HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Texas group to sue over whooping crane deaths

Dec 8, 2009 | Houston Chronicle by John McFarland, Associated Press | TAP In The News

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DALLAS — A conservation group says state regulators are to blame for last year’s record die-off in the world’s only natural flock of endangered whooping cranes, alleging water-use policies dried up food and water supplies in their drought-stricken South Texas winter habitat.

The Aransas Project informed leaders of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in a letter Monday that it plans to sue them under the Endangered Species Act to restrict how much water is taken from rivers that feed the crane’s coastal nesting grounds.

The commission has allowed too many water permits for the booming areas along the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers, resulting in high salinity in marshlands and estuaries, the group said. That led to widespread malnutrition and 23 deaths among the crane population during the November to March period — the most deaths in one winter since 1938 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began keeping record of the cranes at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Corpus Christi.

In an average winter season, only one crane dies. Only 247 of the birds survived last winter.

“Based upon our studies, we believe that the primary cause of this massive crane mortality is the failure of the TCEQ officials to ensure sufficient freshwater inflows,” the letter states.

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