Louisiana has a serious wildlife crime problem: our state has the highest rate of whooping crane shootings in the country. At least 12 of these magnificent birds have been shot in the state since 2011. Others have died under mysterious circumstances, leaving the current count of living birds at 75.
Once native to Louisiana, whooping cranes were wiped out statewide by shooting and habitat destruction by 1950. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries now has a reintroduction program to return these rare, majestic birds back into the coastal marshes that were once their home. The state has invested a considerable amount of time and money to raise captive-bred whooping cranes and prepare them for their life in the wild. It costs nearly $94,000 per bird to bring them from egg to release because the process involves long, painstaking care. The hope is that released birds will eventually form a sustainable breeding population. The cranes range widely, singly or in small groups, throughout south Louisiana, and a few have begun to form nesting pairs.
Given the state’s monumental effort and expense, it is especially heartbreaking to see the leniency given to those who brazenly violate the law: a mere two years’ probation and 120 hours community service to the most recent whooping crane shooter. No jail time and no fines make it a minor slap on the wrist for a crime that should be taken much more seriously.
Louisiana prides itself as a “Sportsman’s Paradise” and no true sportsman would kill a protected species. A few rogue outlaws are spoiling the image of many honorable people and of our state.
It’s not just a matter of justice and decency; whooping cranes could be a true economic asset to Louisiana. About 8,000 tourists visit Texas every winter to see the migratory flock of whooping cranes at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Visiting birders provide as much as $2 million annually for the local economy. Once Louisiana establishes a wild flock, ecotourism and its economic benefits will quickly follow. Benefits will likely be greater in Louisiana because its non-migratory population will be present year-round.
There is an upcoming opportunity in Louisiana for true justice to be served. The latest alleged killer of two whooping cranes in 2016 was arraigned on January 21, 2020 in federal court in Lafayette and the case is pending trial. The defendant is accused of not only shooting the cranes, but also of removing the feet of one bird which was wearing a radio monitor, then casting the birds in a ditch and throwing his knife in a crawfish pond. Since he transported the birds, he is being charged under the Lacey Act that carries a sentence of up to one year in jail and as much as a $10,000 fine.
Minor penalties have provided little deterrent. It’s time to treat this crime seriously with penalties that reflect its importance. It’s time to stand up for true Louisiana sportsman’s values.
To report a shooting of a whooping crane, call LDWF on 1-800-442-2511. The person whose report results in the arrest and conviction of a crane shooter will be eligible for a substantial reward.