A federal judge found Texas officials responsible for the deaths of 23 whooping cranes and ordered the state to develop a conservation plan that would protect the last naturally migrating flock of the endangered birds, according to this Associated Press report from the Houston Chronicle.
Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack ruled Monday in Corpus Christi that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was responsible for the deaths of the cranes in 2008-09 because its management of the rivers that feed San Antonio and Aransas bays caused their salinity to rise. The saltier water hurt blue crab and wolfberry supply, two of the cranes’ primary food sources, as well as the birds’ primary freshwater drinking source.
In a 124-page verdict, the judge found the TCEQ officials violated the Endangered Species Act and ordered a conservation plan that would balance the interests of water users with the need to protect the whooping cranes’ habitat.
The verdict is three years in the making. In early 2010, The Aransas Project, a coalition of local governments and environmental advocates, sued the TCEQ over its management of the rivers. Lawyers for all the parties packed a courtroom in December 2011 for a bench trial in which the judge would make the final decision, in place of a jury.
The TCEQ said it’s considering options, including filing an appeal.