ASSOCIATED PRESS

Texas officials sued over whooping crane deaths

Mar 11, 2010 | Associated Press by John McFarland | TAP In The News

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A conservation group’s lawsuit filed Thursday blames Texas environmental regulators for a record die-off of endangered whooping cranes, alleging water-use policies left the birds starving and without water.

The Aransas Project sued in federal court in Corpus Christi, alleging the 23 deaths in the 2008-09 South Texas wintering season resulted from the state allowing too much water to be drawn from rivers that feed the birds’ habitat during a drought. That harmed the birds in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the suit alleges.

“These deaths directly reflect the lack of sufficient freshwater,” the suit says.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. But agency spokesman Terry Clawson said the effects of low freshwater inflows on the cranes due to drought are far from certain.

The agency has done work over the years to preserve the habitat, Clawson said, and is reviewing studies on the cranes that “indicate that there are a number of factors that affect the dominant food resources of the whooping crane, including freshwater inflows, salinity, tides and temperature.”

There are about 400 remaining wild whooping cranes, which are the tallest birds in North America at about 5 1/2 feet. The 264-bird flock is the only one that migrates without human help, making the 2,500-mile trip between Canada and south Texas twice a year.

The birds’ wintertime home is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, just northeast of Corpus Christi.

The Aransas Project announced plans to file the suit in December.

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