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The Canada / US Whooping Crane Recovery Team stated that no more birds would be released into the Necedah area until the cause of the recurring nest abandonment has been identified and managed. It could take a couple more seasons to test the theory that Black flies are causing the problem and even if conclusive evidence is found, the long term use of chemical controls has been ruled out by the refuge.
No one within the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is prepared to give up on these birds just yet. We have accomplished far too much to end it now so all the alternatives were explored. The most logical option was to find a new site but it had to be far enough away to be out of the range of Black flies that seem to be concentrated around Necedah, yet close enough so that the birds we add are still part of the same flock and not a separate population.
Time was crucial because standing down for a year while a new site was found and developed would be disastrous for the birds. Even if it was only for one year, it wouldn’t be until the end of the second season that more birds could be reared and released. That would mean almost two years of attrition in the population. It would also mean the loss of momentum for all the field teams that conduct the work.
But relocating the entire project was not simple. The WCEP Science and Research Team, led by Jeb Barzen of ICF, surveyed much of central Wisconsin, looking at all parameters like vegetation, water area and food resources. From all of that hard work they identified seven possible sites in a region they referred to as the Wisconsin rectangle.
At that point the Wisconsin DNR took the lead and examined variables like public use, jurisdiction, proximity to developed areas, hunting seasons, and the capacity of the wetlands to accommodate nesting pairs in the future. That review narrowed the search to three possible sites. After that, ICF and OM visited the sites to see how they would work for the fields teams.
It only took a paragraph or so to describe that process, but to get it done took several months and a champion effort by all the teams involved. The WCEP Science Team, manned mostly by ICF researchers did an impressive job of correlating data from a hundred sources to produce a map that highlighted the best possible sites. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources pulled together large teams of biologists, land managers, program managers, regulators and endangered species specialists to evaluate those sites. They also hosted the meetings, organized the site visits and managed the permitting process.
Each member of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership plays a critical role in this project, and throughout its history, one team or another has stepped forward when needed to carry the load and meet the challenges we faced. This time the credit belongs to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for seeing us through a crisis that could have ended the project and threatened the future of the Eastern Migratory population.
The White River Marsh State Wildlife Area near the town of Berlin became the main focus when it was chosen as the location for a training site for the Class of 2011. The Wisconsin DNR acquired the initial approval, and developed an Agreement outlining the conditions under which the land may be used for the project’s purposes.
OM received that Agreement yesterday, which leaves just one approval still to be put in place before it will be our turn to step forward and begin the site preparation. A wet pen, where the birds can learn to roost in water at night will be the first job. We will bring in some heavy equipment to dig a shallow depression to hold water. Then we will build the wet pen around it and the dry pen next to it. We will add the feeding stations, an observation blind, and food storage area. The next step will be leveling and mowing a runway.
Once the bird facilities have been completed, we will start looking a location to store the aircraft. We will need to prepare a runway and set up a portable hangar similar to the storage units you see with a steel frame covered with weatherproof fabric. All of this will have to be completed before the first birds arrive in late June.
All of this is challenging but none of it is impossible. In fact, with partners like the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, there isn’t much that is.