Eastern Flock: Nonessential Experimental Population
Contributed by Rachel Jepson Wolfe, ICF

Rachel Jepson Wolf

The International Crane Foundation's Rachel Jepson Wolf explains why the new Easter flock, even though an endangered species, has the special designation of Nonessential Experimental (see Glossary). Rachel says "When I first heard the classification of the whooping cranes in this flock I was concerned. I felt that these cranes needed to be given all the protection possible under the Endangered Species Act. But as I learned more about what this classification meant I changed my mind. I now support this classification completely, and see it as vital to the success of the project.

"Why is "experimental, nonessential" classification important? The two main reasons are flexibility and support.

"Flexibility: with this classification we can introduce the cranes in creative new ways (like leading them with ultralight airplanes!) to save them from extinction. While we have tested our reintroduction techniques on sandhill cranes, our current efforts with Whooping cranes are new, ground-breaking attempts to save an endangered species. The "experimental, non-essential" classification allows the biologists and specialists involved to make good, fast decisions that are best for the birds without wrestling with the Endangered Species Act. It trusts the team to do what is best.

"Support: without the experimental nonessential classification I think it's unlikely that we would be able to do this project at all. The support of the people in each state along the flyway was vital in our efforts to reintroduce Whooping cranes. People need to be assured that our efforts to save this magnificent bird won't interfere with their rights to live their life as they did before the project. For example, with "experimental nonessential" classification, if I am a farmer in Wisconsin and these cranes decide to nest on my farm, I will still be able to farm my land without concern that I am violating the Endangered Species Act. It means that if they land in my yard I can keep living as I had been without worrying about losing my property rights because I now share my property with an endangered species. The classification allowed us to gain the support of every state between Wisconsin and Florida--something I don't believe ever would have happened without the classification. (And without the support of the states, we don't have a project.)"

Rachel reminds us: "Keep in mind that the whooping cranes are still protected from intentional harm. A man was charged in Florida in 2001 for intentionally shooting two 'experimental, nonessential' whooping cranes that are a part of the non-migratory flock of Florida whoopers."

Try This! Role Play

  • In August, 2003, three of the returned 2002 ultralight whoopers wandered into South Dakota, which is not included in the NEP plan. The joint decision was made between the Central Flyway Council, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, the Whooping Crane Recovery Team and officials with the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to collect the wandering females and return them to the reintroduction site at the Necedah NWR. Two of the cranes (#203 and #215) were just fine when released again at Necedah, but Crane #207 suffered capture myopathy and had to be euthanized. Imagine you are among the decisionsmakers. What would you have said? What points would you raise? What would you say in defending the decision to relocate the cranes to NEP territory when one valuable crane was lost?

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).