A Fool’s Game

In an effort to safeguard Whooping cranes from extinction, we raise a new generation each year. We keep them isolated from all things human and teach them to migrate from Wisconsin to Florida but it’s a fool’s game.

Any business adviser will tell you that when you begin a project, you should be fairly certain of the outcome. The more you invest, the more critical it is that your results are guaranteed. Imagine finding the perfect location to build your dream home, then buying all the materials before you secured the lot.  Or what kind of an entrepreneur would present his idea to a venture capitalist before acquiring the patent on his new invention?

The point of my ramblings is that wildlife reintroduction is a risky endeavor with no guarantee that it will work. Because Whooping cranes are long-lived and slow to reproduce, the investment in their salvation begins long before the reward is earned.  The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) spent ten years releasing birds at Necedah before realizing that blackflies were an issue. It will take another few years at White River Marsh before there are enough birds to see if the problem persists. In the meantime, we must continue the work to protect what we have invested so far.

Even our yearly field work depends on an unknown over which we have no control. The eggs are hatched at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the chicks taught to follow the aircraft and every aspect of their experience throughout the process is controlled. Then the success of the entire effort depends on which way the wind is blowing.

All the time and effort WCEP has invested hinges on an outcome that is well in the future and completely unknown. Unfortunately, that is the nature of wildlife reintroduction. In any other business, it would likely be considered foolhardy; mind you, the payoff is far greater. Rather than short term profits, our reward will be the continued survival of a creature that has existed for millions of years. The icon of endangered species will be safeguarded from extinction, its habitat will be protected and a generation will be made aware of the importance of conservation.

Wildlife reintroduction is a risky venture but the payoff is so critical that the low odds of success must be accepted.  It would make far more economic sense to invest in conservation rather than in reintroduction. It is simpler and cheaper to protect what we have than to attempt to replace what we have almost lost. Maybe that lesson is another of the dividends of trying to save a species.

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  1. Carol Berglund October 30, 2013 9:40 am

    www . bringbackthecranes . org / technicaldatabase / 2012BtiStudy . html

  2. Claire Timm October 29, 2013 4:43 pm

    With something so precious as these magnificent and very endangered creatures the payoff will be worth the wait! I have no doubt about that!
    BUT I have a similar question to Jon’s previous one! To me the decision not to use BTI at Necedah is pretty much abandoning the Whooping Cranes already there. Is there ANY plan by ANYBODY to help them thrive? It would be such a shame to see 10 years worth of money, time and heart be totally lost!


    • Heather Ray October 29, 2013 5:11 pm

      The decision whether to use Bti or not, is not ours to make unfortunately. Since the source of the Blackflies is on State lands it would be the Wisconsin DNR that would make that decision.

      • Claire Timm October 29, 2013 7:21 pm

        Heather, I already knew and completely understand that it is not OM’s decision. My question was if there was ANY plan for ANYBODY to do SOMETHING for the Whooping Cranes left at Necedah! It seems that the strength of our supporters was able to sway the FAA into granting that exception in January of 2012! So, I have to believe there is something we, OM and its supporters, can do to garner support for the use of BTI…or SOMETHING for those poor cranes! My “Cow Pond” Cranes (#11-09, #15-09) are Necedah birds. It hurts my heart to think that there might be nothing done to help them thrive and to one day bring chicks with them to winter here! I know OM must feel the same way as I do….you all put the heart and time into these birds for 10 years. There has to be something that can be done! Or we should at least try!


        • Heather Ray October 30, 2013 8:05 am

          Partners will await the results of the 3-year study, which just concluded this year before making any decision regarding the use of Bti

        • Jon October 30, 2013 10:39 am

          Well said Claire!! The people who make these decisions need to hear our voices and let it be known that we want our cranes to thrive!!!

          • Claire Timm October 30, 2013 12:36 pm

            Thank you, Jon! I think a LOT of people feel the same way as we do! Now to figure out a way to unite our voices so that the decision makers hear us loud and clear!!


      • Karen Anne October 30, 2013 4:26 am

        Is Wisconsin DNR planning on no blackfly control? That would be a terrible blow to the cranes.

  3. Becky October 29, 2013 2:16 pm

    Outstanding article. Thanks for all your efforts!

  4. Jon October 29, 2013 11:34 am

    With such limited resources and an unknown return on your investment, would it not make sense to use BTI at Necedah as an experiment to see if those cranes are capable of reproducing? It may be several more years before you have enough cranes at White River to learn if this effort is worthwhile. Will you even have enough cranes every year to reach your goals in the next several years? I remember when you used to lead 15 or more cranes south every year. The numbers you have been getting the last few years will make success harder to measure once the few established pairs begin breeding.

  5. Patti Hakanson October 29, 2013 11:20 am

    Ohhh this is so true and Thank you Joe for this awesome article!! You guys just amaze me, and I am so very happy to have found your site and trying best I can in any way to raise awareness to all I meet!! Hope this year’s class is very successful! we are behind you 100%!!! 🙂