Operation Migration Resigns From WCEP & Dissolves Organization

Operation Migration took flight 25 years ago when two artists-turned-aviators developed a method of teaching birds a new migratory route. The innovative approach helped stabilize the dwindling population of the magnificent Whooping crane.

Bill Lishman and Joe Duff developed the aircraft-guided migration method into an effective means of reintroducing endangered Whooping cranes into an area they had not inhabited in over a century.

Our first migration flight leading Whooping cranes occurred in 2001 – shortly after the 9-11 attack on the United States. It was a time when the nation needed an uplifting story; one of ordinary people working to save an endangered, North American species.

For 15 years, Operation Migration pilots and a dedicated ground crew led Whooping cranes on a journey toward survival. During those years, we contributed more than $10 million dollars and covered 17,457 miles with a total of 186 trusting Whooping cranes trailing off our wingtips.

Each of the cranes that survived the winter period in Florida returned north the following spring, and continued to migrate annually thereafter. Gradually, the number of cranes began to increase, giving hope for the species, which in the 1940s numbered only 15.

The aircraft-guided migration method was ended in the fall of 2015 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a document titled “FWS Vision for the Next 5-year Strategic Plan” that claimed the method was “too artificial.” They suggested that cranes raised by our costumed handlers resulted in inattentive parents that did not adequately protect their offspring.

We continued work for another 3 years based upon our belief that the goal of a self-sustaining Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping cranes was attainable. However, with new management directives authorized by the Whooping Crane Recovery Team and implemented by Region 3 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we no longer believe this goal to be achievable.

As a result, we cannot continue, in good faith, to accept contributions or justify assigning our staff and volunteers to carry out the work outlined in the strategic plan imposed on the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

This led us to an extremely difficult decision: The management and Board of Directors are withdrawing Operation Migration from membership and participation in WCEP and dissolving the organization. This decision is heartbreaking for us all but we have exhausted all possible avenues to avoid this outcome.

Supporters from around the world have generously contributed to Operation Migration’s aircraft-guided work, its successful costume-rearing program, and education and research efforts, all of which have contributed to the recovery of Whooping crane. When our work began there were fewer than 500 Whooping cranes in North America. Today, the species total stands at more than 700 – a significant part of the increase is attributable to your help.

While disappointed that we were unable to achieve our long-term goal to establish a self-sustaining Whooping crane population, we take great pride in Operation Migration’s accomplishments, which your support and time helped to make possible:

  • Hundreds of thousands of people are more aware of the plight of Whooping cranes and wetlands thanks to our blog posts for the past 19 years;
  • Our partnership with Journey North, a distance learning program, brought information about Whooping cranes to millions of school-aged children worldwide;
  • We hosted the first-ever LIVE streaming camera featuring wild Whooping cranes; 
  • We raised awareness for the Whooping crane and gained global attention for the efforts to save them through the aircraft-guided program for 15 years. Our work was featured in numerous news stories, documentaries and published in many books and magazines that inspired people to care about, and take action for these vulnerable cranes;
  • The reintroduced Whooping cranes are avoiding humans, selecting proper habitat, pairing with other Whooping cranes and are producing offspring;
  • Aircraft used in our work are now on display at three distinguished locations: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), as reminders that people can take innovative action to help wildlife species in trouble;
  • Operation Migration contributed images to numerous educational textbooks over the past 20 years to help tell the story of Whooping cranes to students of all ages;
  • Our work garnered the attention and support of President Jimmy Carter and noted conservationist Jane Goodall.

We are grateful for the awards we have received over the years, which include:

  • 2002 National Wildlife Federation “Conservation Achievement Award;
  • 2003 Canada Post “Canadian Environmental Award”;
  • 2004 The Whooping Crane Conservation Association “Honor Award”;
  • 2006 American Birding Association, Partners in Flight “Outstanding Contribution to Bird Conservation”;
  • 2009 U.S. Dept. Of The Interior “Partners in Conservation Award”.

So many accomplishments, and all achieved with your help. We want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all Operation Migration members, supporters, volunteers, and staff (past and present).

Your financial and emotional support kept us going more than you will ever know during many stressful and trying periods over the past 18 years of this reintroduction project. You have been like family to us.

There would not be Whooping cranes migrating over eastern North America without your support.

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96 Comments

  1. Mitchelle’ Levone’ Wright September 4, 2018 7:51 pm

    Peanut Buttered

    Image your heart desiring a certain outcome. Imagine that outcome having to do with an element as essential as life itself, as important as money or family, or as serious as an intimate relationship or, dare I say, a favorite team’s upcoming season.

    For now, and for the sake of simplicity and expediency, let’s just focus on a favorite team’s upcoming season. The time for training, conditioning, and practice has come to an end, and the regular season starts tomorrow. Management is all geared up, coaches are in place, and the roster is set; however, there is one player on the roster who’s training, conditioning, and practice opportunities have been hampered by injury.

    During the past thirteen years of protocol and tradition, that player would normally be known as #4-14, but such is not so much the case this year. Due to some kind of tug on some feature of one Brooke Pennypacker (Operation Migration pilot and crane handler), that player is now also known as Peanut.

    See Peanut in the second photo from the top: http://operationmigration.org/InTheField/2014/07/10/crane-chicks-first-day/

    Peanut’s injury was announced on August 27th:

    Yesterday morning provided good weather conditions and allowed for Brooke to train with six of our seven young Whooping cranes. Our only male crane this year, no. 4-14 developed a limp yesterday morning so he stayed behind in the pen to not stress the injury further. He was examined yesterday afternoon by Dr. Barry Hartup from the International Crane Foundation and the UW Veterinary Care – University Wisconsin, who determined the injury to be involving the soft tissue surrounding his right hock joint, so he’ll be on the disabled list for at least a week to allow it to heal. Number 4-14 will be on a week-long regime of medication to help alleviate pain.

    Dr. Hartup believes the injury occurred when a strong storm passed through the area early Monday morning. The cranes have a habit of getting excited in windy conditions and leaping in the air. Chances are he landed wrong and jarred the leg.
    http://operationmigration.org/InTheField/2014/08/27/a-break-in-the-weather/

    The September 3rd update on Peanut’s injury:

    We mentioned last week that our only male Whooping crane in the Class of 2014 had sustained an injury to his hock. Crane #4-14 (aka Peanut) is improving and his limp is getting better. He’s on a daily regime of meds for pain and swelling. Doug Pellerin sent along this photo from yesterday, showing Geoff Tarbox administering a smelt, which contains his morning dose of medication.
    http://operationmigration.org/InTheField/2014/09/03/whooping-crane-4-14-improving/

    The September 8th training update indicated that Peanut was anxious to get back into the thick of things:

    The weather cooperated over the weekend and we were able to train with the young Whooping cranes on both Saturday and Sunday. Number 4-14 is still on restricted duty but yesterday when I was one of the costumes, along with Tom Schultz, I was able to watch his reaction as his flockmates and the aircraft were going through their paces.

    He SO wanted to fly. He peeped loud. Very loud – each time the trike would pass by, and he flapped and ran across the width of the wetpen. His limp is barely noticeable now, however, re-injury is possible so we’ll take it slow, incorporating him back into the line-up.

    Once training was finished with the others, we let him out onto the runway to mingle, and to be near the aircraft. He leaped and danced and even took off on a short circuit over the pensite. Joe started the trike engine a couple of times and he didn’t flinch at all.
    http://operationmigration.org/InTheField/2014/09/08/training-update-7/

    September 9th sees Peanut still sidelined:

    We were able to train the cranes yesterday as well as Saturday and Sunday, making for a 3-day stretch. With the poor weather lately, it’s good to get 3 days in a row.

    Tom and I released the cranes after sequestering number 4-14 in the wetpen….

    …Yours truly entertains #4-14 with some floating mealworms while his cohort trains with the aircraft.
    http://operationmigration.org/InTheField/2014/09/09/training-recap-4/

    The September 19th Operation Migration Team Status Report reflections an optimism that quelled my fear that Peanut would not be allowed to travel with the team, and sustains hope in my desire to see him touch down—with the six ladies—behind an ultralight at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge.

    …but I have to admit that number 4 is fast becoming my favorite. Dubbed Peanut by Brooke, because he was the smallest chicklet, [he is] the only male in a harem of females. Poor guy, his legs were wonky when he was young and he hurt his right leg playing in the wind in a storm about 3 weeks ago. It has not healed as quickly as hoped and was re-injured a week ago as he played on the runway.

    Wednesday, he went to see Dr. Barry Hartup at the International Crane Foundation. After being boxed, splinted and boxed again I was prepared for a cold shoulder this afternoon at roost check, these birds can and do hold a grudge after being handled. I can’t tell you how tickled I was to have him come over as I crouched down to study that leg, and want to pick on my puppet. We beat up a few blades of grass together then took turns pounding a clod into the mud. He won, he drowned it. With some luck we will see Peanut flying with his girls in a few weeks.

    What a great start to this migration. Here’s to a safe first journey for these girls and their Peanut, the pilots and the ground crew that do their best to make sure that Whooping Cranes will be around for future generations to fall in love with! [See the photo of Peanut’s leg brace.]
    http://operationmigration.org/InTheField/2014/09/19/7133/

    So, once again, imagine your heart desiring a certain outcome. Now, imagine that outcome having to do with an element as essential as life itself, as important as money or family, or as serious as a favorite team’s upcoming season or (dare I say) an intimate relationship.

    http://operationmigration.org/InTheField/2018/05/02/found-a-peanut-found-a-peanut-3/

    • Heather Ray September 5, 2018 7:07 am

      Thank you Mitchell. Peanut sure does have many stories to tell.
      Here’s another: https://wp.me/p58okM-2jl

  2. Bill K August 27, 2018 4:30 pm

    From my perspective and in my opinion it is very sad that this attempt at establishing a distinct population appears to be failing in Wisconsin. First a population was attempted in the Rockies, this failed after using 279 whooping cranes (as eggs). Then the non-migratory population was attempted in Florida, which has all but failed after using 279 whooping cranes as young birds. Then the migratory flock was attempted in Wisconsin. It cannot be called a failure yet, however at least 250 whooping cranes were sent there and the current population is only around 100. I don’t have the final number of how many birds were sent to Wisconsin, it is more than 250. That means that more than 808 individual birds of a species that is critically endangered have been sent to their deaths(this is nearly the number of total individuals of the species alive today)- unless the Wisconsin population suddenly turns around or the few Florida birds miraculously establish them selves. There is much hope that the Louisiana population will establish itself since they have been the most successful of all the attempts at this point. The Wisconsin experiment should have either been stopped or changed when the problems were first identified. Trying different areas in Wisconsin has been a good idea unfortunately birds continued to be sent to Necedah the area that was shown to have problems. With a critically endangered species each individual is crucial and none should be wasted by sending them to sites with such high mortality rates. It is very important to try new ideas to save this species and not continue to use methods just because they ‘should work’ or because ‘we like the method’. This truly is about the whooping crane and only the whooping crane and hopefully we will be able to figure out the crucial elements that have blocked successful establishment of new flocks. The people who worked to establish the Wisconsin to be commended. Failure of the flock to establish itself is not the fault of any people, we just have not understood the species well enough to be successful YET. Hopefully we continue to evolve solutions to the problems identified and rather than pulling birds out of Wisconsin or Florida we manage these birds in ways to increase survival and breeding success. The Wood Buffalo flock has grown from a remnant population and if either the Wisconsin or Florida birds survive we should manage those populations to increase numbers- not by adding new birds, increases with breeding and survival successes.

  3. Rebecca Geary August 25, 2018 11:28 pm

    PLEASE DON’T STOP.
    Even if you do nothing but educate it is so needed. <3

  4. Fran Beardsley August 25, 2018 5:41 pm

    I am extremely sad for all of you who have dedicated so much time and effort to the benefit of the gorgeous, fascinating, sometimes humorous Whooping Cranes. We have all learned so much from you. Whooping Cranes now have fans all over the world thanks to all of you and your hard work. For years now this has been the first website I check on in the morning. Will the website still be there so that I can go thru the archives one by one each morning for the next many years?? I foresee major crane withdrawal coming, and I can’t even imagine how it will be for those involved with Operation Migration. It has taken me a week to write this. I hope you all find something as fulfilling to do. My thought are with Peanut etc also.

  5. Suzanne Braun August 21, 2018 7:57 pm

    Very sad to hear of the ending of this program – I hope someone be it an individual/ organization follows up to keep tabs on the numbers of whooping cranes so that should their numbers begin to decrease another program could be initiated before numbers become dire or they should become extinct. Thank you for all you’ve done and achieved!

  6. Glenda May August 21, 2018 11:51 am

    Oh my goodness….there are so very many signs that our natural world is in dire peril, but for the dedication, sacrifices, and compassion shown by people such as yourselves. I’m having a VERY difficult time … I can only imagine what you are going through… May the Great Spirit give you, and the beautiful Cranes, the strength needed to endure.

  7. Sue Cool August 20, 2018 8:34 pm

    You are all so passionate about your work with the whooping cranes and I know your commitment will never end, but find new outlets. I will support you. A question, will the FWS continue the DAR of 10 parent-reared chicks in Wisconsin? Will they monitor the release sites prior for suitable adult activity and hopeful adoption? Will they monitor the colts, and relocate them if they fail to migrate? Do they have the commitment and manpower? So discouraged…. No, 10 is not enough.

  8. Nan Reno August 20, 2018 7:08 pm

    Thank you for all of your incredible dedication and endless work for the whoopers. You did bring much more awareness to the world for the plight of these gorgeous creatures. We can’t thank you enough. May God’s grace bring you boundless blessings for all of your work and love of these birds I won’t forget the incredible photos and live streaming,I enjoyed every minute!

  9. BETTY ANDERSON August 20, 2018 4:25 pm

    A VERY SAD DAY – FOR THE BIRDS AND FOR US AS WELL.

  10. Pam Sanders August 20, 2018 10:50 am

    This is truly heartbreaking. I am so glad I was able to see the whoopers in flight over Pecatonica, IL and hear Joe Duff speak at Rock Valley College in Rockford, IL. The photos and stories always made my day to see and heartbreak with every loss of our precious birds. Flying with the CraneCam and ultralights on the migration route was truly amazing and we were right up there in the air with the pilots and birds. So amazing cannot replace any of this….my co workers know what a crane lover I am thanks to OM!

  11. John Pederson August 20, 2018 9:19 am

    I am filled with sadness. Thank you for all of your effort over the years trying to save Whooping Cranes! Hopefully, the lessons learned by Operation Migration will be used in the future, when it becomes apparent that this approach is the best one that we know of for now. I join many others in wishing you and the cranes the best….

  12. Lois Masso August 19, 2018 2:13 pm

    It is with a very sad heart that I just learned of this happening. I ‘flew’ with the ultralights for many years and cheered the birds on as they made their maiden voyages from WI to FL and back again. I didn’t know there was trouble until now. I knew I hadn’t gotten word of when a new group were going to travel and wondered why. Now I know. I truly hope this can be worked out and the Whoopers helped to continue to grow in numbers. The OM team has so much to offer and I hope their knowledge will be sought out to be used in a new program. Our beautiful birds may just depend on that knowledge and the use of it. Sad day for sure. 🙁

  13. JEAN August 19, 2018 1:25 pm

    WE MISS THEM COMING TO HOMOSASSA FLORIDA, ENJOYED WATCING FOR THEM TO COME AND GO

  14. Barb August 19, 2018 1:04 pm

    These last few weeks/months the focus of the blogs have been on the Sandhills, with little reports of the Whooping Cranes. I wondered if more was going on behind the scenes with regard to the fate of the Whooping Crane project. Perhaps now you are in a position to share, did anyone monitor this year’s chicks, does anyone know how many Whoppers fledged this summer, how many were tagged, who will maintain the monitors (batteries, etc.) who is going to keep track of these fragile lives in the coming years, and will the yearly census of the birds continue?

    I am sad beyond my ability to convey my sorrow. Every time I read a post, I start to cry again. Please know, you can count on me for support of any new project OM, ( perhaps under a new name) is able to initiate.

    Thank you doesn’t seem like enough to day to all of you for your dedication to the Whooping Crane. You all must be heart broken.

    • Heather Ray August 19, 2018 3:15 pm

      Aerial surveys have been conducted and we have provided monthly reports on the population Barb. In fact, the last one was 2 weeks ago and it lists the surviving chicks and those that have fledged this year.

      The cranes will continue to be monitored by ICF. Just as they have since the eastern flock was established.

      • Barb August 19, 2018 3:51 pm

        Thank you Heather for the reply. I do remember the aerial survey you mentioned. Were any of this year’s chicks fitted with electronic tracking devices and the color coded leg bands as in years past? Who will keep track of the chicks going forward?

        • Heather Ray August 20, 2018 7:14 am

          One has been banded and there are plans in place to attempt captures of the other wild chicks produced this year. As for tracking – ICF will continue to track and monitor the birds.

  15. John Olson August 19, 2018 12:45 pm

    It’s been fascinating and inspirational to watch too. THANKS!

  16. NWWIbirder August 19, 2018 12:11 pm

    I totally agree with all the responses that this is such a sad occurrence. I had a feeling that something like was going to happen when the “plans” were changed and the FWS got so heavily involved. Thank you very much to all the OM crew for all you have done-your time, your sacrifices, your dedication. All will be greatly missed.

  17. MSWcrane aka Sue Walsh August 19, 2018 10:26 am

    So saddened by this notice. Sad for the Whopping Cranes and for the OM team who was dedicated to the issue of EMP sustainability. Sad for all of us who followed and supported OM. Sad that the other powers that be do not fully understand what the issues are, as OM has. Sad for the hopes we had of seeing Whooping Cranes flying wild all up and down the eastern United States and Canada. I wish all of the OM team all the best and thank them all for their hard work and perseverance. I am grateful that I met you all and had an opportunity to be part of your inspiration and dream. May you all continue to fly on the wings of the Whooping Cranes that you helped enter this world!

  18. Barb August 19, 2018 10:07 am

    My own experience with this project is only a few years of reading the blogs. The written words, and pictures have told a powerful story of success and also failure, but optimism in the future was always present. I am sad, and can only imagine your emotions. I hope this is truly not the end for OM, and that another approach to saving the Whooping Cranes is developed, perhaps under a different moniker. You have my support in whatever is developed.

  19. Jerry Swanson August 19, 2018 7:14 am
  20. Richard P Brooks August 18, 2018 10:01 pm

    For all the years of dedication to the EMP thanks are not enough. This is such sad news. But their are about 100 birds in the wild thanks to your efforts. I hope that in 2020 a new 5 year plan can be implemented which will allocate more chicks from the captive breeding facilities to establish and expand the range of the EMP. A more environmentally minded administration could help. Take joy from what you have given us. Thank you

  21. Roxanne Moermond August 18, 2018 9:03 pm

    So sad is all I can say. Much gratitude for all you have done over the years.

  22. lilbirdz August 18, 2018 4:12 pm

    I can understand from a financial management perspective that this painful decision might be necessary, but it saddens me deeply. I have nothing but admiration for the dedication, knowledge, amazing resourcefulness, courage, creativity, and sheer stamina of the OM staff and volunteers. Thank you for giving your best efforts to this cause in the face of such difficulties. Thank you also for teaching us so much over the years. The Field Journal could make a wonderful book. I will miss you all.

    http://operationmigration.org/InTheField

  23. PattiLattanzia August 18, 2018 1:15 pm

    Heartbreaking! The ripples of dignity and honor you sent out around the world as you worked on your goal of Whooper sustainability cannot be minimized. You enriched thousands with examples of perserverance, determination, and the highest of human qualities. We were led to higher thinking toward the environment and this earth because of your efforts. Much will be lost with this dissolution, but memories will remain and the good acts started will go forward. We must have hope.

    My pattern, for several years, of checking delightful thoughts and exciting Whooper activity on the FJ each morning, afternoon, and evening has brought me much joy and enlightenment. You are my family. Selfish thought, oh how I will miss you.

    Thank you for the pleasure of being part of this grand adventure. Be strong and carry on, all will be well. Heartbreaking! Love you all.

  24. sue g August 18, 2018 12:07 pm

    Perhaps you might suggest other wldlife projects we can lend our support to, in lieu. These days several donation pleas come every day in the mail, and I’d not want my donation to go amiss. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

  25. Craig W August 18, 2018 10:30 am

    There are three separate announcements — leaving WECP, dissolving OM, and the realization that a self-sustaining eastern migratory population is not achievable.

    This last one is the most emotional and heartbreaking — it’s an admission that the current population of 110+ cranes will eventually die out and that WCEP is a failure. I’d dismiss that as crass cynicism had it come from anyone other than OM.

    If this was simply a disagreement about fluctuating federal wildlife management polices, I believe OM would stay in the fight.

  26. Cheryl Alexander August 18, 2018 8:58 am

    One of the joyous reasons for making a move to Princeton was the location of Operation Migration near here. For the first time in my life (@ 67!), I have seen whooping cranes in the wild. Just on a casual country drive, the idea of spotting a whooping crane always is present, and the rare instances a magnificent gift. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with you once, while working in Princeton. I must admit that I felt so honored to meet a couple that I respect so much! This news saddens me…because I see it as another piece of this government’s failing to continue to move forward to protect our environment, and the people who dedicate their works to improve life against great odds.
    Thank you. Peace and ease. Cheryl Alexander
    Princeton, Wi.

  27. Diana Hanson August 18, 2018 8:53 am

    Thank you for the wonderful hours we spent watching the colts interact, fledge and migrate. What a valuable education. On two occasions driving North we saw Whopping Cranes in the sky and had to stop to enjoy the wonder of it all and the amazing work you and your dedicated staff did to give these amazing creatures some wind beneath their wings. Your efforts will not be forgotten. Thank you!!!

  28. Doug Moore August 18, 2018 8:22 am

    It was a good effort. Thanks for all your work. You helped make a number of us more aware about the necessity to help protect wildlife and the natural environment for the welfare of us all.

    It’s a shame that the eastern flock couldn’t get to the point where there’d be a enough of them that would make it self-sustaining.

  29. Jayne Belsky August 18, 2018 6:57 am

    This is a very sad day in the history of Whooping Cranes. OM has been a shining light for Endangered Species Recovery. You are true champions and will always be my heroes!!

  30. John D August 18, 2018 1:10 am

    Its sad you will not be able to continue the good work your doing to help these magnificent birds.
    Im so glad i was able to witness your work 1st hand before what appears to be politics ended your noble efforts.

    thank you for your efforts to save these birds

  31. Julie E. Yuenger August 17, 2018 11:26 pm

    Wow. This is very sad news. I’m so sorry.
    Julie Yuenger, Green Bay, WI. Mother of Lara Fondow, who sincerely loved her time working with your staff during her time there. A time always cherished, never to be forgotten. ?

  32. Catherine Wohlfeil August 17, 2018 10:48 pm

    You said that 2001 was a time when the nation needed an uplifting story. The nation still needs one today. There is no way that you can abandon a project or a species that years ago you envisioned would be possible to save.

    The fault lies not in the realm of dreams, not in the lack of parental attention by the cranes, but in the inattention of mankind to the need to share our world, the world which God created, with those birds of the air and the creatures which inhabit this world with us, and without which we are, ourselves, doomed to extinction for they instill our spirit, and enable the beating of our hearts.

    For the cement and stone structures which we create will not sustain us. The air we breathe, the water which nourishes our children, and the creatures which feed our souls, are that which our hope is built on. It is that which sustains the human spirit. It is that which makes life itself worth living.

    If we abandon this project, the echoes of its loss will resonate with us into eternity and the hole created in our hearts will make impossible the effort to stand with the wind which nourishes our hope and our soul.

    For Henry, for Peanut, for all those who you truly birthed into freedom – do not abandon them. Do not abandon the hope that this instilled in the heart of man. This is not the time. We must move forward together into a future where life is sustainable not merely through objects and memories, but through our belief that all things ARE possible… we only have to believe…

    • Heather Ray August 18, 2018 5:47 pm

      Unfortunately, like many things in life, believing is NOT all that is needed. It is a lovely thought but not grounded in the cruel reality of politics. For 18 years we have worked hard for Whooping cranes not counting the 10 years of preliminary studies with other species to perfect the method. We have taught birds to migrate and kept them wild. They survived by selecting proper habitat, avoiding predators, including people and mated with the correct species.

      They produce viable eggs and healthy chicks and of all the obstacles we have cleared, there is only one challenge left. We are willing and able to address that final hurdle but we can’t do it without the cooperation of the Recovery Team or the Fish and Wildlife Service. They have limited the number of birds available to WCEP and applied restrictive release strategies so that too few chicks will survive and too few will grow up to breed. And in the end the results are predictable.

      I am extremely proud of the OM team. They sacrificed families and friends, spent months on the road, worked long hours, lived in tight quarters, risked lives and livelihoods and they did not abandon the species. No one more than the OM team knows better the indifference of mankind for the creatures that inhabit the environment that sustains us all. But it takes a lot more than wishes to make a difference, unfortunately. — Joe Duff

      • Catherine Wohlfeil August 19, 2018 4:50 pm

        You’re right. Believing is not all that is needed. I’ve contacted State Representative Dianne Hesselbein who is on the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and who was previously extremely supportive in her response to the prior issue of the sandhill crane hunt. I’m hoping she can and will be of help.

        The work you and your team have done has been magnificent. It has inspired me, as well as countless others, and instilled respect for the environment, and also for what man can do in its support.

  33. Cheryl Murphy August 17, 2018 10:03 pm

    I’ve been reading all the posts. Such wonderful accolades for such important and great work. Your efforts and all of you will be missed. I close my eyes and wish that this wasn’t happening. I hope in the near future under different circumstances that these efforts will begin again. I know many feel the same. The whooping cranes need you.

  34. Glory Cross August 17, 2018 9:05 pm

    Thank you so much for your many years of personal sacrifice and steadfast determination to ensure that Whooping cranes will continue to fly through North American skies….and down to where I live in Rockport, Texas.

  35. Georgia Davis August 17, 2018 8:32 pm

    Great effort, great people……..Thank you!

    Sad ending……I will still wear my shirts and look to the sky.

  36. Amy August 17, 2018 7:24 pm

    I have followed your efforts online, for years, and felt that all your work was noble, and respectful of the need to work in the wild with these birds, keeping them away from humans as much as possible. It is sad to read this. You really made a difference – never doubt that.

  37. Mary Dooley August 17, 2018 7:12 pm

    I had just savored a few moments looking at the Aug. 2018 OM calendar photo on my computer screen, then opened your email. I am heartbroken ~ though not surprised given recent trends attacking environmental efforts.
    What an immeasurable joy and learning experience the last 18 years have been. What words can possibly voice my thanks for being privileged to be a teensy tiny part of OM’s efforts? What an awesome gift we’ve all received with every living Whooping Crane in the EMP!!!
    And my feelings are: dammit, c’mon cranes and craniacs, we’ll still show em what it means to survive and thrive!
    With love and thanks ~

  38. MR2Ducks August 17, 2018 7:11 pm

    I am so very sad. Having difficulty in putting thoughts to text for they are so jumbled in emotion. As so many have stated so well… In deed, you are applauded, you are saluted and you are each thanked from the bottom of my heart for all your kindness and efforts; blood, sweat and tears on behalf of the Whoopers. I’m forever grateful. May God continue to Bless you and keep you each step and pathway forward.
    “Wings spread ‘bove the marsh
    Whooping Cranes heard Callin’ Up
    Journey-on with hope.”

  39. geri buffington August 17, 2018 7:01 pm

    Very sad to hear this. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the cranes.

  40. Pat bluhm August 17, 2018 6:26 pm

    Thank you for all that you did do.The whoppers and the pilots flew over my house in the first route south. Each year l waited to hear the ultra lights engine to signal me for the beautiful flight of the whoopers. Thank you again.

  41. Karen S. August 17, 2018 6:19 pm

    So very sad to read this. Hard for me to put into text my thoughts are jumbled in emotion…. As everyone else has stated so well, you all are saluted, applauded and thanked whole-heartedly for ever and a day for all your love, devotion and impactful efforts; blood, sweat and tears on behalf of the Whoopers. May God continue to Bless you and yours.

  42. Susan Stover August 17, 2018 6:08 pm

    I agree with all of the previous comments and am very sad to see your work come to an end. From our first exposure to the project helping Dr. Urbanek clean out the original pens on 18th St. in the Necedah Refuge, to watching the flights over our marsh, and still seeing occasional whoopers foraging or flying every year since then, I feel very blessed. Thank you for all you have done to establish a viable flock. You made a huge difference. Without you, nothing would have been done. Best wishes to all of you in whatever chapter is next in your lives.

  43. Liz McBride August 17, 2018 6:04 pm

    Your work will always be an inspiration. You thought big and accomplished much. The world is a better place for it.

  44. clemente acosta August 17, 2018 5:57 pm

    A Sad day for all who love cranes. You guided me to the wild and beautiful America A Big Thank You hope to see you down the skies again.

  45. dick Brooks August 17, 2018 5:52 pm

    Thank you so much OM for what you have accomplished with the eastern migratory population. I still have hope that this population can continue. Will there be any parent raised chick released in this population in the future.? Your dedication has been an inspiration. Best wishes in the future. Thanks for the legacy you have left us.

  46. Charlotte Galloway August 17, 2018 5:24 pm

    Thank you for your efforts on behalf of Whooping Cranes. It was a very worthy effort and I wear my Give a Whoop t-shirt with pride and appreciation. Sometimes we just can’t do any more and you have to know your work was invaluable.

  47. Gregg Mackler August 17, 2018 4:51 pm

    My wife Sally, daughter Corrine and myself are so sad to hear this news. Though it has been many years since you came to Chassahowitzka, FL we remember it very fondly. Always enjoyed the crab dinners after everyone arrived. Thank you for all you have done on behalf of all the migratory birds your organization has helped over the years. Funny that we just found a photo from the first flyover last weekend…

    • Heather Ray August 17, 2018 4:55 pm

      Thank you Mackler family! Mmmmmm, Stone crab!

  48. Libby August 17, 2018 3:32 pm

    I’m very sorry, and angry, too, that your voice and your suggestions was not honored, when, in fact, you brought at least 100+ new cranes into the population by your tireless and skilled efforts. I sincerely hope you will keep in touch with ICF (or a friendly WC advocacy group) and lend your advice. It will be needed. I also hope that the WC that are now breeding will learn how to do it successfully. There is hope.

  49. Al + Cindy August 17, 2018 3:31 pm

    We are simply heart broken. Thanks to all for helping these magnificent birds. We pray someone keeps track of the population so that they have a chance to thrive.

    • Heather Ray August 17, 2018 5:01 pm

      We are looking forward to seeing you at the festival in September Al & Cindy! Let’s make this festival a huge celebration!

  50. Janet Westlake August 17, 2018 3:29 pm

    Very sad to be reading this today but must remember and be thankful to Operation Migration for what has been accomplished. Thank you for all that you did and continue to do for the Whooping Cranes. Hope there is a group to stay in touch.

  51. Barbara Neibrand August 17, 2018 3:21 pm

    This is indeed a sad day. Operation Migration has been a part of my life since I moved to Florida in 2005 and went to the various flyovers. I have meet some wonderful people who I can now call friends, staff and volunteers who gave so many dedicated hours to a cause they truly believed in. I will never forget when I actually saw a whooping crane in the air near where I lived in Homosassa, Fl.

  52. Frank August 17, 2018 3:09 pm

    I can understand ending the partnership, but why dissolve OM?

    • Heather Ray August 18, 2018 6:14 pm

      OM has always been a single-focus organization. We concentrated on Whooping cranes, and built an audience and a support base for that purpose. Raising funds and the mechanics of migration – along with the politics of endangered species, kept us more than busy and there never seemed to be enough time to expand our horizons.

      The managers and Board of OM explored the possibilities of other projects but in the end, it felt more like creating a cause to justify keeping the organization going and that is not what we are about. If there is blame to assign for not finding another avenue for OM it rests on me. It was my job to look to the future and plot the course but I failed. In my defense I envisioned the projected ending with a self-sustaining EMP. Or, in the worst case, some biological dead end that was un-fixable. I did not anticipate that the final obstacle would be political. — Joe Duff, CEO

  53. Peggy Main August 17, 2018 2:46 pm

    I can’t begin to express how sad it is to read this, the writing was on the wall but OM kept forging ahead in hopes of the greater good. Congrats to all who worked endlessly, exhaustingly for the Whooping Cranes, well played – well played??All can and should be so very proud.

  54. Valerie Audett August 17, 2018 2:23 pm

    I am so sorry to hear this. My heart,too, is broken. This is a very sad day. Thank you for all the good you have done. I have so enjoyed watching the migration and keeping track of these beautiful birds through your stories.

  55. Linda A August 17, 2018 2:21 pm

    Our lives and those of the cranes and other conservation efforts have been blessed because of you. But beyond that, your work has inspired so many. It has had a domino effect in drawing us in and widening everyone’s interest in conservation.

    The field journal was part of my daily routine: I shed tears when I saw the news. It will be like losing a very close friend whose adventures I shared. And, speaking from my own experience, based on your efforts, I was led to not only support your work but that of other groups involved.

  56. Gregg Hilker August 17, 2018 1:59 pm

    Thank you for all you did. I am a science teacher who shared your endeavors with my students since it began. 2 whooping cranes flew over my car last year near Necedah NWR. What a thrill!

  57. Dianne Mumola August 17, 2018 1:56 pm

    ‘Thank you’ seems so inadequate to acknowledge the many years of commitment and dedication that this team has given to the cause of the Whoopers! I was devastated to read this news and can only imagine how agonizing this decision was to make. I must applaude OM’s efforts over the past 3 years, working within the constraints of the USFW’s directive in spite of all the knowledge to the contrary which you’ve gleaned over the years! We can only hope and pray now that the EMP will continue to thrive somehow without your watchful eye. I will miss the daily journal entries, the live cam, and all your exploits along the way. My support of the ICF will continue as something positive that I can do to continue OM’s legacy. History will be the final judge of the repercussions of the current administration’s policy toward wildlife and the environment. God bless you all for your years of devotion to these majestic creatures! Whoop-whoop!!!

  58. Babs August 17, 2018 1:20 pm

    I am sitting here in tears.

    Thank you to everyone .. all at OM, my fellow craniacs, and all who have supported OM. And not to forget the Whoopers – live long and prosper.

    The value of OM .. in addition to the rearing and training the cranes and teaching them the migration route .. also includes the advancement of environmental science and that of endangered species.

    It’s all a tremendous loss .. and the world is a poorer place for it.

    Love and hugs to all … Babs

  59. Donna Stalter August 17, 2018 1:14 pm

    I am so saddened to see this. I understand your decision, and will always be proud to call myself a Craniac! Your work has made a difference. Blessings on all you you.

  60. Jonnie August 17, 2018 12:48 pm

    I am heartbroken, but not at all surprised. Watching from afar has been one of the joys of my life and attending a Festival, one of the highlights. When will there be a book — or two? It would be so much fun to re-live your adventures through the printed pages.

    • Carol Giancola August 17, 2018 1:39 pm

      A book is a WONDERFUL idea!

  61. Doug Pellerin August 17, 2018 12:45 pm

    I’m very sorry to hear this. I would like to thank Joe for giving me the opportunity to work with these magnificent birds. It’s something that I’ll never forget. I would also like to thank Heather, Brooke, Richard, Colleen for their support and guidance while I was on the team.

    • MSWcrane aka Sue Walsh August 19, 2018 10:45 am

      Doug, Thank YOU also for all the wonderful photographs you supplied us Crainacs with over the years. They were invaluable to keeping our spirits up and allowing us to see the beauty of the Whooping Cranes over the years that many of us were not in a location to see on our own. Thanks SOO Much!

  62. Russell and Barbara Allison August 17, 2018 12:40 pm

    That is a said thing to hear to start my day. We have followed the operation from the beginning. We made the trip to Wisconsin on a couple of trips. We still follow the Cranes progress . We think highly of all the great people who have spent so many hours with the Cranes. I am glad we helped in our small way. I am so sad.

  63. jcminnesota August 17, 2018 12:39 pm

    THANK YOU to the Team all for the years of dedication to the whooping crane and conservation in general. This was not just about the whooper but the many thousands of people you have educated and enriched by your mind blowing activities. Countless children have come to appreciate the natural world through your and partners (Journey North) efforts and will help lead the way to a better future.

    As someone once said—“This project was the wildlife equivalent of putting a man on the moon”. You captured the imagination of all that became aware of the project.

    I wish you all the very best for the future. I know transitions are hard…..but I also know you all have the personal strength to find the way…

    We will be sending a donation soon to help with the transition…and I would encourage all other OM supporters to do the same in honor of your amazing efforts.

  64. Diane Lowe August 17, 2018 12:37 pm

    So sorry to hear this news, a very sad day indeed. Thank you Operation Migration for enriching my life and so many lives. Thank you Joe, Heather and Brooke for everything you have done for us and the Cranes!

  65. Dave hanson August 17, 2018 12:37 pm

    Is there going to be a cranefest this year.

    • Heather Ray August 17, 2018 12:54 pm

      you bet! And we’ll do whatever we can to make it an even bigger celebration!

  66. Patricia August 17, 2018 12:15 pm

    You accomplished a lot during your tenure. I wish all the best to all of you. You will be missed – an understatement.

  67. Mindy Finklea August 17, 2018 12:11 pm

    Joe, I am so sad…..

  68. Barry Brezan August 17, 2018 12:10 pm

    Could you explain a bit more on why you decided that the “new management directives” from the Whooping Crane Recovery Team make the recovery goals unachievable? I would say that the monitoring and tracking efforts alone would be worth the effort to continue on.

  69. Linda Spyhalski August 17, 2018 12:07 pm

    I appreciate so much the many sacrifices you all have made through the years! I am greatly saddened by this news! Thank you so much for all you have accomplished for our beloved Whoopers!

  70. Carol Craig August 17, 2018 11:57 am

    This is a sad day-however thank you all for everything you have done for the Whooping Cranes. Please keep us informed of any new plans. The best to you all in the future.

  71. Jean P aka CrabtowneMd August 17, 2018 11:54 am

    In tears—- what a heartbreaking decision this had to be for all of you who have worked so hard. Your work to establish another migratory population is admired and appreciated by many. OM educated so many on the need to protect our environment and the amazing creatures in it. I pray that the whooper pairs that currently return to WRM and Necedah prosper and yield the success you worked so hard for— a viable, eastern migratory population. I will miss your tales of crane adventures. May your example continue to inspire citizen science. With heartfelt gratitude for the work you have accomplished, I wish you all a great “next chapter”.

  72. Jeannie Ulrich aka jogulrich August 17, 2018 11:50 am

    This is such sad news. How does this effect the 2018 Cranefest and the silent auction that was to be held?

    • Heather Ray August 17, 2018 12:17 pm

      The 2018 Festival will not be affected and in fact, we hope it will be a celebration of our work in the area. The Silent auction will still be held. Any funds remaining after expenses for our work in 2018 will be contributed to like-minded organizations. Specifically: Stone Zoo in Stoneham, MA. to care for male Whooping crane #1-01. This crane was the first-ever bird to be released in the Eastern Migratory Population when the project began in 2001. He was taken into captivity a few years ago, after he became a nuisance at Camp Douglas, as a result of begin fed by a local resident.

      Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, NC. Sylvan Heights maintains the largest collection of waterfowl in the world and has two educational display Whooping cranes. Funds will be used to care for the two cranes and to construct a captive breeding facility.

      International Crane Foundation will receive funds, which are restricted for the use of GSM tracking devices currently deployed on a number of cranes in the EMP. Additionally, they will receive some of our equipment such as portable pens.

      Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) will receive and administer reward funds currently being held for reward purposes.

  73. Mollie Cook August 17, 2018 11:48 am

    I am so heartbroken to hear that the bad decisions made by the FWS have lead to this. There are just not enough words to express the importance of OM’s role in growing the Eastern Migratory flock of Whoopers, always going above & beyond what was expected. Your love for these beautiful birds is inspiring. It has been my honor & privilege to support this organization & so proud to have been a part of it. I hope that we will continue to get updates for a while. Bless all of you! My heart aches for you.

  74. June August 17, 2018 11:46 am

    So sad. I will miss daily updates. I used to enjoy the crane cam. What will happen to last year’s female that stayed in WI all winter. Without your help she would have perished.

  75. Meg Lunnum August 17, 2018 11:43 am

    I am so sorry that the project has come to an end. This doesn’t mean the dream has ended, here’s hoping those original cranes go on to create their own project and increase the EMP. I will always cherish my moppet of Peanut and keep it as a reminder of all of you at Operation Migration. Wish I could be there to give you a hug!
    Thank you for the many years of following the Whooping Cranes!

  76. Joni August 17, 2018 11:42 am

    So sorry to hear this. THANK you for all your time, efforts, and dedication! You all accomplished so much for science and conservation and touched many lives human and Other. Many blessings to all who were involved past and present. ??

  77. Carol Giancola August 17, 2018 11:39 am

    I am only one heart, but it is crying today. Henry and Patty…the Royal couple, may your offspring go on and on…

  78. edna s woodward August 17, 2018 11:34 am

    Oh I am sorry.
    I loved watching them with you guys, but I totally understand.

  79. Sandy Blakeney August 17, 2018 11:29 am

    As others see your message, people will write beautiful and heartfelt responses to this news, better than I could ever hope to compose. But I want to say that while this decision does not surprise me, it makes me so very sad, for whooping cranes, for all of you who have dedicated so much of your lives to the project, and for the countless supporters around the world who will be heartbroken. We will celebrate the amazing work you have done and the tremendous following you built not only along the migratory route, but all over the world. OM brought together people from all walks of life to share a common goal – a rare feat. Selfishly, I just know that following your migrations, first by email and in later years by watching it in real time on the web, and being able to occasionally participate in person, has left me with happy memories, and I’m so glad to have had a chance to know that an effort like this can exist. I will miss reading everyone’s entertaining and illuminating missives of day-to-day life among the cranes. My life is better for having known Heather and Brooke and Joe. I wish you all the best in whatever new venture you undertake!

  80. Timo Rissanen August 17, 2018 11:26 am

    I just received the email. THANK YOU for everything you have all done over the years. Hope is elusive in these times, and you have always brought it to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  81. Catharine W. Tucker August 17, 2018 11:24 am

    I will miss you so much! Your descriptions & sense of humor both educated me & lightened my days. Bon voyage to you and the WC’s. May you all prosper & stay in touch through other venues.

  82. Kat Williams August 17, 2018 11:24 am

    My heart is broken. Many prayers for the future of our beautiful beloved cranes and for everyone associated with Operation Migration. My life is so much richer because of you and because I have been blessed with the experience of following, photographing and falling in love with Whooping Cranes as you led them across South Georgia to St. Marks. My contributions are so pale when compared to what you all have given me. I am forever grateful for this wonderful gift. God be with all.

  83. Dorothy N August 17, 2018 11:17 am

    How can we “UNLIKE” this??? This is a very sad day. . .