Goodbye Necedah, Hello White River Marsh

"Flight School" for the ultralight-led chicks is moving! Wisconsin's White River Marsh State Wildlife Area (WRMSWA) will be the project's new home. The Class of 2011 chicks will be the first whoopers to live, train, and return each spring to White River Marsh SWA instead of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Which direction is the new release site from the old one?

Why the Move?
Nesting at Necedah NWR has not been as successful as everyone hoped. The cranes are doing all the right things, but Black flies during nesting season have tormented many cranes off their nests. The eggs are left alone and the nests fail. Are Black flies the cause? More evidence is needed, and the Canada / US Whooping Crane Recovery Team decided not to release any more Whooping cranes into the Necedah area until the cause of the nest abandonment has been identified and managed. It could take a few more seasons to test the theory that Black flies are causing the problem. Even if conclusive evidence is found, the long term use of chemical controls has been ruled out by the refuge. Giving future cranes a new place to nest may mean the species has a better chance to build the eastern population.

Not Giving Up
"No one within the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP: say "WEE-sep") is prepared to give up on these birds just yet," said Joe Duff. Joe has been the lead ultralight pilot for this project since it began in 2001. "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."

Many Partners Share the Challenge
Operation Migration carries out the actual ultralight-led migration. But first, other WCEP partner groups had a big job to do. ICF researchers surveyed much of central Wisconsin for the right site conditions. They identified seven possible sites. Then the Wisconsin DNR took the lead. They examined variables like public use, proximity to developed areas, hunting seasons, and the capacity of the wetlands to accommodate nesting pairs in the future. The search narrowed to three sites. After that, ICF and OM visited the sites to see how they would work. White River Marsh SWA won. It's a new chapter in the quest to bring back the cranes.

Journal or Discussion Question:
  • Why is it important for the new training site and nesting grounds to be close enough to the old one at Necedah NWR so that the birds added are still part of the same flock and not a separate population?