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      Federal judge blames TCEQ for 23 whooping crane deaths

      Whooping Cranes // File Photo

      A federal judge has blamed Texas environmental officials for the deaths of 23 rare whooping cranes in a water dispute.

      Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack in Corpus Christi says the state must develop a conservation plan to protect the last naturally migrating flock of the endangered birds.

      Jack ruled Monday following a 2011 trial. She determined the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was responsible for the winter 2008-2009 bird deaths because its management of rivers feeding San Antonio and Aransas bays caused their salt levels to rise.

      The judge found TCEQ officials violated the Endangered Species Act. Her order also bars the state from issuing any new water permits on the rivers.

      TCEQ didn't immediately comment Tuesday.