Ky. overlooking eco-tourism of crane watching, not hunting

Kentucky's lack of vision will cost the state and local communities valuable financial assets by allowing the hunting and killing of sandhill cranes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation shows that "wildlife-associated activities" in Kentucky far exceed participation in hunting and fishing. The greater economic benefit to Kentucky is from "associated" activities, like bird watching, hiking, photography, etc., commonly called "eco-tourism."

An estimated 30,000 people come to a wildlife area outside Jasper, Ind., each year just to watch sandhill cranes; 15,000 flock each spring to the Rowe Sanctuary in Kearney, Neb., pumping $10 million annually into the town's economy. About 9,000 crane watchers pour into tiny Socorro, N.M., each November for the Festival of the Cranes. Tennessee's Wildlife Resources Agency has Hiwassee Crane Viewing Days to "celebrate the rich Native American and wildlife heritage."

And all Kentucky officials can promote is killing cranes? Really?

Statistics from Tennessee (which dropped a proposal to kill cranes) show an 81 percent increase in wildlife watchers over the past decade, while hunters declined 25 percent. Tennessee decided that hunting sandhill cranes would send a "confusing message" to the public and possibly damage support for the agency.

Kentucky officials should be encouraging the support of wildlife watchers.

Everywhere cranes gather, people come to watch them. Promoting a hunt on a species like the sandhill crane at a time when wildlife watching is exploding and hunting is declining is an odd and divisive action for Kentucky to take.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources states it received more than 2,000 comments in support of crane hunting. The federal wildlife service reports Kentucky has 820,000 licensed hunters and anglers, so a tiny fraction is driving the effort to kill 400 cranes annually. The wildlife service also reports Kentucky has 1.5 million wildlife watchers.

Kentucky should do more to encourage interests in wildlife conservation and "exploit" the cranes without killing them.

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission votes June 3 on the crane hunting. The killing will start this December, unless the public can turn the tide.

There is still time to contact the commission and other government officials. Visit KY Coalition for Sandhill Cranes online to learn how you can help protect the cranes.