/PRNewswire/ -- For the second consecutive year, Southern Company is sponsoring Operation Migration USA, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the conservation of migratory species, including the most famous endangered bird in North America - the Whooping crane.
The support will help Operation Migration USA to increase the number of Whooping cranes it raises and leads south by ultralight aircraft from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. This year's class of 23 birds marks the largest ever cohort of young Whooping cranes on their first migration. Operation Migration hopes to increase the number of new Whooping cranes released annually to 24, with the goal of helping the flock reach a self-sustaining population level in four to five years.
"Flying with birds isn't a job," said Joe Duff, Operation Migration's CEO, Whooping crane project leader and senior pilot. "It's a passion. What we are doing can save a species from extinction. Our entire team of staff, volunteers and sponsors such as Southern Company are dedicated to preserving this magnificent icon of endangered species for future generations of North Americans."
A three-year grant to Operation Migration USA was made beginning in 2008 through the Power of Flight, a partnership between Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to protect birds through habitat and species restoration and environmental education.
"Southern Company is proud to be a part of the ongoing effort to save the Whooping crane and support the conservation of migratory species through innovative research, education and partnership," said Chris Hobson, chief environmental officer for Southern Company. "Our continued support of Operation Migration is a great example of how we address environmental challenges - by partnering with a variety of stakeholders to achieve real, measurable and long-term results."
"Operation Migration is a prime example of the clear results garnered by Power of Flight, a partnership fueled by Southern Company's leadership and commitment to conservation," said Jeff Trandahl, executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. "At the time of the program's launch, nobody knew the critical gains we'd be achieving today. Not only is our Southern Company partnership supporting significant benefits for the Southeast's imperiled species and habitats, but the program serves to inspire others as a model for future conservation ventures."
The cranes for this project are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. They are taught to follow a specially designed ultralight aircraft before being shipped to Wisconsin at 50 days of age. Eventually, they follow a team of four ultralight aircraft on their first migration from Wisconsin to Florida.
Once the birds learn the migratory route, they can return, on their own, the following spring. Each year a new generation is taught this route and released. Once this flock reaches 125 birds, including 25 breeding pairs, it can be considered self-sustaining.
This year, Operation Migration's ultralights will travel 1,285 miles through seven states, including three - Alabama, Florida and Georgia - that are served by Southern Company. The cranes began their flight in October; their arrival date depends on the weather but the trip is expected to take at least 50 days. Progress reports on the flight are updated regularly and posted on Operation Migration USA's Web site at http://www.operationmigration.org/Field_Journal.html.
Southern Company is also the presenting sponsor of the daily Operation Migration EarlyBird E-bulletin, which provides updates on flight progress.
Since 2001, Operation Migration has played a leading role in the reintroduction of endangered Whooping cranes into eastern North America. During the 1940s only 15 birds survived in the world, although the species was not declared endangered until 1971. The primary reason for the birds' disappearance was the destruction of its natural habitat; however, thanks to conservation efforts, more than 500 whooping cranes survive today.
Operation Migration USA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the conservation of migratory species through innovative research, education and partnerships. Operation Migration is a founding partner of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), the coalition of non-profit organizations and government agencies behind the project to safeguard the endangered Whooping crane from extinction. For more information, visit http://www.operationmigration.org/.
A nonprofit established by Congress in 1984, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) sustains, restores and enhances the nation's fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Through leadership conservation investments with public and private partners, NFWF is dedicated to achieving maximum conservation impact by developing and applying best practices and innovative methods for measurable outcomes. Since its establishment, NFWF has awarded over 10,000 grants to more than 3,500 organizations in the United States and abroad and leveraged - with its partners - more than $600 million into over $1.5 billion for conservation.
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