Group: Feds hid plans to weaken whooping crane protection

Apr 12, 2022, 10:25 PM | Updated: Apr 13, 2022, 11:49 am
FILE - A whooping crane flies over the Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Fulton, Texas, Dec. 17, 2011. Sci...

FILE - A whooping crane flies over the Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Fulton, Texas, Dec. 17, 2011. Scientists are concerned a devastating drought could hurt the recovery of the 300 endangered whooping cranes that winter in Texas. An environmental group says the Biden administration has made secret plans to weaken protection for the world's rarest crane. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it has not decided whether to propose reclassifying whooping cranes from endangered to threatened. The Center for Biological Diversity says documents obtained through open records requests show that agency officials "seem to have been deliberately misleading the public” about their plans. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The Biden administration made secret plans to weaken protection for whooping cranes, and documents obtained through an open records request show officials “seem to have been deliberately misleading the public,” an environmental group says.

The documents show that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to propose changing the only natural flock’s status from endangered to threatened, the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release linking to some of the papers.

“Whooping cranes have a long way to go on their road to recovery, but with the full protections of the Endangered Species Act they were at least heading in the right direction. Weakening protections at this point would be heartbreaking and would likely undo much of the progress they’ve made so far,” Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the center, said in an email Tuesday.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether a proposal to “downlist” the crane would be appropriate but has not made such a proposal, the agency said in a statement emailed Tuesday to The Associated Press.

“Whoopers” are the world’s rarest cranes. There are about 500 birds in the natural flock, which was down to 15 in 1941. There also are a total of about 150 in two flocks that authorities are trying to establish in case illness or other disaster hits the original flock, and about 145 in captivity, according to the International Crane Foundation.

The flocks in process are classified “experimental” and are treated as threatened to allow more flexibility in their management.

The federal agency said it announced in May 2021 that it was reviewing the bird’s status, and the possibility of a downlisting proposal was made public in fall 2021.

“Reclassification to threatened status would not weaken necessary and appropriate” protections under the Endangered Species Act, the statement said.

Publication of the fall list in December was what prompted the center to make its public records request, Kurose said. The documents it received included a draft press release headlined “North America’s Tallest Bird on the Road to Recovery / Decades of conservation efforts lead to a proposed change from endangered to threatened for whooping crane.”

Kurose said reclassifying the flock that migrates between Texas and Canada as threatened would remove protections against harm from pesticides. It would also restrict protections against hitting transmission lines or other structures to the birds’ main migratory corridors, she said in an email.

The whooping crane is North America’s tallest bird, standing up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) from black feet to a featherless black mask and red cap. Their feathers are white except for black tips to wings that can span nearly 7 feet (2.1 meters).

Biologists estimate more than 10,000 lived in North America before habitat loss and overhunting nearly killed them off.

The current total of about 800 is up about 250 from 2010, when officials were finishing plans to release juveniles in Louisiana the following year. The Louisiana flock now numbers about 70. About 80 are in the other “experimental” flock, trained with ultralight aircraft to migrate between Wisconsin and Florida.

The Fish and Wildlife statement said any reclassification proposal for whooping cranes would be announced in the Federal Register with time for public comments, which would be considered in any final decision.

However, the Center for Biological Diversity said a March 8, 2021 memo states that a committee had decided to recommend the change, and emails from July 2021 show that the crane was intentionally omitted from a list of proposed changes two months later.

The delay was prompted “out of fear that the decision would trigger intense public scrutiny and backlash,” the organization said.

“Even though the Service has nearly completed a proposed rule to downlist the whooping crane and developed a public outreach plan for messaging the proposal, the agency continues to deny it has been seriously considering weakening protections,” according to the group.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


File - People shop at an Apple store in the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, New Jerse...
Associated Press

A key inflation gauge tracked by the Fed slowed in February

The Federal Reserve's favored inflation gauge slowed sharply last month, an encouraging sign in the Fed's yearlong effort to cool price pressures through steadily higher interest rates.
2 days ago
FILE - The OpenAI logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen displaying output fr...
Associated Press

Musk, scientists call for halt to AI race sparked by ChatGPT

Are tech companies moving too fast in rolling out powerful artificial intelligence technology that could one day outsmart humans?
3 days ago
Associated Press

Starbucks leader grilled by Senate over anti-union actions

Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz faced sharp questioning Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
4 days ago
FILE - The overdose-reversal drug Narcan is displayed during training for employees of the Public H...
Associated Press

FDA approves over-the-counter Narcan; here’s what it means

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved selling naloxone without a prescription, the first over-the-counter opioid treatment.
4 days ago
FILE - A Seattle police officer walks past tents used by people experiencing homelessness, March 11...
Associated Press

Seattle, feds seek to end most oversight of city’s police

  SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department and Seattle officials asked a judge Tuesday to end most federal oversight of the city’s police department, saying its sustained, decade-long reform efforts are a model for other cities whose law enforcement agencies face federal civil rights investigations. Seattle has overhauled virtually all aspects of its police […]
5 days ago
capital gains tax budgets...
Associated Press

Washington moves to end child sex abuse lawsuit time limits

People who were sexually abused as children in Washington state may soon be able to bring lawsuits against the state, schools or other institutions for failing to stop the abuse, no matter when it happened.
5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.
Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Group: Feds hid plans to weaken whooping crane protection