The annual WCEP partnership meeting is taking place today and tomorrow and thousands of people are on edge. Why? The future of Operation Migration hangs in the balance.
A quick background as we understand it: In a vision document outlining the approach for the next 5 years, the USFW claimed that Whooping Cranes reared under the Ultralight-guided method (UL), used by Operation Migration, aren’t as likely to reproduce as cranes reared with other methods, such as Direct Autumn Release (DAR), in which the birds are captive-raised then released with other Whooping Cranes or Sandhill Cranes in the autumn. It also claimed the UL method was more expensive and less “authentic”.
It is very smart to periodically reevaluate the efficacy of programs like these. There are a lot of resources at stake. Many people from all groups in the partnership have invested their time, energy, and love. And, most importantly, the survival of an entire species hangs in the balance.
A few points we believe should be considered as the committee meets:
- The data should be considered holistically. In the USFW vision document, only old data (since 2010) was used to determine program efficacy. That means there is 5 years of newer data that hasn’t been considered. Once that data is incorporated:
Based on data gathered from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) database , UL crane survivorship is 75% vs. 59% for the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) method, and thereafter, annual adult survival is 92% for UL cranes vs. 84% for DAR cranes. Based on these data, the probability of UL cranes surviving to the earliest confirmed breeding age (three years) is 63% vs. 42% for DAR cranes. Projecting survivorship to 10 years of age, UL cranes are three times as likely to be alive as DAR cranes (35% vs. 12%).
- UL could prove to be the best method. While each method has advantages and drawbacks, when looking at key factors (such as how long the cranes survive and whether they can mate and migrate successfully), UL’s recent numbers are the best so far.
- OM’s story is resonating and it is entirely privately funded. Beyond methodology, Operation Migration has managed to bring both money and attention to the cranes and their situation. There is something magical about the ability of humans to push themselves to innovate in order to save another species.
It was OM that drew us to Wisconsin. It was OM folks who introduced us to the WCEP and sent us to Baraboo, WI to visit the the ICF (where we joined as members) and see all the collaborative efforts underway to help cranes. And it was OM’s unyielding base of support, the aptly named Craniacs, through their passion, dedication, and kindness, that warmed our hearts more than we could have imagined. We left Wisconsin feeling hopeful that the birds had a chance because different groups of people were able to work together to ensure their survival.
And our continued hope is that after taking a hard, fair, holistic look at the data, and really considering the pivotal role OM plays as ambassadors for Whooping Cranes, the USFWS and WCEP will reach a common sense decision: Give OM more time to fly.