The hearing was chaired by Sandy Tucker, a Wildlife and Fisheries leader in Athens, Ga. A panel, consisting of Deborah Fuller, from the Lafayette sector of LDWF, Bill Brooks, a Wildlife and Fisheries leader in Jacksonville and serves as a marine biologist for whooping cranes in the Southeast region, Brad Rieck, a field supervisor in the Lafayette sector of LDWF, and Robert Love, from the Baton Rouge sector of LDWF, presented the proposed population and heard comments from the audience.
“Whooping cranes were here in Louisiana historically and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries hopes to bring them back to captivity,” said Brooks.
There are 15 species of cranes worldwide and the whooping crane is the rarest of all. There are only 551 whooping cranes left in the world. This number includes 398 in the wild and 153 in captivity. The only fully self-sustaining population is found in Canada.
Whooping cranes are the tallest birds known to man, standing at 5 ft. tall. An adult crane will weigh around 15 lbs. Adults are snowy white with black-tipped wings. They reach adulthood when they are around four years old. The cranes’ diets consist of plants, blue crabs, clams, and shrimp.
During the 1800s, these cranes were found in Louisiana’s wet prairies and in the state’s coastal regions. During this time, the crane population was abundant.
However, because of environmental changes in land and over hunting without regulation, the population drastically dwindled. By 1945, only two cranes remained in at the White Lake Conservation Area.
In March, 1950, there was only one Louisiana whooping crane, which was named Mac. Mac was captured in the conservation area and was transferred to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the central Texas coast.
The department would like to release nine to 11 cranes in the first year to the area. If the first-year venture is successful, additional releases will occur during the following years.
The whooping cranes that will be released in the area will be considered a “nonessential experimental population.” The process would be experimental because the cranes would be re-introduced into the area, which is out of its currents environmental range, but in its historical range. The population would be considered nonessential because the likelihood of survival would not reduce the entire population.
Because the cranes are on the endangered species list, a violation will be made if one is shot. LDWF does not plan on proposing extra hunting restrictions or closures, but if a killing occurs separate from a legal action, such as farming, or is not incidental in hunting, repercussions will occur.
“When people get their hunting licenses, they will be informed of the rules,” assured Brooks.
Brooks said there is a possibility that bringing the whooping cranes into the White Lake area might have a great economic effect on Gueydan.
“The Aransas population does have targeted ecotourism,” said Brooks. “At the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, there are tour boats that go out into the habitat areas to show birders the whooping cranes.”
Citizens who spoke at the meeting said they supported this action, although a few had their uncertainties.
Gay Gomez, an associate professor of geography at McNeese State University, said she could not think of a better place than Louisiana for the reintroduction.
“The whooping cranes are a part of our Southwest Louisiana history and they are a part of our beloved wetlands,” said Gomez. “I urge you to bring the whooping crane, in French, la grue pousser, back to Louisiana.”
Mary Courville, the daughter of John Lynch, who first discovered and brought Washington’s attention to the cranes in this area, spoke of her excitement, saying the love for the animal is “in her blood.”
“I’m no expert, but I’ve been watching the experts,” she said. “I’m very proud of what’s been done, I’m very excited and I would love for my grandchildren to see whooping cranes in White Lake.”
Harold Choeffer was among the few who voiced not only their support of the project, but their concerns as well. Choeffer is a member of Lafayette’s Sierra Club.
“My biggest concern is the White Lake system,” he said. “It’s now freshwater. Although at times you have blue crab and shrimp in there, there are many years that they’re not there at all.
“The very thing that caused the population to decline still exist,” he continued. “That is a very polluted and toxic site. They have drilled over 1,200 wells, each dumping oil and a whole list of things.”
Choeffer suggested to the panel that other locations in Southwest Louisiana, such as Marsh Island, be considered.
The panel will present the comments and information gathered to the state board, who will make its considerations.
For more information, please contact Carrie Salyers at (337) 491-2593 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wlf.la.gov.