Monday, November 22, 2010

Kentucky Sandhill Crane Season

It is that time of year again when Sandhill Cranes begin to fly over Kentucky on their migration south. The birds announce their passing with a loud trumpeting call that is endearing to many. Sandhill migration is a tradition with birders much like spring and fall migration or the arrival of ducks in winter. It is an opportunity to see really cool birds that do not breed or overwinter in our area as they pass through for a short time twice each year. It also gives birders the opportunity to see a Whooping Crane which are often mixed in with the Sandhills, an opportunity I had around this time last year.

Unfortunately, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife has recently decided to open a Sandhill Crane season in the state in 2011. The bird is apparently tasty, having earned the nickname "Ribeye of the Sky". And while I am usually very sympathetic to hunters and their rights, I see a problem with an open season on Sandhill Cranes, and I am not the only one. A new group call KY Coalition for Sandhill Cranes has been created to give a voice to those whom wish to see the Sandhills keep their protected status. There will be no public comment on the issue before a decision will be made as to the rules and regulations of the proposed season. That means certain stakeholders that "use" the wildlife in a non-consumptive fashion will not be allowed to have their say regarding the issue before a final decision is made. Please consider joining the KY Coalition For Sandhill Cranes if you too would like to oppose the creation of a Sandhill Crane season in Kentucky.

Sandhill Cranes
A flock of Sandhill Cranes flying over the landfill on December 11, 2009

There are a some problems with the proposed season other than offending the sensibilities of a few birders. First and foremost is the fact that Whooping Cranes and Sandhill Cranes migrate together. Historically the birds migrated together before Whooping Cranes populations took a big hit. Knowing this fact, when Whooping Cranes were reintroduced to the wild they were purposefully imprinted on Sandhill Cranes so the two species would migrate together. Millions of dollars have been spent on captive breeding of Whooping Cranes and their reintroduction to the wild. With the eastern population standing at 96 birds, it would be a big blow if just one was accidentally killed. That represents thousands of dollars that went into caring for that bird. A second issue with the season is that these birds do not breed or winter here, merely passing through. That means the birds killed in KY also belong to every other state that Sandhill Cranes migrate though. Essentially, a season here would damage the viewing pleasure of our neighbors to the north in Indiana and other states that do not have a season.

I love birds but I also respect people's rights to shoot them as well. I have no problem with dove and duck hunting, as they are well organized and thoughtful limits are put in place. But the way KYDFW wishes to proceed without public input is not the way to go. I don't have any legitimate argument with the season other than what I mentioned above. Sandhill populations are large as such that they could probably withstand light hunting pressure and not many hunters would pursue the bird. But I still feel legitimate in saying that I wish the birds not to be hunted because I just don't think they should be. Why should that argument be any different than those who seek to hunt them just because they want to? It feels like the state is chasing dollars because they are in a budget crunch and are willing to put things on the table that they were not before. I see the proposed season as useless and arbitrary as a Black Bear or Woodcock season. It really serves no purpose other than to serve a small constituency that wish to see it happen. When in reality the opposing constituency is probably even larger in number but lacking in a orchestrated voice. That is why I encourage you to join KY Coalition for Sandhill Cranes in their effort to make those heard that are against the proposed season. *Steps off soapbox*


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