Appeals Court Denies Request to Reconsider Whooping Crane Ruling in Texas

A Whooping Crane adult and juvenile observed by ICF staff on December 14 during their weekly assessments of the wintering cranes and their habitats in south-central Texas. Photo by Liz Smith

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has declined The Aransas Project’s (TAP) request to re-consider the Court’s June decision to overturn a 2013 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Janis Jack, which concluded that Whooping Cranes, as an Endangered species, should be considered when decisions are made about water removal from the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers that nourish coastal Texas Whooping Crane habitat (click here to read the full dissenting opinion).

Judge Jack had ruled that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is responsible for issuing water-use permits in the drought stricken state, violated the Endangered Species Act through their water management practices, including not exercising available emergency powers to protect Whooping Cranes as fresh water disappeared from their wintering areas in 2008-09. The District Court ordered TCEQ to stop granting new water use permits for the south-central Texas rivers until they could provide reasonable assurances that new permits would not result in harm to the cranes.  TCEQ was directed to seek an Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which requires development of a Habitat Conservation Plan, outlining conservation measures designed to minimize and mitigate harm to the endangered species.

Our next steps? One of the Fifth Circuit Court judges wrote a very strong dissent against the Court’s recent decision, arguing that the District Court trial made a very clear case that Whooping Cranes were being harmed by water management in Texas. TAP, sharing this conclusion, will consider asking for a U.S. Supreme Court hearing of the case, while ICF staff in Texas continue to assess the health of the wintering Whooping Cranes and the coastal habitat upon which they depend.