The Aransas Project plans to follow through with lawsuit over whooping cranes

Feb 19, 2010 | Examiner.com by Larissa Diaz | TAP In The News

The Aransas Project (TAP), a non-profit organization, aims to follow through with filing a lawsuit against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) next month, according to TAP attorney Jim Blackburn. A notice of intent to sue on behalf of the highly endangered whooping cranes was filed on December 8, 2009 under the federal Endangered Species Act, claiming that TCEQ had violated Section 9 of the Act, which requires that protective agencies ensure no illicit harm or harassment of endangered species occurs. Federal law mandates that a 60 day period is allotted prior to continuing with filing of the suit; TCEQ has not taken enough action since December to elicit a change of course for TAP, says Blackburn.

TAP claims that TCEQ mismanaged water along the Guadalupe and San Antonio Rivers, allowing too much water to be drained before reaching the San Antonio Bay and nearby estuaries where whooping cranes spend the winter. The diversion of precious fresh water combined with the drought last year caused salinity levels in these near-shore habitats to skyrocket, which in turn greatly harmed many local flora and fauna. Blue crabs and wolf berries, both primary food sources for the wintering cranes, were greatly affected.

Only one natural flock of cranes exists in the wild, and protecting this flock is crucial to the survival of the species. Prior to notification of intent to sue, 23 cranes had perished; one more crane is known to have died this year and a second is missing. When compared with the total number of wild cranes, which now numbers only 242, and the average mortality rate of one crane per year, these deaths are staggering. Usually the cranes are seen in marshes and estuaries – hard-to-reach places – but this year they can be seen along corn feeders which have been filled to aid starving cranes, says Blackburn. The diversion of water may have long-lasting effects on other organisms that rely upon the estuary and marsh ecosystems as well, including bait fish and larger fish, whose food supply may be reduced.

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