Word from FWS

Guest Author – Pete Fasbender

It’s truly a pleasure to work with the passionate, dedicated professionals at Operation Migration and the entire Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. Since the project’s inception, we all have worked hard and made sacrifices with the shared goal of a self-sustaining migratory eastern population of whooping cranes. When we began this, we knew it would be no small task and there was no guarantee of success. The only thing we knew for sure was that it would take an immense partnership, working together toward the shared goal, if we were to have any chance of success.

Because much of the work we do is a “first of its kind thing,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates under an adaptive management strategy. We use the best information we have to develop and implement actions. Then we monitor those actions and adjust as we gain more knowledge. This is one of those moments where we have gained enough knowledge and need to adjust our actions.

The one thing we have never needed to adjust is the value of partnerships. Operation Migration has been an amazing partner. They have helped us reach numerical goals, as well as the social goals. Without their efforts, we would not have the possibility for natural productivity of whooping crane pairs on the landscape, as well as the strong public awareness and passion for our work. This support is absolutely critical.

In this time of adaptation, where we move away from a number of various aspects of the costume-rearing program in order to reach our goal of a self-sustaining population, I look forward to working with Operation Migration into the future and standing beside them to celebrate when we do reach this milestone.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service and Operation Migration agree on the vast majority of issues we contemplated on this project, we differ on the aspect of ultralight led migration. Despite our differences, OM continues to help the Partnership look to the future as we try to mitigate the lack of natural reproductive success of whooping cranes within the Eastern Migratory Population. This, in itself, speaks volumes to the character of Operation Migration staff and supporters – in particular the leadership and vision of Joe Duff.

In the end we all want the same thing – recovery of the whooping crane where birds are raising birds. Let’s keep it going!

Share Button


  1. Carol Gianola January 27, 2016 5:05 pm

    To the FWS: recall this song sung by Danny Kaye many years ago

    “inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds,
    your and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far…
    inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds,
    seems to me you’d stop and see
    how beautiful they are!

  2. David Baker January 26, 2016 1:25 pm

    I have started a petition with the Obama Administration to instruct the USFWS to continue ultra light guided migration until an alternative method with a proven higher level of success is developed.

    If we can reach 99,000 more signatures by Feb 25th, the administration promises to review the petition and provide a response. Please sign the petition and share either link by social media and email.



  3. Madeline January 26, 2016 10:24 am

    Mr Fasbender, You indicate that you want the continued support of the thousands of Craniacs. I suggest that you read and study the Field Journal with an OPEN mind. You will discover the secret to our attachment to this project. The OM crew kept us informed of the OM VISION, the mistakes, the need for new approaches and rationale for changes, on a DAY to DAY basis. You will need to put the PARTNERSHIP back in WCEP if you expect our continued support. Thank you very much in advance for doing that.

  4. Catherine Wohlfeil January 25, 2016 11:17 pm

    Mr. Fasbender –

    Your concerns are primarily focused on the lack of reproductive success in the Eastern Migratory Population. I find this fascinating.

    May I offer a suggestion. It seems your focus leans more toward the DAR program. If this is so, focusing on the psychological and instinctual aspects of the population would tend toward releases of three or less chicks per host flock. Logic would provide that a smaller number of introduced chicks would not only be accepted into a flock more readily by the adult birds, but, from the focal point of the chicks themselves, if introduced in groups of four or more, the birds would more likely tend to remain as a separate unit/flock as opposed to groups of three which, under the stress of abandonment in unfamiliar territory, would lean more toward the instinctual necessity to join due to survival instinct.

    This being said, ICF representatives, when asked, three times in a row, at the 2014 member appreciation presentation, if they would go forward with a DAR with only three chicks, responded that they felt it would not be economically feasible for them to do so. Since they have already indicated disinterest in such a project, perhaps this work could be transferred to OM.

    OM, due to their long term history in ultralight flights, and acknowledging the public awareness of the project through PBS documentaries, and as the focal point of the movie Fly Away Home, has the ready made publicity feature which would invite PSA’s and future documentaries by corporate sponsors, including possibly Disney, and PBS. Seldom would you find such a pre-set promotional campaign for not only FWS supporters but also national and international environmental foundations.

    In addition, OM has a unique experience factor in that their pilots and staff, having dedicated their lives to the restoration of the species and having the unique experience of having had to work in the wild with the cranes in unexpected and varied situations, give them the ability to be more readily aware of crane behavior having researched and observed the cranes for countless hours in the wild. This would be of inestimable value in that it is likely that, long term, the issues of crane personality and breeding may dominate the issue of sustainable reproduction. It could be that maintaining birds in a higher stressed isolated environment may force the birds to focus on individual survival and not on procreation. The on-site observation of the flock would permit rapid and effective adjustments to enable future safety and sustainability.

    Providing one or more adult cranes at the same White River site to assist in the nurturing of the chicks may increase their family-reared knowledge and give them the parental training required to maintain the flock size. By providing adult role models it would improve parent rearing knowledge and the increased flock numbers would permit a more accurate evaluation of all factors, environmental and otherwise.

    In conjunction with the extreme importance of the American public’s support, the ultralight training could also supplement the DAR at White River with the creation of a visitor center / educational facility and a nature rehabilitation facility for all injured wildlife at the White River site. This would create and maintain the necessary funding for all involved programs and also avoid losing the gem which OM has become in its personification of man working in tandem with endangered species, while going forward to promote environmental education and issues. The power of such momentum is already embodied with OM.

    If predatory issues are a factor, which I believe they are, predator avoidance could be easily taught. If OM could teach cranes to follow an ultralight, they could teach cranes that alligators have teeth. Nurturing instincts become awakened with age and experience, and flock size. Environmental sustainability should be promoted with support for the increase of wetlands; as also hunter species identification training programs would reduce the number of accidental deaths. Many factors can affect population size and sustainability, including predation, environment, human encroachment on nesting grounds, and pollution factors as those seen with eagle populations.

    I hope you find these suggestions of interest and wish FWS all the best in its unified venture with OM.

    • Peter Smith January 26, 2016 5:40 pm


      Magnificent, thoughtful comments to FWS. Bravo! Will Mr. Fasbender be reading these comments, Heather? If not, can we please print and send them to him?

      My opinion is that politics are rich in this discussion. This season is a time of political discussion and transition. I want to find out who the congressmen and senators are on the relevant congressional committees (Heather, again you or Liz or Joe may already be able to guide us in this direction, please) for us to communicate with the preople holding the purse strings. Please advise.

      SUPERB job Catherine!

      Peter Smith
      Chapel Hill NC

  5. thunder January 25, 2016 7:25 pm

    Operation Migration just needed a little more time. You closed the door on them. Even calling them to this meeting and interrupting migration. Who does that? OM gave themselves unconditionally to these endangered birds. I wonder if you ever read the Field Journals on how each birds was treated with utmost care like their own kids! They always came first. They just needed a little more time.

    I pray you made the right decision because its you who has to be able to sleep at night.

  6. Mindy January 25, 2016 4:19 pm

    Mr. Fasbender, I am sorry but we are just not in the mood…..
    My only comment to you would be a copy of the letter I wrote to many of your constituents at the FWS and I believe it was copied to you by Georgia Parham. Read it again if needs be. If you did not get it, I have a copy.

  7. Sandy F (NWWISbirder) January 25, 2016 1:00 pm

    More government rhetoric, a lot of words that say NOTHING! FWS is discontinuing the UL program because they can–NOT because of a made up excuse. The DAR program has humans involved in raising the chicks before they’re released. Big Brother government at work again!


  8. Shirley Green January 25, 2016 7:06 am

    Just wanted to add a little to the comments already here. There will never be anything like the view of young cranes flying off the wing of the plane to raise awareness of, and love for, whooping cranes. As I said in my email to Mr Fasbender, there should always be room for imagination in scientific study.

  9. Angie January 25, 2016 3:53 am

    I came to get some ornithological based reasoning on the cessation of the ultralight programme from an apparently knowledgable expert. Instead, I seem to have stumbled on an excert from a cheap romance novel.

    • AintThatAmerica January 25, 2016 8:21 am

      LOL !!!!

  10. Frank January 24, 2016 10:30 pm

    Nice letter, I suppose…

  11. Madeline January 24, 2016 8:07 pm

    Where can we read this “Vision” statement?

  12. Pam January 24, 2016 6:34 pm

    I put my opinion here:

    Here’s an excerpt to give you an idea:

    “It’s a good idea to improve reproduction rates of whooping cranes, but normally methods would be tested to make that happen before giving up the one program that shows results. Once alternative methods are proven to work as well as, or ideally slightly better than, the ultra-light program, that’s when you’d phase out the ultra-light program — not before you have any viable alternative at all.”


    • Mindy January 25, 2016 1:06 pm

      Very good Pam

  13. Lo January 24, 2016 5:07 pm

    I agree with the comments that ask for the basis of the assessment and outline of what is alternative plans. A fact-based 3-4 bullet points of next steps would be helpful.

    I would also like to hear if the great engagement that operation migration group from the public was included in evaluation of program. That is ahard to quantify but important factor as well.

  14. Sharon Leigh Miles January 24, 2016 4:13 pm

    Mr. Fasbender,
    Thank you for commenting in the Field Journal. Thank you for acknowledging mistakes in the Vision Statement and taking responsibility. Thank you for the kind words that you have expressed concerning Operation Migration. For those of us that follow OM and the other programs WCEP has instituted, you are not telling us anything we did not already know. I have only been following OM a couple of years. I have discovered that they are honorable even when enduring harsh criticism from outside sources. I am heartbroken over the decision to discontinue the UL method.
    I am deeply concerned about the future of the EMP. I understand that you gave a lengthy presentation concerning the future of the EMP, but you have not shared any of your plans or ideas publicly. It seems that the only plan was that it would not include OM. What will you do to build up the migratory population? The only two programs left are the DAR and PR programs. Both have had limited success. I truly hope that they will provide the numbers and the success that are needed, but right now I don’t see it. My fear is that FWS will give up on the EMP and dismissing OM or reassigning them a different function (whatever that is) is the first step. I hope with all my might that I am wrong. Please prove me wrong. Because it is ALL ABOUT THE BIRDS!
    Respectfully submitted

  15. Dave Sapko January 24, 2016 3:05 pm

    The Fasbender message to the Cranes reads: “Trust me. I’m from the Government. I’m here to help you
    “Typical bureaucratic talk. Leaving the fate of the EMP Whooping Cranes in the hands of the FWS bureaucrats is folly.

  16. Lynda Johnston January 24, 2016 3:05 pm

    I don’t understand how this can happen. What reasoning is behind the decision that your way is better so let’s end this program. If volunteers are willing to carry on and devise new methods; if supporters are willing to keep supporting, I would like to see some evidence why OM should be ended. I’m very sad.

  17. Kelly Walker January 24, 2016 2:36 pm

    I am confused. You write “Without their efforts, we would not have the possibility for natural productivity of whooping crane pairs on the landscape,”. Yet, you stop the process. It would seem then, you are also ending the possibility.

  18. Lu Duncan Frank January 24, 2016 2:13 pm

    I am disappointed in the decision of the FWS in terminating this program when it seems that it has had success and not depended on government funds (correct me if I am wrong). OM staff and fans are dedicated people and will rebound from this and only have the best interests of the cranes.

    What about the possibility that your decision is wrong? Will you admit that and reinstate the role of OM, Mr. Fassbender? I think that is a question that should be considered…

  19. Carol Giancola January 24, 2016 2:03 pm

    Pete, I trust Joe Duff. I have and will support OM because I know that they truly have the Whooping Cranes’ welfare in their hearts.. But without Joe and/or OM I will not support the FWS with one penny. I do not trust what you have done. You have to earn my trust. Joe and OM, carry on, I am behind YOU. FWS, respect those people whom you have tossed aside for now. You may have to eat your words when the science is in years from now. Remember the Passenger Pigeon…

  20. Jenny January 24, 2016 1:55 pm

    Mr. Fasbender, We are all completely aware of the character of Operation Migration’s staff and supporters and their vision. That is completely obvious. However, it is the “vision” of others that we question. Thank you Operation Migration for your dedication to the reintroduction project. Without you I would never have known what a Whooping Crane is, not to mention being educated about the other programs.

  21. Ann January 24, 2016 1:14 pm

    Mr. Fasbender: Are you familiar with this saying? ” Statistics, if tortured long enough, can be made to confess to anything.” The real question is what, or maybe who, really motivated you to do this.

    • Kelly January 25, 2016 10:07 am

      Bingo. There’s another saying, “Follow the money.” If we could find that trail, the who and the why would be answered.

  22. Dora Giles January 24, 2016 1:12 pm

    I think this decision was made way before the “meetings” were held. No good explanation has been given for doing away with a program that is just now beginning to show it can be successful and at NO EXPENSE TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. All funds were donated by corporations and mainly individuals like myself. I was not aware of whooping cranes until 3 years ago and OM has taught me a lot about not only whooping but other wildlife. Please keep OM and return the Ultra Lights to help birds learn to migrate. Please give them time to learn to nest and raise their young. They just need several more years to show that by moving the training to White River Marsh and wintering at St. Marks, Florida has been the right thing to do. Like other posts above, your article was just a bunch of bureaucratic garbage.


  23. Lynn Driessen January 24, 2016 1:07 pm

    Empty words, no substance.

  24. Warrenwesternpa January 24, 2016 12:54 pm

    FWS Fasbender
    Like all Government venders, you speak smooth words and say nothing. As we watch all our (LEADERS) in their almighty glorified shelves, we will see what you really mean. I will be watching but not expecting much. 🙁

  25. Clark Schultz January 24, 2016 12:42 pm

    Hi Pete

    I have been following OM the past decade or more, visiting their website often on a daily basis. I have also had the opportunity to work with the OM team in their fall migration for the past two years. I know firsthand of the dedication of all the OM team members. It was always apparent in my conversations with everyone in OM that they were for the cranes first and foremost and that they were part of a larger team (the WCEP) made up of like members.

    I am glad to know that Joe and the OM team members will continue to be an integral part of the WCEP as the loss of their efforts and knowledge would be detrimental to the whole program. I would hope that they will be involved on a daily basis in the next stage of the introduction as they perform another vital role that they WCEP and ICF do not. The OM website gives the public a daily report on the success and trials of a reintroduction effort which is lacking on the ICF and WCEP websites. They raise the public’s awareness and support for the efforts of the WCEP, the survival of whooping cranes and the importance of protecting our natural environment. They put a human face on the reintroduction of whooping cranes allowing the many who only have the opportunity to donate funds to your efforts to feel that they are a part of this effort as well. I hope they will be able to continue to do this and that we all will be able to celebrate the success of the eastern migratory population being self sustaining in the near future.

    • Mindy January 24, 2016 3:08 pm

      Well put Clark, thank you for this comment

  26. Margaret Howden January 24, 2016 12:30 pm

    Please see my questions under your first post of this comment. Thank you.

  27. Lisa Harrison January 24, 2016 12:25 pm

    Please consider an education piece for our youngest conservationists. They will be the ones to make a difference in the future. I have taught my second graders about the whooping cranes for the last 8 years thanks to OM and Journey North. Since 2007, my kids have raised over $8500 for the cause. They were inspired into action and they will never forget this important study and all the things they learned. Before OM, many of them had never even heard of whooping cranes. So grateful to OM for all their work.

  28. Patti Hakanson January 24, 2016 12:23 pm

    Everyone’s ultimate goal-the bird’s recovery and survival!!! I am sure everyone involved will continue working as one to achieve that goal! Best of luck to each and every organization with that goal in mind!

  29. Robert W. Stewart January 24, 2016 12:08 pm

    Mr. Fasbender your post is filled with government platitudes (I know as I have been there). You have not addressed what people who have supported Operation Migration (OM) in the past want to know. Just what and how do you propose to solve the recruitment problem in the Eastern migratory population especially without the ultralight program around to at least assist?

  30. Dana January 24, 2016 12:00 pm

    Thanks for the stated commitment of keeping the whooping crane effort going. I hope we can see our volunteer and government time and money commitments stay focused on these birds surviving and thriving. One effort such as this can do major PR for the cause of the environment – teaching children and adults about our fragile and interconnected lives and resources. Let’s keep on keepin’ on – and I am forever grateful to OM for the leadership and hard work.

  31. AintThatAmerica January 24, 2016 11:39 am

    I was hoping to read why they differ on the methods of rearing young. No real reason for this message except back-slapping.