December 12, 2012 -- By now, most of you have seen the October 5, 2012 announcement by USFSW officials that the counting and census methodology based upon scientific methods ever since the recovery and management program was initiated over six decades ago has now been totally discounted by the current biologists on staff charged with the census and management of the Texas Whooping Crane winter migratory population following the retirement of long-time whooping crane coordinator Dr. Tom Stehn.

If you haven't seen the announcement, coverage of it may be viewed by clicking on this link.

In response to that decision, below is a letter on the decision by Dr. Tom Stehn, retired, who until January 2011 served as the United States Whooping Crane Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

For those who deeply care about the whooping crane program and don't want to see the cranes and the U.S. recovery and management program suffer from the loss of over 60 years of hard work, passion and dedication by former staff and biologists for junk science pseudo-methodology embraced by the current administration for economic reasons (laziness and apathy), I urge you to contact USFSW officials, as well as your congressmen and women. Urge them to instruct USFSW to correct this embarrassment and return the whooping cranes welfare and well being back to a priority level.  

December 6, 2012


BY: Tom Stehn
Retired Whooping Crane Coordinator
Aransas Pass, TX 78336

The whooping cranes are back at Aransas, and the Refuge has started their winter whooping crane counts.  After I retired in the fall of 2011, count methods were changed from the complete census done for the past 61 years to a survey method using hierarchical distance sampling.  I was told this was done for policy reasons, and that there were now too many whooping cranes to count them all.  The latter statement is untrue; I successfully counted the cranes for 29 winters, including a peak of 282 whooping cranes, and feel a complete census will work with a flock size of at least 500.  It may be that on some future date, it will be appropriate to sample the population rather than count all individuals, but I do not believe that date has yet arrived. 

The new survey methods employ fixed transects flown at 1,000 meter intervals over four hours, whereas the census transects I used averaged ~400 meters wide and flights lasted approximately six hours.  It is incomprehensible how the new survey method that finds fewer cranes is considered better than an actual census.  To me, the more cranes you actually locate, the more you are going to learn.  Why settle for an “estimate” when you have the opportunity to count nearly every individual each time you fly?

For the first winter since the refuge was established in 1937, no peak flock size was obtained in the 2011-2012 winter using the new distance sampling methods.  Yes, the cranes were more dispersed that winter due to minimal food resources at Aransas, and the Service had difficulty finding approved aircraft to conduct the flights.  Even given these difficulties, I would have come up with a peak population estimate using my old census methodology.  Last winter, the new distance sampling methodology estimated 254 plus or minus 62 whooping cranes in the survey area.  No one knew if the flock had increased or decreased in size from the previous year.    This degree of uncertainty is simply unacceptable and useless for recovery management purposes.  I believe the census methods I employed had no more than a 2% error.  I knew I was not off by much since the results were so consistent from week to week.  The number of adult pairs on the wintering grounds always agreed closely with the number of nesting pairs found the following summer in Canada.  I averaged finding 95% of the cranes on every flight, and multiple flights over the winter season allowed me to put together the jigsaw puzzle of the flock composition (adults, subadults, juveniles, territory locations, mortality, habitat use, etc).  The new survey methods do not attempt to locate territories or detect mortality, two actions recommended in the Recovery Plan.

Because the new survey methods are unproven and stakeholders are skeptical, I believe it would be prudent to continue to use the old census method while experimenting with the new method.   Only when the new method is shown to be better should it be employed as the only survey methodology.   I have written a letter to the Director of the USFWS and to the Director of Region II asking that they insure the flock gets censused this December before it is too late to obtain a peak count.  If you agree with me, perhaps you might write a letter. 

Whooping cranes are too valuable and too endangered not to count them annually to monitor how the flock is doing and how they are being impacted by numerous threats (sea level rise, housing developments, long-term decline of blue crabs, drought, invasion of black mangrove, power line and wind tower construction in the flyway, habitat loss, etc).  For many, the whooping crane is considered the flagship species of the Endangered Species program.  Because of this high level of interest and scrutiny, an accurate count is of great interest, both nationally and internationally.  We owe it to the American people, our Canadian partners, and other conservation partners to provide them with the level of accurate information to which they have become accustomed.  

Although happily retired, I’m frustrated by the people involved with the count insisting that their new methods are “better” when results to date prove they are not.  One can’t expect me to be objective, but on the other hand, I have as much knowledge as anybody of counting whooping cranes.  I urge the USFWS to utilize transects no more than 500 meters apart which will enable them to find a much higher percentage of the crane flock.  Why not do a census using 500 meter transects one day and conduct a distance sampling survey at 1000 meter transects the next day to compare methods?  Biologists can then decide if distance sampling is a useful tool.  But at five feet tall and with nothing to hide behind, it is not hard to find nearly every whooping crane from the air.  Come on Fish and Wildlife Service; use the count methods that are the most effective.



November 28, 2012 -- UPDATE: just received an email update and link from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to their new web pages. This Aransas NWR-specific site now includes whooping crane information (2012 only, nothing for 2011). ANWR says they'll post periodic whooping crane reports and winter population surveys on this site from now on.

However, the census methodology has been radically altered to a less-reliable design.

You can access their information and reports via the following links:

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge main home page

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Whooping Crane section

Texas Whooper Watch (through the Texas Nature Watchers,
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department) 


November 19, 2012  -- With the retirement two years ago of Dr. Tom Stehn, world class crane biologist and U.S. Coordinator of Whooping Crane Recovery Program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it now appears certain the agency no longer has any desire or motivation to continue the census and media coverage of the Texas wintering whooping crane population in any fashion even close to resembling the excellent job done by Dr. Stehn and his staff and volunteers. Despite assurances from the Aransas NWR staff that the census program would continue in the wake of Dr. Stehn's retirement, and information would continue to be disseminated to everyone on Dr. Stehn's original distribution lists, they have not done so, and officials have, in fact, scaled back to bare minimums any involvement in crane management and  cut all communications to civilian resource and volunteer individuals and organizations. Instead, they cite their own web site for access to current crane information, none of which I have yet to find on any of the USFWS web site pages related to Aransas NWR or the whooping cranes. Additionally, it now appears the Aransas NWR staff are challenging Dr. Stehn's decades of methodology and research surveys. I will leave what has passed and been reported on this site from Dr. Stehn's scientifically valid and accurate research intact, for archival purposes, but unless USFWS staff at the Aransas NWR reconsider and correct their oversights and bad science, there will be no new information posted to this site for the Texas Whooping Cranes from any USFWS sources. It can no longer be trusted for accuracy. Should that situation be corrected in future, and reliable, accurate, sustainable data resume being issued from the program, updates will resume on this site. Until then, I want to thank you all so much for your support, hard work and eyes on the ground and in the air to help support the decades of valid research and management led by Dr. Stehn and his team. The whooping cranes have had invaluable friends and supporters in the network under Dr. Stehn's decades of leadership. It's regrettable the whooping cranes have now lost their biggest champion in the one agency that can make the difference between their ultimate survival or eventual extinction.

Aransas NWR-Wood Buffalo Flock

2011-2012 winter flock size: unknown
2010-2011 winter flock size: 283
2009-2010 winter peak flock size: 263
2009 spring peak flock size: 247
2008-2009 winter peak flock size: 270
2007-2008 winter peak flock size: 266
2006-2007 winter peak flock size: 237
2005-2006 winter peak flock size: 220
(press your browser's RELOAD button for latest update)


Videos of whooping cranes from Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Winter 2006-2007
Video courtesy of Bill Beasley, TailFeather Productions

Whooper Vid 01
Whooper Vid 02
Whooper Vid 03
Whooper Vid 04

Maps and ranges of whooping cranes in North America (with photos)
Want to see the whoopers in person? The refuge offers several vantage points to view various families during their winter stay (October to April). If you want a really up-close-and-personal look, try the charter boat trips. For current boat and pricing information, check out the Whooping Crane Birding Boat Tours on Rockport-Fulton's web site. 

Be sure to mark the month of February on your calendar for the Annual Celebration of Whooping Cranes and Other Birds in Port Aransas, Texas. FMI: contact the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce/Tourist Bureau, 421 W. Cotter Street, (800) 45COAST or (361) 749-5919. Or Email them at . Schedules and registration forms are available through the Port Aransas web site: http://www.portaransas.org    

Need Acrobat Reader? Get it free at   
December 29, 2011 cranes flight status report
December 14, 2011 updated census report
AUGUST 31, 2011 - TOM STEHN RETIRES! All the best, Tom; you leave big shoes to fill!
August 31, 2011 whooping cranes status report Oct 2010 - Aug 2011
June 8, 2011 ANWR cranes breeding status report (75 nests)
April 13, 2011 ANWR cranes flight census report (current flock 10)
March 1, 2011 ANWR cranes updated census report (current flock 279)
February 23, 2011 ANWR cranes updated census report (upd new record now 283!)
February 11, 2011 ANWR cranes updated census report (new record of 281!)
January 19, 2011 ANWR cranes updated census report
December 9, 2010 Texas Whooping Crane census report (268)
December 1, 2010 Matagorda Island mangrove update photo 
December 1, 2010 Texas Whooping Crane census report (237)
November 11, 2010 Texas Whooping Crane status report (70)
Oct 2009 to Sept 2010 Whooping crane status report
March 9, 2010 ANWR cranes flight census report (211)
February 16, 2010 ANWR cranes flight census report
January 21, 2010 ANWR cranes flight report (263)
January 5, 2010 ANWR cranes flight report (264)
January 5, 2010 ANWR cranes updated census report
December 10, 2009 NEWS ALERT- USFWS - whooping crane shot in Indiana (off site link)
December 2, 2009 ANWR cranes updated census report (208)
November 13, 2009 ANWR cranes arriving for winter; census report
October 31, 2009 October 2008 to October 2009 recovery activities
September 30, 2009 Mortality report; highest in years (PDF report, Tom Stehn)
September 30, 2009 ANWR migration-population status (PDF report, Tom Stehn)
April 21, 2009 ANWR migration-population status report 
April 07, 2009 ANWR migration-population status report 
March 15, 2009 ANWR population status report; record mortality 2008-2009 
February 24, 2009 ANWR migration-winter population status report 
February 11, 2009 ANWR migration-winter population status report
January 29, 2009 ANWR migration-winter population status report
January 8, 2009 ANWR migration-winter population status report
December 5, 2008 ANWR migration status report - crane death
November 25, 2008 ANWR migration status report - new record!
November 15, 2008 ANWR migration status report - still more whoopers in!
October 28, 2008 ANWR migration status report - more whoopers in
October 21, 2008 First fall 2008 whooper arrives at ANWR!
October 3, 2008 2008 Wood Buffalo National Park nesting season summary
October 3, 2008 November 2007 to September 2008 recovery activities
August 27 2008 breeding status update
May 22 2008 Wood Buffalo breeding/nesting status report
May 15 2008 migration status
April 10, 2008 migration status
March 31, 2008 migration update  
March 26, 2008 migration begins! 
March 04-05, 2008 (268) flock census report (not a record; read report!)
February 06-07, 2008 (259) flock census report
January 08, 2008 (236) flock census report
December 20, 2007 (253) flock census report
December 04, 2007 (266) flock census report - THE NEW RECORD GROWS AGAIN!
November 27, 2007 (261) flock census report - ANOTHER NEW RECORD!
November 14-17, 2007 (241) flock census report - A NEW RECORD!
November 8, 2007 (211) flock census report
November 8, 2007 North American flock semi-annual activity report (Adobe PDF)
October 29, 2007 (23) More whoopers and the first twins are here!
October 26, 2007 (7) More whoopers are here!
October 24, 2007 (1) The first whooper is here!
August 15, 2007 (237) flock census report
August 09, 2007 (237 flock, 0 ANWR) update
April 19, 2007 (237 flock, 7 ANWR) census and dead whooper report
April 10, 2007 (237 flock, 72 ANWR) spring migration continues
March 14, 2007 (237 flock, 75 ANWR) spring migration is beginning!
March 2007 Whooping Crane International Recovery Plan
March 08, 2007 (237) spring migration is beginning!
February 27, 2007 (237) flock census report
December 13, 2006 (227) census report
December 06, 2006 (224) census report
November 29, 2006 (208 located of 224 present) census report
November 22, 2006 (224) aerial census report - A NEW RECORD!!
November 15, 2006 (208) aerial census report
November 08, 2006 (156) aerial census report
November 01, 2006 (48) aerial census report
October 20, 2006 (8) aerial census report
October 10, 2006 recovery activities Apr-Sept 2006
August 28, 2006 Wood Buffalo chick hatch status update
August 28, 2006 whooping crane overall status update!
August 25, 2006 Wood Buffalo chick hatch status update
June 29, 2006 (3) ANWR plus status report
June 6, 2006 (3) aerial census report (summer residents?)
May 18, 2006 (5) aerial census report (still hanging around ...)
May 03, 2006 (6) aerial census report (hanging around ...)
April 26, 2006 (7) aerial census report (just a few left to go!)
April 19, 2006 (12) aerial census report (migration is almost done!)
April 17, 2006 Whooping Crane Recovery Activities rpt Oct05-Mar06
April 12, 2006 (35) aerial census report (migration is on!)
April 05, 2006 (137) aerial census report (migration is on!)
March 29, 2006 (195) aerial census report (migration is on!)
March 22, 2006 (163) aerial census report (migration is on!)
March 01, 2006 (215) aerial census report
February 15, 2006 (216) aerial census report
February 01, 2006 (218) aerial census report
January 11, 2006 (218) aerial census report
December 21, 2005 (216) aerial census report
December 14, 2005 (214) aerial census report
December 06, 2005 (217) aerial census report
November 30, 2005 (214) aerial census report
November 23, 2005 (210) aerial census report
November 17, 2005 (194) aerial census report
November 14, 2005 migration sightings report
November 09, 2005 (129) aerial census report
November 02, 2005 (127) aerial census report
October 26, 2005 (101) aerial census report - migration in progress!
October 19, 2005 (3) aerial census report - migration under way!
October 11, 2005 (1) Aransas NWR update - migration begins!
August 19, 2005 (1) Wood Buffalo NP update
May 11, 2005 (1) Aransas NWR update - Lobstick chick update
April 27, 2005 (1) aerial census report - migration finished!
April 13, 2005 (34) aerial census report - migration underway!
April 06, 2005 (154) aerial census report - migration starting!
October 4, 2004 through March 5, 2005 semi-annual status report
March 23, 2005 census update (214) chicks update!
February 16, 2005 census update (216) chicks update!
January 05, 2005 census update (213) two more chicks missing

December 22, 2004 census update (215) twin chick dies
December 15, 2004 census update (216)
December 10, 2004 press release; 2nd Kansas crane dies
December 01, 2004 census update (216 - A SECOND NEW RECORD!)
November 30, 2004 census update (213 - USFWS News Release)
November 25, 2004 census update (213 - A NEW RECORD!)
November 16, 2004 census update (186)
November 10, 2004 census update (142)
November 09, 2004 press release; 2 cranes shot in Kansas
November 03, 2004 census update (26)
October 27, 2004 census update (16)
April 2004 to September 2004 report (PDF file)
October 20, 2004 census update (13)
October 12, 2004 First winter cranes arrive at ANWR! (2)
July 2, 2004 Record chick hatch! (66!)
May 14, 2004 Poacher sentenced in federal court (0)
May 12, 2004 census/spring migration update (0)
April 28, 2004 census/spring migration update (3)
April 21, 2004 census/spring migration update (3)
April 14, 2004 census/spring migration update (9)
April 7, 2004 census/spring migration update (109)
March 31, 2004 census/spring migration update (167)
March 23, 2004 census/spring migration update (181)
March 11, 2004 census update 
October 2003 to February 2004 report (PDF file)
February 12, 2004 census update (KS & NE alert)
January 7, 2004 census update 

December 31, 2003 census update 
December 17, 2003 census update - RECORD BROKEN AGAIN!
December 12, 2003 census update - RECORD HIGH PRESS RELEASE!
December 10, 2003 census update 
December 03, 2003 census update 
November 26, 2003 census update 
November 20, 2003 PRESS RELEASE on crane shooting 
November 19, 2003 census update 
November 12, 2003 census update 
November 5, 2003 census update 
October 29, 2003 census update  
October 23, 2003 census update 
September 12, 2003 semi-annual status report, April to Sept 2003
May 28, 2003 nesting update 
April 30, 2003 census update 
April 23, 2003 census update 
April 15, 2003 census update 
April 10, 2003 semi-annual status report, Sept 2002 to March 2003
April 09, 2003 census update 
April 02, 2003 census update 
March 26, 2003 census update 
March 19, 2003 census update 
March 06, 2003 census update 
January 08, 2003 census update 

December 16, 2002 census update 
December 11, 2002 census update 
November 26, 2002 census update 
November 20, 2002 census update 
November 13, 2002 census update 
November 6, 2002 census update 
October 31, 2002 census update 
October 25, 2002 First whoopers arrive at ANWR 
August 28, 2002 Whooping crane recovery update for Mar-Aug, 2002 (MS Word doc, 82.5KB)
July 11, 2002 Wood Buffalo report 
July 01, 2002 Wood Buffalo report 
April 10, 2002 program migration status report (PDF format) (PDF file, 90K) 
April 10, 2002 census update 
April 4, 2002 census update 
March 28, 2002 census update 
March 21, 2002 census update 
December 18, 2001 census update
November 29, 2001 census update 
November 21, 2001 census update 
November 15, 2001 census update 
November 8, 2001 census update 
October 27, 2001 census update 
October 26, 2001 update report

April 30, 2001 update report
April 27, 2001 census report
April 17, 2001 census report
April 4, 2001 census report
March to August 2001 recovery report
March 29, 2001 census report
March 24, 2001 status report
January 16, 2001 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report + N. TX pair sighted)
December 06, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
November 26, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (Tennesse whooper report)
November 22, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
October 27, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
August 03, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (Michigan update)
March-August, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (Population status report)
April 20, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
March 27, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
March 24, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (update on Florida chick status)
March 21, 2000 Whooping Cranes report (Fall and Winter 2000 report, Recovery Program)
March 17, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (First whooping crane egg hatches
    in Florida!!! Plus, ANWR migration status report)
March 9, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
February 17, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
February 11, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
February 3, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
January 28, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
January 21, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
January 4, 2000 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
December 14, 1999 Whooping Cranes status (ANWR migration status report)
December 4, 1999 Whooping Cranes status (ANWR migration status report)
November 17, 1999 Whooping Cranes status (ANWR migration status report)
October 27, 1999 Whooping Cranes update (ANWR migration status report)
October 20, 1999 Whooping Cranes begin arriving (ANWR migration status report)
August 31, 1999 Whooping Cranes status report (March-August, 1999 populations update)
April 30, 1999 Whooping Cranes Florida (second nest lost)
April 23, 1999 Whooping Cranes Florida (eggs vanish; post from BirdChat newsgroup)
April 22, 1999 Whooping Crane Migration (ANWR migration status from 
    Tom Stehn flight census; whoopers all gone)

April 15, 1999 Whooping Crane Migration (migration update emails from Tom Stehn flight census)
April 12, 1999 TPWD Press Release (whooping cranes begin migration 
    (press release from Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept)

April 8, 1999 Whooping Crane Migration  
    (migration update emails from Tom Stehn flight census)

April 1, 1999 Whooping Crane Migration  
    (migration update emails from Tom Stehn flight census)

March 25, 1999 Whooping Crane Migration (migration status report)
March 12, 1999 Brazos Bend & Bosque del Apache Upds  
    (migration update emails from Tom Stehn flight census)

March 11, 1999 Whooping Crane Census Update (Aransas NWR)
February 28, 1999 Recovery Program status report Oct 1998 to Feb 1999February 23, 1999 Census Update (includes Brazos Bend/Sabinal sightings)
February 16, 1999 Ultralight WC Update (email)
February 9, 1999 Census Update (Missing Ultralight Whooper Found in AZ)
January 14, 1999 Census Update (ANWR Migration Update)
January 11, 1999 Lone Crane (Sabinal/Hwy 90 lone crane reported)
January 9, 1999 Census Update (historical dataset table in (PDF format 9KB)
January 8, 1999 Census Update (ANWR Migration Update)
December 30, 1998 Census Update (ANWR Migration Update)
December 17, 1998 Census Update (Whooper Census and Migration Update)
December 09, 1998 Ultralight Whooper Arrives at Bosque  (Assc. Press)
December 03, 1998 Census Update  (Whooper Census & Migration Update)

November 25, 1998 Census Update  (Whooper Census &  Migration Update)
November 19, 1998 Census Update  (Whooper Census &  Migration Update)
November 13, 1998 Census Update  (Migration Update)
November 5, 1998 Census Update  (ANWR Migration Update)
October 29, 1998 First WC Arrive at Aransas NWR!  (Migration Update)
October 26, 1998 WC Migration Update  (Migration Update)
October 26, 1998 Missing Ultralight Whooping Crane Update  
October 22, 1998 WC Migration Census  (Migration Update)
October 22, 1998 May-Sept 1998 Population Status  (All Populations)
October 21, 1998 WhooperStatusUpdate  (Migration Update)
October 13, 1998 WC Migration Update  (Migration Update)
September 30, 1998 WC Migration Update  (Migration Update)
September 24, 1998 WC Migration Update  (Migration Update)
September 23, 1998 Rocky Mt Group  (Migration Update)
August 25, 1998 Nesting Report  (Wood Buffalo National Park)
July 22, 1998 Yellowstone Relocate  (Yellowstone Whooper Update)
July 14, 1998 Breeding Status Report  (Wood Buffalo National Park)
April 16, 1998 Latest Census Text Report  (updated: to April 16, 1998)
April 2, 1998 Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Census Report
April 1, 1998 World Numbers  (Whooper Census and Migration Update)
March 31, 1998 Status Report, Wild Flocks
1998: Whooping Crane Peak Winter Populations, 1938 - 1997, Wild Flocks
    (PDF file, 56K) (Get Acrobat: )
1997 Whooping Crane Recovery Activities Report (click left)


International Whooping Crane Recovery Team - follow Operation Migration chicks from Wisconsin to Florida


Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Crane Research Projects

Bringing Back the Whooping Cranes web site

Journey North "Whooping Crane 1998" web site
An Annenberg/CPB Math and Science Project; global studies of wildlife migration; posts for educational use and reference. Very nice site.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times coverage:

Whooping Crane Description
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
* Reports and datasets courtesy of , Whooping Crane Coordinator, US Fish & Wildlife Service

Webmaster:  . Comments and questions welcomed!

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