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Whooping crane deaths to trigger Texas lawsuit

Dec 11, 2009 | CBC News | TAP In The News
In December 2008, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officer takes an emaciated whooping crane in for emergency care. The bird did not survive.  (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

In December 2008, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officer takes an emaciated whooping crane in for emergency care. The bird did not survive. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

An environmental coalition in Rockport, Texas, has filed a notice of intent to sue officials from a state agency over the deaths of 23 whooping cranes that migrated there for winter 2008-09 from Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta.

Whooping cranes are Canada’s most endangered species, with a population of fewer than 300. All of them nest in Wood Buffalo National Park.

The Aransas Project alleges birds starved to death because of diversions for industrial and municipal water use from the Guadalupe River, allowed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The group says those diversions raised the salinity in the bays and estuaries around the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge — the whooping cranes’ only winter feeding grounds. As a result, two critical components in the crane’s diet — blue crabs and wolfberries — are less common, a release from the organization said.

“We had birds staggering around and starving to death and falling down in front of people. And that’s absolutely intolerable. That should be intolerable from the point of view of both countries,” said Ron Outen, regional director for the Aransas Project.

About 270 of the birds arrived in Texas in the fall of 2008, but only 247 were seen heading back to Canada in the spring. Normally just one or two birds are lost during the winter season, the release said.

Outen said his group hopes the notification of intent forces the Texas government to adopt water management policies that protect the whooping crane habitat.

Under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, defendants must be given 60 days notice of a lawsuit to allow them to change practices or try to come up with another settlement, Outen said.

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