At issue | Various commentary and letters critical of hunting sandhill cranes
This commentary was distributed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
The eastern population of sandhill cranes migrates through and winters in portions of Kentucky. Sandhill cranes are the most abundant crane species on the planet, with more than 700,000 spending part of their year in North America. The eastern population is the world's second-largest, numbering between 60,000 and 100,000 birds. Peak counts in Kentucky approach 20,000 cranes in the Barren River Lake area.
Sandhill cranes are classified as a game species by Congress under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. They are hunted in 13 other states, three Canadian provinces and Mexico. The midcontinent population of sandhill cranes, which occurs in the central United States, Canada and Mexico, has been hunted for 50 years. Two other populations of sandhill cranes are also hunted in the U.S. All of these hunted populations continue to increase.
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Hunters prize the opportunity to pursue sandhill cranes for the excellent table fare and the challenging hunt they provide. They are hunted in fields over decoys very similar to the way hunters pursue Canada geese. This increasingly visible population of sandhill cranes prompted sportsmen and sportswomen in the eastern United States and Kentucky to request a crane hunting opportunity here.
A management plan must first be in place and approved by the Flyway Councils, cooperative management bodies consisting of state, federal, provincial and university biologists. A plan, which examines all aspects of the life history of a population, was developed with the input and review of more than 50 professional wildlife biologists in the U.S. and Canada.
The Eastern Population Crane Management Plan, which would allow for limited hunting in the eastern United States and Canada, was approved July 2010. It took more than 10 years of careful work to develop, and it ensures hunting will not have a negative effect on the population.
Once the plan was in place, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife personnel began the careful process of considering if a season would be appropriate in the commonwealth. Biologists dedicate their lives to wildlife conservation and will not support a plan they believe might pose a threat to the cranes or any other wildlife species.
This proposed season is structured to minimize impact to bird and nature watchers, as well. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife considers bird and nature watchers important members of the conservation community. Department employees have kept the Kentucky Ornithological Society and other birding groups informed of the status of the management plan's development. Bird watching and hunting are not mutually exclusive. Kentucky hunters and bird watchers already pursue such migratory bird species as ducks, geese and mourning doves with little or no impact to each other's groups.
As an agency of professional biologists, we have carefully considered if hunting a sandhill crane is somehow different than hunting a mourning dove, a wood duck or a wild turkey. We believe there is no difference.
The eastern population of sandhill cranes can sustain limited hunting. Cranes have been hunted in the United States for 50 years, and flock numbers in all of the hunted populations are at all-time highs. The interest in the species generated by the hunters pursuing these birds has been instrumental in the successful management of this species.
Hunters have paid the bills for many decades to build the eastern population of sandhill cranes to its current record numbers. Hunters now are requesting the opportunity to pursue a limited number of these birds. The hunters have a valid point. And the biology supports them.