SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

Judge wants expert on whooping cranes called to the stand

Dec 6, 2011 | San Antonio Express-News by Colin McDonald | TAP In The News

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CORPUS CHRISTI — The federal judge presiding over a lawsuit about whooping cranes, specifically how to protect the endangered flock that winters near here, insisted Monday that crane expert and retired federal employee Tom Stehn be called to testify.

Usually, the federal government does not allow employees to be questioned in court because they possess confidential information, a government lawyer told the judge.

But U.S. District Judge Janis Jack was not convinced and directed John Smith, a Justice Department lawyer, to prepare to make his case for keeping Stehn off the stand by this morning.

Within hours after the trial started Monday, Stehn’s research was already a focal point. For more than two decades, until his recent retirement, he was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s crane coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, where the flock, migrating annually from Canada, now numbers about 300.

A coalition of environmentalists and businesses is suing the state, claiming that Texas has failed to keep enough fresh water flowing into bays and estuaries to support the birds’ diet, including the much- favored blue crab. The state denies its actions hurt the cranes.

Jack had assumed that Stehn would be called to testify, but when she learned otherwise, she swiftly called for him to be subpoenaed immediately.

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