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Professor Captures Texas History and Coast: The Mortality of Whooping Cranes Along Texas Coast

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Michael Berryhill, professor at Texas Southern University’s School of Communication and former Texas Wildlife and Parks magazine editor, is writing a book about the deaths of 23 endangered whooping cranes near San Antonio Bay.

The book which is not titled yet, outline details about a lawsuit, The Aransas Project (TAP) vs. Shaw in the U.S. District Court in Corpus Christi. The suit accuses the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality of not allowing sufficient flow of freshwater from the Guadalupe River into the San Antonio Bay for the whooping cranes spending winters there can survive.   

“This trial involves water rights,” Berryhill said.  “Money is water and water is money. Water is becoming a battleground almost like oil. “It’s valuable, there’s a limited amount of it.  And there’s going to be an increasing battle over water in Texas as Texas grows. Water determines the economic future for the state of Texas. Wildlife is getting the short end of the stick in the water planning in Texas.  I’ve seen the planning. I’ve talked to the environmentalists. I have to write about it.”

According to Berryhill bays need freshwater just as much as cities and farms need it. During a time of drought, nothing is left for the bays, he said.

“The direction the water flows affects the ecological system,” Berryhill said.  “It affects the farming and urban development while depriving the wildlife of fresh flowing water when they retreat into their habitat. If water is saved for the whooping cranes then it is saved for the crabs, shrimp, fish and the ducks.”

 Whooping cranes are territorial about their winter grounds. They stake out a territory about 425 acres of coastal marsh along the peninsulas and barrier islands of San Antonio Bay.  When territories were first mapped in the late 1940s, only fourteen birds existed.  Over the years the flock multiplied to almost 270 birds by winter of 2008 to 2009.  Whooping cranes are not a social bird. Although whooping cranes depend on blue crabs they are carnivores.

Earlier this year, Berryhill sent the editor of an environmentalist non-profit press in Minneapolis his Texas Monthly article on the case.  The editor sent back a one-word response: fascinating. That one word gave Berryhill the green light to invest time into writing the book.  Berryhill plans to interview scientists, hydrologists, biologists and other experts that will include professional environmental assessments to impact the process of water planning in Texas.

Berryhill’s book will educate the public about the water planning in Texas and the quality it has to sustain the life of the endangered species. His hope is that readers will be drawn into the legal, ecological and ethical issues and critical processes involved in the water planning in Texas.

“For the editor to look at it I knew I had to have something passionate,” said Berryhill. “One of the problems of pitching a book is you must be sure you have enough material to write it. The information has to be interesting enough where a writer would invest the time into writing the book. I have enough research and a trial to open up a host of issues. If I do this well, I will make the reader fall in love with this place.”

Berryhill is the recipient of the Texas Institute of Letters prize for nonfiction. He has gained recognition for his latest book, The Trials of Eroy Brown: The Murder Case That Shook the Texas Prison System, a story recounting the details of the murder of two white Texas prison officials at the hand of inmate Eroy Brown who faced the deprivation of prison civil rights and the Jim Crow Justice within the Texas prisons. Berryhill is also the chair of journalism at Texas Southern University’s School of Communication.

Berryhill projects to complete the book during the next two years.

“If I don’t do this nobody else will. I have this feeling like I’m the person that’s suited to do this,” Berryhill said. “I’ve been going down there 15 years.  I want to capture a piece of Texas history and I want to capture the Texas coast.” 

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Author: tsuprstudent

Journalism and public relations senior at Texas Southern University. Slated to graduate earning a bachelor of arts degree spring 2013.

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