Just the Facts Aug.19,2018 In an article in the Wisconsin State Journal on August 18 Wade Harrell, coordinator of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team, was asked to comment on the departure of OM from the Whooping Crane Recovery Team. He was very gracious about our contribution but again skirted around the real issue. Here is a link to the article and below, a few excerpts, and facts that he avoided. “The eastern migration population of cranes that Operation Migration nurtured in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Juneau County now has over 100 members”, said Wade Harrell, Fish & Wildlife Service whooping crane recovery coordinator. “The number is encouraging but the flock is struggling to raise wild chicks and changes need to be made, he said.” Changes included cutting Operation Migration’s plane-led migration training for baby birds — which Harrell said jump-started the cranes’ reintroduction to the wild — and shifting raising of the chicks from human caregivers to captive adult cranes.“The changes may help the cranes learn natural rearing abilities, thus reducing chick mortality rates,” Harrell said. But Harrell said “the flock needs to focus on the unique challenges posed by their environment and circumstances. With sturdy numbers, the eastern migration population needs to focus on raising “natural” chicks, rather than pure chick numbers, so they can sustain themselves. The more that we can mimic Mother Nature in how we raise a chick in captivity, the more wild it will be when released,” he said. Response: The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Whooping Crane Recovery Team insist the cause of low reproduction within the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) is a result of artificiality – especially in the way Operation Migration raised the birds. Rather than the cranes being raised by people in costume, they directed WCEP to release only cranes that were raised in captivity by real Whooping crane parents. In other words, we could only release parent-reared birds as opposed to costume-reared birds. Their idea is that birds raised by costumed people miss some nurturing lessons that would help them defend their own offspring once they mature. Inattentive parents, they suggest, is the reason up to 20 or so chicks that hatch each spring at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge die before they learn to fly. There are many factors that suggest this strategy is wrong but they continue to ignore the facts: Fact one: Parent-rearing has been used numerous times in the past. It was even used to release Mississippi Sandhill cranes but the technique did not improve reproduction success. Fact two: There is no way to test the benefits of parent-rearing within the EMP. Even if it was a superior method, it is impossible to demonstrate those results. The EMP is a mix of Whooping cranes raised by various means including costume-reared, parent-reared, Direct Autumn Release (DAR), Ultralight-led and even a few wild hatched chicks. If a parent-reared crane breeds with a DAR crane or an ultralight crane, how is it possible to determine which method led to the success or failure of that pair to raise a chick? So how is the Recovery Team going to tell if those “cranes learn natural rearing abilities, thus reducing chick mortality rates”. Even if two parent reared cranes paired and bred successfully it would be a sample size of one and nothing on which to base any sort of conclusion. Fact three: The only way to test the superiority of parent-rearing would be to flood the landscape with chicks raised using that release method. If enough of them survived to breed, they would be able to see a clear delineation in breeding success, but the Recovery Team has restricted the number of chicks available to the EMP so that method is not available. Fact four: It has been known since 2007 that black flies at Necedah cause nest abandonment. Those numbers of black flies do not exist at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area and the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, so in 2011, WCEP moved the project to those new locations. However, not enough chicks have been allocated to the program to test those new habitats. Instead, the success of the EMP is judged solely on chick survival at Necedah. Fact five: It has been known since 2010 that even if a pair can hatch a chick at Necedah, the chances of it surviving long enough to learn to fly are almost zero. However, the cause of that mortality is still unknown and plans to manage that habitat for Whooping cranes has not been developed. Fact six: Sandhill cranes, which occur naturally in Wisconsin can’t keep their chicks alive at Necedah either. Over the last two years the productivity of Sandhill cranes at Necedah has been studied and the results indicate that they are not doing any better than the Whooping cranes. In fact, this year it seems they are doing far worse. So if a naturally raised Sandhill crane can’t breed successfully at Necedah how can reintroduced cranes be successful there? The Recovery Team and the Fish and Wildlife Service however would rather blame OM than admit that their selection of Necedah as a reintroduction site was a mistake from the beginning.