Let me introduce you to a bird few, if any, of you have ever actually seen, despite being five feet tall, with a wingspan of seven and a half feet: the whooping crane. Tallest bird in North America, and one of the most endangered, this ghost-white bird is one of the Things We Are Doing Right. In the winter 1941-1942, when my plane was only a few months old, the population reached its lowest ebb, with only 21 birds surviving and all of its migration lost - cooped inside a small refuge, clinging on like a last remnant before joining faded photographs and a few stuffed trophies in a museum.
They've gotten better, with the help of a lot of people, a lot of effort, and a lot of work - but bringing a population back from that brink is not something that you can click "like" on facebook, repost and feel it's all tidied up now. This is work that has taken decades, and will take decades more. As of 2011, there are 414 whooping cranes living in the wild. Even better, we have established more than one population, and given them migration routes again.
How do you teach a bird to migrate? Same way you teach young men and women to be honest, upright citizens, strong and free: you have to show them by example. They tried to raise whooping cranes with Sandhill Cranes, so they could learn - but the chicks imprinted on the wrong species, and failed to mate and raise families of their own. So, each year, chicks that have been raised by humans in whooping crane costume (so they don't imprint on the wrong species) learn to follow an ultralight as it taxis up and down the grass, then on short hops around their home site, and finally, out on the long journey from Wisconsin to Florida.
This is working. I don't mean that in the "The first run trial seems promising" sort of way, I mean that the birds are, despite predation and accidents, migrating on their own, mating, trying to raise chicks (mostly failing due to parental inexperience), and succeeding - teaching the few chicks that survive to adulthood to fly the migration with them. (There are also other sites where birds have been transported but not taught to migrate, in the hopes that they'll be a genetic reservoir if something (avian flu) should happen to the main population.)
Well, this is working - except that the FAA got its knickers in a twist last year, and decided to investigate Operation Migration, the fine dedicated folks who take the time and effort each year to teach the cranes the migration path, flying in ultralights while herding cranes all the way down. After all, technically their ultralights they use for long-distance flying are now under the Light Sport Aircraft category instead, a category that the FAA wants to forbid flying for hire. (Like ObamaCare, it's a badly written blanket regulation that's being riddled with exemptions instead of just taking it out.) The Wisconsin Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) realized there was nothing to gain from trying to ground Operation Migration, and possibly a species driven extinct to satisfy a badly thought out bureaucratic rule. They promptly decided that they were going to Take No Action, and put that in writing - essentially refusing to modify the rule to fit reality, but refusing to prosecute reality and drive a species back toward extinction through enforcing the rule.
Happy ending in an over-regulated environment? Not so fast. You see, the FSDOs are like little kingdoms, with the US divided between themselves - and they don't believe in playing well with each other, much less the flying public. So the Alabama & Northwest Florida FSDO decided that it is not bound by the Wisconsin FSDO's investigation, and launched one of their own against each and every pilot in Operation Migration. The migration this year has been interrupted, birds penned in Alabama, while bureaucrats make themselves feel important through obstruction and obfuscation. Way to go, assholes.
If you'd like to help, please go to Operation Migration, read their release, and then go to their Guestbook and leave a comment urging the FAA to stop interfering. The comments, both by quotes and by amount, will be bundled and presented as public support for Operation Migration. The only pressure that a bureaucrat may fear is public pressure that might affect funding - and in an election year, the more helpful comments made and publicity of idiocy given, the more public pressure can be brought against the FAA to remember that driving whooping cranes into extinction is not going to win them favors or funding.
Source of numbers: http://whoopingcrane.com/flock-status/flock-status-2011-may/
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