USFWS releases water to benefit whooping cranes

Apr 3, 2014 | Star Herald |

According to this story, it turns out that Whooping Cranes do in fact need freshwater to maintain their habitat. The freshwater releases discussed in the story will maintain the Crane habitat along the Platte River, Nebraska, a critical stopover for the migration north.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release water from their Environmental Account to benefit the endangered whooping cranes. Whooping cranes use the Platte River in Nebraska as a stopover site during their migration in the Central Flyway north to Canada for the summer. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of other migratory birds, including more than half a million sandhill cranes, use the Platte River to roost and feed during the months of March and April.

The management of flows in the Platte River, the releases of stored water, and the aquisition and protection of wetland habitat along the river all grew out of three decades of litigation between the 1970s and 1990s. Now flows in the river are partly managed to benefit four federally listed threatened or endangered target species on the Platte River — the whooping crane, interior least tern, piping plover and pallid sturgeon. USFWS established an amount of stored water in an “Environmental Account” (EA) that can be released from Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska. The story continues:

This year, the service’s highest priority water release from the EA is to benefit whooping cranes during their spring migration. The releases started on Saturday, March 29, from Lake McConaughy, and releases are planned to continue until May 10. EA water should have all passed Grand Island by about May 24. Flows in the Overton to Grand Island reach should be about 1,700 cubic feet per second during this period. This flow target is the minimum flow during a dry year considered necessary to provide and maintain adequate roosting and feeding habitat for whooping cranes on the Platte River.

The Aransas Project hopes that as a result of its recent litigation in Texas, we may someday read a similar story about TCEQ or GBRA ensuring adequate freshwater inflows into the San Antonio Bay for the benefit of the Whooping Cranes here.