October 18, 2011

Ky. calls open season on the sandhill crane

Three endangered cranes migrate with a flock of sandhills

By Nathan Gardner–

Several dining room tables in Kentucky won’t feature the traditional turkey for the holiday feast this year, but instead will serve a tasty sandhill crane. On Oct. 11, state legislators passed a regulation to allow the hunting of sandhill cranes in the Commonwealth. Kentucky will be the first state east of the Mississippi River to allow the hunt and it will be the first time it has been legal in the state in over a century.

Although this act seems progressive, this isn’t the type of progression in which one should take pride. There is no clear reason or purpose for hunting these birds. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources states that hunters have paid bills to build the sandhill crane population back up, which was near extinction in the 1900s due to overhunting. Now, they think they have the right to kill some of these birds.

Currently, Kentucky hunters have the right to hunt deer, elk, bear, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, duck, geese and 27 other game animals. I didn’t realize hunters were so deprived; of course it makes sense to allow crane hunting as well.

One of the biggest concerns with the hunt is a danger of accidentally shooting the endangered whooping crane. The ‘Whooper’ looks similar to the sandhill and has a wild population of only about 400 in the world, and about 100 in the eastern U.S.

Wildlife officials assure us that the hunt of 400 birds will have no effect on the sandhill crane population, which is conservatively estimated at 60,000 birds in the eastern U.S. population. If all 400 birds are harvested, that will represent 0.67 percent of the eastern population. But if only one whooping crane is accidentally shot, it will diminish about one percent of the endangered bird’s eastern population and have a greater impact on the whoopers than on the originally intended species. The KDFWR will require a bird identification test before possessing the crane permit, but incidences of whooping crane killings have occurred in the past, one of which involved three whooping cranes being shot in Kansas on opening day of crane season in 2004.

Mark Nethery, president of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen, said, “Sandhill cranes are not endangered. They are the most populous crane species in the world,” however, the rarest species of crane in the world happens to commonly migrate with the sandhills. At a population of 700,000 sandhill cranes worldwide, Nethery is correct, but under that logic, we could kill nearly 3.5 million humans with no ill effects. That’s the entire state of Connecticut.

If population control isn’t the objective, it may be about raising money. The prices for the crane permits have yet to be released. But with all the vanity Kentucky license plates I see, such as the ones that say, “Nature’s Finest,” I would almost bet a special “Save the Sandhills” plate would generate as much if not more revenue than the hunting permits. This is especially true because of the amount of opposition and controversy brought on by the recent proceedings.

I’ve been proud to hail from the Bluegrass State my entire life, but this is embarrassing. This is justification for the rest of the country to call us the rednecks as which we are sometimes stereotyped. There is no obvious reason for hunting these birds. It only boils down to Bubba and Skeeter wanting the chance to run around in their overalls and fire their shotguns at something new.

So if you plan on going out to view or photograph these gorgeous birds this fall, as I do, be sure to wear bright orange so you don’t get shot, or simply travel north to Indiana where it will be a safe haven for both you and the sandhills.

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Photos: Nathan Gardener/The Louisville Cardinal

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