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GLIN==> Ultralight Aircraft Lead Sandhill Crane Migration

----- Forwarded by Rich Greenwood/R3/FWS/DOI on 10/05/2000 08:23 PM -----


Contact: Joan Guilfoyle, USFWS (Cell) 612-810-6797
Chuck Underwood, USFWS (Cell) 904-910-6254
Chris Tollefson, USFWS 202-208-5634 See list below for additional contacts

In the first phase of an ambitious effort to re-establish a migratory
population of endangered whooping cranes in the East, ultralight aircraft
took off from a national wildlife refuge in Wisconsin today, leading a
flock of sandhill cranes on an experimental migration that could pave the
way for similar flights with whooping cranes in the near future.

The 13 sandhill crane chicks have been exposed to aircraft noise by
researchers since hatching and reared in extreme isolation from humans at
Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. After undergoing months of
specialized handling designed to get them accustomed to following the
ultralight aircraft, the birds are beginning a journey through seven states
that will take them to their wintering grounds at Chassahowitzka National
Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

If the migration study is successful and the birds complete the journey to
Florida and return on their own to Wisconsin in the spring of 2001, the
same training procedures and route will be used with whooping crane chicks
as part of the second phase of the study. If all goes as planned and
necessary approvals are obtained from the Flyway Councils, States and other
involved agencies, the study could eventually lead to the re-establishment
of a migratory population of whooping cranes in the eastern United States.
So far there has been strong public support for the proposed project.

"With just over 400 whooping cranes in existence, and with only one
migratory flock in the wild, the establishment of a second migratory flock
is vitally important to the survival and recovery of one of North America's
most endangered species and the world's most endangered crane. The steps we
take this fall with sandhill cranes could lay the foundation for the return
of a whooping crane migration to the East," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark.

The migration will follow the established eastern sandhill crane migration
route, passing through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee
and Georgia before arriving in central Florida. The migration will cover
from 50 to 70 miles per day on days when weather conditions permit flight,
reaching Chassahowitzka NWR in approximately 32 days. Ultralight aircraft
will be used because they fly at low altitudes and at speeds slow enough to
lead migrating birds.

Reliance on humans jeopardizes the ability of any wild animal to survive on
its own, and whooping cranes are especially vulnerable because of their
small population. In order to test and establish methods that can be used
with whooping cranes, every effort has been made to restrict the sandhill
cranes' contact with humans in order to prevent the birds from becoming too
tame and relying on human care for their survival. The sandhill cranes have
been raised by humans in costumes that disguise the human form, using
mechanical hand puppets designed to look like adult sandhill cranes. The
birds have never seen the pilots of the ultralights out of costume. These
restrictions on human contact will continue during the birds' migration and
with the whooping cranes in the near future.

Clark cautioned that despite the preparations made, the study's successful
conclusion is not a certainty. "We've worked hard to put together a solid
partnership and enlist the help of state wildlife agencies across the
migration route. But this is an extraordinarily difficult operation, and
it's never been done before on this scale, or for such high stakes," she

Whooping cranes were probably always rare, with a population estimated at
500 to 700 individuals in 1870. Nonetheless, they ranged across North
America from Utah to the Atlantic Coast, breeding in central Canada and the
northern U.S. and wintering from the Carolinas to Texas. As a consequence
of unregulated hunting and specimen collection, human disturbance, and
conversion of their primary nesting habitat to hay, pastureland, and grain
production, the whooping crane population faced extinction by 1941, with
only 21 birds remaining.

Today, after decades of captive breeding and the 1993 reintroduction of a
nonmigratory population in central Florida, there are 411 whooping cranes
in North America, with 266 of those birds in the wild. Of these, there is
only one remaining migratory flock of 187 whooping cranes in the wild,
migrating between Wood Buffalo National Park, Northwest Territories, Canada
and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in south Texas. The Endangered Species
Act recovery plan for the whooping crane requires that a second flock of
migratory birds be established, because the Texas flock remains vulnerable
to oil spills, disease outbreaks, declining food resources on their
wintering grounds, and collisions with power lines.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, composed of the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration,
the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Geological Survey's
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the International Whooping Crane
Recovery Team, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and the
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation was formed in October of 1999 to
coordinate the ultralight migration study.

Daily updates, news releases, graphics migration tracking and partnership
links are available online at the project's web site at

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency
responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and
plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American
people. The Service manages the 93- million-acre National Wildlife Refuge
System comprised of 525 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small
wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national
fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78
ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife
laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird
populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and
restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments
with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program
that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing
and hunting equipment to State wildlife agencies.

                                  - FWS -

Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project Media Contact List

On-site migration team

Joan Guilfoyle, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Midwest Region (WI, IL, IN)
Cell phone: 612-810-6797 joan_guilfoyle@fws.gov

Chuck Underwood, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Southeast Region (KY, TN,
GA, FL) Cell phone: 904-910-6254 chuck_underwood@fws.gov

In State Coordination

Wisconsin Bob Manwell, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources 608-264-9248

Illinois Carol Knowles, Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources 217-785-0970

Indiana Kathy Quimbach, Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources 317-233-0936

Kentucky Russ Kennedy, Kentucky Dept. Natural Resources 800-852-0942 x491

Tennessee Bruce Anderson, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency 931-484-9571

Georgia Terry Johnson, Georgia Non-game Endangered Wildlife Program
912-994-1438 terry_w_johnson@mail.dnr.state.ga.us

Florida Bill Greer, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Partnership Main Offices

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Region (WI, IL, IN) John
Christian, 612-713-5101 e-mail:<< john_christian@fws.gov>> web site:

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region (KY, TN, GA, FL) Tom
MacKenzie, 404-679-7291 e-mail: <<tom_mackenzie@fws.gov>> web site:

International Crane Foundation Kate Fitzwillaims, 608-356-9462 x147 e-mail:
<<kate@savingcranes.org>> web site: <<www.savingcranes.org>>

Operation Migration Heather Ray, 800-675-2618 e-mail: <<opmig@durham.net>>
web site: <<www.operationmigration.org >>

U.S.G.S. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center B. H. Powell, 301-497-5782
e-mail: <<bh_powell@usgs.gov>> web site: <<www.pwrc.usgs.gov/cranes.htm>>

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership Web site:

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