FWS proposes experimental population of whooping cranes in Louisiana
75 Fed. Reg. 51223 / Vol. 75, No. 160 /Thursday, August 19, 2010 / Proposed Rules
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR 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
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.
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. Adults are potentially long-lived. Current estimates suggest a maximum longevity in the wild of 32 years. Mating is characterized by monogamous lifelong pair bonds. Whooping cranes historically occurred in Louisiana in both a resident, nonmigratory flock and a migratory flock that wintered in Louisiana. Establishing a Louisiana nonmigratory flock has become a species recovery priority. Image courtesy of Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding member Operation Migration Inc., available at North Florida Ecological Services Office.
EXCERPT RE: SPECIES STATUS: 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... Another 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... The (third) population, the Florida nonmigratory population, is found in the Kissimmee Prairie area of central Florida. 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. 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. Problems with survival and reproduction, both of which have been complicated by drought, are considered major challenges for this flock... 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 wildhatched Florida whooping cranes will ever achieve production rates adequate for success.
EXCERPT RE: REINTRODUCTION: 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 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.