ACTION ALERT!  Tomorrow, MARCH 15, 2011, is the deadline for public comment on a proposal to hunt sandhill cranes in Kentucky. If you wrote to Tennessee in the  10,000 Birds campaign this winter, you can cut and paste your letter, changing “Tennessee” to “Kentucky.” If not, please read my letter, crib bits of it in your own words if you wish, avoiding overly sentimental or confrontational wording,  and politely email Mr. Gassett at this address:

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Do it now, please, for the cranes. We fought them back in Tennessee; there’s a two-year stay on their proposal. We can fight them back in Kentucky, too. The Kentucky Ornithological Society and the Beckham Bird Club have both come out strongly against the hunting season.  Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Jon Gassett has indicated that if enough people write in protest, the proposed hunting season–due to start this December– will be reconsidered. Nobody owns these cranes–they’re free for all to enjoy. If you think it’s wrong to shoot them, please take the time to email Mr. Gassett. THANK YOU!


March 14, 2011

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife

Jon Gassett, Commissioner

One Sportsman’s Lane

Frankfort, Kentucky 40601


Dear Mr. Gassett,

I am a writer, naturalist and artist with a special interest in human/bird interactions.

For my new book, due out in 2012 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I’ve been researching sandhill crane hunting. The sandhill crane has the lowest recruitment rate (average number of young birds joining a population each season) of any bird now hunted in North America. Historic recruitment rates of all migratory sandhill crane populations range from 7.5% to a high of 11%.

Since 1975, hunting in the Central Flyway has taken around 20,000 cranes annually (E.M. Martin, U.S. FWS report). This represents 6% of the estimated mid-continental spring population of 322,700 birds for the same two decades. Given the projected recruitment rate, harvesting 6% of the population each year in the US alone seems to me to be cutting it too close to the edge. Kills in Canada, Alaska and Mexico are not included in the count. What about all the other birds that die from inexperience, disease, natural predation and accidents? Further, the crane take in Mexico is a free-for-all: neither regulated nor recorded.

Hunting sandhill cranes in Kentucky is a bad idea from a public relations standpoint, considering the growing cadre of birders and nature enthusiasts for whom cranes are a touchstone species. How can Kentucky possibly garner enough revenue from crane hunting to offset the outrage when birdwatchers find out that the cranes they love and travel to see are being shot? Hunting is on a steady downturn, and nonconsumptive wildlife pursuits are on a tremendous upswing. Nationwide, wildlife watchers now outspend hunters 6 to 1. The explosion in digital photography allows people to stalk wildlife without harming it. Initiating a hunting season on a large, charismatic species like a crane is no way to resuscitate hunting. It is, however, an excellent way to alienate nonconsumptive wildlife enthusiasts, and further polarize the camps.

Texas and North Dakota together account for 88% of the total yearly kill of sandhill cranes. There is evidence that a unique Canadian prairie population of lesser sandhill cranes is being selectively wiped out, since they migrate over the most heavily hunted areas of Texas. It should go without saying that the incidental kill of endangered whooping cranes is an unacceptable cost of adding another state to the shooting gallery all along both species’ migration route. Of the Central Flyway states, Nebraska alone holds out in protecting the cranes, having proven by its longstanding Festival of the Cranes in Kearney that a crane is worth infinitely more alive and purring in the sky with its family than thudding, broken and bleeding, into a cornfield.  Just ask Bill Taddicken, director of the Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River in Kearney. Crane tourism brings that little town around $10 million each year in revenue, without a single shot being fired.

Proposing a hunting season on a bird with that kind of ecotourism potential simply doesn’t make sense. Giving a few hundred hunters something else to shoot, in my opinion, cannot be worth the blowback from tens of thousands of people who are willing to travel and spend just to watch the birds fly over.  Please reconsider this proposal, and consider taking a lesson from what happened in Tennessee. Letters and emails by the thousand poured into the commissioners’ offices, protesting its crane hunting proposal. Even more telling, the support the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission was expecting from its hunting community simply never materialized. I’ve received letters and emails from a number of avid hunters who find the concept of shooting cranes repugnant. TWRC’s response to the outcry was a two-year stay on the proposed season. I feel certain that, given Tennessee’s 18-year track record of celebrating cranes in a tremendously successful festival, the opposition will only be stronger in 2013. I would encourage the KDFW to take Tennessee’s example as an indication that offering sandhill cranes for hunting will create far more public relations trouble than it’s worth.




Julie Zickefoose


Written by Julie
Julie Zickefoose is an artist, naturalist and writer specializing in natural history. Her writing is based on keen observation of animal and human behavior, and she likes to interweave solid natural history information with larger philosophical themes to challenge and inspire the reader. Julie contributes three-minute natural history commentaries to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She illustrates her books and magazine articles with her own sketches and watercolor paintings. Letters from Eden (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) will soon be followed by a memoir about the birds she has raised, healed, studied and followed throughout her life. She lives at Indigo Hill, an 80-acre wildlife sanctuary in Appalachian Ohio with her husband, Bill Thompson III, their children Phoebe and Liam, and their Boston terrier, Chet Baker.