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St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge Hopes to Host Wintering Whooping Cranes

ultralight with whooping cranes 275.gifThe staff at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (St. Marks NWR) was pleased to hear that The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) announced Thursday, February 7, 2008 that it plans to split the ultralight-led Class of 2008 cranes into two groups upon arrival in Florida this fall, pending outcome of stakeholder input and permitting requirements.  One group will winter at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), and it is hoped that the other group will winter at St. Marks NWR.  Both refuges are on the Florida Gulf coast.

The decision comes after the loss in February 2007 of 17 of the 18 Class of 2006 whooping cranes in a severe storm at Chassahowitzka NWR.  WCEP has spent the past year examining the circumstances of the deaths.  While the loss resulted from a rare and severe storm, WCEP is exploring all options to safeguard against such a loss in the future.  In making the decision to divide the next group of ultralight-led cranes between two winter sites, WCEP’s highest priority concerns were maximizing first-year survival of young whooping cranes (including avoiding the catastrophic loss of a class group) and maximizing opportunities for the young cranes to socialize and form pair bonds on the winter grounds.

{sidebar id=1}After studying potential alternative winter sites, WCEP identified St. Marks NWR as a suitable release site.  The Chassahowitzka and St. Marks sites have different habitat characteristics and each meets many of WCEP’s priority objectives for winter management of the cranes.  Splitting the flock between Chassahowitzka and St. Marks meets the highest priority concerns for the safety and well-being of the young whooping cranes and offers an opportunity to learn more about what is best for these endangered birds.  Evaluating the response of the cranes will improve WCEP’s understanding of whooping crane ecology and inform future management.

There are additional operational and logistic factors that need to be considered and addressed, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be looking for input from the community around St. Marks NWR.  The prospective wintering site at St. Marks NWR will require closing portions of Mensler Creek  and Cow Creek and their surrounding marshes to all public access approximately December- April.  The exact closure dates will depend on when the cranes arrive. 

Public comments on the proposal can be sent to St. Marks NWR, P.O. Box 68, St. Marks, FL 32355.  Comments must be received by April 4, 2008.  If you have questions about the reintroduction program, an informational open house will be held at the St. Marks NWR visitor center at 3:00 PM on Saturday, March 29, 2008. The partnership will continue to investigate additional suitable winter release sites for future years.

An international coalition of public and private organizations, WCEP is conducting the reintroduction project in an effort to return this endangered species to its historic range in eastern North America.  This spring, there will be 76 migrating whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America thanks to the efforts of WCEP and its many donors, partners and supporters. 

For more information, go to WCEP’s Web site at .

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit .

This article originally published on February 20, 2008.

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