|  TPWD News Releases Dated 2009-03-31                                    |
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[ Note: This item is more than eight years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ]
[ Additional Contacts: Tom Stehn, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, (361) 286-3559, Tom Harvery, TPWD, (512) 389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov ]
March 31, 2009
Endangered Whooping Crane Numbers Drop For First Time Since 2001
Public Asked to Report Bird Sightings During Northward Migration
AUSTIN, Texas -- The trumpeting sound of cranes overhead is a cherished sound of spring in Texas, but as endangered whooping cranes depart Texas this spring en route for breeding grounds in Canada, fewer birds will be making the trip.
According to Tom Stehn, whooping crane coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2008-2009 was the worst winter on record in terms of bird deaths for the last remaining wild flock of whooping cranes (Grus americana). Stehn is based at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, Texas where the whoopers return every winter. The birds spend summers at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada.
Stehn reported that "...total winter mortality is estimated at 6 adults and 15 chicks, totaling 21 whooping cranes, a loss of 7.8 percent of the flock that was a record 270 birds in the fall." When added to 34 birds that left Texas in spring 2008 and failed to return in 2009, Stehn said 20 percent of the flock was lost during the last 12 months. The upshot is that only 249 birds will make the trip north this year. After an encouraging multi-year comeback in which flock numbers have grown each year, this marks the first year bird numbers have declined since 2001.
Stehn attributes the winter losses to poor habitat conditions in wintering grounds on the middle Texas coast. Low rainfall in 2008 resulted in saltier bays and fewer blue crabs, the primary food source for wintering whoopers. In addition, according to Stehn, whoopers are further stressed when cranes must leave the bays to fly inland seeking fresh water. Several emaciated whooping crane carcasses were found, and refuge staff even took the unusual step of providing supplemental feeding over the winter in addition to burning upland areas to make acorns more available.
Occasional set-backs aren't new to the whooping crane recovery story, a species that numbered only 49 as recently as 1975, according to Lee Ann Linam, biologist in the Wildlife Diversity Program at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
"Although whooping crane numbers have experienced an amazing upward climb since conservation efforts began in the 1930s, over the course of their recovery we have occasionally seen short-term dips in the population," Linam said. "The losses this winter do emphasize the important role Texas has in maintaining the health of its bays and estuaries, especially in safeguarding stream-flow during low rainfall periods."
Stehn seconds those concerns, noting poor feeding conditions on the wintering grounds have often been followed by a poor reproduction season in Canada.
Texans can also help safeguard whooping cranes during their migration through Texas in the spring and fall. Migrating cranes usually depart the Texas coast in late March and early April, riding southerly winds on a northwest path encompassing cities such as Austin, Fort Worth, and Wichita Falls.
Citizens are being asked to report sightings of whooping cranes in flight by calling toll-free (800) 792-1112, extension 4644 or emailing leeann.linam@tpwd.texas.gov. If whoopers remain overnight in small wetlands, citizens are encouraged to minimize disturbance at the site.
Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America. They are entirely white except for a small patch of black feathers and red skin on the face and black wing tips seen only in flight. During spring migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night. They usually migrate in small family groups of two to five birds, but may share habitats with the smaller, more widespread sandhill crane. More information and images of whooping cranes can be found on TPWD's whooping crane Web page.
On the Net:

[ Note: This item is more than eight years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ]
[ Additional Contacts: Bryan Frazier, (512) 826-8703 ]
March 31, 2009
Brazos Bend State Park Turns 25
Anniversary Celebration Scheduled for April 4, Entrance Fees Waived
NEEDVILLE, TX -- A full day of park activities and interpretive programs as well as a midday ceremony are scheduled to commemorate the upcoming 25th anniversary celebration of Brazos Bend State Park on Saturday, April 4, at this popular park in Southeast Texas, located less than an hour's drive from Houston's southwest side.
The morning activities include guided interpretive hikes into the park's numerous scenic trails and wetlands areas, identifying various wildlife and plants, and a children's story time. The park's usual $5 per-person entrance fee normally charged for adults ages 13 and older will also be waived from 7 a.m.-noon for those attending the 25th anniversary event.
"For 25 years, Brazos Bend has been a great place for families to come and spend the day enjoying nature, or for folks to just get away and relax from their normal and busy routine," said Brazos Bend Superintendent Steve Killian. "Despite being just a short drive from Houston, the park remains a wildlife viewing paradise for things like the American alligator, whitetail deer and some 300 species of birds. We've been a natural oasis for the Houston area for this many years, and with the continued support of our visitors and from those dedicated to preserving and enjoying the outdoors, we'll be here for future generations of Texans as well."
The anniversary ceremony is set to begin at 11 a.m., with speeches by local elected officials such as State Representative Dora Olivo, State Senator Joan Huffman and Fort Bend County Judge Bob Herbert; a recognition of past and current park managers; a conservation message by State Park Division Director Walt Dabney; a future vision for state parks by TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith, and songs performed by the local Needville High School choir and singer/songwriter Frank Seay.
In the afternoon, more interpretive programs are slated, including reptiles of Brazos Bend, birding programs, a pond life ecosystem demonstration, snake program, nature hikes, a plant photography walk and another children's story time.
Live Bluegrass music and storytelling are also scheduled for the evening.
Food vendors will be on site selling refreshments during the day-long event, and the park stores will be open selling souvenirs and convenience items.
Renown for its unique wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as a healthy grove of huge and stately moss-draped live oak trees, the 5,000-acre Brazos Bend State Park has become one of the most visited park destinations near the Houston area during the last quarter century. Over the years, the park has received national recognition as a top recreational park in Texas, offering visitors hiking, fishing, biking, equestrian, and overnight camping opportunities, and even preserves a rare section of remaining upland tall-grass coastal prairie ecosystem.
Adding to Brazos Bend's colorful array of public attractions, the George Observatory was added to the park in 1989 by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and continues to feature one of the largest telescopes in the U.S. that is open to the public on a regular basis. Access to the observatory is open most Saturdays, and use of the telescope should be set up in advance and requires an additional fee.
For more information on Brazos Bend State Park, the 25th Anniversary Celebration, or other activities, contact the park at (979) 553-5102, or visit tpwd.texas.gov/parks.
On the Net:

[ Note: This item is more than eight years old. Please take the publication date into consideration for any date references. ]
[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ] [AR]
March 31, 2009
Rash of Boating Fatalities Prompts Calls for Greater Responsibility
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas game wardens today continue searching two North Texas lakes and an East Texas reservoir for victims of three, separate, single-vessel boating accidents.
On Lake Grapevine, game wardens have been joined by rescuers from the Lewisville Fire Department and Grapevine Fire Department in the search for Trevor Dennis Rotzoll, 26, of Grapevine. Rotzoll and another man were in a canoe that capsized shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday in approximately 40 feet of water near Silver Lake Marina. Rotzoll's companion survived.
There were no life jackets aboard the canoe, and weather, alcohol and inexperience are all believed to be factors in the accident.
The search for Rotzoll has been hampered by cables, drowned trees and other submerged debris in the water. Game wardens and the Grapevine Fire Department continue to patrol the area each day.
On Lake Lavon, two teenagers ventured onto the lake from a private residence in the Farmersville area in a paddleboat yesterday afternoon. The paddleboat capsized in high winds. The teen-aged girl, a minor, was able to hold on to the paddleboat as it was blown to the far shore. Her companion, 18-year-old Michael Simmons, of Freeville, N.Y., is missing.
Neither teen was wearing a life jacket and, according to witnesses, no life jackets were aboard the paddleboat.
Four boats -- a game warden boat equipped with side-scan sonar, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boat, and boats from the Wiley and Branch fire departments -- are currently searching the lake for Simmons.
On Richland Chambers Reservoir, the search continues for 17-year-old Jerrod Rachel, who was reported missing after going on a fishing trip with his grandfather March 24. The body of Rachel's grandfather, Jerry King, 72, of Athens, was recovered March 27. The Henderson County Sheriff's Office and Navarro County Sheriff's Office are assisting game wardens with the search, and additional boats from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries Division, the Tarrant Regional Water District and the Texas Department of Public Safety have been searching the lake today. Neither man is believed to have been wearing a life jacket.
A game warden recovered the body of 54-year-old Michael Wells Barton, of Hickory Creek, Texas, from the shores of Lake Lewisville yesterday evening at about 9:30 p.m. Barton had been missing from his sailboat since March 23. Barton was not wearing a life jacket. The Denton County Sheriff's Office is investigating Barton's death.
Game wardens in Central Texas recovered the body of Jarod David Dawkins, 27, from Belton Lake March 26. Dawkins had been missing since March 17 when the boat he was on capsized. One other man died in that accident while three other passengers survived. Alcohol and overloading of the small boat are believed to be factors in the Belton Lake accident, and neither of the victims was wearing a life jacket.
"We're off to a grim start this boating season," said Game Warden Maj. Alfonso Campos, chief of marine safety enforcement at TPWD. "Over and over again we're seeing preventable accidents. If people had just exercised better judgment about the weather and their abilities, worn life jackets and -- in two cases -- been responsible about alcohol use, six lives might well have been saved over the past two weeks."
Campos noted that of the 61 boating fatalities statewide last year -- a 10-year high in Texas -- 59 involved only one vessel.
"What that tells us is that everyone who goes out on the water really is responsible for his or her own safety," he said. "Even though the law does not require anyone over the age of 12 to do so, please wear a life jacket. Spend $13 and eight hours of your time on a boater education class. And designate a sober driver for your boat and for a safe ride home."
For more information about safe boating, please visit: http://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/boat/responsible/index.phtml
For more information about approved boater education courses, go to: http://tpwd.texas.gov/learning/boater_education/index.phtml