Whooping for Water

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Whooping for Water

Water conservation by humans could save the lives of these endangered species.
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How water conservation today could save the Whooping Crane tomorrow. http://3bl.me/pkmezf
Monday, March 29, 2010 - 12:30pm


I was reading about the plight of the federally endangered Whooping Cranes of the Central Flyway the other day. These amazing five foot tall birds with seven foot wing spans migrate between Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas each spring and fall. Magnificent birds with a call that fills one with awe and a mating dance that is often copied by humans when things get a little light and frivolous.

Hard work is being done to save the roughly 260 birds that remain in this population segment. For example, there are captive breeding programs and cross-fostering efforts to have the more numerous Sandhill Cranes raise young Whooper chicks and teach them the migration route. And there is a similar level of effort put into maintaining habitat in migratory rest stops along the way like around the North Platte River in Nebraska. But in spite of all these efforts, the birds are still in trouble and the cause, in part, is likely water and our wasteful ways.

When Whooping Cranes arrive at Aransas they are tired and hungry and they need to “bulk up” for their flight back north in the spring. One of their favored meals when they get to Texas is the blue crab (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6909454.html). But blue crab populations have been severely impacted by a lack of freshwater flow from the Guadalupe River caused both by drought and water diversion for human use.

This issue is being discussed in Texas because a coalition led by The Aransas Project (http://thearansasproject.org/) recently sued to preserve more of the flow for wildlife and fisheries. Following the filing of this suit, I saw one blog comment that basically said we should let the Whoopers die because water for humans was much more important. That comment struck me as a little like blaming the thermometer for a heat spell.

So what would be a more rational response? The answer to that is easy: Water conservation. And that means drought tolerant landscaping, low-flow shower heads, smaller toilet tanks, washing only full loads of laundry, and literally a hundred more similar and simple actions (http://www.wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve/index.php).

It could also mean aggressively targeting big users in the Texas Hill Country like Lance Armstrong and others who take $2000 monthly water bills in stride. I know Texans are not about control and taxation but there should be a mechanism that gets folks who are using 10-40 times what their neighbors are to turn off a few faucets and do with a few less lawns, fountains, and swimming pools (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/16/us/16lance.html). Everyone has the right to make and spend money in ways that bring them pleasure, however, that freedom likely should not include purchases and lifestyle choices that ruin wildlife habitat for endangered species and put hard working fisherman out of work. Live a good life and save some water for the Whoopers.

For more information on the topic of freshwater check out the March 2010 special edition of National Geographic on Water. Very timely indeed. 

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Keywords: Conservation | Whooping Crane | Wildlife | drought | endangered species | irrigation | water