“Next steps” after third-year Sandhill Crane experimental season ends?
On Feb. 1, 2013, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) Wildlife Committee received a staff update on the 2012-2013 Sandhill Crane (SACR) hunting season, the second season of a 3-year experiment.
On February 6 the following “next steps?” questions were sent to Commissioner Dr. Jon Gassett and all the Wildlife Committee members. The purpose of this being a continued effort to get answers to share with and involve the public in the discussion of what happens after the 2013-2014 (third year) experimental season ends?
- What scientific methodology and criteria will be used for evaluating and documenting KDFWR’s 3-year experimental hunting season of the Eastern Population of the Sandhill Crane?
- What measures are being taken to monitor and protect endangered Whooping Cranes that migrate with the Sandhill Cranes during hunting season?
- How will information from KDFWR’s study, “Monitoring Migrating and Wintering Sandhill Cranes in Cecilia” (Erin Harper, KDFWR Research Highlights 2011) be incorporated in the policy decision on the 3-year experimental hunt? Study completion date is June 30, 2013.
- How will the information and decision-making be shared with the public?
- Which governmental bodies will be involved in the rule-making process to continue the hunt?
- What will be the timeframe for the public comment period about the 3-year experimental hunt:
- a) at the Flyway Commissions level relating to the 2010 Management Plant for the Eastern Population of the Sandhill Cranes;
- b) at KDFWR at the Committee and Commission levels;
- c) before the Kentucky Legislative Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee; and
- d) in the Federal Register?
Rocky Pritchert, KDFWR Manager of the Migratory Bird Branch, addressed the submitted questions. In a nutshell, the state and federal process/timeline to move from an experimental three-year SACR season to a permanent season here in Kentucky is the same as was followed in 2010 when KDFWR pushed to start a Sandhill season.
It appears the key time for public input is at the February/March Flyways Council meetings (information for submitting comments will be posted as soon as available) before everything is signed off on and a done deal – making review by subsequent committees seemingly just a formality.
“At the flyway level, the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyway Councils Technical Section’s Webless Migratory Bird Committees review the Kentucky season each February, as set forth by the EP Management Plan [Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes]. Comments regarding the management plan and Kentucky’s season would be considered during these meetings. Recommendations involving the EP Plan and Kentucky’s hunting season will be reviewed by the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways Councils in March of each year. Flyway council meetings are open to the public. Comments addressing specific issues can be presented in person at the flyway council meeting or in writing by submission to the presiding council chairman.” - Response to question 6a
To read KDFWR’s response in its entirety and review the 2010 EP Management Plan click here: KDFWR response to SACR season next step questions
Aransas-Wood Population of Whooping Cranes threatened by North Dakota Wind Project
Seventy-six groups led by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), one of the nation’s leading bird conservation organizations, have called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the possible consequences of the proposed North Dakota, Merricourt Wind Project to the endangered Whooping Crane. FWS is considering issuing the first-ever Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to a wind farm for the killing of endangered Whooping Cranes and threatened Piping Plovers.
The project proposes to build approximately 100 turbines and 33 miles of access roads within a 22,400-acre area. Wetland stopover habitat is located in the project area and used during both spring and fall migration by all of the highly endangered Aransas-Wood Buffalo population of Whooping Cranes. FWS has already stated that the “mortality of any birds in such a small population also represents a loss of genetic material and represents a setback for recovery efforts.” Because of a recent change in the methodology of counting the cranes in this population, DOI does not even know with any degree of certainty, how many of these Whooping Cranes are actually left. Read the entire story here.
Kentucky Wetland Restoration Attracts Endangered Cranes
For those of us in Kentucky who are having a hard time understanding how a Sandhill Crane season and the well-being of the eastern migratory population of Whooping Cranes can possibly work together, the following is a thin ray of light in a dark landscape.
A wetland restoration project completed by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on nearly 900 acres of former cropland in western Kentucky has attracted a pair of Whooping Cranes! According to the USDA post, the cranes have been on the conservation easement since December 2012. Kudos to the work done by NRCS to restore the bottomland hardwood wetlands into a haven for migratory wildlife, and to the landowner for putting it into a conservation easement.
To read more at the USDA blog:
“The season for sandhill cranes does not close based on the presence of whooping cranes in the state”
The headline and following response is by Rocky Pritchert, CWB Manager, Migratory Bird Branch, KDFWR to the question of whether Kentucky had a plan in place to stop the Sandhill hunt if Whooping Cranes were reported in the state?
“As you know, the whooping cranes that migrate through Kentucky are part of an experimental release effort conducted by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) of which KDFWR is a partner. KDFWR and I have supported this project since WCEP’s inception. The WCEP recognizes the potential for sandhill crane hunting in eastern North America and does not advocate against legal hunting activity. Legal hunting activity does not pose a threat to the success of the project.
KDFWR is following the protocol of our Sandhill Crane Hunting Plan. This protocol was reviewed and approved by the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the lead agency responsible for the eastern whooping crane recovery effort. KDFWR carefully considered the issue of whooping cranes when developing our hunt plan. We have taken a number of steps to minimize the impact of a sandhill crane hunting season on whooping cranes. Some of these actions are similar to those used in Kansas where whooping cranes from the truly “wild” population may be present. These steps include, but are not limited to:
- Delaying season opening until mid-December. The mid-December opening day is two weeks after the primary movement of fall migrating and Operation Migration lead whooping cranes.
- Hunters who apply for a permit must take and pass a bird identification test before that permit will be issued.
- Shooting hours are delayed until sunrise to ensure adequate light to assist in species identification.
- If a whooping crane is reported in the state during the hunting season, KDFWR will issue a news release alerting hunters of possible presence within the region but we encourage them to be vigilant at all times.…”
A Whooping Crane (WHCR) was reported on December 12, before the 2012-2013 season began, at the Sloughs WMA near Henderson, KY (WMA is closed to the public until March 15, 2013). This area attracts large numbers of snow geese, ducks and therefore hunters. The two WHCRs reported in Hopkins County had left the state, according to WCEP, by December 10, 2012.
Ongoing Concern for Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes
There is continuing, widespread concern concerning the safety of Whooping Cranes during the Kentucky hunt season as Sandhills and Whoopers often migrate together (on December 12, a Whooping Crane was photographed in Henderson, KY). While it is required by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to take and pass an on-line ID test prior to being issued a season permit, there is no guarantee a Whooper won’t accidentally be shot during low light conditions, misidentified plumage in juveniles, etc.
Hunters are directed to check daily by calling or monitoring the KDFWR website for updates as to the presence of Whooping Cranes in the state. While it is a good idea to close hunting when Whooping Cranes are present to prevent accidental shootings, it remains to be seen as to how well that works. The Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes is considered by USFWS as “experimental, non-essential” because the birds are part of a reintroduction program. They, therefore, are not classified as endangered as is the case with the Mid-continent Population – the Aransas/Wood Buffalo Population – that migrates between Canada and Aransas, Texas.
The EMP is highly sensitive to adult mortality and accidental shootings could easily cause the EMP to decline. Currently, there are 115 Whooping Cranes in the eastern U.S. thanks to the reintroduction program of Operation Migration and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).
Hunting could hurt genetic diversity
of Eastern population Sandhill cranes
With the first of a three-year, experimental Kentucky season on Sandhill Cranes just ended, a Wisconsin lawmaker has introduced a bill to allow hunting of the species in his state. At the heart of the bill is the alleged issue of crop predation by the cranes.
A red flag has been raised by Wisconsin scientists. In a recent study by avian genetics specialists at the University of Wisconsin, findings suggest genetic diversity may be key to long-term survival rates and stability of the eastern population of Sandhill cranes (differs genetically from western Sandhills). Any hunt could adversely effect this vulnerable population only now rebounding from near extinction in the early 20th century. Read more about the research here.
Prior to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918, sandhill cranes were “harvested” in an unregulated fashion, so that by the beginning of the 20th century the North American population had plummeted to an extraordinary low. The MBTA established protection for birds from uncontrolled hunting activities, and as a direct result, the
crane population slowly began to rebound.
The Sandhill Cranes that migrate through Kentucky each spring and fall are part of
the “Eastern Population” (EP), nesting primarily in southern Ontario, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and formerly wintering primarily in central Florida. However, in recent years, increasing numbers have short-stopped in migration to winter at places like Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge near Chattanooga, Tennessee and at Barren River Lake (making use of exposed mudflats) in south-central Kentucky.
This increase over the last decade in the eastern population of Sandhills prompted USFWS and the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways Councils to approve a hunting season on the formerly protected, migratory species that has taken almost a century –
97 YEARS! – to recover from being hunted.
However, according to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) this hunt will have no negative impact on the eastern population of Sandhill Cranes or effect wildlife viewing opportunities. A point that would probably be argued
by the 400-500 cranes that may die this season, and by those opposed to the hunt (thousands of individuals not only from Kentucky but almost every state in the eastern United States), and shown otherwise by scientific data presented by the International Crane Foundation.
It is our hope that the other states in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways will make the right decision and celebrate Sandhill Cranes as a wildlife-watching resource rather than game bird.
So now, with heavy hearts, Kentuckians will scan the skies hoping for a glimpse of swirling cranes usually long preceded by their haunting, gurgling garoo calls – bookends to the seasons – and wish them safe journey.
– The Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes