Crane hunt begins amid ill will

On Saturday, Kentucky becomes the first state east of the Mississippi to allow the hunting of sandhill cranes since the magnificent migratory bird was hunted almost to extinction in the early 20th century.

The Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources generated public outrage and massive ill will for itself by promoting this hunt.

It did not generate a lot of interest among hunters.

The department, which plans to allow 400 sandhill cranes to be killed between Saturday and Jan. 15, has issued permits to 332 people, according to a Dec. 9 press release.

Compare that with the 35,359 hunters who filed 61,500 applications for 800 elk permits. You have to conclude there is not a great desire among the sporting community to hunt sandhill cranes, perhaps because hunting sandhill cranes does not seem very sporting.

The KDFWR has done lasting good across the state by preserving, restoring and creating wildlife habitat and natural areas — for species that are hunted and those that are not. The agency employs a staff of biologists, and they assure us that the sandhill crane hunt will catch birds flying south and will be over in time for the larger northward migration that makes for great bird-watching around Barren River Lake in February.

The agency's leaders and the Fish and Wildlife Commission should ask themselves, nonetheless, whether the sandhill crane hunt was a wise decision.

The number of hunters who support the Fish and Wildlife budget with their license fees is in decline, while the number of people who watch wildlife for recreation is rising. Alienating this large body of potential supporters, so a few hundred people can shoot at sandhill cranes, is not in Fish and Wildlife's long-term interests.

A KDFWR press release says "Sandhill Crane Season Will Be A Learning Experience For Kentucky Hunters."

Let's hope it's also been a learning experience for the rule makers.