Wisconsin 
because of the potential for agricultural damage by the birds. 
Reintroduction efforts should be pursued using release sites in 
    Our Response: We believe the potential for adverse impacts to 
agriculture by whooping cranes is low due to the small number of birds 

[[Page 33914]]

will be present and the habitat and food preferences of whooping 
cranes. Because they prefer shallow, open-water marsh habitat and food 
is primarily aquatic animal matter (e.g., aquatic insects, 
invertebrates, minnows, frogs), the whooping cranes are not likely to 
cause agricultural damage. In the Environmental Assessment, we analyzed 
all reasonable alternatives for conducting the whooping crane 
reintroduction into the eastern United States, including establishing 
release sites in Michigan. Based upon careful consideration of all 
factors associated with the reintroduction, we have determined that the 
preferred alternative is to release the whooping cranes in Wisconsin.

Required Determinations

Regulatory Planning and Review

    In accordance with the criteria in Executive Order 12866, this 
final rule to designate NEP status for the whooping crane 
reintroduction into the eastern United States is not a significant 
regulatory action subject to Office of Management and Budget review. 
This rule will not have an annual economic effect of $100 million and 
will not have an adverse effect upon any economic sector, productivity, 
competition, jobs, the environment, or other units of government. 
Therefore, a cost-benefit economic analysis is not required.
    Lands where releases would be conducted include Necedah and Horicon 
National Wildlife Refuges, and the Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area in 
Wisconsin. The wintering site in Florida is primarily Chassahowitzka 
National Wildlife Refuge and may include the adjacent St. Martin's 
Marsh Aquatic Preserve and Crystal River State Buffer Preserve. 
Following release, birds from the NEP are likely to utilize private 
lands adjacent to both the release areas and the wintering site. 
Because of the substantial regulatory relief provided by NEP 
designations, we do not believe the reintroduction of whooping cranes 
will conflict with existing human activities or hinder public or 
private use of lands within the NEP area. Likewise, no governments, 
individuals, or corporations will be required to manage specifically 
for reintroduced whooping cranes.
    This rule will not create inconsistencies with other agency's 
actions or otherwise interfere with an action taken or planned by 
another agency. Because of the substantial regulatory relief provided 
by NEP designations, we do not believe the presence of whooping cranes 
will obligate any agency or government to take an action which would 
conflict with their existing authorities or activities within the NEP 
area. This rule will allow any agency or citizen to conduct otherwise 
legal activities under provisions of the Act.
    This rule will not materially affect entitlements, grants, user 
fees, loan programs or the rights or obligations of their recipients. 
This rule will not raise novel legal or policy issues. We have 
previously designated an experimental population of whooping cranes in 
Florida and for other species at numerous locations throughout the 

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    The Department of the Interior certifies that this document will 
not have a significant economic effect on a substantial number of small 
entities under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.). 
The area affected by this rule includes 20 States within the eastern 
United States. We do not expect this rule to have any significant 
effect on recreational, agricultural, or development activities within 
the NEP area. There will be no federally-mandated closures of seasons 
or areas to hunting or conservation order actions for protection of the 
NEP. We expect only temporary access restrictions to limited areas in 
the vicinity of rearing and release facilities at times during the 
spring/summer rearing period, during migration with ultralight 
aircraft, or at the wintering site. In the primary release area, these 
closures are not expected to occur outside of existing, long-
established closed areas on Necedah NWR. Any temporarily restricted 
access to areas will be of the minimum size and duration necessary to 
provide for protection to the NEP cranes during rearing or release 
activities, and will be conducted in close coordination with the 
States. Because any such access restrictions will be of short duration 
and will not require Federal closure of hunting areas or seasons, we do 
not expect any significant effect on recreational activities. Because 
no new or additional economic or regulatory restrictions will be 
imposed upon States, Federal agencies, or members of the public due to 
the presence of members of the NEP, this rulemaking is not expected to 
have any significant adverse impacts to recreation, agriculture, or any 
development activities. The designation of an NEP in this rule will 
significantly reduce the regulatory requirements regarding the 
reintroduction of these whooping cranes, will not create 
inconsistencies with other agency actions, and will not conflict with 
existing or proposed human activity, or State, Tribal, or private use 
of lands within the NEP area.

Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA)

    This rule is not a major rule under 5 U.S.C. 804(2), the Small 
Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act. This rule will not have 
an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more for reasons 
outlined above. It will not cause a major increase in costs or prices 
for consumers, individual industries, Federal, State, or local 
government agencies, or geographic regions. The rule does not have 
significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, 
productivity, innovation, or the ability of U.S.-based enterprises to 
compete with foreign-based enterprises.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act

    The NEP designation will not place any additional requirements on 
any city, county, or other local municipalities. The NEP designation 
has been endorsed by all of the States within the NEP area. A Small 
Government Agency Plan is not required. Because this rulemaking does 
not require that any action be taken by local or State government or 
private entities, we have determined and certify pursuant to the 
Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, 2 U.S.C. 1502 et seq., that this 
rulemaking will not impose a cost of $100 million or more in any given 
year on local or State governments or private entities (i.e., it is not 
a ``significant regulatory action'').


    In accordance with Executive Order 12630, the rule does not have 
significant takings implications. We do not expect this rule to have a 
potential takings implication under Executive Order 12630 because it 
would exempt individuals or corporations from prosecution for take that 
is accidental and incidental to an otherwise lawful activity. In 
addition, private entities would also be exempt from any restrictions 
imposed by consultation requirements under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, 
as consultation will not likely be conducted except on National 
Wildlife Refuges or National Parks. Because of the substantial 
regulatory relief provided by NEP designations, we do not believe the 
reintroduction of whooping cranes would conflict with existing human 
activities or hinder public use of lands within the NEP area. None of 
the States within the NEP area will be required to manage specifically 
for reintroduced whooping cranes, and all of those States have endorsed 

[[Page 33915]]

NEP designation. A takings implication assessment is not required.


    In accordance with Executive Order 13132, the rule does not have 
sufficient federalism implications to warrant the preparation of a 
Federalism Assessment. This rule will not have substantial direct 
effects on the States, on the relationship between the Federal 
Government and the States, or on the distribution of power and 
responsibilities among the various levels of government. As stated 
above, designation of this population as nonessential experimental will 
preclude any additional regulatory burdens on public and private 
entities within the NEP area. A Federalism assessment is not required.

Civil Justice Reform

    In accordance with Executive Order 12988, the Office of the 
Solicitor has determined that the rule does not unduly burden the 
judicial system and meets the requirements of sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) 
of the Executive Order.

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 
``Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments'' (59 FR 22951) and E.O. 13175, we have notified the Native 
American Tribes within the nonessential experimental population area 
about this proposal. They have been advised through verbal and written 
contact, including informational mailings from the Service. Information 
was also sent to the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, 
1854 Authority, Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, and Native American 
Fish and Wildlife Society. If future activities resulting from this 
rule may affect Tribal resources, a Plan of Cooperation will be 
developed with the affected Tribe or Tribes.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This rule contains information collection activity for experimental 
populations. We have OMB approval for the collection under OMB Control 
Number 1018-0094. The Service may not conduct or sponsor, and a person 
is not required to respond to, a collection of information unless it 
displays a currently valid OMB control number.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have prepared an environmental assessment as defined under the 
authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. It is 
available from Service offices identified in the ADDRESSES section.

Executive Order 13211

    On May 18, 2001, the President issued Executive Order 13211 on 
regulations that significantly affect energy supply, distribution, and 
use. Executive Order 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of 
Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. As this rule is not 
expected to significantly affect energy supplies, distribution, or use, 
this action is not a significant energy action and no Statement of 
Energy Effects is required.

Effective Date

    We find good cause under the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 
553(d)(3)) to make this rule effective upon publication. The prompt 
release of currently available captive-reared whooping cranes is 
necessary because: (1) There is a limited time during which chicks will 
hatch in the captive whooping crane flock and be available for rearing; 
(2) the facilities in which the crane chicks are held are not designed 
to hold the birds for extended periods; and (3) the young cranes become 
less suitable for wild release if they are held in captivity for too 
long. If young cranes cannot be transported to Wisconsin by late June 
or early July 2001 for further stages of rearing and to begin training 
for the migration process, the reintroduction will likely have to be 
delayed until next year. Therefore, good cause exists for this rule to 
be effective immediately upon its publication.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this final rule is 
available upon request from the Green Bay Field Office (see ADDRESSES 


    The principal authors of this rule are Joel Trick and Janet Smith, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Green Bay, WI (Phone: 920-465-7440); 
Tom Stehn, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Austwell, TX (Phone 361-286-
3559); and Linda Walker, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jacksonville, 
FL (Phone: 904-232-2580).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 
of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:


    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

    2. Amend Sec. 17.11(h) by revising the existing entry for ``Crane, 
whooping'' under ``BIRDS'' to read as follows:

Sec. 17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *
Crane, whooping..................  Grus americana......  Canada, U.S.A.       Entire, except       E                      1, 3     17.95(b)           NA
                                                          (Rocky Mountains     where listed as an
                                                          east to              experimental
                                                          Carolinas), Mexico.  population.
Do...............................  ......do............  ......do...........  U.S.A. (AL, AR, CO,  XN                487, 621,           NA     17.84(h)
                                                                               FL, GA, ID, IL,                             710
                                                                               IN, IA, KY, LA,
                                                                               MI, MN, MS, MO,
                                                                               NC, NM, OH, SC,
                                                                               TN, UT, VA, WI,
                                                                               WV, WY).

[[Page 33916]]

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

    3. Amend Sec. 17.84 by revising paragraphs (h)(1), (h)(2), 
(h)(4)(ii), (h)(4)(iii), (h)(4)(iv), (h)(5), (h)(6), (h)(8), (h)(9), 
and (h)(10), adding paragraph (h)(11), and adding a map at the end of 
paragraph (h) to read as follows:

Sec. 17.84  Special rules--vertebrates.

* * * * *
    (h) Whooping crane (Grus americana).
    (1) The whooping crane populations identified in paragraphs 
(h)(9)(i) through (iii) of this section are nonessential experimental 
    (2) No person may take this species in the wild in the experimental 
population areas except when such take is accidental and incidental to 
an otherwise lawful activity, or as provided in paragraphs (h)(3) and 
(4) of this section. Examples of otherwise lawful activities include, 
but are not limited to, agricultural practices, pesticide application, 
water management, construction, recreation, trapping, or hunting, when 
such activities are in full compliance with all applicable laws and 
* * * * *
    (4) * * *
    (ii) Relocate a whooping crane that has moved outside the eastern 
U.S. population area identified in paragraph (h)(9)(iii) of this 
section, or the Kissimmee Prairie or Rocky Mountain range of the 
experimental populations, when removal is necessary or requested and is 
authorized by a valid permit under Sec. 17.22;
    (iii) Relocate whooping cranes within the experimental population 
areas to improve survival and recovery prospects;
    (iv) Relocate whooping cranes from the experimental population 
areas into captivity;
* * * * *
    (5) Any taking pursuant to paragraphs (h)(3) and (4) of this 
section must be immediately reported to the National Whooping Crane 
Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 100, Austwell, 
Texas 77950 (Phone: 361-286-3559), who, in conjunction with his 
counterpart in the Canadian Wildlife Service, will determine the 
disposition of any live or dead specimens.
    (6) No person shall possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, ship, 
import, or export by any means whatsoever, any such species from the 
experimental populations taken in violation of these regulations or in 
violation of applicable State fish and wildlife laws or regulations or 
the Endangered Species Act.
* * * * *
    (8) The Service will not mandate any closure of areas, including 
National Wildlife Refuges, during hunting or conservation order seasons 
or closure or modification of hunting or conservation order seasons in 
the following situations:
    (i) For the purpose of avoiding take of the nonessential 
experimental population identified in paragraph (h)(9)(iii) of this 
    (ii) If a clearly marked whooping crane from the nonessential 
experimental population identified in (h)(9)(iii) wanders outside the 
designated NEP area. In these situations, the Service will attempt to 
capture the stray bird and return it to the appropriate area if removal 
is requested by the State.
    (9) All whooping cranes found in the wild within the boundaries 
listed in paragraphs (h)(9)(i) through (iii) of this section will be 
considered nonessential experimental animals. Geographic areas the 
nonessential experimental populations may inhabit include the 
    (i) The entire State of Florida. The reintroduction site is the 
Kissimmee Prairie portions of Polk, Osceola, Highlands, and Okeechobee 
Counties. Current information indicates that the Kissimmee Prairie is 
within the historic range of the whooping crane in Florida.
    (A) No other natural populations of whooping cranes are likely to 
come into contact with the experimental population at Kissimmee 
Prairie. The only natural extant population, known as the Aransas/Wood 
Buffalo National Park population occurs well west of the Mississippi 
River. This population nests in the Northwest Territories and adjacent 
areas of Alberta, Canada, primarily within the boundaries of the Wood 
Buffalo National Park, and winters along the Central Texas Gulf of 
Mexico coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The only other extant 
eastern U.S. population is the nonessential experimental population 
described in paragraph (h)(9)(iii) of this section. Remnant individuals 
of the Rocky Mountain nonessential experimental population occur in the 
western United States as described in paragraph (h)(9)(ii) of this 
    (B) Whooping cranes adhere to ancestral breeding grounds, leaving 
little possibility that individuals from the extant Aransas/Wood 
Buffalo National Park population will stray into Florida or the Rocky 
Mountain Population. Studies of whooping cranes have shown that 
migration is a learned rather than an innate behavior. The experimental 
population released at Kissimmee Prairie is expected to remain mostly 
within the prairie region of central Florida.
    (ii) The States of Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah, and the 
western half of Wyoming. Wooping cranes in this area do not come in 
contact with whooping cranes of the Aransas/Wood Buffalo Population; 
    (iii) That portion of the eastern contiguous United States which 
includes the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, 
Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, 
Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, 
West Virginia, and Wisconsin. (See map following paragraph (h)(11) of 
this section). Whooping cranes within this population are expected to 
occur mostly within the States of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, 
Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida, which is within the historic 
range of the whooping crane in the United States. The additional States 
included within the experimental population area are those expected to 
receive occasional use by the cranes, or which may be used as breeding 
or wintering areas in the event of future population expansion. 
Whooping cranes in this population are not expected to come in contact 
with whooping cranes of the Aransas/Wood Buffalo National Park 
    (10) The reintroduced populations will be monitored during the 
duration of the projects by the use of radio telemetry and other 
appropriate measures. Any animal that is determined to be sick, 
injured, or otherwise in need of special care will be recaptured to the 
extent possible by Service and/or State wildlife personnel or their 
designated agent and given appropriate care. Such animals will be 
released back to the wild as soon as

[[Page 33917]]

possible, unless physical or behavioral problems make it necessary to 
return them to a captive breeding facility.
    (11) The status of the experimental populations will be reevaluated 
periodically to determine future management needs. This review will 
take into account the reproductive success and movement patterns of the 
individuals released within the experimental population areas.




    Dated: June 18, 2001.
Joseph E. Doddridge,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 01-15791 Filed 6-25-01; 8:45 am]