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Group Fights Texas to Save Whooping Crane

CORPUS CHRISTI (CN) - Texas threatens the survival of the whooping crane by letting too much water be diverted from rivers in the Guadalupe Basin, environmentalists say in Federal Court. More than half of the severely endangered birds winter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge; last winter 23 whooping cranes in the flock died and only 263 remain, the Aransas Project says.

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, part of the San Antonio-Aransas Bay System, is one of the last refuges for the giant whooping crane, which faces extinction.

"These deaths directly reflect the lack of sufficient freshwater flowing to San Antonio-Aransas Bay System," the group says. "The cranes need fresh water to drink and to support two essential food sources - the wolfberry, and perhaps most importantly, for protein, the blue crab.

"Some cranes literally face winter starvation, including the young, whose parents will push them away from feeding areas in a desperate effort to save their own lives."

The Aransas Project says that due to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's mismanagement, the 2008-2009 winter was the worst on record for the cranes, and lack of fresh water could mean extinction.

The Aransas Project includes a diverse coalition of groups, including Aransas County, the City of Rockport, and the American Bird Conservancy.

They sued the TCEQ and its directors, and "South Texas Watermaster of the TCEQ" Al Segovia, alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act and blaming the TCEQ for the 23 whooping crane death by allowing competing interests to divert water from the Guadalupe Basin.

They want the TCEQ to write and implement a habitat conversation plan for the San Antonio and Guadalupe River Basins and San Antonio Bay.

The Aransas Project is represented by James Blackburn of Houston.

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