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Views and opinions: FWS decision ends whooping crane’s ‘Operation Migration’

The world famous “Operation Migration” has announced it is now disbanding. The organization played the lead role in the reintroduction of endangered whooping cranes into eastern North America, as in the 1940s, the whooping crane species had been reduced to just 15 birds.

Using ultralight aircraft, Operation Migration pilots acted as surrogate parents and guided captive-hatched and imprinted whooping cranes along a planned migration route beginning in Wisconsin and ending in Florida, as depicted in the Columbia Pictures film “Fly Away Home.”

Operation Migration took flight 25 years ago when two artists-turned-aviators developed a method of teaching birds a new migratory route. The innovative approach helped stabilize the dwindling population of the magnificent whooping crane.

Bill Lishman and Joe Duff developed the aircraft-guided migration method into an effective means of reintroducing endangered whooping cranes into an area they had not inhabited in more than a century. The first migration flight leading whooping cranes occurred in 2001 – shortly after the Sept. 11 attack on the United States.

It was a time when the nation needed an uplifting story, one of ordinary people working to save an endangered North American species.

For 15 years, Operation Migration pilots and a dedicated ground crew led whooping cranes on a journey toward survival. During those years, the organization contributed more than $10 million and covered 17,457 miles with a total of 186 trusting cranes trailing off the wingtips of the ultralight surrogate flock leaders.

Each of the cranes surviving the winter period in Florida returned north the following spring, and continued to migrate annually thereafter. Gradually, the number of cranes began to increase, giving hope for the species.

On its website, the Operation Migration volunteer board of directors commented: “The aircraft-guided migration method was ended in the fall of 2015 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a document titled FWS Vision for the Next Five-Year Strategic Plan, claiming the method was ‘too artificial.’ They suggested cranes raised by our costumed handlers resulted in inattentive parents who not adequately protected their offspring.

“Operation Migration continued work for another three years based upon the belief the goal of a self-sustaining Eastern migratory population of whooping cranes was attainable. However, with new management directives authorized by the Whooping Crane Recovery Team and implemented by Region 3 of the FWS, the organization no longer believes the goal to be achievable.

“As a result, Operation Migration cannot continue, in good faith, to accept contributions or justify assigning our staff and volunteers to carry out the work outlined in the strategic plan imposed on the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

“This led us to an extremely difficult decision: The management and board of directors are withdrawing Operation Migration from membership and participation in WCEP and dissolving the organization. The decision is heartbreaking for us all, but we have exhausted all possible avenues to avoid this outcome.

“When our work began there were fewer than 500 whooping cranes in North America. Today, the species total stands at more than 700 – a significant part of the increase is attributable to your help. While disappointed that we were unable to achieve our long-term goal to establish a self-sustaining whooping crane population, we take great pride in Operation Migration’s accomplishments.”

Southern Indiana environmental thefts

Indiana conservation officers were asking for the public’s assistance in slowing a string of environmental thefts in southern Indiana. Charles Cole Jr., 44, of New Salisbury, Ind., was wanted on an active felony arrest warrant, stemming from an investigation earlier last month.

After receiving multiple tips, officers arrested Cole without incident on Oct. 26 after he contacted officers expressing his desire to turn himself in. Officers thank the media and the public who assisted in the investigation.

On Oct. 10, officers received a report of trespass in Northern Harrison County after a landowner’s trail camera captured a late-night photo of a man suspected of stealing ginseng plants from the property. The landowner also discovered a separate trail camera had been stolen from a tree.

Officers immediately identified the man as Cole, from recent dealings with him involving a separate trespass/ginseng theft case. After speaking with him, they discovered stolen ginseng and a stolen memory card from another trail camera at his residence.

During the course of their investigation, officers recovered stolen ginseng in addition to nine stolen trail cameras and memory cards. As a result, they sought an arrest warrant through the Harrison County Prosecutor’s Office; meanwhile, officers fielded additional complaints after Cole was again caught on a property owner’s trail camera trespassing and digging ginseng in Washington County.

To date, he is accused of selling at least 40 pounds of ginseng, much of which is believed to have been stolen from unsuspecting landowners. Current market value for dry ginseng in Harrison County is approximately $500-$650 per pound.

West Point hunter injured in tree stand fall

Conservation officers are facing the annual scourge of deer season tree stand falls. Unfortunately, too many hunters disregard safety straps, poorly position anchor stands or just lack common sense in hunting from an elevated position.

On Oct. 24, officers investigated a tree stand fall resulting in injury. At about 7:30 p.m., they and other first responders were dispatched to the 5700 block on Burton Road in Tippecanoe County for a hunter who had fallen.

Robert Greer, 52, of West Point was climbing down from his stand for the evening when the ladder system he was using broke. He had been wearing a safety harness while hunting but had disconnected it to climb down, and fell approximately 18 feet.

Greer’s hunting partner was nearby and able to call 911 for assistance. He sustained a fractured leg in the incident and was transported via ambulance for medical treatment. Officers stress the importance of using a harness and other safety equipment such as a lifeline when hunting off the ground.

Reserved hunt reservations online

The Department of Natural Resources’ reserved-hunt applications may now be made through the Division of Fish & Wildlife’s online services application at

You can use the same website to purchase hunting, fishing and trapping licenses, use the Check-in Game system, get an HIP Registration number, make a donation or purchase a gift certificate.

You do not have to log in to an account to register for a reserved hunt or to purchase a put-and-take pheasant hunt – just click on “Register Now” on the reserved-hunt link. If you wish to use a gift certificate to help pay for a put-and-take hunt, or see the full history of your past registrations, you will need to have an online account.

As in the past, registering for a reserved hunt still requires the applicant to have a valid hunting license. More information about available reserved hunts can be found at


The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments may contact Jack Spaulding by email at or by writing to him in care of this publication.