In a major victory for cranes and other water users on the Texas Gulf Coast, a federal judged has ruled the state’s environmental agency is responsible for the death of 23 whooping cranes during a drought in 2008 and 2009.
The ruling on Monday is being widely studied in Texas, but also has ramifications in Wisconsin.
Baraboo-based International Crane Foundation is a member of the Aransas Project, which sued the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality over the way it doles out water in south Texas to communities and other users.
Federal Judge Janis Graham Jack agreed with claims by Aransas that the Texas commission failed to manage water use on the Guadalupe River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico and serves as a habitat for endangered whooping cranes.
The 23 cranes represented nearly 10% of the whooping crane population in the western United States.
In addition to its participation in the suit, the Crane Foundation has intensified its outreach efforts in Texas over the last two years because a protracted drought in the region has threatened cranes and their habitat. Whooping cranes, the tallest birds in North America, are a federally endangered species.
The foundation has hired a biologist in Texas and is working with landowners to protect crane habitat, foundation officials say. In addition, George Archibald, co-founder of the foundation, testified during the trial about work by private groups and government dating back to the 1960s to bring cranes back from near extinction.
Texas is the wintering grounds for the only self-sustaining flock of migratory whooping cranes in the world. The official population in the west now stands at 254 and has declined in recent years because of the drought in south Texas.
A second flock resides in the eastern United States. Much of the population lives in Wisconsin in the spring and summer, and migrates south in the fall. The eastern flock is not self-sustaining. The eastern population is 111 birds, according to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.
In Texas, the judge ruled authorities there must come up with a plan that assures that cranes will have adequate supplies of fresh water.