Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Students' pleas help fund crane migration
Louisville youths wrote to foundation

By James Bruggers, The Courier-Journal

They were unlikely fundraisers — a class of Louisville fourth-graders who figured a big oil company might want to help fund a human-led migration of whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida.

But their appeals, combined with those of children in a Canadian school, have paid off for Operation Migration, the group that each year uses ultra-light aircraft to lead a flock of juvenile cranes on their first flight south.

The ExxonMobil Foundation has given the organization $2,500, enough to cover about 12 miles of the nearly 1,250-mile-long journey.

Teacher Lori Trout's fourth-grade class at Kennedy Montessori Elementary School sent a package of letters to ExxonMobil's CEO, Rex W. Tillerson, on Sept. 22, and Trout, in a letter of her own, told him that her students had a dream "to put a broken piece of the world back together again."

One student wrote that the cranes "need gas to fly to Florida." Another, "Think about the world with no whooping cranes. Please save them, they need your help."

A month later, those solicitations were echoed in a packet of letters from elementary students at Harriett Todd Public School in Ontario. Teacher Margaret Black wrote, "Canadians are also cheering the eighteen juvenile whooping cranes and their amazing pilots and handlers along, as they journey southward together."

Liz Condie, chief operating officer for Operation Migration, said she welcomed the foundation's gift, which she said was especially inspiring because of the students' involvement. "It says a lot about the future of our environment. We couldn't be more pleased."

The ExxonMobil Foundation was closed yesterday. But in a Dec. 14 letter to Condie, foundation President Gerald McElvy wrote, "We are inspired by the children representing various schools and their cause."

The Washington Post reported this week that the whooping crane, the tallest bird in North America, whose numbers dwindled to fewer than 20 in 1941, is making a comeback that federal wildlife officials credit to a coordinated conservation effort.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service census of the nation's only natural wild population of whooping cranes reached a milestone of 237. Combined with the number of birds in captivity in three special flocks raised for reintroduction to the wild and those in zoos, the crane population now numbers 518, the Post reported.

Operation Migration is part of an effort to restore an eastern population of whooping cranes that winters in Florida.

Young cranes are raised from eggs taken from adults at wildlife centers, and because they do not have their parents to show them the way south, pilots dressed as birds help them learn the route.

On Dec. 22, Operation Migration reported all 18 birds had made it to Florida after 10 weeks and three days. The birds and pilots logged 33 hours in the air.

Trout, whose students followed the migration daily and were visited by an Operation Migration pilot in November, could not be reached yesterday. But in an e-mail earlier, she expressed delight that the students' voices had been heard and a contribution made.
Reporter James Bruggers can be reached at (502) 582-4645. Read more about this story in his blog, Watchdog Earth, at