Indian Reservations have quality Whooping Crane “Stopover habitats”

Indian Reservations have quality Whooping Crane “Stopover habitats”
by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Indian Reservations
Figure 1. Two adults and one juvenile Whooping Cranes stop to rest and feed during their 2,500 mile migration between their Canadian nesting site and Aransas Refuge winter habitat on Texas coast.

Indian Reservations in the Great Plains Region have an abundance of quality Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” according to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW). Stopover habitats are ponds (stock dams) or other wetlands where the Whoopers stop to rest and feed for one or two nights during their two 2,500 mile migrations each year. Stopover habitats along their migration corridor are equally essential to the survival of Whooping Cranes as are their Canadian nesting sites and Aransas Refuge wintering habitats on the Texas coast.

FOTWW’s mission continues

FOTWW is continuing its mission to identify, protect, enhance and develop existing or potential “stopover habitats” for the endangered wild cranes. Our wildlife biologist Chester McConnell, with the assistance of reservation biologists, recently completed a survey of tribal trust lands in the Great Plains Region. Seven Indian reservations involving 3.8 million acres of trust lands were visited. During the surveys McConnell instructs reservation biologist on habitat management practices necessary to make ponds/wetlands acceptable to Whooping Cranes.

Stopover ponds/wetlands on Indian Reservations

McConnell and reservation biologists identified over 1,700 potential stopover ponds/wetlands on Indian reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota within the Whooping Crane migration corridor. The biologists estimated that 75 percent of the 1,700 ponds would provide good “stopover habitat”. That equates to about 1,275 ponds.

Indian Reservations
Figure 2. Numerous wildlife species use the same habitats as wild Whooping Cranes.

FOTWW’s biologist explained that if needed some of the remaining 25 percent of ponds could be managed to become acceptable stopover areas with low cost management improvements. FOTWW believes, however, that there are currently enough stopover ponds within the 3.8 million acres of trust lands if their current management condition is maintained.

Continued need to secure stopover ponds

Importantly, there is a continued need for more secure stopover ponds throughout the remainder of the Whooping Crane migration corridor. FOTWW recently completed another survey of these habitats on U.S. military bases in five states. Approximately 100 quality ponds were identified with 65 percent needing minor management. Importantly, more ponds on some military bases could become stopover sites if the need becomes apparent.

Whooping Cranes migrate between northern Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park nesting grounds and their Aransas National Wildlife Refuge wintering area on the Texas coast two times each year. During each of the 2,500 mile migrations the cranes stopover on wetlands/ponds/lakes and streams about 10 to 15 times. There they remain for a day or two to rest and feed. Regrettably, many “stopover habitats” are being destroyed or degraded on private property due to a variety of intensified developments.

Stopover sites important for survival of the whooping cranes

Insuring that sufficient areas are available with suitable conditions as stopover sites is important for survival of the species. Proactive approaches by land owners and managers can help reduce potential mortality that occurs during migration.

FOTWW is concentrating on the wild Whooping Crane migration corridor because we believe this important part of the total management effort deserves much more attention.

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.