Kentucky's Sandhill Crane Hunting Proposal
Kentucky is proposing a
limited Sandhill Crane hunting season that will not have a detrimental impact on
the overall population. Some people have asked questions about Sandhill Cranes
and a possible hunting season for them in Kentucky.
Q – Why is KDFWR proposing a hunting season on Sandhill Cranes?
A – Populations of sandhill cranes which migrate through
Kentucky have greatly expanded in recent years. Sportsmen who have hunted
cranes in other states have requested that KDFWR consider having a season on the
cranes. In 2010, the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway Councils finished a
management plan for this population of sandhill cranes. This plan was
developed, over a period of years, with the input of more than 50
scientists/biologists familiar with sandhill cranes. The plan has a provision
which allows states to have a limited hunting season. It is the opinion of
these scientists that sandhill cranes can be harvested without negatively
impacting the population. Once the plan was in place, KDFWR began considering
the feasibility of a hunting season in Kentucky. KDFWR believes that it is
important to provide hunting opportunity whenever it can be done in a manner
that does not harm the population of the hunted species.
Q – I’ve never seen a Sandhill Crane in Kentucky. When
are they here?
A – Sandhill cranes migrate through Kentucky on their way
to wintering areas in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. The southward movement of
these birds generally occurs from mid-November thru early December. The pathway
of this migration is mostly through the middle 1/3 of Kentucky but more and more
birds are being seen in the eastern part of Kentucky during this migration
period. In mid to late December, sandhill cranes begin moving northward and
will stop for extended periods in south central Kentucky. The numbers depend on
weather conditions, but there may be several thousand to more than 20,000 cranes
in an area of Kentucky from mid-December until early March.
Q – Are Sandhill Cranes hunted in other states?
A – Yes, they already are a game species in North
America. The 2011-2012 hunting season marks the 50th year in modern
times that sandhill cranes have been hunted in the United States. Thousands of
hunters annually pursue sandhill cranes in 13 states in the United States
(Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma,
South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Minnesota), 3 Canadian Provinces and in
Mexico. People who hunt cranes enjoy the extreme challenge these wary birds
provide. They are hunted in fields over decoys in a manner similar to Canada
geese. Their meat is excellent table fare, prized by many as the best of all
migratory game birds.
Q – Will the hunting of Sandhill Cranes negatively
impact those whose simply enjoy watching or photographing them?
A – No. KDFWR carefully considered the impact of
hunting on the viewing of cranes before considering a season. The season in
Kentucky would be closed before the largest groups traditionally arrive in
Kentucky and well before the Crane Weekends held at Barren River State Park.
Sandhill cranes are a naturally wary species and thus do not allow a close
approach. For most viewers, the spectacle of sandhill cranes is in seeing the
large concentrations of birds. This spectacle will remain a natural treasure in
Kentucky whether the birds are hunted or not. Currently, at least five states
which have hunting seasons for cranes have successful “Crane Festivals” as well.
Q – Aren’t Sandhill Cranes considered to be a threatened
or endangered species?
A – No. Sandhill Cranes are not threatened or
endangered. In fact, Sandhill Cranes are the most abundant crane species in the
world. The continental population is estimated to be at least 600,000 birds.
Q – Endangered Whooping Cranes sometimes join flocks of
Sandhill Cranes. Will the typical hunter mistakenly shoot these protected birds?
A – Hunters today legally harvest thousands of sandhill
cranes in the Pacific and Central Flyways without harming whooping cranes.
Whooping cranes are bright white with black wingtips and stand out among the
darker, gray-colored Sandhill cranes. Hunters pursuing migratory game birds are
exceptionally skilled at identifying different species and have proven in other
states with sandhill crane seasons that they are not likely to make an
identification mistake. KDFWR has timed the proposed season to occur after most
whooping cranes have moved through Kentucky. Hunting will start at sunrise (not
the traditional ½ hour before sunrise) to ensure good visibility under all
Q – How is it possible to predict a hunting season
length that will ensure that hunters will not exceed the management plan’s cap?
A – Successful applicants in the permit lottery process
will be required to report their harvest daily through the Department’s already
proven Game Tele-Check System. If the total harvest approaches the cap, the
season will end immediately and notice will be provided to hunters.
Q – Were Sandhill Crane populations in Kentucky
adequately studied prior to recommending a hunting season be established?
A – Wildlife biologists have studied the Eastern
Population of Sandhill Cranes extensively. We have conducted surveys of
population size, studied movements and survival through banding and satellite
telemetry, studied nesting success, and many more parts of the life history of
cranes. Many of these research projects continue to be underway and new
projects continually are being developed. As scientists and wildlife managers,
we always strive to increase our knowledge of species which fall under our
protection. Protections and management based on this science and provided by
State, Provincial, and Federal Wildlife Agencies have been critical to the
recovery of this species. Under this scientific management, the eastern
population’s numbers have grown more than 300% over the past three decades. As
the amount of scientific knowledge increases, seasons will be adjusted, if
necessary, to ensure the best protection of the species. This is a normal part
of managing any species.
Q - How does establishing a Sandhill Crane hunting
season benefit the species?
A – Since the advent of regulated hunting and scientific
management practices, game species have prospered. Kentucky sportsmen and
sportswomen who buy licenses pay, through permit fees and federal excise taxes
on their shooting and hunting equipment, about $50 million a year toward
conservation. Elevating sandhill cranes to game status allows and mandates fish
and wildlife professionals to devote more of these resources to conservation of
the species, and these conservation and wildlife habitat improvements benefit
nongame species too.
Q- Are we definitely going
to have a Sandhill Crane season in Kentucky?
A- No. The Department is in
the process of considering the implementation of a hunting season on cranes.
The Kentucky Crane Hunting Plan still has to be approved by the Mississippi and
Atlantic Flyway Councils and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The plan
will also have to be approved by the KDFWR Commission. KDFWR welcomes the
comments of any citizen with interest in the proposed season.
Q - Is the opposition to this proposed season generally anti-hunting? And will
this infringe on my choice to hunt game in Kentucky?
A – While we welcome
discussion and comment on the scientific basis for the proposed sandhill crane
season, some recent comments indicate a moral opposition to this proposal. Some
groups are simply opposed to hunting any game species and see this as a chance
to impose their beliefs on the sportsmen and women of Kentucky. The mission of
this department is to conserve and enhance fish and
wildlife resources and provide opportunities for hunting. We will continue
to do so, provided the best available science indicates that there will not be a
negative impact on the population. Our proposal has been through rigorous
scientific scrutiny, and as we move forward, we hope that further discussion is
based on the merits of the proposal and not on a moral opposition to hunting.
Q: What is the process for this proposal to become a regulation?
A: There is a state process and a federal process
for a crane season to be initiated or considered. These two processes both
provide opportunity for public input. Public input is reviewed and
considered prior to final decisions being made on state and federal
regulations. Each of these regulatory processes can be suspended or stopped
for several reasons, but usually due to public input and/or lack of adequate
biological information. Click on the following link to access the
regulation flow charts: State
and Federal Regulation Process
Q: Would people who hunt sandhill cranes eat the birds they
harvest? I’ve heard they are not good to eat and I would not support
hunting something people do not eat.
A: Sandhill cranes are considered to be one of
the best tasting of all migratory birds. Their slow wing beat keeps the
breast meat from being as dark and strong flavored as many other
migratory birds. Hunters frequently refer to them as “Rib-eye in the
Sky” due to the excellent taste. They are extremely wary birds and
generally very difficult to harvest. They are decoyed in fields similar
to a Canada goose, only substantially more challenging. Those people
who hunt them have a passion for the challenge they provide and the fine
meal they will enjoy afterward.