Return of whooping cranes cause for cheer

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Nov. 9, 2017 at 4:21 p.m.
Updated Nov. 10, 2017 at 6 a.m.

As Emily Dickinson once penned, "Hope is the thing with feathers." In the Crossroads, the feathers of hope belong to the endangered whooping crane, the population of which has begun to return to our area.

With so many residents still suffering the fallout from Hurricane Harvey, it's easy to forget the storm wrought devastation upon wildlife as well.

The massive surge wiped out 4 acres of a popular island nesting site in the Matagorda Ship Channel. Huge swaths of trees, bushes and more essential habitat disappeared overnight as the storm tore through the bay. Wildlife officials worried the hurricane might have washed a torrent of saltwater into freshwater ponds, upon which the endangered cranes rely for food, drinking water and space to safely rest.

To make matters worse, environmental rules were suspended during the storm, allowing nearby industrial plants to release a slew of dangerous chemicals.

But somehow, in spite of natural and man-made adversity, the tenacious flock has made its way back to the Texas Coast. Eager birdwatchers spotted the first pair of white wings gracing the skies above Blackjack Peninsula at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge as October drew to a close. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials expect family groups to follow close behind the leading adult birds, bringing the total count somewhere north of 400.

Much of the credit for the whooping crane flock's return and continued survival falls with the tireless environmental advocates whose thoughts and actions immediately considered the birds' well-being after Harvey. It is thanks to these people that we can enjoy the sight of the rare bird today, when once the population was laid as low as just 16. With efforts to create and protect native habitats, safeguarding legislation and careful annual tracking counts, the flock's human supporters ensured its growth for the past five years.

Harvey presented even greater challenges for the whooping crane than environmental workers are used to facing, but they quickly rose to the task. Thanks to a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the wells that replenish freshwater ponds will be repaired, keeping our coastline a welcoming spot for the incoming birds. In addition, workers at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge have been hard at work, clearing storm debris to ensure not only that arriving birds will find a place to land, but also that human visitors will be able to see them.

After Harvey ravaged our coastline, the first whooping cranes of this year's migration are cause for hope. We appreciate the work it took and will continue to take to draw them back to our area.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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