Whooping Crane (Grus americana): recovery strategy 2007

Official title: Recovery Strategy for the Whooping Crane (Grus americana) in Canada

Table of contents

Whooping Crane Family in Saskatchewan by Fred W. Lahrman

Whooping Crane




Responsible Jurisdictions
Strategic Environmental Assessment


About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is“to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.”

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry and the Web site of the Recovery Secretariat (http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca/recovery/).

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2007. Recovery Strategy for the Whooping Crane (Grus americana) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. vii + 27 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry.

The recovery strategy for the Whooping Crane is part of a larger document, “International Recovery Plan for the Whooping Crane (Grus americana) (Revised),” available in English only, which has been approved/endorsed by the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

Canadian Wildlife Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2006. International Recovery Plan for the Whooping Crane (Grus americana) (Revised). Environment Canada, Ottawa, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 162 pp

Cover illustration: Whooping Crane Family in Saskatchewan by Fred W. Lahrman

Également disponible en français sous le titre :

« Programme de rétablissement de la Grue blanche (Grus americana) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Environment, 2007. All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-0-662-46840-0

Catalogue no. En3-4/31-2007E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


This recovery strategy has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the Whooping Crane. Environment Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its recovery strategy for the Whooping Crane, as required under the Species at Risk Act. This recovery strategy also constitutes advice to other jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved in recovering the species.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new findings and revised objectives.

This recovery strategy will be the basis for one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation and recovery of the species. The Minister of the Environment will report on progress within five years.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of the Environment invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Environment Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Whooping Crane and Canadian society as a whole.

Responsible Jurisdictions


This strategy was prepared by Brian Johns and Tom Stehn, with assistance from Renee Franken.


The principal compilers of this document were Brian Johns and Tom Stehn, co-chairmen of the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team. Biologists who provided updated material and reviewed sections of the document include Dr. George Archibald, Doug Bergeson, Mark Bradley, Dr. Suzanne Carrier, Lea Craig-Moore, Joe Duff, Dr. David Ellis, Melanie Failler, Marty Folk, Dr. George Gee, Wally Jobman, Ken Jones, Dwight Knapik, Dr. Julie Langenberg, Dr. James Lewis, Claire Mirande, Steve Nesbitt, Debbie Nordstrom, Dr. Glenn Olsen, Dr. Mike Putnam, Scott Swengel, Dr. Richard Urbanek, and Earl Wiltse. Stuart Leon and Wendy Brown provided initial agency review of the document for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Mary Rothfels and Dave Duncan did the same for the Canadian Wildlife Service. Renee Franken, Wendy Dunford, and Ray Poulin helped edit the document into its current format. We thank the late Fred W. Lahrman and the Whooping Crane Conservation Association for use of the cover illustration. The five Canadian and five U.S. members currently serving on the Recovery Team provided overall recovery objectives and strategies. Members as of January 2007 were Dr. George Archibald, Sandie Black DVM, Doug Campbell, Dr. Felipe Chavez-Ramirez, Marty Folk, Dr. John French, Brian Johns, Deborah Johnson, Stuart Macmillan, and Tom Stehn.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Whooping Crane. The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. The SEA concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects. The reader should refer to the following sections of the document in particular: 1.7 Needs of the Whooping Crane; 1.8 Threats; 2.1 Recovery Feasibility; and 2.8 Critical Habitat.


SARA defines residence as:

a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating [Subsection 2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry.


The Whooping Crane is a migratory bird protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and is under the management jurisdiction of the federal government. The Whooping Crane was listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in June 2003. SARA (Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered, or threatened species. The strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39–41).

The recovery program for the Whooping Crane is an excellent example of international cooperation to save a species. Cooperative recovery actions between Canada and the United States are outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of the Whooping Crane, approved in 1985 and updated at five-year intervals. An International Recovery Plan was developed in 2006 by a joint Canada/United States Recovery Team (Canadian Wildlife Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2006). The joint plan was appropriate because conservation and management of the species in both countries are essential to the Whooping Crane's recovery. The Canadian recovery strategy has been excerpted from the International Recovery Plan for the Whooping Crane and approved/endorsed by the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

In the late 1940s, government agencies in Canada and the United States began actively sharing data and expertise to prevent the extinction of the Whooping Crane. Recovery actions have included protecting breeding and wintering areas, monitoring population dynamics, establishing captive breeding flocks, developing reintroduction techniques, and reintroducing migratory and non-migratory populations. For a detailed account of actions under way or already completed, the reader should refer to Appendix C in the International Recovery Plan.

Recovery of the Whooping Crane is implemented by the Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Division, provincial wildlife agencies, and state wildlife agencies, with the support of non-profit organizations and private individuals (Lewis 1991). The Audubon Species Survival Center, Calgary Zoo, International Crane Foundation, National Audubon Society, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Operation Migration Inc., San Antonio Zoo, World Wildlife Fund, and Whooping Crane Conservation Association are among the groups that have been or currently are active in aiding recovery.

Parks Canada Agency and the Canadian Wildlife Service have met with and consulted Aboriginal and Métis groups who may rely on traditional use of the land regarding this strategy, including the critical habitat designation of the Whooping Crane nesting area within Wood Buffalo National Park. Additional consultations will take place regarding recovery activities including the potential for critical habitat designation outside of Wood Buffalo National Park.

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