[Federal Register: August 19, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 160)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 51223-51237]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2010-0057; 92220-1113-0000-C3]
RIN 1018-AX23

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Establishment of a 
Nonessential Experimental Population of Endangered Whooping Cranes in 
Southwestern Louisiana

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to 
reintroduce whooping cranes (Grus americana), a federally listed 
endangered species, into habitat in its historic range in southwestern 
Louisiana with the intent to establish a nonmigratory flock that lives 
and breeds in the wetlands, marshes, and prairies there. We propose to 
classify the flock as a nonessential experimental population (NEP) 
according to section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), 
as amended. Releases will be within the historic breeding area in 
southwestern Louisiana near White Lake in Vermilion Parish. This 
proposed rule provides a plan for establishing the NEP and provides for 
allowable legal incidental take of whooping cranes within the defined 
NEP area. The objectives of the reintroduction are to advance recovery 
of the endangered whooping crane. No conflicts are envisioned between 
the reintroduction and any existing or anticipated Federal, State, 
Tribal, local government, or private actions such as oil/gas 
exploration and extraction, aquacultural practices, agricultural 
practices, pesticide application, water management, construction, 
recreation, trapping, or hunting.

DATES: We request that you send us comments on the proposed rule and 
the draft environmental assessment by the close of business on October 
18, 2010, or at the public hearings. We will hold public informational 
open houses from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., followed by public hearings from 7 
p.m. to 9 p.m., on September 15 and 16, 2010, at the locations within 
the proposed NEP area identified in the ADDRESSES section.

ADDRESSES: Written comments: You may submit comments on the proposed 
rule by one of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 
Search for Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2010-0057 and follow the instructions 
for submitting comments.
     U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, 
Attn: FWS-R4- ES-2010-0057; Division of Policy and Directives 
Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, 
Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
    We will post all information received on the proposed rule on 
http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any 
personal information you provide us (see the Public Comments Procedures 
section below for more details).
    You may submit comments on the draft environmental assessment (EA) 
by one of the following methods:
     E-mail to: LouisianaCranesEA@fws.gov.
     U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Lafayette Field Office, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, 646 Cajundome Boulevard, Suite 400, 
Lafayette, LA 70506.
    Please see the draft EA for additional information regarding 
commenting on that document.
    Copies of Documents: The proposed rule and EA are available by the 
following methods. In addition, comments and materials we receive, as 
well as supporting documentation used in preparing this proposed rule, 
will be available for public inspection:
    (1) You can view them on http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search 
Documents box, enter FWS-R4-ES- 2010-0057, which is the docket number 
for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the 
screen, select the type of documents you want

[[Page 51224]]

to view under the Document Type heading.
    (2) You can make an appointment, during normal business hours, to 
view the documents, comments, and materials in person at the Lafayette 
Field Office, Lafayette Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
646 Cajundome Boulevard, Suite 400, Lafayette, LA 70506, telephone 337-
291-3100, facsimile 337-291-3139. If you use a telecommunications 
device for the deaf (TDD), call the Federal Information Relay Service 
(FIRS) at 800-877-8339.
    Public Hearing: We will hold public hearings at the following 
    1. Gueydan, Louisiana, on September 15, 2010, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 
at the Gueydan Civic Center, 901 Wilkinson Street, Gueydan, LA 70542; 
    2. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on September 16, 2010, from 7 p.m. to 9 
p.m. at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 2000 Quail 
Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70808. Each public hearing will be preceded by a 
public informational open house from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. For information 
on reasonable accommodations to attend the informational open houses or 
the hearings, see the Public Hearings section.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Deborah Fuller, Lafayette Field 
Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (337-291-3100, facsimile 337-
291-3139) or Bill Brooks, Jacksonville Field Office, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service (904-731-3136, facsimile 904-731-3045).


Public Comment Procedures

    To ensure that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be as accurate and as effective as possible, we request that you 
send relevant information for our consideration. Please make your 
comments as specific as possible and explain the basis for them. In 
addition, please include sufficient information with your comments to 
allow us to authenticate any scientific or commercial data you 
reference or provide. In particular, we seek comments concerning the 
    (1) The geographic boundary for the NEP;
    (2) Information related to whooping crane itself as it relates 
specifically to this reintroduction effort; and
    (3) Effects of the reintroduction on other native species and the 
    Prior to issuing a final rule on this proposed action and 
determining whether to prepare a finding of no significant impact or an 
Environmental Impact Statement, we will take into consideration 
comments and additional information we receive. Such information may 
lead to a final rule that differs from this proposal. All comments and 
recommendations, including names and addresses, will become part of the 
administrative record for the final rule.
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. If you 
submit a comment via http://www.regulations.gov, your entire comment--
including any personal identifying information--will be posted on the 
Web site. Please note that comments submitted to this Web site are not 
immediately viewable. When you submit a comment, the system receives it 
immediately. However, the comment will not be publicly viewable until 
we post it, which might not occur until several days after submission.
    If you mail or hand-deliver hardcopy comments that include personal 
information, you may request at the top of your document that we 
withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so. To ensure that the electronic 
docket for this rulemaking is complete and all comments we receive are 
publicly available, we will post all hardcopy comments on http:/

Public Hearings

    We will hold public hearings at the locations listed above in 
ADDRESSES. Each public hearing will last from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on 
September 15, 2010, and September 16, 2010. Before each hearing, we 
will hold a public informational open house from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. to 
provide an additional opportunity for the public to gain information 
and ask questions about the proposed rule. These open house sessions 
should assist interested parties in preparing substantive comments on 
the proposed rule. All comments we receive at the public hearings, both 
verbal and written, will be considered in making our final decision on 
the proposed establishment of the NEP. Persons needing reasonable 
accommodations in order to attend and participate in a public hearing 
should contact Deborah Fuller or Bill Brooks, at the address or phone 
number listed in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section as soon as 
possible. In order to allow sufficient time to process requests, please 
call no later than one week before the hearing. Information regarding 
this proposal is available in alternative formats upon request.


Previous Federal Actions

    The whooping crane (Grus americana) was listed as an endangered 
species on March 11, 1967 (32 FR 4001). We have previously designated 
NEPs for whooping cranes in Florida (58 FR 5647, January 22, 1993); the 
Rocky Mountains (62 FR 38932, July 21, 1997); and the Eastern United 
States (66 FR 33903, June 26, 2001). See also ``Recovery Efforts'' 
    Congress made significant changes to the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), with the addition in 
1982 of section 10(j), which provides for the designation of specific 
reintroduced populations of listed species as ``experimental 
populations.'' Under the Act, species listed as endangered or 
threatened are afforded protection largely through the prohibitions of 
section 9 and the requirements of section 7 and corresponding 
implementing regulations.
    Section 7 of the Act outlines the procedures for Federal 
interagency cooperation to conserve federally listed species and 
protect designated critical habitats. Under Section 7(a)(1), all 
Federal agencies are mandated to determine how to use their existing 
authorities to further the purposes of the Act to aid in recovering 
listed species. Section 7(a)(2) states that Federal agencies will, in 
consultation with the Service, ensure 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.
    Under section 10(j), the Secretary of the Department of the 
Interior can designate reintroduced populations established outside the 
species' current range, but within its historical range, as 
''experimental.'' 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. A threatened designation allows us discretion 
in devising management programs and special regulations for such a 
population. Section 9 of the Act prohibits the take of endangered 
species. ``Take'' is defined by the Act as ``harass, harm, pursue, 
hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or

[[Page 51225]]

attempt to engage in any such conduct.'' Section 4(d) of the Act allows 
us to adopt whatever regulations are necessary and advisable to provide 
for the conservation of a threatened species. In these situations, the 
general regulations that extend most section 9 prohibitions to 
threatened species do not apply to that species, and the 10(j) rule 
contains the prohibitions and exemptions necessary 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. Both an experimental population 
that is essential to the survival of the species and an experimental 
population that is not essential to the survival of the species are 
treated as a threatened species. However, for section 7 interagency 
cooperation purposes, if a nonessential experimental population 
(``NEP'') is located outside of a National Wildlife Refuge or National 
Park, it is treated as a species proposed for listing.
    For the purposes of section 7 of the Act, in situations where an 
NEP is located within a National Wildlife Refuge or National Park, the 
NEP is treated as threatened and section 7(a)(1) and the consultation 
requirements of section 7(a)(2) of the Act apply.
    When NEPs are located outside a National Wildlife Refuge or 
National Park Service unit, we treat the population as proposed for 
listing and only two provisions of section 7 apply-- section 7(a)(1) 
and section 7(a)(4). In these instances, NEPs provide additional 
flexibility because Federal agencies are not required to consult with 
us under section 7(a)(2). Section 7(a)(4) requires Federal agencies to 
confer (rather than consult) with the Service on actions that are 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a species proposed to 
be listed. The results of a conference are in the form of conservation 
recommendations that are optional as the agencies carry out, fund, or 
authorize activities. However, since an 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 
NEP. Regulations for NEPs may be developed to be more compatible with 
routine human activities in the reintroduction area.
    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. If this proposal is adopted, we would ensure, 
through our section 10 permitting authority and the section 7 
consultation process, that the use of individuals from donor 
populations for release is not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of the species in the wild.

Biological Information

    The whooping crane is a member of the family Gruidae (cranes). 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.
    Adults are potentially long-lived. Current estimates suggest a 
maximum longevity in the wild of 32 years (Stehn, USFWS, 2010 pers 
comm.). Captive individuals are known to have survived 27 to 40 years. 
Mating is characterized by monogamous lifelong pair bonds. 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, p. 108; Kuyt 1981, p. 123). Although two 
eggs are laid, whooping crane pairs infrequently fledge two chicks 
(Canadian Wildlife Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2007, p. 
6). Approximately one of every four hatched chicks survives to reach 
the wintering grounds (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1994, p. 14).
    The whooping crane 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, p. 1; Nesbitt 1982, p. 151). 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. There was also a nonmigratory population 
breeding in coastal Louisiana (Allen 1952, p. 28; Gomez 1992, p. 19).
    Banks (1978, p. 1) derived estimates that there were 500 to 700 
whooping cranes in 1870. By 1941, the migratory population contained 
only 16 individuals. The whooping crane population decline between 
these two estimates 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, p. 28; 
Erickson and Derrickson 1981, p. 108).
    Allen (1952, pp. 18-40, 94) 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. Other historic Gulf coast wintering locations 
included Mobile Bay in Alabama, and Bay St. Louis in Mississippi. A 
route from the nesting grounds in North Dakota and the Canadian 
Provinces went southward to the wintering areas of Texas and the Rio 
Grande Delta region of Mexico. Another migration route crossed the 
Appalachians to the Atlantic Coast.
    Gomez (1992, p. 19) summarized the literary references regarding 
whooping cranes in southwestern Louisiana. This included Olmsted's 
mention of an ``immense white crane'' on the prairies of Louisiana 
(1861, p. 31); Nelson (1929, pp. 146-147) reporting on wintering 
whooping cranes near Pecan Island; and McIlhenny (1938, p. 670) 
describing the small flock of resident cranes at Avery Island and 
speculating on the reasons for the species' decline. Simons (1937, p. 
220) included a photograph; Allen (1950, pp. 194-195) and Van Pelt 
(1950, p. 22) recounted the capture of the last member of the Louisiana 
nonmigratory flock; and Allen's whooping crane monograph (1952) is the 
main source on whooping crane ecology in southwest Louisiana.
    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.

Status of Current Populations

    Whooping cranes currently exist in three wild populations and 
within a captive breeding population at 12 locations. The first 
population, and 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

[[Page 51226]]

central Texas Gulf of Mexico coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge 
(NWR) and adjacent areas (referred to later as the Aransas-Wood Buffalo 
population, or AWBP). From their nesting areas in Canada, these cranes 
migrate southeasterly through Alberta, Saskatchewan, and eastern 
Manitoba, stopping in southern Saskatchewan for several weeks in fall 
migration before continuing migration into the United States. They 
migrate through the Great Plains States of eastern Montana, North 
Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The winter 
habitat extends 50 kilometers (km) (31 miles) along the Texas coast 
from San Jose Island and Lamar Peninsula on the south to Welder Point 
and Matagorda Island on the north, and consists of estuarine marshes, 
shallow bays, and tidal flats (Allen 1952, p. 127; Blankinship 1976, p. 
384). Their spring migration is more rapid, and they simply reverse the 
route followed in fall. Sixty-two pairs from this population nested in 
2009, and 263 whooping cranes were reported from the wintering grounds 
in January 2010. The flock is recovering from a population low of 15 or 
16 birds in 1941.
    The second population, the Florida nonmigratory population, is 
found in the Kissimmee Prairie area of central Florida (see Recovery 
Efforts section for further details on this population and the Eastern 
population). Between 1993 and 2004, 289 captive-born, isolation-reared 
whooping cranes were released into Osceola, Lake, and Polk Counties in 
an effort to establish this nonmigratory flock. The last releases took 
place in the winter of 2004-2005. As of January 2010, only 26 
individuals are being monitored, which include 9 pairs and 1 fledgling 
from 2009. Since the first nest attempt in 1999, there have been a 
total of 72 nest attempts, 33 chicks hatched and only 10 chicks 
successfully fledged. One pair has produced and fledged three of these 
chicks. Problems with survival and reproduction, both of which have 
been complicated by drought, are considered major challenges for this 
    The third population of wild whooping cranes is referred to as the 
Eastern Migratory Population (EMP). The EMP has been established 
through reintroduction and currently numbers 97. During the 2009 spring 
breeding season, all 12 first nests of the season were abandoned, as 
have all first nests during the previous years. From 2005-2009, there 
have been a total of 41 nests (including 7 renests); only 2 renests 
have hatched chicks, and only 1 chick has been successfully fledged. As 
of July 27, 2010, a total of 9 pairs nested. Five of those pairs 
hatched chicks and two chicks remain alive as of July 27, 2010. Nesting 
failure is currently the EMP's foremost concern. There is compelling 
evidence of a correlation with presence of biting insects at the nests 
suggesting they may play a role in nest abandonment (Stehn, USFWS, 2009 
pers. com.).
    The whooping crane also occurs in a captive-breeding population. 
The whooping crane captive-breeding program, initiated in 1967, has 
been very successful. The Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service 
began taking eggs from the nests of the wild population (AWBP) in 1967, 
and raising the resulting young in captivity. Between 1967 and 1998, 
program officials took 242 eggs from the wild to captive sites. Birds 
raised from those eggs form the nucleus of the captive flock (USFWS 
2007, p. C-2). The captive-breeding population is now kept at five 
captive-breeding centers: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; the 
International Crane Foundation; the Devonian Wildlife Conservation 
Center, Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada; the Audubon Species Survival 
Center in New Orleans, Louisiana; and the San Antonio Zoo, Texas. The 
total captive population as of January 2010 stands near 150 birds in 
the captive-breeding centers and at other locations for display 
(Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada; Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida; 
Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park in Homosassa, Florida; 
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida; Audubon Zoo in 
New Orleans, Louisiana; Milwaukee Zoo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and 
Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck, North Carolina).
    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. 
Even this population remains vulnerable to extirpation through a 
natural catastrophe, a red tide outbreak, a contaminant spill, and sea 
level rise due primarily to its limited wintering distribution along 
the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway of the Texas coast. This waterway 
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 being vulnerable, it 
is urgent that additional wild self-sustaining populations be 
    There have been three reintroduction projects to date. 
Reintroduction using cross-fostering with sandhill cranes in the Rocky 
Mountains occurred from 1973-1988, and was discontinued due to 
excessive mortality and failure of the birds to pair and breed. No 
cranes remain in this population. The Florida nonmigratory population 
numbers 26 birds (10 males, 16 females). Only two pairs attempted to 
breed during the 2009 drought, and one pair fledged a chick. In 2010, 
there are nine nests and one pair fledged a chick so far. Currently, 
the EMP numbers 97 birds and nine pair nested in 2010.

Recovery Efforts

    The first recovery plan developed by the U.S./Canadian Whooping 
Crane Recovery Team (Recovery Team) was approved January 23, 1980. The 
first revision was approved on December 23, 1986, the second revision 
on February 11, 1994, and the third revision on May 29, 2007. The 
short-term goal of the recovery plan, as revised, is to reclassify the 
whooping crane from endangered to threatened status. The criteria for 
attaining this reclassification goal are (1) achieving a population 
level of 40 nesting pairs in the AWBP and (2) establishing two 
additional, separate, and self-sustaining populations consisting of 25 
nesting pairs each. These new populations may be migratory or 
nonmigratory. If only one additional wild self-sustaining population is 
reestablished, then the AWBP must reach 100 nesting pairs and the new 
population must consist of 30 nesting pairs. If the establishment of 
two additional wild self-sustaining populations is not successful, then 
the AWBP must be self-sustaining and remain above 250 nesting pairs for 
reclassification to occur. The recovery plan recommends that these 
goals should be attained for 10 consecutive years before the species is 
reclassified to threatened.
    In 1985, the Director-General of the Canadian Wildlife Service and 
the Director of the 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, 
1995, and 2001 and is expected to be renewed in 2010. 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

[[Page 51227]]

future progeny are jointly owned by the Service and the Canadian 
Wildlife Service. Consequently, both nations are involved in recovery 


    In early 1984, pursuant to the Recovery Plan goals and the 
recommendation of the Recovery Team, potential whooping crane release 
areas were selected in the eastern United States. By 1988, the Recovery 
Team recognized that cross-fostering with sandhill cranes was not 
working to establish a migratory population in the Rocky Mountains. The 
term ``cross-fostering'' refers to the foster rearing of the whooping 
crane chicks by another species, the sandhill crane. The possibility of 
inappropriate sexual imprinting associated with cross-fostering, and 
the lack of a proven technique for establishing a migratory flock 
influenced the Recovery Team to favor establishing a nonmigratory 
    Studies of whooping cranes (Drewien and Bizeau 1977, pp. 201-218) 
and greater sandhill cranes (Nesbitt 1988, p. 44) 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 
Recovery Team selected Kissimmee Prairie in central Florida as the area 
most suitable to establish a self-sustaining population. In 1993, the 
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) (formerly the 
Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission) began releasing captive-
reared chicks from the breeding population in an attempt to establish a 
resident, nonmigratory flock. Eggs laid at the captive-breeding 
facilities were sent to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to be 
hatched and reared in isolation. The chicks were brought to Florida in 
the fall where they were ``gentle released,'' a technique that involves 
a protracted period of acclimation in a specially constructed release 
pen followed by a gradual transition to life on their own in the wild. 
This release methodology has helped to establish a wild resident, 
nonmigratory flock of whooping cranes in central Florida.
    In 1996, the Recovery Team decided to investigate the potential for 
another reintroduction site in the eastern United States, with the 
intent of establishing an additional migratory population as the third 
flock to meet recovery goals. Following a study of potential wintering 
sites (Cannon 1998, p. 1-19), the Recovery Team selected the 
Chassahowitzka NWR/St. Martin's Marsh Aquatic Preserve in Florida as 
the top wintering site for a new migratory flock of whooping cranes. A 
detailed analysis was presented at the Recovery Team meeting in 
September 1999 (Cannon 1999, p. 1-38), and the Recovery Team then 
recommended that releases for an EMP target central Wisconsin at 
Necedah NWR as the core breeding area with the wintering site along the 
Gulf coast of Florida at the Chassahowitzka NWR.
    In January 2001, the Recovery Team met at the Audubon Center for 
Research on Endangered Species in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. Highlights 
of the meeting included genetic management recommendations for the 
captive flock, an overflight of crane habitat in southwestern 
Louisiana, including the White Lake and Marsh Island areas, and the 
recommendation to proceed with a migratory reintroduction of whooping 
cranes in the eastern United States. Following the Recovery Team 
meeting, the Louisiana Crane Working Group was formed to help with 
research and information needed to assess the potential for releasing 
whooping cranes in Louisiana.
    In the spring of 2001, eggs laid at the captive-breeding facilities 
were sent to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to be hatched and 
reared in the spring. The chicks were brought to the Necedah NWR in 
central Wisconsin in the early summer and were trained to fly behind 
ultralight aircraft by Operation Migration. In the fall of 2001, the 
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership's (WCEP) first historic whooping 
crane migration led by ultralights from central Wisconsin to the 
central Gulf coast of Florida was completed by Operation Migration. 
This release methodology has established a wild migrating flock of 
whooping cranes with a core breeding/summering area at Necedah NWR in 
central Wisconsin and a primary wintering area in west-central Florida 
(Pasco and Citrus Counties and at Paynes Prairie in Alachua County). 
Portions of this population also winter at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in 
central Tennessee, Wheeler NWR in northern Alabama, and the Ashepoo, 
Combahee, and South Edisto Basin (ACE Basin) in coastal South Carolina. 
Since 2005, additional captive chicks reared at the International Crane 
Foundation have been released directly into groups of older whooping 
cranes in central Wisconsin prior to the fall to follow older cranes 
during migration.
    In 2004, the Florida FWC and the Recovery Team made the decision to 
postpone additional releases in Florida. Between 1993 and 2004, program 
members released 289 captive-reared birds in an attempt to establish a 
Florida nonmigratory flock. Problems with survival and reproduction, 
both of which have been complicated by drought, were considered major 
challenges for this flock. The Florida FWC postponed releases to focus 
their resources to study these issues.
    In 2005, two members of the Recovery Team met with Louisiana DWF 
and the Louisiana Crane Working Group to develop a plan to investigate 
the feasibility of a whooping crane reintroduction in Louisiana. In 
February 2007, a Recovery Team meeting was held in Lafayette, 
Louisiana, to assess the status of whooping crane recovery efforts. 
This meeting included updates and recovery action recommendations for 
the AWBP, Florida, and EMP populations. In addition, the Recovery Team 
also came to Louisiana to further evaluate the interest in releasing 
whooping cranes in Louisiana. A preliminary assessment of the habitat 
for a resident nonmigratory flock and wintering habitat for a migratory 
flock was conducted during field visits to White Lake and Marsh Island. 
The Recovery Team endorsed a plan that could lead to a reintroduction 
of whooping cranes in Louisiana. The Recovery Team recommended the U.S. 
Geological Survey, Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research 
Unit, conduct a habitat assessment and food availability study at White 
Lake as a potential release area for a nonmigratory population and 
Marsh Island as a potential wintering area for a migratory flock of 
whooping cranes. Additional research on sandhill crane migration 
patterns for cranes that winter in Louisiana was also recommended. The 
Recovery Team also requested the Whooping Crane Health Advisory Team 
prepare a report on the potential health risks if whooping cranes 
reintroduced into Louisiana were to mix with cranes in the AWBP.
    In 2008, scientists from Florida FWC and major project partners 
conducted a workshop to assess the current status and potential for 
success of establishing the resident, nonmigratory population of 
whooping cranes in Florida. The Recovery Team used the workshop 
findings and other considerations, and in 2009 recommended there be no 
further releases into the Florida flock. The water regimes produced by 
periodic droughts in Florida make it extremely unlikely that 
reproduction in wild-hatched Florida whooping cranes will ever achieve 
production rates adequate for success. The Florida FWC continues to 
study and monitor the remaining nonmigratory whooping cranes to gather

[[Page 51228]]

information that may prove valuable for future recovery efforts.
    Nesting failure is currently the EMP's foremost concern. WCEP's 
nest monitoring efforts and additional studies initiated in 2009 have 
provided compelling but not conclusive evidence of a correlation with 
presence of biting insects at the nests as contributing factor to nest 
abandonment. In August of 2009, the Service met with the Louisiana 
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (DWF) to discuss establishing a 
possible resident nonmigratory population of whooping cranes in 

Objectives of Proposed Reintroduction

    The objectives of this proposed reintroduction into Louisiana are 
to: (1) Implement a primary recovery action for the whooping crane; (2) 
further assess the suitability of southwestern Louisiana as whooping 
crane habitat; and (3) evaluate the suitability of releasing captive-
reared whooping cranes, conditioned for wild release, as a technique 
for establishing a self-sustaining, nonmigratory population. 
Information on survival of released birds, movements, behavior, causes 
of losses, reproductive success, and other data will be gathered 
throughout the project. This reintroduction project's progress will be 
evaluated annually.
    The likelihood of the releases resulting in a self-sustaining 
population is believed to be good. Whooping cranes historically 
occurred in Louisiana in both a resident, nonmigratory flock and a 
migratory flock that wintered in Louisiana. The proposed release area, 
White Lake, is the location where whooping cranes were historically 
documented raising young in Louisiana (Gomez 1992, p. 20). The minimum 
goal for numbers of cranes to be released annually is based on the 
research of Griffith et al. (1989, pp. 477-480). If results of this 
initial proposed release are favorable, releases will be continued with 
the goal of releasing up to 30 whooping cranes annually for about 10 
years. 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 to be used have proven successful in 
supplementing the wild population of the endangered Mississippi 
sandhill crane (Grus canadensis pulla).
    We may select additional release sites later during the efforts to 
reintroduce non-migratory whooping cranes to Louisiana to reduce the 
risk of catastrophic loss of the population. Additional release sites 
could also increase the potential breeding range in Louisiana. 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 toward 
establishing their nesting territory near the natal area (Drewien et 
al. 1983, p. 9). When captive-reared birds are released at a wild 
location, the birds may view the release site as a natal area. If they 
do, females would likely disperse away from the release area in their 
search for a mate. Therefore, it may be advantageous to have several 
release sites to provide a broader distribution of territorial males. 
As a result, it is possible that we will pursue future releases at 
additional sites. These additional sites would be selected based on the 
observed dispersal patterns of birds from the initial releases.
    The Louisiana DWF has discussed this proposed experimental 
population with the Mississippi Flyway Council. The Service has 
discussed this proposed experimental population with the Central Flyway 
Council. During that discussion, the Texas Parks and Wildlife 
Department representative expressed interest in having two coastal 
counties in Texas included as part of the area for this proposed 
experimental population to avoid possible closures of waterfowl hunting 
if whooping cranes from the proposed experimental population were to 
wander into the area. This proposed regulation does not include those 
two counties as the Service believes that expansion of the endangered 
AWBP into the two coastal counties is an essential aspect of achieving 
recovery of the species. The Service and Louisiana DWF will coordinate 
with the Mississippi, Central, and Atlantic Flyway Councils during the 
public comment period for this proposed regulation and will contact the 
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to obtain additional input on the 
potential for reintroduction of a nonmigratory whooping crane 
population in southwestern Louisiana. The Louisiana DWF has also made 
presentations and facilitated discussions with numerous organizations 
and potentially affected interest groups and government representatives 
in southwestern Louisiana.
    Louisiana DWF and the Service have conducted extensive 
coordination, both formal and informal, with constituents related to 
the proposed nonmigratory NEP. All have been asked to provide comments 
on this proposed rule. The Canadian Wildlife Service, a partner with 
the Service as noted in the Memorandum of Understanding, has approved 
the proposed project.
    An extensive sharing of information about the effort to reintroduce 
a nonmigratory flock to Louisiana and the species itself, via 
educational efforts targeted toward the public throughout the NEP area, 
will enhance public awareness of this species and its reintroduction. 
We will encourage the public to cooperate with the Service and 
Louisiana DWF in attempts to maintain and protect whooping cranes in 
the release area.

Reintroduction Protocol

    We propose to initially gentle-release four to eight juvenile 
whooping cranes in the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in 
Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. These birds will have been captive-reared 
at one of the captive-rearing facilities, then transferred to 
facilities at the Louisiana release site, and conditioned for wild 
release to increase post-release survival (Zwank and Wilson 1987, p. 
166; Ellis et al. 1992b, p. 147; Nesbitt et al. 2001, p. 62) and 
adaptability to wild foods. Before release, the cranes will be banded 
for identification purposes, tagged with radio and/or GPS solar-powered 
satellite transmitters at release, and monitored to discern movements, 
habitat use, other behavior, and survival. Numbers of birds available 
for release will depend on production at captive-propagation facilities 
and the future need for additional releases into the EMP. The Species 
Survival Center in New Orleans has received Federal funding to 
construct a hatchery and chick- rearing facility so that whooping 
cranes produced for release in this project could be hatched and reared 
in Louisiana.
    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 (Horwich 1989, pp. 380-384; 
Ellis et al. 1992a, pp. 137-138; Urbanek and Bookhout 1992, pp. 122-
123). This technique has been used to establish a population of 
nonmigratory whooping cranes in Florida (Nesbitt et al. 2001, pp. 62-
63). This technique has also been successful in supplementing the 
population of endangered nonmigratory Mississippi sandhill cranes in 
Mississippi (Zwank and Wilson 1987, p. 165; Ellis et al. 1992b, p. 
147). Facilities for captive maintenance of the birds will be modeled 
after facilities at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the 
International Crane Foundation and will

[[Page 51229]]

conform to standards set forth in the Animal Welfare Act regulations (9 
CFR) and Louisiana Wildlife Code. To further ensure the well-being of 
birds in captivity and their suitability for release to the wild, 
facilities will incorporate features of their natural environment 
(e.g., feeding, loafing, and roosting habitat) to the extent possible. 
The gentle release-conditioning pens will be similar to those used 
successfully to release whooping cranes in the Florida and EMP 
populations, as well as release of Mississippi sandhill cranes. Pens 
help new birds acclimate to their surroundings; provide a degree of 
protection against predation, and supplemental food resources if 
needed. Pre-release conditioning will occur at facilities near the 
release site.
    Since migration is a learned rather than an innate behavior, 
captive-reared whooping cranes released in Louisiana will likely adhere 
to their release area rather than disperse into new regions. Sixteen 
Florida nonmigratory whooping cranes have been documented in five 
States other than Florida; seven returned to the reintroduction area, 
and nine have not been seen again (Folk et al. 2008, pp. 7-12).

Proposed Reintroduced Population

    In 2001, we designated the State of Louisiana as part of a 
geographic area where whooping cranes within its boundaries would be 
considered nonessential experimental. We are proposing with this 
regulation to clarify that the reintroduced nonmigratory flock of 
whooping cranes in southwestern Louisiana will also be fully considered 
as an NEP according to the provisions of section 10(j) of the Act. This 
designation can be 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 reintroduction effort into Louisiana will result in the 
successful establishment of a self-sustaining, resident, nonmigratory 
flock, which will contribute to the recovery of the species. The 
special rule contained within this proposal 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 of nonmigratory 
birds is not essential to the continued existence of the whooping crane 
for the following reasons:
    (a) For the time being, the AWBP and the captive populations will 
be the primary species populations. With approximately 150 birds in 
captivity at 12 discrete sites (5 main facilities and 7 other 
locations), and approximately 250 birds in the AWBP, 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 AWBP and by an 
increase in the numbers and management of the cranes at the captive 
    (b) For the time being, the primary repository of genetic diversity 
for the species will be the approximately 400 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 wild releases with 
approximately 30 juveniles available annually. We expect this number to 
increase to over 40 as young pairs already in captivity reach breeding 
    This illustrates the potential of the captive flock to replace 
individual birds proposed for release in reintroduction efforts. Levels 
of production are expected to be sufficient to support both this 
proposal and continued releases into the EMP.
    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 an additional, wild, self-
sustaining population could be equally hazardous to survival of the 
species in the wild. The AWBP could be lost as the result of a 
catastrophic event or a contaminant spill on the wintering grounds that 
would necessitate management efforts to establish an additional wild 
population. The recovery plan identifies the need for three self-
sustaining wild populations--consisting of 40 nesting pairs in the AWBP 
and 2 additional, separate and self-sustaining populations consisting 
of 25 nesting pairs each--to be in existence before the whooping crane 
can be reclassified to threatened status.
    Due to the survival and reproductive issues faced by the Florida 
nonmigratory flock, it is extremely unlikely that reproduction in wild-
hatched Florida whooping cranes will ever achieve production rates 
adequate for success. Depending on whether the reproductive issues can 
be overcome, the EMP has the potential to become the second self-
sustaining, wild population needed to move toward recovery. 
Establishing a Louisiana nonmigratory flock as the third recovery 
population has become a recovery priority. Whooping cranes historically 
occurred in Louisiana in both a resident, nonmigratory flock and a 
migratory flock that wintered in Louisiana. The proposed release area, 
White Lake, is the location where whooping cranes were historically 
documented raising young in Louisiana (Gomez 1992, p. 20). 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. Because 
establishment of other populations has not yet been entirely 
successful, establishing a Louisiana nonmigratory flock would also 
demonstrate that captive-reared cranes can be used to establish a 
nonmigratory, wild population.

Location of Reintroduced Population

    The proposed release site, White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area 
(WLWCA), encompasses part of the area historically occupied by a 
nonmigratory, breeding population of whooping cranes (Allen 1952, p. 
30; Gomez 1992, p. 19). WLWCA (formerly known as the Standolind Tract), 
located in Vermilion Parish, was owned and managed by BP America 
Production White Lake (BPWL) until 2002 when BPWL donated the property 
to the State of Louisiana. At that time a cooperative Endeavor 
Agreement between the State of Louisiana and White Lake Preservation 
Inc., was executed for management of the property. In 2005, according 
to the terms of that agreement, the Louisiana DWF received total 
control for management of this area. BP retained the mineral rights to 
    The WLWCA is located within the Mermentau Basin, along the north 
shore of White Lake, in southwestern Louisiana. Natural drainage within 
the basin has been interrupted by manmade features. The major source of 
hydrological change in this basin has been the conversion of two 
estuarine lakes (Grand and White Lakes) into freshwater reservoirs for 
agricultural (rice) irrigation in the surrounding areas. There are 
several large areas of public ownership in the general vicinity. The 
WLWCA is located approximately 11 km (7 miles) north of the State-owned 
Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge and Game Preserve (30,773 hectares (76,042 
acres)) and

[[Page 51230]]

approximately 32 km (20 miles) east of Cameron Prairie NWR (3,893 
hectares (9,621 acres)). The area north of WLWCA is primarily used for 
agriculture although it was historically the panicum (paille fine) 
marsh that Allen (1952, p. 30) reported as being used by whooping 
cranes. Nonagricultural areas surrounding WLWCA consist of brackish to 
intermediate marshes, privately owned and primarily used for waterfowl 
    WLWCA comprises approximately 28,722 contiguous hectares (70,970 
acres) and is divided into several management units. Approximately 
7,690 hectares (19,000 acres) are in agricultural use, primarily in the 
northeastern portion (Management Units A and F), and the rest of the 
area is wetlands. The wetland portions are nearly bisected by Florence 
Canal (Gomez 1992, p. 21). Approximately 12,100 hectares (29,900 acres) 
east of Florence Canal (Management Unit B) consist of maidencane marsh, 
and water levels are passively managed. The wetland areas west of 
Florence Canal (Management Areas E and C), were formerly a sawgrass 
marsh (until a die-off in the late 1950s) and now consist of west 
bulltongue (Gomez 1992, p. 21). Water levels are actively managed using 
pumps on approximately 1,943 hectares (4,800 acres) (Unit C).
    The proposed release site (Unit E), consists of approximately 7,028 
hectares (17,365 acres) of wetlands on which the Louisiana DWF actively 
manages water level using pumps and weirs. Water level management 
consists of providing habitat for wintering waterfowl by gradual 
flooding in the fall with the deepest water (0.61 to 0.76 m (2 to 2.5 
ft)) generally occurring at the western end. The area is kept flooded 
for approximately 6 weeks and then drawn down in the spring. Boat 
traffic occurs in the Florence Canal (the eastern border of this unit). 
Limited, controlled waterfowl hunting occurs on the WLWCA. Occasional, 
controlled, nonconsumptive activities (e.g., boating) periodically 
occur in the spring and summer. The Louisiana DWF has facilities 
adjacent to WLWCA where monitoring personnel would be housed.
    Section 10(j) of the Act requires that an experimental population 
be geographically separate from other populations of the same species. 
The NEP area already identified in the eastern United States for the 
EMP (66 FR 33903) will include, if this rule is finalized, nonmigratory 
whooping cranes reintroduced in Louisiana. The expectation is that most 
whooping cranes will be concentrated within wetlands at the proposed 
release site. Dispersal within the NEP area may include areas in 
Calcasieu, Jefferson Davis, and Cameron Parishes. The marshes and 
wetlands of southwestern Louisiana are expected to receive occasional 
use by the cranes and may be used in the event of future population 
expansion. However, any whooping crane found within Louisiana will be 
considered part of an experimental population. Although experience has 
shown that most birds show an affinity to the release area after gentle 
release, it is impossible to predict where individual whooping cranes 
may disperse following release within the project area. A majority of 
the whooping cranes released within Florida stayed within the NEP. One 
pair of whooping cranes from the Florida flock is known to have 
traveled to Illinois and Michigan during the severe drought of 2000 and 
a second pair dispersed to Virginia, but surviving members of the pairs 
returned to the core reintroduction area in Florida. Designation of the 
Louisiana nonmigratory NEP allows for the possible occurrence of cranes 
in a larger area of Louisiana.
    Whooping cranes released in southwestern Louisiana are not expected 
to interact with the AWBP flock along the Texas coast as Aransas NWR is 
approximately 482 km (285 miles) southwest of the proposed release 
area. However, if the Recovery Team were to consider having EMP 
whooping cranes winter in Louisiana, some interaction between EMP 
migratory and Louisiana nonmigratory cranes would be expected to occur. 
The possibility that individual birds from either flock would acquire 
either migratory or nonmigratory behavior through association, 
especially if pairs form between members of the different populations, 
is not likely. 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 holds 
true for whooping cranes. Individuals of the Florida nonmigratory 
population and the EMP have associated during the winter; however, the 
two flocks have remained discrete and each represents a separate 
population as specified in the Recovery Plan (Canadian Wildlife Service 
and USFWS 2007, p. xii). As such, while the levels of protection are 
the same, the two populations may be managed differently.
    Released whooping cranes might wander into the eastern counties of 
Texas adjacent to the expected dispersal area and outside the proposed 
Louisiana NEP area. We believe the frequency of such movements is 
likely to be very low. Any whooping cranes that leave the proposed 
Louisiana NEP area but remain in the eastern United States NEP will 
still be considered as experimental nonessential. Any whooping crane 
that leaves the Louisiana and eastern United States NEP will be 
considered endangered. However, for any whooping cranes that move 
outside the Louisiana and eastern United States NEP areas, including 
those that move west towards the AWBP wintering area, attempts will be 
made to capture and return them to the appropriate area if a reasonable 
possibility exists for contact with the AWBP population or if removal 
is requested by the State which they enter.
    Birds from the AWBP flock have never been observed in Louisiana and 
rarely been observed in any of the States within the eastern United 
States NEP area except as a result of an extreme weather event. They 
are not expected to be found in the Louisiana NEP. Any whooping cranes 
that occur within the Louisiana NEP area will be considered to be part 
of the NEP and will be subject to the protective measures in place for 
the NEP. However, because of the extremely limited number of incidents 
anticipated, the decreased level of protections afforded AWBP cranes 
that cross into the NEP is not expected to have any significant adverse 
impacts to the AWBP.


a. Monitoring
    Whooping cranes will be intensively monitored by Louisiana DWF 
project and other personnel prior to and after release. The birds will 
be observed daily while they are in the gentle-release/conditioning 
    To ensure contact with the released birds, each crane will be 
equipped with a legband-mounted radio transmitter and/or a solar-
powered GPS satellite transmitter. Subsequent to being gentle released, 
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 (listlessness, social 
exclusion, flightlessness, or obvious weakness). Social behavior (e.g., 
pair formation, dominance, cohort loyalty) will also be evaluated.
    A voucher blood serum sample will be taken for each crane prior to 
its arrival in Louisiana. A second sample will be taken just prior to 
release. Any time a bird is handled after release into the wild (e.g., 
when recaptured to replace transmitters), samples may be

[[Page 51231]]

taken to monitor disease exposure and physiological condition. One year 
after release, if 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. 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
    A possible disease concern has been the probable presence of 
Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD) in the Central Flyway. Progress has 
been made on determining whether IBD is likely to affect whooping 
cranes. An IBD-like virus was isolated from an AWBP juvenile whooping 
crane that died at Aransas in February 2009. The U.S. Geological 
Survey's National Wildlife Health Center is studying this virus to 
classify it more precisely. Blood samples from sandhill cranes 
collected on the Platte River, Nebraska, in March 2009 found that 12 of 
19 had antibodies to IBD. It appears that sandhill cranes and whooping 
cranes have been exposed to IBD in the Central Flyway and that whooping 
cranes are likely not seriously affected by IBD. Thus, it is unlikely 
that the reintroduction of whooping cranes into Louisiana poses any 
significant risk to the AWBP whooping cranes in regard to transfer of 
    Both sandhill and whooping cranes are also 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., Haemoproteus spp., Leucocytozoon spp., avian pox, and 
Hexamita spp. 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. 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 Patuxent Wildlife Research 
Center in 1984 killed 7 of 39 whooping cranes present there. After the 
outbreak, the equine EEE vaccine has been used on captive cranes. In 
1989, EEE was documented in sentinel bobwhite quail and sandhill cranes 
at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. No whooping cranes became 
ill, and it appears the vaccine may provide protection. EEE is present 
in Louisiana, so the released birds may be vaccinated. Other 
encephalitis diseases have not been documented as occurring or causing 
morbidity or mortality in cranes.
    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 may consist of a biased sample of the genetic diversity 
of the captive gene pool, with certain genetic lineages 
overrepresented. This is because certain pairs within the captive flock 
are very good breeders and are managed to produce multiple clutches 
thereby maximizing the number of cranes for release. This bias will be 
corrected over time by selecting and reestablishing breeding whooping 
cranes that 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. Collisions 
with power lines and fences are known hazards to wild whooping cranes. 
If whooping cranes begin regular use of areas traversed by power lines 
or fences, the Service and Louisiana DWF will consider placing markers 
on the obstacles to reduce the probability of collisions. Potential 
predators of adult and young whooping cranes include bobcats, coyotes, 
bald eagles, and alligators. Red fox, owls, and raccoons are also 
potential predators of young cranes.
    Recently released whooping cranes will need protection from natural 
sources of mortality (predators, disease, and inadequate foods) and 
from human-caused sources of mortality. Natural mortality will be 
reduced through pre-release conditioning, gentle release, supplemental 
feeding for a post-release period, vaccination, and predator control. 
Predator control conditioning will include teaching young cranes the 
habit of roosting in standing water. Predation by bobcats has been a 
significant source of mortality in the Eastern Migratory and Florida 
nonmigratory flocks, and teaching appropriate roosting behavior to 
young birds should help to reduce losses to coyotes and bobcats. 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 recreationalists 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. As mentioned 
above in ``Monitoring'', the whooping cranes will be closely monitored 
as the reintroduction effort progresses. We will work closely with the 
State and local landowners in monitoring and evaluating the 
reintroduction effort and in adaptively managing any human-caused 
mortality issues that arise.
e. Special Handling
    Service employees, Louisiana DWF employees, and their agents will 
be 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 cranes 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. 
Service employees, Louisiana DWF and their agents will be authorized to 
salvage dead whooping cranes.
f. Potential Conflicts
    In the central and western United States, conflicts have resulted 
from the hunting of migratory birds in areas utilized by whooping 
cranes, particularly the hunting of sandhill cranes and snow geese 
(Chen cerulescens), because novice hunters may have difficulty 
distinguishing whooping cranes from those species. In recent years, 
three crane mortalities

[[Page 51232]]

have been documented incidental to hunting activities. In Louisiana, 
snow geese are hunted; however, sandhill cranes are not. 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 proposed special regulation. 
Applicable Federal penalties under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and/or 
State penalties, however, may still apply. There will be no federally 
mandated hunting area or season closures or season modifications for 
the purpose of protecting whooping cranes. We will minimize mortality 
due to accidental shootings by providing educational opportunities and 
information to hunters to assist them in distinguishing whooping cranes 
from other legal game species.
    The bulk of traditional hunting in the White Lake Wetlands 
Conservation Area release area has been for waterfowl and migratory 
bird species, turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), deer (Odocoileus 
virginianus), and small game. Conflict with traditional hunting in the 
release area is not anticipated. Access to some limited areas at 
release sites and at times when whooping cranes might be particularly 
vulnerable to human disturbance (i.e., at occupied nesting areas) may 
be temporarily restricted. Any temporary restricted access to areas for 
these purposes will be of the minimum size and duration necessary for 
protection of the proposed NEP cranes, and will be closely coordinated 
with the Service and at the discretion of Louisiana DWF. Any such 
access restrictions will not require Federal closure of hunting areas 
or seasons.
    The Louisiana DWF will maintain its whooping crane management 
authorities regarding the whooping crane. It is not directed by this 
rule to take any specific actions to provide any special protective 
measures, nor is it prevented from imposing restrictions under State 
law, such as protective designations, and area closures. Louisiana DWF 
has indicated that it would not propose hunting restrictions or 
closures related to game species because of the proposed whooping crane 
    Overall, the presence of whooping cranes is not expected to result 
in 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 Louisiana. The proposed action will not 
prevent the establishment of future hunting seasons approved for other 
migratory bird species by the Central and Mississippi Flyway Councils.
    The principal activities on private property adjacent to the 
release area are agriculture, aquaculture, oil and gas exploration and 
extraction, water level management as part of coastal restoration 
projects, and recreation. Use of these private properties by whooping 
cranes will not preclude such uses. Offshore oil exploration and 
extraction activities as well as the Deep Horizon spill and cleanup are 
not expected to affect whooping cranes in the NEP area because the 
release area is more than 15 miles from the coast in a fresh to 
brackish marsh system. The Louisiana DWF recently completed a risk 
assessment associated with this reintroduction and does not anticipate 
spill impacts from the Deepwater Horizon/MC252OS Spill Area into the 
whooping crane restoration site at WLWCA or into the surrounding 
habitats in southwestern Louisiana. The WLWCA is located over 200 miles 
from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill release site and 17 miles north of 
the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. Additionally, there are multiple physical 
barriers to stop crude oil from entering WLWCA such as the Gulf of 
Mexico Beach Rim, Levees, Water Control Structures, Locks, and Spill 
Control Equipment. The proposed special regulation accompanying this 
proposed rule authorizes take of the whooping crane in the proposed NEP 
area when the take is accidental and incidental to an otherwise lawful 
    An additional issue identified as a possible conflict is the 
potential for crop depredation. There is evidence that some sandhill 
cranes have caused losses of emerging corn in Wisconsin (Blackwell, 
Helon and Dolbeer, 2001. p. 67). It is possible that whooping cranes 
could engage in this type of behavior on planted crops in Louisiana as 
well. However, 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.
    Whooping cranes are known to use ranchlands and pasture with no 
known impacts to cattle operation practices. Among the primary sandhill 
and whooping crane habitats in Florida are ranchlands and pastures 
associated with cattle operations (Nesbitt and Williams, 1990. p. 95). 
AWBP whooping cranes are also known to utilize the cattle ranchlands 
adjacent to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge as wintering habitat 
(Canadian Wildlife Service and USFWS 2007. p. 14). We do not anticipate 
that the presence of whooping cranes on ranchlands or pastures in 
Louisiana would cause any impacts to cattle operations.
    Like other wading bird species, whooping cranes will forage along 
lake and pond edges, and may forage along the edges of ponds used for 
crawfish production, but this is not likely to cause significant stock 
depredations on crawfish. However, water levels of crawfish ponds are 
lowered at certain times for management purposes. These lowering of 
water depths, called draw downs, do attract large numbers of wading 
birds as aquatic organisms become concentrated and vulnerable to 
depredation during the lower water depths. If such depredations occur 
due to whooping cranes, they can be minimized through use of bird 
scaring devices and other techniques. Therefore, we do not expect that 
whooping cranes will pose a significant threat to stock depredation on 
crawfish. Another concern is that whooping cranes may choose to nest in 
an area with an ongoing crawfish operation. If whooping cranes nest in 
such a situation, it would indicate that those birds have acclimated to 
those activities and it is anticipated that the activities would not 
likely impact a nesting attempt.
    If whooping cranes use National Wildlife Refuges in Louisiana, the 
management programs on the refuges will continue as identified in the 
individual refuges approved Comprehensive Conservation Plans, step-down 
management plans, Annual Work Plans, and via customary and traditional 
accouterments. Activities of existing mineral rights owners, which 
include exploration, mining, marketing, and production, will continue 
to be managed by the Service in accordance with existing Refuge Special 
Use Permit Conditions currently used for the protection of migratory 
birds. All other mineral operations will further be managed in 
accordance with approved Comprehensive Conservation Plans.
    Under the existing rules currently in place for the protection of 
all fish and wildlife, including the numerous wading birds and other 
migratory birds in the Louisiana coastal zone, mineral exploration and 
extraction activities on private and/or State-owned lands can continue 
without additional impacts from the presence of reintroduced birds. 
Whooping cranes, like other wading birds, will flush due to close 
proximity of helicopters or airboats. No Federal rule changes would be 
implemented in the NEP area regarding such matters. Current practices 
by private, State, and Federal land managers will minimize

[[Page 51233]]

unnecessary harassment of all wildlife during such activities.
    This reintroduction effort will gentle-release captive-born, 
isolation-reared whooping crane chicks at White Lake Wetlands 
Conservation Area in Vermilion Parish in an attempt to establish a 
Louisiana resident, nonmigratory population of whooping cranes. It will 
be difficult to predict which specific sites will be utilized by the 
birds, and some cranes may use habitats with which they have no 
previous experience. Whooping cranes that appear in undesirable 
locations will be considered for relocation by capture and/or hazing of 
the birds. Possible conflicts with hunting, recreation, agriculture, 
aquaculture, oil and gas exploration/extraction, and water management 
interests within the release area will be minimized through an 
extensive public education program.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our policy on peer review, published on July 1, 
1994 (59 FR 34270), we will provide copies of this proposed rule to 
three or more appropriate and independent specialists in order to 
solicit comments on the scientific data and assumptions underlying this 
proposed NEP designation. The purpose of such review is to ensure that 
the proposed NEP designation is based on the best scientific 
information available. We will invite these peer reviewers to comment 
during the public comment period and will consider their comments and 
information on this proposed rule during preparation of a final 

Required Determinations

Regulatory Planning and Review (E.O. 12866)

    The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has determined that this 
proposed rule is not significant under Executive Order 12866 (E.O. 
12866). OMB bases its determination upon the following four criteria:
    (a) Whether the rule will have an annual effect of $100 million or 
more on the economy or adversely affect an economic sector, 
productivity, jobs, the environment, or other units of the government.
    (b) Whether the rule will create inconsistencies with other Federal 
agencies' actions.
    (c) Whether the rule will materially affect entitlements, grants, 
user fees, loan programs, or the rights and obligations of their 
    (d) Whether the rule raises novel legal or policy issues.

Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.)

    Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (as amended by the Small 
Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) of 1996; 5 U.S.C. 
801 et seq.), whenever a Federal agency is required to publish a notice 
of rulemaking for any proposed or final rule, it must prepare, and make 
available for public comment, a regulatory flexibility analysis that 
describes the effect of the rule on small entities (i.e., small 
businesses, small organizations, and small government jurisdictions). 
However, no regulatory flexibility analysis is required if the head of 
an agency certifies that the rule will not have a significant economic 
impact on a substantial number of small entities. The SBREFA amended 
the Regulatory Flexibility Act to require Federal agencies to provide a 
statement of the factual basis for certifying that a rule will not have 
a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. We certify that this rule would not have a significant 
economic effect on a substantial number of small entities. The 
following discussion explains our rationale.
    If this proposal is adopted, the area affected by this rule 
includes the State of Louisiana. Because NEP designation does not 
establish substantial new regulation of activities, we do not expect 
this rule would have any significant effect on recreational, 
agricultural, or development activities. Although the entire proposed 
NEP boundary encompasses a large area, the section of the proposed NEP 
area where we can anticipate the establishment of an experimental 
population of nonmigratory whooping cranes is mainly public land owned 
by the State of Louisiana. Because of the regulatory flexibility for 
Federal agency actions provided by the NEP designation and the 
exemption for incidental take in the special rule, we do not expect 
this rule to have significant effects on any activities within Tribal, 
Federal, State, or private lands within the proposed NEP.
    On National Wildlife Refuges and units of the National Park System 
within the NEP, Federal action agencies would be required to consult 
with us, under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, on any of their activities 
that may affect the whooping crane. In portions of the NEP outside of 
National Wildlife Refuge and National Park Service lands, in regard to 
section 7(a)(2), the population is treated as proposed for listing and 
Federal action agencies are not required to consult on their 
activities. Section 7(a)(4) requires Federal agencies to confer (rather 
than consult) with the Service on actions that are likely to jeopardize 
the continued existence of a proposed species. But because the NEP is, 
by definition, not essential to the continued existence of the species, 
conferring will likely never be required for the whooping crane 
population within the NEP area. Furthermore, the results of a 
conference are advisory in nature and do not restrict agencies from 
carrying out, funding, or authorizing activities.
    In addition, section 7(a)(1) requires Federal agencies to use their 
authorities to carry out programs to further the conservation of listed 
species, which would apply on any lands within the NEP area. As a 
result, and in accordance with these regulations, some modifications to 
proposed Federal actions within the NEP area may occur to benefit the 
whooping crane, but we do not expect projects to be halted or 
substantially modified as a result of these regulations.
    The principal activities on private property near the expected 
reestablishment area in the NEP are agriculture, ranching, oil and gas 
exploration and extraction, and recreation. The presence of whooping 
cranes would likely not affect the use of lands for these purposes 
because there would be no new or additional economic or regulatory 
restrictions imposed upon States, non-Federal entities, or members of 
the public due to the presence of whooping cranes. Therefore, this 
rulemaking is not expected to have any significant adverse impacts to 
recreation, agriculture, oil and gas exploration or extraction, or any 
development activities.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.)

    In accordance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 
et seq.):
    (1) This rule would not ``significantly or uniquely'' affect small 
governments. We have determined and certify pursuant to the Unfunded 
Mandates Reform Act, 2 U.S.C. 1502 et seq., that, if adopted, this 
rulemaking would not impose a cost of $100 million or more in any given 
year on local or State governments or private entities. A Small 
Government Agency Plan is not required. Small governments would not be 
affected because the proposed NEP designation would not place 
additional requirements on any city, county, or other local 
    (2) This rule would not produce a Federal mandate of $100 million 
or greater in any year (i.e., it is not a

[[Page 51234]]

``significant regulatory action'' under the Unfunded Mandates Reform 
Act). This proposed NEP designation for whooping crane would not impose 
any additional management or protection requirements on the States or 
other entities.

Takings (E.O. 12630)

    In accordance with Executive Order 12630, the proposed rule does 
not have significant takings implications. This rule would allow for 
the taking of reintroduced whooping cranes when such take is incidental 
to an otherwise legal activity, such as recreation (e.g., fishing, 
boating, wading, or swimming), agriculture, oil and gas exploration and 
extraction, and other activities that are in accordance with Federal, 
State, and local laws and regulations. Therefore, we do not believe the 
reintroduction of whooping cranes would conflict with existing human 
activities or hinder use of private and public lands or hinder 
subsurface mineral rights such as oil and gas exploration and 
extraction within the proposed NEP area.
    A takings implication assessment is not required because this rule: 
(1) Would not effectively compel a property owner to suffer a physical 
invasion of property, and (2) would not deny all economically 
beneficial or productive use of the land or aquatic resources. This 
rule would substantially advance a legitimate government interest 
(conservation and recovery of a listed bird species) and would not 
present a barrier to all reasonable and expected beneficial use of 
private property.

Federalism (E.O. 13132)

    In accordance with Executive Order 13132, we have considered 
whether this proposed rule has significant Federalism effects and have 
determined that a Federalism assessment is not required. This rule 
would 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. In keeping with Department of the Interior policy, we 
requested information from and coordinated development of this proposed 
rule with the affected resource agencies in Louisiana. Achieving the 
recovery goals for this species will contribute to its eventual 
delisting and return to State management. No intrusion on State policy 
or administration is expected, roles or responsibilities of Federal or 
State governments would not change, and fiscal capacity would not be 
substantially directly affected.
    The proposed special rule operates to maintain the existing 
relationship between the State and the Federal Government and is being 
undertaken in coordination with the State of Louisiana. We have 
cooperated with LDWF in the preparation of this proposed rule. 
Therefore, this proposed rule does not have significant Federalism 
effects or implications to warrant the preparation of a Federalism 
Assessment pursuant to the provisions of Executive Order 13132.

Civil Justice Reform

    In accordance with Executive Order 12988 (February 7, 1996; 61 FR 
4729), the Office of the Solicitor has determined that this rule would 
not unduly burden the judicial system and would meet the requirements 
of sections (3)(a) and (3)(b)(2) of the Order.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regulations at 5 CFR 1320, 
which implement provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 
3501 et seq.), require that Federal agencies obtain approval from OMB 
before collecting information from the public. A Federal agency 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. This proposed rule does not include any new collections 
of information that require approval by OMB under the Paperwork 
Reduction Act. OMB has approved our collection of information 
associated with reporting the taking of experimental populations (50 
CFR 17.84(p)(6)) and assigned control number 1018-0095, which expires 
March 31, 2011.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have prepared a draft environmental assessment as defined by the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. It is 
available from the Lafayette Field Office (see ADDRESSES) and http://

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 229511), Executive Order 13175, and the Department 
of the Interior Manual Chapter 512 DM 2, we have considered possible 
effects on and have notified the Native American Tribes within the NEP 
area about this proposal. They have been advised through verbal and 
written contact, including informational mailings from the Service. If 
future activities resulting from this proposed rule may affect Tribal 
resources, a Plan of Cooperation will be developed with the affected 
Tribe or Tribes.

Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use (E.O. 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. This rule is not 
expected to significantly affect energy supplies, distribution, and 
use. Therefore, this action is not a significant energy action and no 
Statement of Energy Effects is required.

Clarity of This Regulation (E.O. 12866)

    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the 
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain 
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (a) Be logically organized;
    (b) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (c) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (d) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (e) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us 
comments by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. To 
better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as 
possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections 
or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences 
are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be 
useful, etc.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this proposed rule is 
available upon request from the Lafayette Field Office (see FOR FURTHER 


    The principal authors of this rule are Bill Brooks, of the 
Jacksonville, Florida, Field Office; and Deborah Fuller, of the 
Lafayette, Louisiana, Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

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

[[Page 51235]]

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to 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
                                                        east to             an experimental
                                                        Carolinas),         population.
Do..............................  ......do...........  ......do..........  U.S.A. (AL, AR,     XN             487, 621,                  NA     17.84(h)
                                                                            CO, FL, GA, ID,                   710, ----
                                                                            IL, IN, IA, KY,
                                                                            LA, MI, MN, MS,
                                                                            MO, NC, NM, OH,
                                                                            SC, TN, UT,
                                                                            VA,WI, WV,
                                                                            western half of

    3. Amend Sec.  17.84 by revising 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 (iv) of this section are nonessential experimental 
populations (NEPs) as defined in Sec.  17.80.
    (i) The only natural extant population of whooping cranes, 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.
    (ii) No natural populations of whooping cranes are likely to come 
into contact with the NEPs set forth in paragraphs (h)(9)(i) through 
(iv) of this section. Whooping cranes adhere to ancestral breeding 
grounds, leaving little possibility that individuals from the extant 
Aransas/Wood Buffalo National Park population will stray into the NEPs. 
Studies of whooping cranes have shown that migration is a learned 
rather than an innate behavior.
    (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, oil and gas exploration and extraction, 
aquacultural practices, agricultural practices, pesticide application, 
water management, construction, recreation, trapping, or hunting, when 
such activities are in full compliance with all applicable laws and 
    (3) Any person with a valid permit issued by the Fish and Wildlife 
Service (Service) under Sec.  17.32 may take whooping cranes in the 
wild in the experimental population areas for educational purposes, 
scientific purposes, the enhancement of propagation or survival of the 
species, and other conservation purposes consistent with the Act and in 
accordance with applicable State fish and wildlife conservation laws 
and regulations.
    (4) Any employee or agent of the Service or State wildlife agency 
who is designated for such purposes, when acting in the course of 
official duties, may take a whooping crane in the wild in the 
experimental population areas if such action is necessary to:
    (i) Relocate a whooping crane to avoid conflict with human 
    (ii) Relocate a whooping crane that has moved outside any of the 
areas identified in paragraphs (h)(9)(i) through (iv) of this section, 
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;
    (v) Aid a sick, injured, or orphaned whooping crane; or
    (vi) Dispose of a dead specimen or salvage a dead specimen that may 
be useful for scientific study.
    (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.
    (7) It is unlawful for any person to attempt to commit, solicit 
another to commit, or cause to be committed, any offense defined in 
paragraphs (h)(2) through (6) of this section.

[[Page 51236]]

    (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 whooping cranes in the NEPs 
identified in paragraphs (h)(9)(i) through (iv) of this section;
    (ii) If a clearly marked whooping crane from the NEPs identified in 
paragraphs (h)(9)(i) through (iv) of this section wanders outside the 
designated NEP areas. In this situation, 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 (iv) of this section will be 
considered nonessential experimental animals. Geographic areas the 
nonessential experimental populations may inhabit are within the 
historic range of the whooping crane in the United States and include 
the following:
    (i) The entire State of Florida (the Kissimmee Prairie NEP). The 
reintroduction site is the Kissimmee Prairie portions of Polk, Osceola, 
Highlands, and Okeechobee Counties. 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 (the Rocky Mountain NEP).
    (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 (the Eastern Migratory NEP). Whooping 
cranes within this population are expected to occur mostly within the 
States of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, 
and Florida. 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.
    (iv) The entire State of Louisiana (the Louisiana Nonmigratory 
NEP). The reintroduction site is the White Lake Wetlands Conservation 
Area of southwestern Louisiana in Vermilion Parish. Current information 
indicates that White Lake is the historic location of a resident, 
nonmigratory population of whooping cranes that bred and reared young 
in Louisiana. Whooping cranes within this nonmigratory population are 
expected to occur mostly within the White Lake Wetlands Conservation 
Area and the nearby wetlands in Vermilion Parish. The marshes and 
wetlands of southwestern Louisiana are expected to receive occasional 
use by the cranes and may be used in the event of future population 
    (v) A map of all NEP areas in the United States for whooping cranes 

    (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 possible, unless physical or 
behavioral problems make it necessary to return them to a captive-
breeding facility.
    (11) The Service will reevaluate the status of the experimental 
populations periodically to determine future

[[Page 51237]]

management needs. This review will take into account the reproductive 
success and movement patterns of the individuals released within the 
experimental population areas.
* * * * *

    Dated: August 9, 2010.
Jane Lyder,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 2010-20522 Filed 8-18-10; 8:45 am]