Whooping Cranes Return Celebrated at White Lake W.C.A.

Release Date: 02/22/2011

Feb. 22, 2011 - The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) welcomed project partners today to White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA) to celebrate the return of the whooping crane to the marshes of southwest Louisiana.

“Species restoration successes will signal coastal restoration successes as we rebuild our wetlands, and we must make the coordinated effort to restore species that have been decimated by man-made or natural changes to wildlife habitat,” said Robert Barham, LDWF Secretary. “We applaud the efforts of the biologists who have worked to bring this magnificent bird back to Louisiana.”

Ten whooping cranes received this month from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Research Facility in Laurel, Md., have been placed in the coastal marsh of Vermilion Parish within LDWF’s White Lake Wetlands WCA. This re-introduced population, which will be annually supplemented with future cohorts, marks the first presence of whooping cranes in the wild in Louisiana since 1950.

“We strongly support the state of Louisiana in this historic effort for the ultimate recovery of the magnificent whooping crane,” said Cindy Dohner, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “We are proud to be partners with Secretary Barham, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the International Crane Foundation in this great effort.”

LDWF worked cooperatively with USFWS, USGS, the International Crane Foundation and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit to bring the species back to the state. Project funding is derived from LDWF species restoration dedicated funds, federal grants and private/corporate donations. LDWF’s 10-year project plan requires annual project funding of $400,000.

The new, non-migratory flock of whooping cranes is designated as a non-essential, experimental population (NEP) under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. This designation and its implementing regulation were developed to be more compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area.

Whooping cranes, the most endangered of all of the world’s crane species, were first added to the federal status of an endangered species on March 11, 1967. The reintroduction at White Lake is part of an ongoing recovery effort coordinated by the USFWS. LDWF biologists will manage the project at White Lake WCA.

Historically, both a resident and migratory population of whooping cranes were present in Louisiana through the early 1940s. Whooping cranes inhabited the marshes and ridges of the state’s southwest Chenier Coastal Plain, as well as the uplands of prairie terrace habitat to the north. Within this area, whooping cranes used three major habitats: tall grass prairie, freshwater marsh, and brackish/salt marsh. The Louisiana crane population was not able to withstand the pressure of human encroachment, primarily the conversion of nesting habitat to agricultural acreage, as well as hunting and specimen collection, which also occurred across North America.

The White Lake crane population’s NEP designation allows for uninterrupted daily activities of area landowners and the general public. This provision additionally provides citizens protection in the event of accidental harm to the birds resulting from actions that are accidental or incidental to an otherwise lawful activity, including agricultural practices, outdoor recreation and hunting. The intentional harm or killing of any NEP-designated whooping crane, however, would still be a violation of federal law punishable under the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“We want anyone in the marsh near White Lake to enjoy the moment should they encounter one or more of the experimental birds in the wild during this re-population effort,” said Robert Love, LDWF Coastal and Non-game Resources Division Administrator. “As long as the cranes are observed at a distance, they should adapt to occasional human encounters and not feel threatened.”

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is charged with managing and protecting Louisiana's abundant natural resources. For more information, visit us at www.wlf.louisiana.gov on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ldwffb or follow us on Twitter @LDWF.
For more information on the re-introduction of whooping cranes to Louisiana, please visit www.wlf.la.gov or contact Tom Hess at 337-538-2276 or thess@wlf.la.gov; or Carrie Salyers at csalyers@wlf.la.gov.

For additional photos, video footage and research documentation please visit: ftp://ftp.wlf.louisiana.gov/Whooping-Crane-Videos/.