The Nature Conservancy announced today the protection of more than 100 acres of critical habitat for North America’s last wild flock of migratory whooping cranes. With funding assistance from the Whooping Crane Conservation Association and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on Falcon Point Ranch in Calhoun County, Texas.
The whooping crane population, which breeds in Canada and then migrates 2,400 miles south to the Texas Gulf Coast, plummeted from 1,500 to just 20 birds between 1850 and 1941. Since then, cooperative conservation efforts between the U.S. and Canada have increased the population twenty fold. Today, there are roughly 400 wild cranes in North America.
“North America all but lost one of its most iconic species,” said Laura Huffman, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas. “Although the whooping crane is slowly rebounding, it is still a precarious situation given our state’s growing water challenges and projected growth. If we want our children and grandchildren to experience this majestic creature, conservation efforts to safeguard its habitat aren’t just important, they are absolutely essential.”
The Conservancy purchased the conservation easement for $605,000 with funding from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as well as funding from private donors and foundations, including a $200,000 grant from the Whooping Crane Conservation Association.
“Limited and threatened wintering habitat on the Gulf coast is one of the greatest challenges facing North America's tallest birds, said Lorne Scott, president of Whooping Crane Conservation Association. "The WCCA congratulates The Nature Conservancy for their successful efforts in securing the Falcon Point Ranch.”
Falcon Point Ranch is located in a coastal region known as Welder Flats. Today scientists estimate that at least 10 percent of the remaining flock (approximately 25 – 30 birds) winters here. The topography of the property and its waterfront views on San Antonio Bay made it a prime target for development.
“The owners of Falcon Point Ranch have been working to conserve this property for more than five years,” said Bill Ball, a representative of the ranch. “It is very exciting to see this important project come to fruition and to know that this truly special place will be protected.”
Ecologists worried that the development of the ranch would not only compromise important habitat on the property, it would compromise surrounding conservation lands as well, including properties the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a division of the USDA, has protected within the last three years.
“NRCS is proud to be a part of this regional effort to protect and restore vital Texas wetlands, not only for the incredibly rare whooping crane, but all wetland wildlife species,” said Claude Ross, NRCS program manager. “Working with the local landowners, NRCS has protected and will begin restoring more than 11,000 acres of habitat in Welder Flats. The Nature Conservancy’s easement on Falcon Point Ranch will help safeguard those investments.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.