Whooping Crane Migration Project Ends

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The annual ultralight-led flight of a flock of whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida has been officially canceled but not for aviation-related reasons as in the past. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday it's pulling its funding for the well-publicized effort, mostly because it doesn't work. After 20 years and $20 million spent to try to create a new flock of cranes based in Wisconsin in the summer and Florida in the winter, it turns out that the cranes saw through the human-engineered plan. Although the flying part of it was pretty successful (about 250 cranes raised in Wisconsin were successfully led to Florida by the aircraft) the cranes didn't do their part. Only 10 chicks from the artificially raised cranes reached adulthood. There are now 93 birds in the flock, most of them lousy parents, according to a USFWS official quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Why aren't the others getting it?" asked Peter Fasbender. "The common thread is this lack of parenting skills." Operation Migration, the Canada-based organization that does the flying part, isn't giving up without a fight, however.

The group has launched an online petition to maintain the flights, arguing that the migration success rate is better with the ultralights than by letting nature take its course. The group notes that donations and fundraising pays for the ultralight flights and the effort draws a lot of media attention to the cause of saving the cranes. But the folks in charge of raising the birds agree that using an aircraft and having people dressed up as cranes interacting with them isn't the best way to create a viable flock. "We have to find ways to reduce the element of artificiality," said Barry Hartup, director of veterinary services for the International Crane Foundation. Meanwhile, the last flight of ultralight-led cranes is in its final days with the flock not far from the winter destination of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.