SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

Texas crane totals not increasing, but flocks now inland offer hope

Feb 21, 2013 | San Antonio Express-News by Colin McDonald | TAP In The News

Whooping cranes in Texas are caught up in a numbers game that produced one encouraging development this year but remains inconclusive overall.

The latest survey results released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that there were 257 cranes wintering on the Texas Gulf Coast this year and 22 living inland.

In 2011, an actual count of the birds concluded that there were 283, four more than this year’s total. All were living on or close to the coast.

The decline is not great, but an increase is what was hoped for.

Noteworthy about this year’s numbers is that never before have so many cranes been documented living inland.

One flock took up residence at Granger Lake north of Austin, and another appears to have established itself north of El Campo.

Texas is the winter home to the only self-sustaining whooping crane flock in the world. That diversity of wintering grounds provides insurance against an event such as a hailstorm or oil spill killing the entire flock.

It’s great news for those who want to see the species recover.

But for those monitoring that recovery closely, the wildlife service’s latest numbers are frustrating.

“By their own analysis, USFWS offers a 95 percent probability that the actually flock size is somewhere between 178 to 362 birds,” said Ron Outen, regional director of The Aransas Project.

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