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TribBlog: Whooping Cranes Going to Court

The Endangered Species Act lawsuit over the last remaining naturally migrating flock of whooping cranes will move forward, a federal district judge ruled Wednesday.

Tom Stehn, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge's Whooping Crane Coordinator, carries an emaciated crane to treatment.

The Endangered Species Act lawsuit over the last remaining naturally migrating flock of whooping cranes will move forward, a federal district judge ruled Wednesday.

The Aransas Project, a nonprofit organization formed to protect water resources in the Aransas Bay region, filed the lawsuit against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in March after an unprecedented 23 birds died during the 2008-2009 winter. The organization believes the TCEQ’s over-allocation of fresh water upstream from the Aransas Bay marshland, where the birds winter, caused the fatalities. That constitutes an illegal “taking,” that is, harm or harassment, of the bird under federal law, The Aransas Project contends.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the defendants in the suit — including the TCEQ and the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority and the Texas Chemical Counsel, which have both intervened in the suit — asked Judge Janis Jack of the Southern District to dismiss the suit over the Aransas Bay flock, questioning whether the plaintiffs could prove that the birds’ deaths were directly connected to the lack of freshwater in the marsh. She denied their request and set the trial date for March 2, 2011.

If successful, the suit could change the state's water permitting process and threaten property owners’ existing water rights, as The Texas Tribune explained in this March story.

A spokesperson for the TCEQ said the agency would not comment on any ongoing litigation. 

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