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----- Forwarded by Rich Greenwood/R3/FWS/DOI on 03/19/2001 03:10 PM -----

The world's most endangered crane would take to the skies over the eastern
United States under a plan proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
to reintroduce a wild population of whooping cranes that would migrate
annually between Wisconsin and Florida.

Working in partnership with a variety of state wildlife agencies,
conservation groups and other private organizations, the Service is
considering using ultralight aircraft to teach young whoopers the migration
route, possibly as early as this fall.

The reintroduction is being proposed as part of an ongoing recovery effort
for the highly imperiled species, which was on the verge of extinction in
the 1940s and even today numbers only about 250 birds in the wild. The
service published a proposed rule and announced the availability of a draft
environmental assessment in today's Federal Register which evaluates three
alternatives for establishing a new migratory population of whooping

"The proposed reintroduction is a perfect example of how the Federal
government can work in partnership with the private sector, States and
local landowners, to recover endangered species," said Interior Secretary
Gale Norton. "The Service's collaborative approach has brought people
together and built a high level of trust and cooperation in this effort."

"The continent's only migratory population of whooping cranes winters at
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast and is vulnerable
to a catastrophic event such as a major hurricane," Norton explained. "This
reintroduction would not only restore the whooper to part of its historic
range but also provide another geographically distinct migratory

To evaluate the potential for using an ultralight aircraft to lead cranes
for the reintroduction, biologists successfully reared 11 sandhill cranes
and led them on the 1,250-mile migration between Wisconsin and Florida in
November 2000.

If the proposed rule and draft EA are finalized and approved by the Service
and its state partners, an experimental flock of young whooping cranes
could be reared and trained  using methods developed and refined during the
sandhill migration experiment. The birds would leave from Necedah National
Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and fly to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife
Refuge in central Florida, following the route of the sandhill crane
migration. The International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, which includes a
wide range of government and private organizations including the Fish and
Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service, voted in January to
recommend to the Service that ultralight aircraft be used to train and lead
an experimental flock of young whooping cranes.

"After years of hard work with the States and other partners, it is very
exciting to announce our proposal to bring this great bird back to its
historic eastern range in a manner that emphasizes voluntary cooperation
among a host of partners," said Marshall Jones, the Service's acting
director. "We will continue to work with State wildlife agencies, Flyway
Councils and the public to ensure that all voices are heard and concerns
addressed as this project is developed."

Jones noted the prominent role that the National Wildlife Refuge System has
played in the whooping crane recovery effort, and the pivotal part it will
play in the proposed reintroduction. Two national wildlife refuges, Necedah
NWR and Chassahowitzka NWR, will provide the nesting area and winter home,
respectively, of the reintroduced migratory flock. In addition, Aransas NWR
on the Texas Gulf Coast provides the principal wintering habitat for the
hemisphere's only migratory population. Refuges along the western migration
route provide essential stopover habitat for the whooping cranes on their
annual migrations between Aransas and breeding and summering habitat in
Canada; refuges in the East are expected to fill the same role if an
eastern migratory flock is established.

"The recovery of the whooping crane, as well as the continued health of
many other migratory bird populations, would not be possible without the
habitat provided by our national wildlife refuges, many of which were
established for the express purpose of enhancing migratory birds," Jones

The Service's preferred alternative would designate the reintroduced
population of whooping cranes as a nonessential experimental population
(NEP) under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. This designation
and its implementing regulation will provide certainty that the project
will not adversely affect ongoing human activities, such as outdoor
recreation, agriculture and other land management practices.

The designation would mean that Federal, state, tribal, or private actions
that could result in the death of or injury to a whooping crane in the
course of otherwise lawful activities would not be affected by the proposed
reintroduction. The intentional killing or harm of any NEP-designated
whooping crane would still be a violation of Federal law punishable under
the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The area proposed for NEP designation 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. These states
are within the known or suspected historic range of whooping cranes.
However, it is expected that the birds will stay primarily in the migratory
route between Wisconsin and Florida.

Public hearings will be held on the proposal in four different locations
along the proposed migration corridor, including the states of Wisconsin,
Indiana, Tennessee, and Florida.  The specific dates and locations of the
public hearings may be found in today's Federal Register.

The whooping crane, named for its loud and penetrating mating call, is one
of America's best known and rarest endangered species. This
wetland-dwelling species lives and breeds in extensive wetlands, where it
feeds upon crabs, clams, frogs, and other aquatic organisms. Whooping
cranes stand 5 feet tall and are pure white in color with black wing tips
and a red crown.

Never very numerous, whooping cranes were thought to number historically
between 700 and 1,400 in North America, before unregulated hunting and
habitat destruction caused the population to plummet to a low of about 21
birds in 1941. There are currently 187 birds in the only natural remaining
wild flock, which breeds in Canada and winters on the Texas gulf coast, at
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  A second non-migratory flock lives year
round in central Florida, as part of a separate and ongoing reintroduction

Because of the huge scope and complexity of the project, which crosses
numerous state lines and other lines of jurisdiction, a coalition of
multiple government agencies and nonprofit organizations formed the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP). Founding members include the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Operation Migration Inc., Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources, International Crane Foundation,
USGS/Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, National Fish and Wildlife
Foundation, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and the Whooping
Crane Recovery Team. Many other flyway States, private individuals and
conservation groups have joined forces with and supported WCEP by donating
resources, funding and personnel. The project will not move forward without
the approval of each state partner.

"The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is an excellent example of how the
Service will continue to work closely with all of our partners to help
protect and restore this endangered bird." said Jones. "The whooping crane
has brought all of us together to benefit this incredible species and move
it further along the road to recovery."

Cranes depend upon their parents to teach them the proper migration routes
and wintering areas, but the whooping crane's near extinction resulted in
the loss of all birds familiar with migratory routes in the eastern U.S.
The reintroduced whooping cranes may therefore be trained to follow
ultralight aircraft as their surrogate parent. Operation Migration, a
private nonprofit organization that had previously conducted similar
migrations with geese, swans, and cranes, successfully completed the pilot
experiment last fall with the more common sandhill crane, a close cousin of
whooping cranes.

In recent decades, the only remaining natural whooping crane population has
slowly increased as a result of conservation efforts.  However, the
species' survival is still in question, due to the threat of accidental
collisions with wires and fences, extreme weather events, possible oil and
chemical spills, and numerous other threats.  The species is particularly
vulnerable on its wintering grounds along the Texas Gulf Coast due to the
large percentage of the population occurring within a small area.

Along with the announcement of the availability of the Environmental
Assessment, a proposed rule to establish that whooping crane NEP was also
published in today's Federal Register and is available for review and
comment.  Copies of the draft EA and proposed rule are available by
contacting the Service at the address below or may be downloaded from the
Worldwide Web at  http://midwest.fws.gov/whoopingcrane.

The Service is currently seeking written comments from the public on both
the draft Environmental Assessment and the proposed rule. The comment
period is open for 45 days and runs from now through the closing date
announced in today's Federal Register.  Comments should identify whether
they pertain to the proposed rule or the draft EA.  Written comments on the
EA and proposal should be submitted to: Janet M. Smith, Field Supervisor,
Green Bay Field Office, 1015 Challenger Court, Green Bay, Wisconsin 54311.
Comments may also be faxed to 920-465-7410 or sent by e-mail to:

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 more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands of
small wetlands, and other special management areas.  It also operates 66
national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource 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 fish and wildlife agencies.

                                  - FWS -

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