VICTORIA ADVOCATE

Whooping crane lawsuit complex

Dec 11, 2009 | Victoria Advocate by Editorial | TAP In The News

We understand that the decline of the endangered whooping crane population last year was a disappointing turn of events. And we think if any entity was not following the letter of the law, and that contributed to the loss of 23 cranes, then the lawsuit filed against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality by the Aransas Project is legitimate.

Twenty-three whooping cranes died between November 2008 and March 2009, the period they nested here before returning to their summer habitat in Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada. Fingers are pointing to an overly saline habitat as the cause of the loss. Whooping cranes suffered lack of food and malnutrition. Surviving the drought period and situation were 247 birds. The high salinity was caused by diminished – or lack of – fresh water flow down the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers.

But the entire issue is very complex and will require a look at several aspects of the time period and weather involved, as well as water permitting during the period. Section 9 of the federal Endangered Species Act prohibits state agencies from “taking” endangered species. In the act, “take” is a term that refers to a wide range of actions, including anything from intentionally killing to harassing an endangered species.

First of all, a severe drought was part of the problem this past spring and summer – water flow to the estuaries providing fresh water to grow food and provide a natural winter habitat for the endangered bird decreased in part because of the drought. But many of our wildlife perished because of this weather event, not just the 23 whooping cranes.

Then, yes, the population of the whooping crane has grown over the years, which requires a larger area for habitat. Is there sufficient habitat for a larger population of the crane? That question will have to be addressed.

One other point is the usual death rate for the birds each season. That rate, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, ranges from zero to six each year. But this past nesting period, we lost 23 of the whooping cranes.

We support the idea of protecting our bays and estuaries.

So if the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or any other water-permitting entity, such as the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority, allowed too many permits for water usage and in the process cheated the bays and estuaries and the food supplies of the whooping crane, then a lawsuit is in order.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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