It is hard to believe that anyone would characterize teaching Whooping cranes to migrate as simple but I often wish that was all there was to it. The actual field work can even be described in one, albeit long sentence. ‘We imprint the birds at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and train them to follow our aircraft over the summer in Wisconsin before we lead them on their first 1285 mile migration to Florida, all the while wearing costumes to keep them wild.’
But, as with most things in life, there is far more to it than meets the eye. Luckily all the permits that allow an endangered species to be released into a range of 20 States have already been issued, so there is only the matter of keeping them updated. Above and beyond the need for updated pilot medicals and 100 hour aircraft inspections there is vehicle licensing and insurance. Then there is the problem of relocating everything back to where it is needed next.
The aircraft trailer must go from Florida back to Wisconsin. We drove it to Canada after the migration but it is full of American aircraft so driving it across the border is problematic. It remains in storage in Niagara Falls, New York waiting to be delivered to Wisconsin in the spring when the first one of us heads that way.
Brooke is monitoring the birds at St Marks NWR but once they leave and a new generation begins to hatch at Patuxent, he will move house and home to Maryland. That means a truck and trailer, plus the tracking van will have to be ferried north — and then relocated again once the birds are moved to Wisconsin.
In the broader picture, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is developing a five year strategic plan. The Guidance Team and several other experts in the field of Whooping crane conservation have spent weeks in face-to-face meetings and conference calls using a technique called Structured Decision Making. This SDM process is slow and arduous but it is a practical and practised method of getting the best minds to arrive at a final course of action. We began last summer and likely won’t have it completed until this summer.
Of course, the season starts well before that, so an interim plan was developed. Recently a request for egg allocation was sent by WCEP to the Recovery Team for the 2013 season. That proposal will be considered when they determine who gets what percentage of the available eggs. They deal abstractly in percentages because no one yet knows just how many eggs will be produced by the birds in captivity.
Within WCEP there are now four basic teams that deal with various aspects of this project from rearing and release of young birds to monitoring and managing the wild flock that now numbers over 100. The chair persons of those teams also serve on the Operations Team that oversees all of them. Above that is the Guidance Team including one member from each of the partner organizations. Each of these groups meet independently once a month on conference calls.
None of this would be possible if not for the support we get from all of you but fundraising is not simply a matter of waiting for the money to pour in. In fact, it is one of the most complex aspects of the process and the one that can generate the most anxiety. If our funding appeals are successful we must be accountable for every dollar we raise. In our case we have two organizations. One in Canada because that is where we began and another in the United States because that is where the project takes place. OM in Canada reports to the Canada Revenue Agency and OM USA reports to the IRS. That means two sets of accounts, two accountants and two audits. Both organizations are governed by one Board of Directors who are elected by our membership.
There are nine members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and each of them deals with all the concerns I have listed for ours. It is hard to believe that so many infrastructures are needed to reintroduce an endangered species. At times it seems that leading the birds is the easy part.