Herald-Leader Editorial

Sandhill crane hunt not worth bad image

No strong interest in the second year

December 21, 2012 


Sandhill cranes fed in an old cornfield in February 2012 along their winter migration route in Cecilia, in Hardin County.


Kentucky's second sandhill crane hunting season is underway and, like last year's inaugural hunt, it seems to be pretty much of a bust.

Like last year, only 332 people applied to be in the lottery for the 400 hunting permits allocated.

Last year a total of 50 of the huge migratory cranes were killed even though the new regulations allowed for up to 400.

The season began on Dec. 15 this year and by the end of the day on the 19th, 29 sandhills had been harvested, to use the euphemism preferred by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, compared to 26 after the first four days last year.

We did not agree with the department's decision to have a three-year experimental season allowing hunting of these birds. While the department argued, correctly, that the population is not endangered, it didn't successfully make the case that there's a need to reduce it by hunting.

Regardless, the numbers we're seeing in these first two years don't suggest that hunting promises to be an effective tool if overpopulation became an issue.

So, that leaves us with a hunting season that's not bagging many humans or birds.

What it has attracted, though, is a huge volume of negative sentiment and publicity from people who like to watch birds in general and these birds in particular.

Sandhills are beautiful birds, standing as tall as 5 feet with wingspans that can reach 6 feet or more. They have a distinctive red forehead. They can live up to 20 years and remain in stable pairs to raise their young.

Those pairs engage in what's known as unison calling, in which they stand together and sing out a set of coordinated calls.

The pairs also engage in dances, for mating and not, in which they swirl and often rise off the ground. No wonder people travel hundreds, sometime thousands of miles to see them.

It is well established that bird-watchers far outnumber, and outspend, bird hunters. If one goal of the department is to increase the number of people who come to Kentucky to enjoy our wildlife resources, then it would be wise to let this experiment quietly end after next year's season.

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