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The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has come out in favor of limited hunting of the eastern population of the sandhill crane, which can be spotted in many areas of the county during migration through parts of Kentucky.
John Brunjes, migratory bird biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, wrote an article in support of limited hunting in response to opinion pieces opposing a proposal before the department that would allow limited harvest of the birds.
“As an agency of professional biologists, we have carefully considered if hunting a sandhill crane is somehow different than hunting a mourning dove, a wood duck or a wild turkey,” he said. “We believe there is no difference.”
Brunjes said sandhill cranes are the most abundant crane species on the planet, with more than 700,000 spending part of the year in North America. The eastern population is the world’s second largest sandhill crane population, numbering between 60,000 and 100,000 birds, he said.
Those numbers, game meat and the challenge have caused Kentucky hunters to request hunting rights available in 13 other states, Brunjes said.
Department spokesman Mark Marraccini agreed, saying the hunting would call for harvesting of about 400 birds each year out of the vast population.
Marraccini said that species populations need to be controlled at some point, and that has happened in some states in some regard to sandhill cranes. He doesn’t think it has happened in Kentucky.
Marraccini said the department operates on fees collected from hunters and fishers, not state general fund money. The department’s mission is to manage wildlife populations and promote hunting and fishing opportunities, he said.
Hunters’ and fishers’ fees also go toward protecting non-game animals, and they should be allowed to hunt animals that have numbers enough to not be harmed by it, Marraccini said.
David Kuhn, sergeant for the department in Hardin County and four other counties, said biologists have determined that limited hunting wouldn’t hurt the population, and he has reason to believe that.
“Patrolling the county, there’s times of the year that there are more sandhill cranes than there are Canadian geese,” he said. “I think this would be a great opportunity for sportsman.”
Kuhn said he hasn’t talked to local residents who have expressed concern about the possible hunting of sandhill cranes, but he’s sure that there are locals who oppose it.
Residents can call the department at 1-800-858-1549 with questions and comments.
Allowing a hunting season requires creating a management plan approved by the Flyway Councils, cooperative management bodies consisting of state, federal, provincial and university biologists.
The plan would have no overall impact on Kentucky’s sandhill crane eastern population, have as small an impact on nature watching as possible, protect the experimental population of the eastern population of whooping cranes and provide crane hunting opportunities, Brunjes said.
The eastern population crane management plan, which would allow for a limited hunting opportunity in the eastern United States and Canada, was approved by the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway Councils in July 2010.
Before approving any management plan or hunting season, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife personnel would consider whether limited hunting would be good for the state.
The eastern population of sandhill cranes have been hunted in the U.S. for 50 years and still have flock numbers at historic highs that can support limited hunting, Brunjes said.
“Hunters have paid the bills for many decades to build the eastern population of sandhill cranes to its current record numbers,” he said. “Hunters now are requesting the opportunity to pursue a limited number of these birds. The hunters have a valid point. And the biology supports them.”