Whooping crane count method discussed

Oct 12, 2012 | Rockport Pilot by Norma Martinez | Related Press

Representatives from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) conducted a public presentation Thursday, Oct. 4, to discuss the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock of whooping cranes which winter at the local refuge. Most attendees were most interested in the overall current number of whooping cranes, but also expressed concern with the fact that number has not been made public in recent years.

ANWR biologist Brad Strobel’s presented a slide show detailing the aerial survey methods used historically and currently to count the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock of whooping cranes.

He gave a brief history about the flock and pointed out there are 140,000 acres to survey. He also explained the 2011-12 results estimated a count of 254 cranes, down from the last count of 278 calculated by Tom Stehn as survivors of the 2010-11 winter.

Stehn, a wildlife biologist, was the Refuge’s Whooping Crane Coordinator for a number of years. He worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). He has since retired, and taken his extensive and intimate knowledge about whooping cranes and their nesting habits with him.

Strobel said without Stehn, the ANWR has had to come up with a new method for counting the cranes, and is doing the best they can without his expertise.

The more than 50 people present expressed concern about the new method for two reasons. They are concerned about the count’s accuracy, and are upset public updates have not been received since Stehn retired. He provided updates to public media outlets two times per year.

Nancy Brown, ANWR public outreach specialist, explained to the audience the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is posting information on its website instead of sending it out to the email list once used by Stehn.

Several audience members urged Refuge officials to consider resending the information to that email list.

Officials assured those present they will do their best to accommodate the public’s wishes and deseminate the information.

The number of whooping cranes actually coming to the Refuge this winter is of major concern, audience members indicated. They want to know if the flock is increasing or decreasing, something which will be a major factor in determining what steps USFWS officials take to ensure their preservation, and conservation in the future.

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