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Whooping Crane Reintroduction FAQs

Don’t we already have cranes in Louisiana?

Whooping cranes were historically found in Louisiana; however, before this reintroduction project began, the last whooping crane was removed from the wild in Louisiana in 1950. Sandhill cranes, a similar species, are found in Louisiana in the fall and winter. Sandhill cranes have a different appearance than whooping cranes—they stand at about 4 feet tall and are gray or sometimes gray and tan in color. Sandhill cranes are also much more common than the endangered whooping crane—they are found throughout much of North America and number in the tens of thousands. There are a number of other species commonly mistaken for whooping cranes including wood storks, egrets, great blue herons, and white pelicans.

Are there any other whooping crane reintroduction projects?

There have been three other reintroduction projects to date. There are no cranes remaining in the Rocky Mountain population. The Florida non-migratory population has about a dozen remaining individuals, some of whom are scheduled to be transferred to Louisiana in 2019. As of September 2018, the Eastern migratory population numbered around 100.

Who is responsible for Louisiana’s reintroduction project?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service are jointly responsible for all captive whooping cranes and their future offspring and are both involved in recovery decisions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and LDWF are jointly implementing the reintroduction in Louisiana. LDWF has the primary role in the reintroduction and monitoring.

Where do the reintroduced cranes come from?

The reintroduced cranes are hatched from eggs laid by whooping cranes already in captivity at captive breeding centers and from eggs salvaged or collected from nests in Wisconsin from the eastern migratory population. Chicks are hatched and reared at captive breeding centers until they are transferred to their release pens in the fall. By this time the cranes are fully grown but still have juvenile plumage. 

Why not relocate some of the migratory whooping cranes from the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock?

Since the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock is the only self-sustaining wild migratory population, it is too risky to do anything that might harm this population.

Why was Louisiana chosen for this reintroduction project?

Whooping cranes were historically found in Louisiana in both a resident, non-migratory flock and a migratory flock that spent the winters here. Whooping cranes were historically documented raising young at White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area and we believe the likelihood of recreating a self-sustaining population in this area is high. Louisiana’s long tradition of environmental commitment and support from the public increase the project’s chance for success in the state. Louisiana’s conservation efforts have helped to recover the American alligator, bald eagle, brown pelican, and the Louisiana black bear. 

Does Louisiana have enough food to support a whooping crane population?

Other wetland dependent birds with diet preferences similar to whooping cranes are abundant throughout southwestern Louisiana. Whooping cranes are generalists and quite adaptive and will use the food sources that are available and we do not expect that food abundance will be an issue for this population.

Who owns the subsurface mineral rights to White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area? Does this affect the reintroduction effort?

In July 2002, BP America Production White Lake Properties donated the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area property to the State of Louisiana. The non-profit White Lake Preservation Inc. managed the property for the state until July 2005 when LDWF took control.

BP retains the mineral rights to White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area. BP can distribute those rights to others who lease from them.  Through the permitting process, we are able to ensure that any drilling activities would fully consider whooping crane reintroduction efforts. There is currently one active oil well and several inactive ones on White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area. We do not anticipate impacts on the reintroduced non-migratory whooping cranes due to oil and gas extraction activities conducted in compliance with applicable laws and regulations on the property.

Why is the Louisiana flock non-migratory?

Louisiana was part of the whooping cranes former range and historically a non-migratory flock existed in the state. Making this flock non-migratory also avoids interactions with the existing Aransas-Wood Buffalo population in Texas and the Eastern Migratory population.

Why don’t you expect the Louisiana reintroduced whooping cranes to migrate?

Migration is a learned behavior in cranes, and we expect the Louisiana whooping cranes to remain in areas near where they are released. However, a few of our birds have made some larger, seasonal movements into Texas and surrounding states and a couple have flown north into Canada in the past.

If this reintroduction is successful, will the whooping crane be taken off the endangered species list?

If the conditions the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have laid out in the species recovery plan are met, the species’ listing could eventually change from endangered to threatened. The success of this reintroduction would go a long way toward helping meet these reclassification criteria. While it may be possible to fully recover the species in the long term, complete removal of whooping cranes from the federal list of threatened and endangered species would require further steps.

What happens to the cranes after they have been released?

To promote wildness in the birds, we make every attempt to provide as natural an experience as possible. Release pens are located in a wetland habitat and public access is restricted. The pen does not have a top so the cranes can come and go as they please, using the wetland habitat nearby. We stock the pen with supplemental food for a month or so after release, encouraging the young, naïve birds to remain in the area while they adapt to their new environment.

How will you keep track of these birds after they have been released?

Each crane receives a unique color-band combination and one or two transmitters (radio, GPS or GSM) prior to release. After release, we monitor the birds regularly to assess movements and dispersal from the release pen.

What do you feed the cranes during the early release period?

We feed the cranes a pelletized food that was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and is commercially produced. It contains all the minerals, proteins, and vitamins that the growing birds need, as well as medication to prevent parasites. The cranes also forage on natural foods as they transition to survival in the wild. 

After the cranes are released, do they leave the pen area?

Most remain near the pen site for a period of time after release; however, they eventually leave. This behavior is natural as the cranes learn about their environment and begin to explore.

Is the public allowed to view any part of the whooping crane reintroduction area?

Maintaining the cranes’ wild nature is critical to their future survival in the wild after they have been released. It is necessary to prevent the cranes from associating food or care of any sort with humans during the release period. Currently, LDWF allows limited, controlled access to the release sites.

Why are the reintroduced whooping cranes designated as a non-essential experimental population?

The population is considered non-essential because the likelihood of survival of the whooping crane, as a species, would not be reduced if the entire reintroduced population was lost. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the continued existence of the whooping crane as a species is secure based on the existence of the wild, migratory population and the captive breeding flocks. The population is considered experimental because it is being (re)introduced into suitable habitat that is outside of the whooping crane’s current range but within its historic range. This designation is made possible by provisions contained within section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, as amended.

Designating this whooping crane population as a non-essential experimental population allows for conservation of the population compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes this designation will encourage the full support of the public for the reintroduction, which is critical to the success of the project.

What happens if someone shoots one of the whooping cranes in this population?

Because of the non-essential, experimental designation, if law enforcement determines the shooting is accidental and occurred incidentally to an otherwise lawful activity that was being carried out in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, the shooter will not be prosecuted under the Endangered Species Act; however, other charges may apply. If the shooting is intentional, the full protection of the Endangered Species Act could apply.

Do other laws protect this flock of whooping cranes?

Yes, they are protected under applicable state laws for non-game species and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects all species of birds that migrate such as herons, egrets, and songbirds.

What would happen if whooping cranes from this population try to nest on my property? Will this affect how I can use my property?

We do not envision any conflicts between the whooping crane reintroduction and activities on private lands. Any disturbance of nesting cranes on private property that is accidental or incidental to an otherwise lawful activity, such as recreation (hunting, trapping), agricultural practices (plowing, planting, application of pesticides), construction, or water management is not considered an illegal activity under the Endangered Species Act. LDWF encourages collaboration between landowners and LDWF staff to determine plans that work for all parties involved; however, landowners are not obligated to change normal land use practices.