Whooping crane reintroduction efforts on the Eastern Flyway involve raising young whooping cranes and accompanying them on their migratory flights with ultralight gliders. The USFWS designated the whooping cranes in this population “nonessential and experimental.” So, one might surmise, it’s OK if they get shot by hunters thinking they’re sandhill cranes? It gives one to wonder why this designation was made.
Over the winter, the universe lost four whooping cranes to what appears to be recreational shooting: three gunned down together in Georgia on December 30, 2010, and another in Alabama on January 28, 2011. There are 400 whooping cranes left in the wild, 100 of them in the eastern population. Another 170 are in captivity, many of them breeding stock for reintroduction efforts.
One percent of the wild population of whooping cranes fell to guns this winter alone. What could motivate gunmen (I cannot call them hunters) in two states to deliberately kill North America’s tallest and most critically endangered bird? Fun? Sport? Speculation is useless in acts of vandalism. It may be as simple as trying to hit the big white one. It may be as sick as deliberately targeting an endangered species for death. Unfortunately, sick people can get guns just as easily as sane people can.
With the proposed hunting seasons on sandhill cranes being discussed in Tennessee, Kentucky and Wisconsin, we must not forget the whooping crane, which travels and winters in the big sandhill crane flocks. We must not forget ignorance, bad lighting, adrenaline, and accidents. Hunting sandhill cranes in the Eastern flyway will put those 100 whooping cranes at even greater risk of being brought down by gunfire, hunter education courses and handy color brochures notwithstanding.
Quick: what’s this?
Photo used by permission of Arthur M. Peslak, Nature Images by Art
Did you hesitate in calling that a sandhill crane? Me, too. Looks pretty white, doesn’t it? Soo…if all the cranes look white in a light regime like this, how does an excited hunter tell which one is the endangered one? Why not just shoot the biggest one? That’s what you do with other game, right? The biggest gobbler, the biggest buck…
And this? Wait. I thought whooping cranes were all white. Aren’t young sandhill cranes brownish, too? This can be a little confusing, even for birders.
From the USFWS website.
In feverishly searching flocks of sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache for dwindling numbers of whooping cranes, I spotted scores of whooping cranes. Sandhill cranes banking in bright sunlight against a dark sky can look startlingly white. And whooping cranes in bad light, say dawn and dusk, when hunters are most likely to be out after sandhills, can look startlingly dark. Eventually, I found the lone whooping crane present at the refuge by its call. I heard a sonorous trumpet coming from a large flock of feeding sandhills, and I jolted to attention. I knew I’d never heard that before. And I combed through the flock with a spotting scope until I found the tall one. The big white one.
Birders know that the light’s not always perfect or even particularly good when you’re trying to tell one species from another. Do all hunters realize that? The difference: A whooping crane misidentified by a birder doesn’t die. It flies on.
When a population of birds numbers only 400 in the wild, there can be no such thing as a “nonessential” individual. You can designate it thus; you can legally call it a Rhode Island Red chicken if you want, but no whooping crane on this planet is nonessential. Not when we have but 400 to spare. And I submit that it poses an unacceptable risk to whooping cranes to encourage hunting of the very populations of sandhill cranes that mingle with them.
Here it is then, another angle on the proposed sandhill crane seasons in Tennessee, Kentucky and Wisconsin. Another thing to consider. More states will doubtless join the queue of those proposing hunts. And you have been asked to write, and write you have. Your letters doubtless helped slow Tennessee down for a two year moratorium on crane hunting. Kentucky is still accepting letters; the March 15 deadline cited in my last post was gleaned from the National Rifle Association’s site, which may have misreported the facts. Now, it’s time to go to the top.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tells states when they may propose a hunting season on cranes, and has ultimate jurisdiction over whether the states get their seasons. So we can squawk at the state wildlife departments all we want, but the USFWS has the final say. So it’s time to send letters not only to the proposing states, but to the Feds. And it’s time to sign a petition to the USFWS that asks them to reconsider the provision in their Eastern Sandhill Crane Management Plan that calls for hunting of this recovering population.
Here’s the petition. My friend Vickie Henderson, who has some serious long-range vision, looked at the science behind Tennessee’s crane hunting proposal and found it badly wanting. She drew this petition up to ask the USFWS to reconsider the clause in its management plan that calls for hunting Eastern sandhill cranes. Sign it here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/sandhill-cranes-new-plan/
And here’s where to write, voicing your objection to hunting eastern sandhill cranes. Hint for your letter: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has just returned from Nebraska’s Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary in Kearney, where he fell silent, entranced by the spectacle of tens of thousands of sandhill cranes rising from the braided shallows of the Platte. In the only state in the Central Flyway that protects cranes from hunting.
He called the Platte wetlands restoration project “a crown jewel for Nebraska.” No one who witnesses a morning rise of sandhill cranes can fail to be moved by the magic of these birds. And no one who witnesses this along with throngs of other bird enthusiasts can miss the significance of cranes as an ecotourism draw. Write him now:
The Honorable Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior
Department of the Interior
1849 C. Street, N.W.
Mail Stop 7060 Washington, D.C. 20240
Rowan W. Gould
Secretary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
And to voice your opposition to Kentucky’s new hunt proposal, write
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife
Jon Gassett, Commissioner
One Sportsman’s Lane
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Nobody needs to shoot sandhill cranes. Nobody needs to eat them. They are shot for sport, and sometimes for food. And fun and food are, I’d submit, not enough reason to fell a bird in which only one in three pairs manages to raise a single chick each season; a bird that has captured the imagination and hearts of tens of thousands of people, whose sonorous purr floats down from on high like the voice of a pterosaur. Ask the proposing states to follow Nebraska’s example, to let them, and their big, desperately imperiled white cousins, alone.
Photo by Jim Rickards, gleaned from fredmiranda.com
Heartfelt thanks to Vickie Henderson, Cyndi Routledge, and The Honorable Ken Salazar for going out and witnessing what all the fuss is about. Apologies for my error in reporting that the Kentucky Ornithological Society has joined the Beckham Bird Club in publicly opposing the hunt proposal. It has not. As always, thank you for caring, and for writing.
Wonderful, heartfelt and enlightening post, Julie. Thank you so much for drawing attention to the petition site. The “non-essential experimental” designation for whooping cranes in the east is squarely related to the hunting of sandhill cranes. These proposals to hunt sandhill cranes in the east have been perking for many years as the population began to recover and sandhill cranes became more plentiful. More than ten years ago, when permissions were negotiated for all the flyway states expected to be used by the ultralight migration project, as well as surrounding states, all of the wildlife management organizations in these states were contacted for permission and partnership. Their willingness to give permission to the project and to cooperate was contingent on this designation. The reason? The presence of whooping cranes could not interfere with hunting, particularly the potential for sandhill crane hunting.
I have always supported our wildlife management organizations for the hard work they do and for their dedication to wildlife protection. But I do think this issue of hunting sandhill cranes goes beyond the right to hunt. It brings to question the purpose of wildlife management. Is the purpose finding new hunting opportunities? Or is the mandate to protect the welfare and habitat of our state’s wildlife?
I know the wording of every wildlife management agency’s mission will vary, but I feel confident that serving all the states’ citizens fits in their somewhere.
I will be writing letters today! Thank you, Julie, for your excellent post!
I want to thank Cyndi and Steve Routledge for alerting me to TWRA’s absurd desire to open hunting season on the sandhill crane. I am on a river below Nuclear Fuels Services and for years we have fought the legacy and ongoing ruthless dumping into our river. For TWRA to spend their time creating a hunting season on anything, let alone the sandhill crane, to not do their job, but spend their time creating killing seasons on beautiful wildlife tells us how out of control our state has become. It takes people to make a difference, and you can depend on me. Thank you for your efforts. Sincerely, Park Overall
Vickie raises a question that’s been gnawing at me for the last few weeks:
“It brings to question the purpose of wildlife management. Is the purpose finding new hunting opportunities? Or is the mandate to protect the welfare and habitat of our state’s wildlife?”
The answer is clear to me, but I’m discovering there’s more discord in my Utopian vision of conservation than I at first cared to see. I have always viewed hunters as allies in the fight for habitat preservation. Most of the deer and duck hunters I know lament the loss of an old growth forest or flood-plain swamp as much as I do. Likewise for the anglers. That’s all good because the need for habitat is the same for those who hunt and those who observe. But when we start talking about the nitty gritty of ecology – deer overpopulation, invasive species, the value of a whooping crane – the “harvesters” break camp with the “observers” rather abruptly. Invasive species are considered beneficial if they lead to population growth among desired harvestable species, if they aren’t desirable themselves. It’s considered good to have tons of deer marauding everywhere because we like to have big ones to hunt. Never mind that forest regeneration is grinding to a halt everywhere that white-tail management is focused on maximum benefit for the hunters.
The list goes on and on. The goal of management is to please those who “harvest”. Those who harvest are unfortunately myopic, seeing only the instant gratification of the meal or the kill. I am not anti-hunting or anti-fishing. I am, however, quite vehemently anti-ignorance. It’s time to teach some ecology. But how?
“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
— Aldo Leopold
Julie, thank you once again for bringing this insanity to the forefront. According to the USFWS on their designation “The population is considered experimental because it is being (re)introduced into suitable habitat that is outside of the whooping crane’s current range, but within its historic range. It is designated nonessential because the likelihood of survival of the whooping crane, as a species, would not be reduced if this entire population was not successful and was lost.” This, of course, flies in the face of the entire reason for starting this project which was to make sure that the western population of Whooping Cranes was not lost to a single untoward event or catastrophe.
I was sickened when I found out about the (actually) six Whooping Cranes shot to death over the past 14 months according to an article written by Lisa Holewa. Is there any question that if a hunting season opens on Sandhill Cranes in the East that more Whooping Cranes will die?
I agree that we need to concentrate on the USFWS and the Secretary of the Interior to stop this madness. In the light of the Whooping Crane deaths, however, I think it may help to also involve the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) who just released a “Five Year Strategic Plan: Moving Toward a Sustainable Eastern Migratory Population” that is available in a down-loadable PDF on their sight. It is a very interesting read, and as I stated in the post I wrote on my blog, part of the team that wrote the plan is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, one of the states proposing a Sandhill Crane slaughter.
It looks as if we have to keep on top of this situation continuously until people open up their eyes to what is happening here. Thank you again for you very eloquent post and I urge everyone to go read Vickie Henderson’s post also, AND WRITE!
One small correction to your excellent editorial: it was 5 whooping cranes this winter. Although it didn’t make the news, the fifth crane was shot in Alabama– they just didn’t find her body until two weeks later. I raised 4 of the cranes shot this year– chicks that still had much of their brown plumage. They were the “low budget” chicks raised and released simply to follow other adult whoopers and sandhills; rather than follow the little ultralight planes. All of them had successfully learned the skills we taught them to forage in “safe” areas and avoid humans. The fifth whooping crane was a fully mature adult fondly known to us trackers as “Super Dad.” He and his mate were one of the few successful pairs in the whole eastern flock! As the first cranes arrive back on their main refuge in SW Wisconsin, the 5 that won’t return will be sorely missed…
@BigRed thanks for the sad update
Your thoughts about WCEP frequently come to mind for people who are concerned about the welfare of whooping cranes in the east if an eastern sandhill crane hunt should take place. WCEP is the governing body for the reintroduction project and is made up of our eastern state wildlife management organizations and USFWS officials, in addition to the other private and government organizations that are partners in the project. Every member of the partnership must, of necessity, honor the partnership agreements made with each of the partners. These agreements made the re-introduction effort possible. Without them, it would fail.
While it feels unfortunate to have a non-essential, experimental designation for this reintroduced population, this designation has made many endangered species reintroductions possible over the years when they otherwise would have been blocked by special interest groups.
Thank you for that clarification Vickie. I kind of suspected something like that when I read the FAQ on the designation that read:
“Introduction of an endangered species into a new area can result in new federal regulation, which sometimes prompts negative public reaction. The designation under this rule allows the relaxation of provisions of the Endangered Species Act, which has already demonstrated and can be expected to result in increased public acceptance of the reintroduction.”
My next question is, when is that designation removed? When the Whooping Cranes reach a self sustaining population? I didn’t find anything that hinted at when that designation might be removed.
Of course, I realize that this reintroduction is a huge undertaking and it is a complex project with many moving parts. I would think that for that reason alone, the WCEP would be strongly against any hunting proposal that might complicate that reintroduction, especially in the aftermath of the recent Whooping Crane shootings.
Thank you, Julie, for your ongoing voice. It matters so, so much. And Thank you Vickie, Cyndi, Melinda, and everyone else I may not know who is not relaxing about this issue. It would be so nice to breath a sigh of relief and think our work is done. But we cannot rest, not now, if ever, since we are up against the ancestral, sensitive right to hunt. Most of us in the opposition camp, I think, completely respects the right to hunt. But wanting the cranes specifically to be left alone, brings the impression that we are “messing with” that right. Not at all. We just think the list of huntable species is plenty long, and sandhill cranes should not be added to that list….ever.
Once again Julie your comments should give all of us insight on the importance of these noble birds and our human ignorance toward them. Those that are out to kill this species for their own pleasure. Do these so called “hunters” really care about wildlife preservation? I think not! I will certainly write. All of us need to be heard on this important issue. Thanks again Julie, Vicki H. and Cyndi & Steve R.
Julie,Julie,Julie.I find it quite humorous that you would classify a hunter as a gunman. Just because you have a gun and follow all of the laws of a land does not make us gunmen. The dictionary defines a gunman as a person armed with or expert in the use of a gun, especially one ready to use a gun unlawfully. This could definitely not be us because I can tell you that we hunters are some of the most law abiding group of people you could ever meet. If this makes us gunmen then you are a self righteous quack who is putting yourself above others which Julie we all know you cannot do that. I find it even funnier how you now are putting us down for eating what when kill when heaven knows if we didn’t we would surely never hear the end of that. I’m not sure what type of education you possess but unless you have a doctorate degree or higher in avian biology or any type of biology and work in that career I would not advise you to put down what they are doing. I would be willing to bet that the closest you have ever been to one of these animals was probably looking a few hundred yards away through a pair of binoculars or a camera. We hunters get much closer to it than that and do it in legal ways. Until you have ever legally and ethically harvested game and fully respected it by using it to nourish the body as it was created for then you will never have experienced nature like we have. I do not understand how you can bash us for something 100% legal and 100% ethical. These things can be taken care of so much nicer than to resort in name calling, we are no longer in the third grade.
In using the word “gunmen,” I was referring to the people who deliberately killed the endangered whooping cranes and left them to rot. Perhaps you would agree that that is unlawful. Six now killed of a population of 100. Six percent dead, for what? Fun?
In using the word “gunmen,” I was not referring to you or any law-abiding hunters. If you re-read the post, you will see that I refuse to honor such people with the appellation “hunter.” Shooting whooping cranes is most certainly not 100% legal nor is it 100% ethical. It is vandalism, an obscenity. People who shoot protected birds are gunmen, not hunters. I’d advise you to read the post and absorb its meaning before discharging both barrels. You’re out of line.
The USFW does not overlook any aspect when it comes to a hunting season. With every season comes in depth information on identification. with you being an avid bird watcher you may have picked up a waterfowl hunting guide which shows pictures of waterfowl in different poses and positions. We hunters care about wildlife as much if not more than observers due to the fact that we are constantly trying to improve habitat, breeding grounds, and even overall numbers. Look at organizations such as ducks unlimited, delta waterfowl,national wild turkey federation,quail unlimited, pheasants forever and so on were all founded by hunters. Sure there are a small few who do not follow the laws and that’s with anything just because one person drinks and drives doesn’t mean they are going to remove alcohol completely. Because a select few hunters shot some endangered cranes (maybe it was intentional maybe it was accidental) does that necessarily mean the SANDHILL crane season should be taken away? I am willing to bet that a conservation foundation will be started in a year or so after the season to ensure these birds are held at a constant population. When these seasons are implemented there will be a identification section just like any other animal hunted on how to identify it. If you ask me the USFW is doing a heck of a job to keep the number of whooping cranes that are shot to 1% and when the season is implemented they will be doing even more to ensure they do not get shot I can guarantee that.
Much better tone, thank you, and a good point. A sandhill crane season certainly puts more whooping cranes in gunsights than would ordinarily be in that position. Cranes look like cranes; they don’t look like ducks or geese. White cranes in bad light can look dark, and vice versa, as these photos dramatically show. The incidental kill of whooping cranes is another thing that should seriously be considered in deciding whether having a sandhill crane season is worth it or not. Especially when there seem to be some individuals out now, deliberately gunning for the endangered cranes. Opening season on their lookalikes, the sandhills, only increases the chance that more whooping cranes will die. We only have 400 to play with here, let’s not forget that. Six lost to recreational shooters in 14 months is unacceptable, and deeply disturbing. One of the birds shot was called “Superdad” by researchers, because he was such a good producer. As far as I’m concerned, killing him for fun is like smashing the arms off Michelangelo’s “David.” It’s vandalism, pure and simple. What’s the big press to kill sandhill cranes, anyway?
I do not see how you see it as vandalism I mean I highly doubt they thought”hey there’s one of those endangered cranes let shoot it” highly unlikely. More than likely they mistakes it for something else it happens with any type of hunting. I live in Kentucky and hunt waterfowl deer turkey and so on. I’ve seen cranes out while hunting only a few times and when I did they were sky high and they are so leery there isn’t much to wert about getting them in range. I will be honest when I say that I’m not going to hunt them at all, but I think I’m speaking for all hunters when I say just because a couple people shoot some (probably accidental) there’s no sense in dropping it completely. I guess you will never understand the in sync that we feel with nature web we go guilt unless you try it. Getting up early to go and spend the day doing something that’s been done for thousands of years, having them talk back to you when they react to your calls, and then if your lucky being able to feed your family off a days hard work in the field and giving that animal the proper respect. What people do not realize is that for every dollar we spend on hunting these we spend twice that in conserving them. The money out of our licenses and permits pay for the game wardens who uphold the laws, our federal duck stamps go into money to restore habitat, and then the majority of us even go so far as to donate money to special orginaztions I myself am a member of ducks unlimited. What I’m getting at I there is no need to ruin this feeling for everyone who might want to hunt cranes I can guarantee you that the numbers will not deplete them. I highly doubt three states with a crane season is goin to kill all 400 out being as kentuckys season only allows 400 to be harvested.
The incidental and accidental killing of whooping cranes has been considered by USFWS biologists. They have weighed the possibility and probabilties and the potential outcomes. Despite the possibility that the two crane species can be confused in less than ideal and extraneous circumstances the biolgists and the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway Councils have blessed the season.
This is no different than being able to properly and positively being able to identify not only different species of ducks on the wing but being able to differentiate between species and sexes within the species. I pride myself on being able to properly identify any bird that I pull the trigger on. If I am unable to possitively identify the species and sex of the bird I do not even think of pulling the trigger. There is a very fine line between being able to distinguish a hen mallard or hen gadwall on the wing. I would suspect that even very accomplished birders would struggle in low light with the bird on the move filtering down through the timber.
This is why the Commonwealth of Kentucky and KYDFWR has mandated that all permit holders in the Sandhill season will have to take and pass an identification test. Hunters are out in front of this issue taking a proactive role in not only funding the habitat that cranes use throughout the year and throughout their life cycles (as I spoke of in the now interestingly dead comments section in the other article) but in the fact that we very stringently police our own in an effort to protect and preserve the resource.
A hunting season breeds interest among sportsmen. Interest breeds appreciation. Appreciation breeds conservation. Conservation takes money. And hunters supply more money to the resource than any other group can muster.
The big press is that now, through the efforts of sportsmen funded conservation, Sandhills of the eastern population have thrived to the point that they can now be hunted yet again. They are, and have always been, a game bird. Historically they have been hunted because they are excellent table-fare. It is not merely to kill them. That is a very short sided statement indicative of your lack of knowledge and understanding as to why sportsmen hunt. I could educate you in writing but prose, even in its grandest most eloquent form, cannot fully encompass the reasons and emotions that are tied to the hunt. It is a task better suited to experience to appreciate.
It is important to draw a line between hunters, conservationists who fully follow and abide by laws and regulations and give back many times over to sustain the resources they use, and indiscriminate killing outside of the law and seasons. Those who did that are not hunters. They are jack wagons with a gun. They are irresponsible and irreverant to what they killed. Very much unlike every hunter I know. Lumping conservation minded stewards of resources with those law-breakers is akin to lumping birders with eco-terrorists. While the connection can be made by those unwilling to examine the facts, the groups comparisons show them to be worlds apart in method and motive.
Julie and others, I can assure you that this season is not something that the decision makers are entering into lightly. There is a huge responsibility tied to the priviledge of hunting these great birds. One that hunters are fully aware of and willing to take on, as they have with any other animal that we take.
I support the KDFWR and their SACR hunt proposal 100%.
Please read the KDFWR’s proposal and see that they have addressed all of your issues. The season will begin in mid-December and continue for 30 consecutive days through mid-January. This is a period when birds are beginning to stage at Barren River Lake Wildlife Management Area, one of the state’s two major concentration areas. In addition, the proposed season’s timing was selected because it is approximately 3 weeks later than the period when whooping cranes are migrating through the state, reducing the probability of hunters encountering any whooping cranes.
I’ll put my support behind the professional biologists and NOT the Artists, Photograhers, Writers, birdwatcher, etc that formulate their opinion solely on emotions rather than science and the fact the SACR populations are game species and their numbers indicate a hunting season will not harm the resource.
Kentucky’s Sandhill Crane Hunting Proposal
Kentucky is proposing a limited Sandhill Crane hunting season that will not have a detrimental impact on the overall population. Some people have asked questions about Sandhill Cranes and a possible hunting season for them in Kentucky.
Q – Why is KDFWR proposing a hunting season on Sandhill Cranes?
A – Populations of sandhill cranes which migrate through Kentucky have greatly expanded in recent years. Sportsmen who have hunted cranes in other states have requested that KDFWR consider having a season on the cranes. In 2010, the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway Councils finished a management plan for this population of sandhill cranes. This plan was developed, over a period of years, with the input of more than 50 scientists/biologists familiar with sandhill cranes. The plan has a provision which allows states to have a limited hunting season. It is the opinion of these scientists that sandhill cranes can be harvested without negatively impacting the population. Once the plan was in place, KDFWR began considering the feasibility of a hunting season in Kentucky. KDFWR believes that it is important to provide hunting opportunity whenever it can be done in a manner that does not harm the population of the hunted species.
Q – I’ve never seen a Sandhill Crane in Kentucky. When are they here?
A – Sandhill cranes migrate through Kentucky on their way to wintering areas in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. The southward movement of these birds generally occurs from mid-November thru early December. The pathway of this migration is mostly through the middle 1/3 of Kentucky but more and more birds are being seen in the eastern part of Kentucky during this migration period. In mid to late December, sandhill cranes begin moving northward and will stop for extended periods in south central Kentucky. The numbers depend on weather conditions, but there may be several thousand to more than 20,000 cranes in an area of Kentucky from mid-December until early March.
Q – Are Sandhill Cranes hunted in other states?
A – Yes, they already are a game species in North America. The 2011-2012 hunting season marks the 50th year in modern times that sandhill cranes have been hunted in the United States. Thousands of hunters annually pursue sandhill cranes in 13 states in the United States (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Minnesota), 3 Canadian Provinces and in Mexico. People who hunt cranes enjoy the extreme challenge these wary birds provide. They are hunted in fields over decoys in a manner similar to Canada geese. Their meat is excellent table fare, prized by many as the best of all migratory game birds.
Q – Will the hunting of Sandhill Cranes negatively impact those whose simply enjoy watching or photographing them?
A – No. KDFWR carefully considered the impact of hunting on the viewing of cranes before considering a season. The season in Kentucky would be closed before the largest groups traditionally arrive in Kentucky and well before the Crane Weekends held at Barren River State Park. Sandhill cranes are a naturally wary species and thus do not allow a close approach. For most viewers, the spectacle of sandhill cranes is in seeing the large concentrations of birds. This spectacle will remain a natural treasure in Kentucky whether the birds are hunted or not. Currently, at least five states which have hunting seasons for cranes have successful “Crane Festivals” as well.
Q – Aren’t Sandhill Cranes considered to be a threatened or endangered species?
A – No. Sandhill Cranes are not threatened or endangered. In fact, Sandhill Cranes are the most abundant crane species in the world. The continental population is estimated to be at least 600,000 birds.
Q – Endangered Whooping Cranes sometimes join flocks of Sandhill Cranes. Will the typical hunter mistakenly shoot these protected birds?
A – Hunters today legally harvest thousands of sandhill cranes in the Pacific and Central Flyways without harming whooping cranes. Whooping cranes are bright white with black wingtips and stand out among the darker, gray-colored Sandhill cranes. Hunters pursuing migratory game birds are exceptionally skilled at identifying different species and have proven in other states with sandhill crane seasons that they are not likely to make an identification mistake. KDFWR has timed the proposed season to occur after most whooping cranes have moved through Kentucky. Hunting will start at sunrise (not the traditional ½ hour before sunrise) to ensure good visibility under all weather conditions.
Q – How is it possible to predict a hunting season length that will ensure that hunters will not exceed the management plan’s cap?
A – Successful applicants in the permit lottery process will be required to report their harvest daily through the Department’s already proven Game Tele-Check System. If the total harvest approaches the cap, the season will end immediately and notice will be provided to hunters.
Q – Were Sandhill Crane populations in Kentucky adequately studied prior to recommending a hunting season be established?
A – Wildlife biologists have studied the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes extensively. We have conducted surveys of population size, studied movements and survival through banding and satellite telemetry, studied nesting success, and many more parts of the life history of cranes. Many of these research projects continue to be underway and new projects continually are being developed. As scientists and wildlife managers, we always strive to increase our knowledge of species which fall under our protection. Protections and management based on this science and provided by State, Provincial, and Federal Wildlife Agencies have been critical to the recovery of this species. Under this scientific management, the eastern population’s numbers have grown more than 300% over the past three decades. As the amount of scientific knowledge increases, seasons will be adjusted, if necessary, to ensure the best protection of the species. This is a normal part of managing any species.
Q – How does establishing a Sandhill Crane hunting season benefit the species?
A – Since the advent of regulated hunting and scientific management practices, game species have prospered. Kentucky sportsmen and sportswomen who buy licenses pay, through permit fees and federal excise taxes on their shooting and hunting equipment, about $50 million a year toward conservation. Elevating sandhill cranes to game status allows and mandates fish and wildlife professionals to devote more of these resources to conservation of the species, and these conservation and wildlife habitat improvements benefit nongame species too.
Q- Are we definitely going to have a Sandhill Crane season in Kentucky?
A- No. The Department is in the process of considering the implementation of a hunting season on cranes. The Kentucky Crane Hunting Plan still has to be approved by the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway Councils and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The plan will also have to be approved by the KDFWR Commission. KDFWR welcomes the comments of any citizen with interest in the proposed season.
Q – Is the opposition to this proposed season generally anti-hunting? And will this infringe on my choice to hunt game in Kentucky?
A – While we welcome discussion and comment on the scientific basis for the proposed sandhill crane season, some recent comments indicate a moral opposition to this proposal. Some groups are simply opposed to hunting any game species and see this as a chance to impose their beliefs on the sportsmen and women of Kentucky. The mission of this department is to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife resources and provide opportunities for hunting. We will continue to do so, provided the best available science indicates that there will not be a negative impact on the population. Our proposal has been through rigorous scientific scrutiny, and as we move forward, we hope that further discussion is based on the merits of the proposal and not on a moral opposition to hunting.
Q: What is the process for this proposal to become a regulation?
A: There is a state process and a federal process for a crane season to be initiated or considered. These two processes both provide opportunity for public input. Public input is reviewed and considered prior to final decisions being made on state and federal regulations. Each of these regulatory processes can be suspended or stopped for several reasons, but usually due to public input and/or lack of adequate biological information. Click on the following link to access the regulation flow charts: State and Federal Regulation Process
PLEASE READ: I know some hunters who have changed their shooting from guns to photography. I am very much a bird lover and do lots of work with rehabilitation and release. Being honest, while I don’t like hunting, I can understand that it will never go away and why it occurs. I would be for combining these two “hobbies/sports” via cautiously monitoring the hunting of more abundant populations while at the same time challenging hunters to photograph and enjoy protected and endangered species.