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Interior Clears the Way for Return of Whooping Cranes to Louisiana

Reintroduction of Cranes Expected Later this Month

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has cleared the way for the reintroduction of whooping cranes in Louisiana a half century after these endangered birds were last seen in the state, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today. 

The Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a regulation designating a potential Louisiana's population as a non-essential, experimental population under the Endangered Species Act. This designation would allow the Service to effectively manage a reintroduced population. The reintroduction of whooping cranes to Louisiana could begin later this month.

"The whooping crane is an iconic species that should be returned and restored to health along the Gulf Coast," Salazar said. "In partnership with the State of Louisiana, and thanks to the remarkable work of our scientists and experts, we believe we are ready to bring whoopers back. The reintroduction of these remarkable birds will be a milestone moment for the Gulf Coast and in our continuing commitment to the protection and restoration of America's Great Outdoors." 

The last record of a whooping crane in Louisiana dates back to 1950, when the last surviving whooping crane was removed from Vermilion Parish property that is now part of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area.

In cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, LDWF plans to release the first group of non-migratory whooping cranes at the conservation area in early 2011.

The reintroduction of the whooping crane is a model of the kind of partnership in conservation called by President Obama when he unveiled his America's Great Outdoors Initiative to create a new conservation ethic for the 21st century and reconnect Americans to the great outdoors, Salazar said.

"Working with states and local communities to achieve our conservation goals is at the heart of the America's Great Outdoors Initiative," Salazar said.

"We strongly support the State of Louisiana in this historic effort for the ultimate recovery of the magnificent whooping crane," said Cindy Dohner, the Service's Southeast Regional Director. "We are proud to be partners with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the International Crane Foundation in this great effort."

The proposed designation of a non-migratory flock of whooping cranes for reintroduction to Louisiana was first published in the Federal Register on August 19, 2010. Public comments were received and two public hearings (Gueydan and Baton Rouge) were held to allow public comment. Comments were accepted through October 18, 2010 and were generally found to be supportive of the overall reintroduction effort.

The Service announced today in the Federal Register the final designation of Louisiana's non-essential, experimental population (NEP) of the endangered whooping crane. The non-migratory flock coming to Louisiana will carry that designation under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. This designation and its implementing regulation are developed to be more compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area.

"LDWF has proven through implementing recovery efforts for species like the American alligator and the brown pelican that the expertise and willingness to implement a long-term restoration plan for high priority trust resources are assets our biologists bring to projects," Barham said.

Whooping cranes are the most endangered of all of the world's crane species, first added to the list of endangered species on March 11, 1967.

Louisiana's reintroduction is part of a larger ongoing recovery effort led by the Service and its partners for this highly imperiled species, which was on the verge of extinction in the 1940s and even today has only about 400 individuals in the wild.

"The return of whooping cranes to their home in Louisiana, after an absence of more than a half-century, salutes the values of a state that shelters some of the largest and most important wetlands on the continent," said George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation (ICF).

The only self-sustaining wild population of whooping cranes migrates between Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Like those in the eastern migratory population, it remains vulnerable to extinction from continued loss of habitat or natural or man-made catastrophes. Multiple efforts are underway to reduce this risk and bring this magnificent bird further along its path to recovery. This includes increasing populations in the wild, ongoing efforts to establish a migratory population in the eastern United States, and establishing a resident population in Louisiana.

For more information on whooping cranes and the re-introduction of whooping cranes to Louisiana, please visit the LDWF's website at www.wlf.la.gov or the Service's website at http://www.fws.gov/southeast and the International Crane Foundation at: http://www.savingcranes.org/

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