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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE         Contact: Jennifer Rabuck, 608-565-2552
May 1, 2001                        jennifer_rabuck@fws.gov
EA 01-    23                       Joan Guilfoyle, 612-713-5311
                              joan_guilfoyle@fws.gov


                 Ultralight-led Sandhill Cranes Return to
                     Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership
(WCEP) announced today that sandhill cranes led by ultralight aircraft on
last fall's longest human-led migration have returned to Necedah National
Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin. The cranes' radio transmitter signals
were simultaneously picked up by a crane biologist and volunteer around
1:30 p.m. on Friday, April 27th. The experimental flock departed their
wintering grounds at St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve in central Florida
on February 25th, where they had been since landing there with ultralights
last November.

"My [radio] receiver all of a sudden went crazy." said Rori Paloski, a
recent graduate in conservation biology from University of Wisconsin/Eau
Claire, and Necedah Refuge volunteer. "For the last three weeks, I've been
listening for the ultralight cranes every Friday as part of my volunteer
work on the refuge. I couldn't wait to tell everyone when I finally heard
the right signals and knew the birds were back."

The sighting confirms the success of last year's sandhill crane experiment,
and could pave the way for a similar experiment with endangered whooping
cranes following the same migration route. The public comment period
regarding a draft Environmental Assessment and proposed rule to reintroduce
migratory whooping cranes to the eastern United States recently ended. One
option for a reintroduction involves rearing and training a flock of
whooping cranes for an ultralight-led migration using the same methods. If
the Service adopts the proposal, WCEP will attempt to establish an eastern
migratory flock. A decision could come in early June.

Crane biologist Richard Urbanek tracked the ultralight cranes Friday
evening to the same pre-migration training area where the specially-trained
birds fledged last summer, and visually observed them Saturday morning.
Crane chicks traditionally follow their parents south to wintering grounds,
and may also follow them back the next spring. These young cranes found
their way back to their nesting grounds on their own, as have other
ultralight study birds, after having been successfully led on the 40-day,
1,250-mile southern migration last fall by costumed-human surrogate
'parents' and ultralight aircraft.

"The return of the sandhill cranes from last year's study is very
encouraging." said Joe Duff, co-founder of Canada-based Operation
Migration, Inc., a founding partner of WCEP. "It was the largest flock of
sandhill cranes led on a migration like this and our hope was to show them
the way south while maintaining their wildness. It seems that we've
accomplished that. We are not surprised that they have returned on their
own, though naturally we are ecstatic."

"I am amazed that they found their way back over 1,250 miles to right where
they fledged on the refuge." said Larry Wargowsky, Necedah National
Wildlife Refuge Manager. "It's been an exciting year here, and if we are
able to proceed with whooping cranes, it will be even more exciting."

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is a coalition of multiple
government agencies and non-profit organizations formed to deal with the
huge scope and complexity of this project, which involves two Canadian
Provinces and twenty States. Founding partners include the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, Operation Migration, Inc., Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources, International Crane Foundation, USGS Patuxent Wildlife
Research Center, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, the National
Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the International Whooping Crane Recovery
Team. Many other flyway States, private individuals and conservation groups
have joined with and supported WCEP by donating resources, funding and
personnel.  For more information on the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership,
visit  http://bringbackthecranes.fws.gov

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 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge
System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands
of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70
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.

For further information about the programs and activities of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service in the Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region, please visit our
Home Page at: http://midwest.fws.gov.

                                  - FWS -



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