Historic First – Whooping Cranes Found Nesting in Texas

Louisiana whoopers_flight_grangerlk_friendshippk_12-28-11_Sara Zimorski_2010 cohort

Two Whooping Cranes from the 2010 cohort of the reintroduced, non-migratory population in Louisiana. Photo by Sara Zimorski

For the first time in recent history, two pairs of endangered Whooping Cranes have been found nesting in southeastern Texas. The Whooping Cranes, part of a non-migratory population originally introduced in Louisiana, are currently found on private land in Jefferson and Chambers counties.

The newcomers are part of a reintroduction the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) began in 2011. This designated non-essential population was introduced into historically occupied wetland habitats at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in southwest Louisiana. Since then, the current population of around 73 birds has nested and successfully hatched and reared chicks in a variety of wetland habitats throughout Louisiana, on both private and public lands.

Pair L8-16 and L22-17 met and paired in Chambers County in March 2019 and have not returned to Louisiana since.  Pair L24-16 and L14-17 met and paired at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Cameron Parish, Louisiana in December 2018 and made seasonal trips back and forth from Cameron Parish to Jefferson County, Texas before nesting this spring!  https://bit.ly/3skoDbL

“We are excited to see this reintroduction effort show continued signs of success, with nesting now occurring in Texas,” said Amy Lueders, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “It’s a true reflection of the power of partnerships. We would also like to thank the private landowners who have been incredibly supportive of these efforts.”

“Conservation cannot happen in Texas and beyond without the support and dedication of our private landowners,” said Carter Smith, Executive Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). “We look forward to our continued efforts with our vast network of partners, especially private landowners, to ensure whooping cranes, and all of our wildlife in Texas, thrive in the future.”

“We appreciate the cooperation and assistance of our Texas partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and especially the private landowners whose properties are supporting the survival of the Louisiana cranes,” LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet said.  “Of course wildlife does not respect state boundaries, so our Louisiana cranes sought out suitable habitats in southeast Texas to establish territories and nests.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently completed an agreement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service that provides private landowners in southeast Texas similar regulatory protections that landowners hosting whooping cranes in Louisiana receive and also provides technical assistance to plan conservation actions that enhance wetland habitats for a variety of wildlife species.

“Conservation plans developed by the NRCS are voluntary and available upon producer request at no cost.  These plans specify options for practices and management to meet the conservation measures for this population of Whooping Crane,” said Frank Baca, USDA NRCS Wildlife Biologist. “Additionally, farm bill programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are available to provide cost assistance to producers that may want to maintain or enhance habitat for these birds or other wildlife on their working lands.”

The public is reminded to keep a distance from the birds and to not trespass on private property to observe them.

“These birds are particularly sensitive to human disturbance while they are nesting, so please stay at least 1,000 feet away when viewing Whooping Cranes,” said Wade Harrell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Coordinator. “This will ensure that the birds have a chance to hatch and rear their chicks successfully.”

Whooping Cranes are one of the rarest birds in North America. Cranes have been documented to live more than 30 years in the wild. Adults generally reach reproductive age at four or five years, and then lay two eggs, usually rearing only one chick during the breeding season.

The non-migratory population now found nesting in Louisiana and Texas is different from the self-sustaining wild Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population. This population of more than 500 Whooping Cranes breeds in the wetlands of Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada and spends the winter on the Texas coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport.

More information about the Whooping Crane reintroduction effort can be found on the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/subhome/whooping-crane.

USFWS Aubry Buzek, (512) 962-0289, aubry_buzek@fws.gov
LDWF Sara Zimorski, (337) 536-7006, szimorski@wlf.la.gov
USFWS Wade Harrell, (361) 676-9953, wade_harrell@fws.gov
USDA Frank Baca, (979) 985-4526, franklin.baca@usda.gov
TPWD Press Office, (512) 389-8030, news@tpwd.texas.gov

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Honoring Gee Whiz – A Father of Whooping Crane Conservation

The following is from a March 12, 2021 press release courtesy of the International Crane Foundation NewsroomNorth AmericaTravels with GeorgeWhooping Crane

Gee Whiz at home in Crane City in Baraboo, WI

Gee Whiz, a Whooping Crane extremely important to crane reintroduction, passed away recently in Crane City, our breeding facility. He lived for 38 years and nine months.

A miracle from inception, Gee Whiz was the first Whooping Crane to hatch at the International Crane Foundation and only the fifth Whooping Crane at our headquarters. He also was the only living son of Tex, a legendary Whooping Crane made famous by her closest friend, International Crane Foundation Co-founder Dr. George Archibald. The world learned about Tex when George appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1982 to tell their inspiring story of Whooping Crane reintroduction perseverance. George Archibald danced with Tex to induce her to lay eggs.

“I worked with Tex for seven years before a successful hatch of Gee Whiz in 1982,” recalled International Crane Foundation Co-founder George Archibald. “I was 36 when Gee Whiz hatched and 74 when he died. During those intervening years, Gee Whiz, with the assistance of the International Crane Foundation’s excellent staff, produced many offspring.

“During those years, I spent much of my time in Asia and Africa helping other cranes,” George continued. “When home, I visited Gee Whiz from time to time. He was perhaps the most aggressive of our cranes and greeted everyone, including his stepdad, with threat postures and loud calls. He had amazing vitality.”

Gee Whiz hatched June of 1982 at the International Crane Foundation through an artificial insemination (AI) process from semen sent to the International Crane Foundation from the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. He is named after Dr. George Gee, who worked at Patuxent and collected the semen used for AI.

A tenacious bird, Gee Whiz beat the odds, thanks to the innovative care of dedicated staff. His egg was underweight, and he was very weak at hatch. Gee Whiz required a lot of human intervention to gain strength and develop into a strong chick.

A resident of the International Crane Foundation his whole life, Gee Whiz is best known for being a father of Whooping Crane conservation, having been the patriarch of a family of 178 genetically diverse Whooping Cranes through four decades. For many years, Gee Whiz shared his pen with his mate Oobleck.

Gee Whiz’s paternal efforts helped bring back one of the most endangered bird families on the planet, from numbers as low as 14 in the 1940s to more than 800 birds today.

Gee Whiz’s contributions to Whooping Crane Conservation ensure Whooping Cranes remain on the landscape, especially in the Eastern Flyway, the home to many of Gee Whiz’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They carry on the battle of Whooping Crane conservation, helping guarantee the survival of these beautiful, charismatic and tenacious birds.

Some of these offspring include a female Whooping Crane, who was reintroduced to Wisconsin’s landscape. Along with her mate, she made her home on a cranberry farm 60 miles north of Baraboo, Wisconsin. We refer to this pair as 5-11 and 12-11. For several years, the pair only produced infertile eggs. But around 2014, a researcher discovered their first chick.

“5-11 and 12-11 have fledged two chicks, W1-18 and W1-19, both of which are still alive. The pair almost fledged twins in 2020,” said Curator of Birds Kim Boardman. Another male descendant of Gee Whiz, 4-12, is part of the “Royal Couple,” the first pair to nest at White River Marsh in Wisconsin.

Two other offspring of Gee Whiz, 4-17 and 6-17, were part of a trio of Whooping Cranes observed last spring by George, as the triad made their home about five miles from the International Crane Foundation. More information about this triad is available through our Travel’s With George blog series.

Gee Whiz was known for his bigger than life personality. He was fiercely territorial of his house and enclosure at the foundation, requiring staff to have fast reflexes when working in his proximity. Kim recalls, “As the only offspring of Tex, his genetics were highly valuable, and much time was spent performing AI on Gee Whiz in the spring. “Everyone dreaded having to handle Gee Whiz for AI because he was an expert at finding the top edge of handlers’ boots and pecking or biting the handlers’ calves just above their boots or nipped at their fingers as they stroked his legs. To say he ‘left his mark’ was an understatement,” she continued.

To keep Gee Whiz’s legacy alive, please consider making a gift supporting our Whooping Crane reintroduction projects. With your gift we will continue establishing new, wild Whooping Crane populations in North America. Your generosity will strengthen our efforts to continue breeding, raising, releasing and monitoring Whooping Cranes in the wild. Gifts can be made here.

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Social distancing during COVID-19

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 1.48.55 PM

Created by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Please continue to do your part and stay home but if you have to go out for essentials remember to keep a Whooping Crane of space, or more, between yourself and others! Social distancing should be practiced in combination with other everyday preventive actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks that cover your nose and mouth, avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands, and frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

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$10,000 reward offered for information on shooting of endangered Whooping Crane in Jefferson Davis Parish

3 January 2020-Louisiana_adj

An impressive gathering of Whooping Cranes striding across the Louisiana landscape on January 3, 2020 – all part of the reintroduced non-migratory population in Louisiana. Photo by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Enforcement Division is seeking information on the shooting death of an endangered Whooping Crane in Jefferson Davis Parish in November 2019.  Agents said the dead crane was found in a rice and crawfish field in the town of Elton, off Elton Drive in Jefferson Davis Parish on November 15, 2019. However, a necropsy determined that it had been killed by gunshot a day or two before being found.  Known to biologists as L11-18, the 1.5-year-old male Whooping Crane had been released as part of the December 2018 cohort.

Up to $10,000 is being offered by various groups for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the illegal shooting of this whooping crane.  The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation is offering up to a $2,500 reward.  LDWF’s Operation Game Thief program and the Whooping Crane Conservation Association are each offering a reward of up to $1,000.  LDWF also received a private $5,000 donation from Dave Weeshoff of La Crescenta, California, and a $500 donation for the reward from the International Crane Foundation.

Anyone witnessing suspicious activity involving Whooping Cranes is advised to call the LDWF’s Enforcement Division at 1-800-442-2511 or use the tip411 program, which may offer a cash reward for information leading to arrests or convictions.

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Raising public awareness of Whooping Cranes one decade at a time

Hunter standing with WHCR and other birds displayed

Hunter posing for portrait with a Whooping Crane, Sandhill Cranes and waterfowl. Date and location unknown.

After the disappointing November 2019 ruling of “probation” for the poacher responsible for the 2018 shooting death of adult male Louisiana Whooper, L8-11 – the first Whooping Crane with his partner, L7-11, in the new Louisiana non-migratory flock to nest and lay eggs – my thoughts turned to public awareness of these endangered birds. Poachers are seldom charged under the Endangered Species Act, because prosecutors have to prove that the poacher knew that the killed animal was endangered. Even before the 1918 passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and biologists and others sounded the alarm that Whooping Cranes were headed toward extinction, Whooping Cranes had been in the public eye – whether as a target or as something to be protected. To all the Whooper “educators” out there – the scientists, conservation groups and concerned individuals who have worked through the decades, and continue to work in loose tandem with one another, toward the common goal of bringing an awareness of Whooping Cranes to others – thank you.

The Whooping Crane once ranged over most of North America, from the Arctic
coast south to central Mexico, and from Utah east to New Jersey, South Carolina, and Florida. Within historic times, the breeding range extended northwest from central Illinois, through Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, to the general vicinity of Edmonton, Alberta. Estimates from the mid-1800s put the total Whooping Crane population at 1,200 to 1,500, but by the 1890s breeding populations of the cranes had disappeared from the heart of their historic breeding range in the north-central United States. By the early 1900s, Whooping Crane numbers had plummeted.

What caused this rapid decline? The cranes’ known wetland breeding grounds were altered and disturbed as settlers plowed the native prairies and drained marshes for farming. Whooping Cranes also were hunted, and their eggs collected, leading to increased pressure on an already small population.

1966 anniv Migratory Bird Treaty act

50th Anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act between United States and Canada, 1966 postcard.

In 1918 the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act made it illegal to hunt Whooping Cranes. Despite this and other early protection efforts the Whooping Crane population continued to decline. By the late 1930s, only two small flocks remained: a few nonmigratory birds around the tallgrass prairies near White Lake in southwestern Louisiana and one migratory flock that wintered in southeastern Texas and summered in western Canada.

In 1940 a hurricane “drove the birds in to the rice fields and most of them were shot by hunters or killed by the storm,” and the number of Whooping Cranes in the wild dropped to just 21 birds by the mid-40s. In 1950 the last individual in the Louisiana population, “Mac,” was removed from the wild leaving a total of only 34 surviving Whooping Cranes in the migratory flock.

Because of the critically low number of Whooping Cranes, biologists proposed a program of captive breeding. Beginning in 1967, eggs were transferred from the breeding grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center near Laurel, Maryland. The captive Whooping Cranes at Patuxent first produced eggs in 1975, and gradually the captive flock at Patuxent grew. This was the beginning of a long, complicated process involving the efforts of many individuals, conservation organizations and government agencies to protect the endangered Whooping Cranes. (The Patuxent captive breeding program ended in 2018.)In 1986, the Whooping Crane Recovery Plan was created by the Whooping Crane Recovery Team, a group of crane biologists and officials from the United States and Canada.


Whooping Crane L8-11 (left) with its mate L7-11 on nest with chick, April 13, 2017 in Avoyelles Parish. Photo by Eva Szyszkoski/Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

The results have been mixed. In 1975 biologists began an ambitious, first-time reintroduction attempt to establish a migratory Whooping Crane population in the Rocky Mountain states, placing Whooping Crane eggs in nests of would-be surrogate Sandhill Cranes at the Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho. This approach was discontinued when it was shown that the Whooping Cranes imprinted on the Sandhills and would not mate with Whooping Cranes. In 1993 biologists began a project to reintroduce a nonmigratory population of Whooping Cranes to Florida, but discontinued the program due to losses from predation, disease and reproductive failure. In 2001 the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) initiated a project to restore a migratory population in eastern North America using ultralight-led migration. A variation of the WCEP project continues but is plagued by ongoing reproductive failure and poaching. In 2011 a reintroduction project began to establish a nonmigratory population of the species in Louisiana. Despite poaching losses, the Louisiana reintroduction project is gaining traction as cohort members are starting to breed, nest and successfully fledge young. The goal of all the experimental populations is to achieve a self-sustaining population to help safeguard the Aransas-Wood Buffalo wild population.

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Public hearing and comment period for changes to the Sandhill season, is NOW!

IMG_8843_2_ photo by Vickie Henderson

Both adult and juvenile Sandhills probe the muddy field in search of silage, grain, insects and worms. Photo by Vickie Henderson

Time is running out for those opposed to the proposed changes to the Kentucky Sandhill Crane season. Unfortunately,  due to lack of public comment in March 2018 when the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources District Commissioners met, some of the Commissioners thought there was no opposition to the changes in the season regulation, and subsequently voted to send it on to the Legislative Research Committee for approval.

After seven years of the “new” Kentucky Sandhill season that saw consistently low hunter participation and seasonal “harvests” of less than 200 cranes, regulation increases are now in the works. The amended hunt regulations promise extension of the season from 30 days to 56 days, and the harvest limit of 400 cranes will become the maximum allowed by USFWS – almost three times that number of cranes. While a zone-closure of the eastern portion of Green River Lake to allow an additional roosting  area for the cranes is commendable, the reasoning behind it is solely for hunter opportunity. Cranes will continue to be vulnerable to hunting as they come and go from this “protected” roosting area, making the new “wildlife viewing opportunity” promised by this closure non-existent.

The following gives details for making your comments, and/or attending the scheduled public hearing. Act now!

301 KAR 2:228. Sandhill crane hunting requirements.

PUBLIC HEARING AND PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD: A public hearing on this administrative regulation shall be held on May 24, 2018 at 10 a.m. at the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources in the Commission Room of the Arnold L. Mitchell Building, #1 Sportsman’s Lane, Frankfort, Kentucky. Individuals interested in attending this hearing shall notify this agency in writing by five business days prior to the hearing of their intent to attend. If no notification of intent to attend the hearing is received by that date, the hearing may be canceled. This hearing is open to the public. Any person who attends will be given an opportunity to comment on the proposed administrative regulation. A transcript of the public hearing will not be made unless a written request for a transcript is made. If you do not wish to attend the public hearing, you may submit written comments on the proposed administrative regulation through May 31, 2018. Send written notification of intent to attend the public hearing or written comments on the proposed administrative regulation to:

Mark Cramer 
Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources 
Arnold L. Mitchell Building, #1 Sportsman’s Lane 
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601
phone (502) 564-3400
fax (502) 564-0506 
email fwpubliccomments@ky.gov

To read the proposed amendment to the Kentucky Sandhill Crane season, go here:

For the May 1, 2018 Legislative Research Committee’s Administrative Register of Kentucky and the Sandhill Crane hunting requirements, go here:

301 KAR 2:228. Sandhill crane hunting requirements.
(1) Provide a brief summary of:

  • (a) What this administrative regulation does: This administrative regulation establishes sandhill crane seasons, bag limits and requirements on public lands within federal migratory bird hunting frameworks established in 50 C.F.R. Parts 20 and 21 according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
  • (b) The necessity of this administrative regulation: The necessity of this administrative regulation is to establish the 2018-2019 sandhill crane hunting requirements on private and public lands in accordance with the USFWS and Department management objectives.
  • (c) How this administrative regulation conforms to the content of the authorizing statutes: KRS 150.025(1) authorizes the department to promulgate administrative regulations to establish open seasons for the taking of wildlife and to regulate bag limits. KRS 150.360 authorizes the department to restrict methods for the taking of wildlife. KRS 150.600 authorizes the department to regulate the taking of waterfowl on public and private land. This administrative regulation establishes procedures for the taking of migratory game birds within reasonable limits and within the frameworks established by 50 C.F.R. Parts 20 and 21.
  • (d) How this administrative regulation currently assists or will assist in the effective administration of the statutes: By establishing sandhill crane hunting seasons and area specific requirements, this administrative regulation maintains and manages migratory game bird conservation efforts consistent with national and international management goals.

(2) If this is an amendment to an existing administrative regulation, provide a brief summary of:

  • (a) How the amendment will change this existing administrative regulation: This amendment will change the timing of the season and season length to coincide with duck seasons. It will change the number of permits available from a fixed 400 permits to the maximum allowed by the USFWS for that season. Tags with each permit will go from a fixed two (2) per permit to a system where one (1) tag is allocated to each permit holder and any remaining tags are allocated to permit holders in order of drawing. The application period for sandhill crane permits will be moved to September with the drawing held in early October. The eastern portion of Green River Lake will now have a no crane-hunting zone created. This amendment also removes a season closure if harvest were to reach 400 cranes.
  • (b) The necessity of the amendment to this administrative regulation: This amendment is necessary to provide additional hunting opportunity for Kentucky’s sandhill crane hunters, to move the application period to September to conform to other quota hunt application periods, and to protect a roosting area on Green River Lake. At the completion of Kentucky’s Experimental Season Period, the USFWS granted Kentucky additional harvest opportunity. This amendment allows for additional hunting days (56 vs. 30) while simplifying regulations similar to duck seasons. For the 2017-2018 season, 30% of applicants were turned away for a lack of permits. The new application period also provides additional time for the delivery of permits and tags. The closure of crane hunting on Green River Lake protects a roosting area that will result in additional hunting and wildlife viewing opportunity.
  • (c) How the amendment conforms to the content of the authorizing statutes: See 1(c) above.
  • (d) How the amendment will assist in the effective administration of the statutes: See 1(d) above.

(3) List the type and number of individuals, businesses, organizations, or state and local governments affected by this administrative regulation: For the 2017-2018 season, there were a total of 565 applicants for the crane quota hunt.

(4) Provide an analysis of how the entities identified in question (3) will be impacted by either the implementation of this administrative regulation, if new, or by the change, if it is an amendment, including:

  • (a) List the actions that each of the regulated entities identified in question (3) will have to take to comply with this administrative regulation or amendment: Applicants will now be required to apply during the month of September, and hunters will be prohibited to hunt in a protected area of Green River Lake.
  • (b) In complying with this administrative regulation or amendment, how much will it cost each of the entities identified in question (3): There will be no additional costs in order to comply with this amendment.
  • (c) As a result of compliance, what benefits will accrue to the entities identified in question (3): More hunters will be able to participate in the annual crane hunt, and it is possible for hunters to harvest an additional crane depending on the number of applicants and their draw ranking. The prohibited hunting area in Green River Lake will protect the crane population in a key roosting area, which is important to the long-term sustainability of the population.

(5) Provide an estimate of how much it will cost the administrative body to implement this administrative regulation:

  • (a) Initially: This administrative regulation change will result in no initial change in administrative cost to the Department
  • (b) On a continuing basis: There will be no additional cost on a continuing basis.

(6) What is the source of the funding to be used for the implementation and enforcement of this administrative regulation: The source of funding is the State Game and Fish Fund.

(7) Provide an assessment of whether an increase in fees or funding will be necessary to implement this administrative regulation, if new, or by the change if it is an amendment: It will not be necessary to increase any other fees or increase funding to implement this administrative regulation.

(8) State whether or not this administrative regulation established any fees or directly or indirectly increased any fees: No new fees will be established directly or indirectly.

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KDFWR Commission approves proposed changes to Kentucky’s Sandhill season

Barren spar c_David L. Roemer

Sparring Sandhill Cranes in Barren County, Kentucky. Photo by David L. Roemer

With the approval by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) Commission (5 to 3 in favor of) on March 23, 2018, the amendment process will be the same as it was in 2011.  KDFWR will file the amended regulation with the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) in April (deadline is mid-April).  A public comment period will begin the May 1, 2018 when the LRC publishes the amended regulation.  Everyone will then have until the end of May to provide written comments.  There will also be instructions on a public hearing, if anyone would like to request one.  The Department has to treat both written comments and the public hearing exactly the same.  If public comments are received, then the Department would respond with a “Statement of Consideration” addressing questions or concerns raised by the public.  The amended Regulation would then go to the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee for review by the legislature in either August or September.

Different than the last time around, Kentucky’s crane season is now an operational season and the frameworks for crane hunting are included in the federal rule which covers all migratory bird hunting.  Those frameworks, which allow for expanded hunting in Kentucky, have been part of the federal rule for several years now.  The 2018-2019 season was considered and approved by the USFWS Service Regulations Committee last October.  At this point, one course of action where USFWS is concerned is for individuals opposing the season changes to comment on the 2019-2020 season next Fall/Winter.

To read the Federal Register Proposed Rules – (50 CFR Part 20; [Docket No. FWS–HQ–MB–2017–0028; FF09M21200–178–FXMB1231099BPP0]; RIN 1018–BB73 Migratory Bird Hunting; Proposed Frameworks for Migratory Bird Hunting Regulations
go here: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-02-02/pdf/2018-02112.pdf

Specifics for the Kentucky Sandhill season can be found in the PDF as follows:

Proposed Regulations Frameworks for 2018-19 Hunting Seasons on Certain Migratory Game Birds (starting on page 8 of the pdf) 

(Then on pages 13-14 of the pdf)
Sandhill Cranes 
Regular Seasons in the Mississippi Flyway

Outside Dates: Between September 1 and February 28 in Minnesota, and between September 1 and January 31 in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Hunting Seasons: A season not to exceed 37 consecutive days may be selected in the designated portion of northwestern Minnesota (Northwest Goose Zone), and a season not to exceed 60 consecutive days in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Daily Bag Limit: 1 sandhill crane in Minnesota, 2 sandhill cranes in Kentucky, and 3 sandhill cranes in Tennessee. In Kentucky and Tennessee, the seasonal bag limit is 3 sandhill cranes.

Permits: Each person participating in the regular sandhill crane seasons must have a valid Federal or State sandhill crane hunting permit.

Other Provisions: The number of permits (where applicable), open areas, season dates, protection plans for other species, and other provisions of seasons must be consistent with the management plans and approved by the Mississippi Flyway Council. “


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Contact your District Commissioner about changes to the Kentucky Sandhill season

Sandhill Crane_Cecilia-Hardin Co KY_9 February 2017_2H6A0562

Sandhill Crane at Cecilia, Hardin Co., Kentucky, 9 February 2017.  Photo by Mary W. Yandell

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) is now considering a proposal to expand the Sandhill Crane hunting season. The KDFWR Wildlife Committee has forwarded the suggested changes to the full Commission which will consider them during its meeting March 23, 2018.

If you would like to share your opinion on the proposed changes to the Kentucky Sandhill season, now is the time to do so. Call or write your Commissioner prior to the meeting (see listing below for your area district Commissioner information). While speaking directly to your district Commissioner might be more impactful than letters, feel free to call and write. Please be courteous.

To read more about the proposed changes in the February 19, 2018 Courier-Journal article by James Bruggers, go here:

KDFWR 2018 District Commissioner Members:


Dr. Harry W. Carloss

Email: hwcarloss@gmail.com
(First District Counties: Ballard, Caldwell, Calloway, Carlisle, Christian, Crittenden, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Livingston, Lyon, McCracken, Marshall, Trigg)

C.F. “Frank” Williams
270/821-6392, Ext. 205
Email: fwilliams@rjaengineering.com
(Second District Counties: Allen, Butler, Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, Hopkins, Logan, McLean, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Simpson, Todd, Union, Warren, Webster)

Russell (Rusty) Gailor
Email: gailordvm@aol.com
(Third District Counties: Breckinridge, Bullitt, Jefferson, Meade, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer)

Kenny L. Knott
(270) 407-3330
Email: doublek1960@hotmail.com
(Fourth District Counties: Adair, Barren, Cumberland, Edmonson, Grayson, Green, Hardin, Hart, Larue, Marion, Metcalfe, Monroe, Nelson, Taylor, Washington)

Kevin R. Bond
Email: kevinbond7660@gmail.com
(Fifth District Counties: Boone, Bracken, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Harrison, Henry, Kenton, Owen, Pendleton, Robertson, Trimble)

Jimmy B. Bevins
Email: jimmy.bevins@bevinsgroup.net
(Sixth District Counties: Anderson, Boyle, Casey, Clark, Estill, Fayette, Franklin, Garrard, Jessamine, Lee, Lincoln, Madison, Mercer, Powell, Rockcastle, Scott, Woodford)

Paul Horn
Email: paulhorn@bigsandybb.com
(Seventh District Counties: Breathitt, Floyd, Johnson, Harlan, Knott, Lawrence, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Owsley, Perry, Pike)

Rich Storm
Email: ristorm@yahoo.com
(Eighth District Counties: Bath, Bourbon, Boyd, Carter, Elliott, Fleming, Greenup, Lewis, Mason, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, Nicholas, Rowan, Wolfe)

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Proposed Changes to Kentucky Sandhill Season

Sandhill Cranes_Cecilia-Hardin Co KY_9 February 2017_2H6A0536

Sandhill Cranes at Cecilia, Hardin Co. Kentucky,  9 February 2017.  Photo by Mary W. Yandell

After 7 years of following guidelines set in the  Kentucky Department of  Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) experimental season, the wildlife division plans to recommend to the full Commission six changes to the season.  These proposed changes were considered by the Wildlife Committee on February 9 and will be presented to the full Commission for a vote on March 23, 2018.

“While these changes represent some liberalization, they still follow the guidelines set in a very conservative EP crane management plan.  As before, we expect no impact of these changes on the population or on viewing opportunity in Kentucky,” said John H Brunjes, Migratory Bird Program Coordinator for KDFWR .

A  KDFWR summary of the proposed changes is below:

1)      Move the application period to September.

  • Current application period is November 15-30.  This creates a real challenge for us to get drawing done and get everyone tags mailed before hunting starts two weeks later.  It forces us to mail tags before people have completed online test and have actual permit.  We would like to have application period September 1-30 with a drawing in early October.  People would then have to complete the online test before tags are mailed to them.

2)      Create a no crane hunting zone in Green River Lake.

  • Last winter and again this winter, several hundred SACR showed up and roosted on Green River Lake.  They were there for about a week before they left.  We suspect they were shot on the lake and abandoned the roost.  In a method similar to the Barren River Protected area, we would create a refuge area for cranes by closing crane hunting portions of Green River Lake.  Having another roost area would provide additional viewing and hunting opportunity.  We suspect this will become a regular revision to this regulation as the population continues to grow.  There were brief stops by cranes at Lake Cumberland and Taylorsville Lake and if those continue we would protect those areas as well.

3)      Remove the 400 crane closure.

  • The 400 bird closure was a conservative measure added to our experimental season plan as a fail-safe in case our predictions about harvest and how hunting would go were wrong.  After 7 seasons without exceeding a 200 crane harvest; having to check each day to see if the season is closed is unnecessary burden on our hunters.  Additionally, because we have gone so long without reaching the 400 bird mark, we fear hunters are not checking to see if the season is closed.  If we ever did reach 400 birds and close the season, we fear hunters could continue hunting and be cited.  The Eastern population of sandhill cranes is now well over 100k birds.  The removal of the 400-bird closure would not have any meaningful impact on the population.

4)      Change number of tags available to Kentucky hunters.

  • The EP Sandhill Crane plan endorsed by the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways and USFWS allows states to issue tags based on a 5-year average of crane numbers in that state.  A state may issue up to 10% of that 5-year average.  Currently Kentucky is issuing 800 tags of the allowable 1,453 tags based on our 5-year average of 14,526 cranes.  We propose changing from a fixed 800 to issuing the 1,453 allowed by the management plan.

5)      Change number of applicants receiving permits

  • Currently we issue a fixed number of permits (400).  Before last season, we had not had more than 400 applicants so it had not really been a concern.  For the 2016-2017 season, there were 415 applicants so 15 people did not get a permit.  For the 2017-2018 season, there were 565 applicants so 30% of those that applied will not get a permit.  We propose a new system where everyone that applies gets randomly selected in a drawn order.  Each person gets a permit with one tag up to the allowable number of tags to be issued for that season.  That way everyone would at least 1 tag.  Any tags that were not used in the initial allocation of 1 tags per hunter would be allocated out to drawn hunters in order of draw.  Using this season as an example, all 565 applicants would be issued permits and all would receive a second tag for a total of 1130 of the 1453 allowable tags.  The first 323 people drawn would receive a third tag so that we issue all 1453 tags.

6)      Make the season concurrent with the second segment of duck season (The 56 days prior to the last Sunday in January)

  • Under the Eastern Population Crane management plan, Kentucky may have a 60 day season between September 1 and January 31.  Split seasons are not allowed.  We propose making the SACR season concurrent with the second waterfowl season (a 56-day season) in Kentucky.  This simplifies regulations for migratory bird hunters and provides additional opportunity for our hunters.  The biggest hurdle faced by hunters is the access to private land.  A longer season increases the likelihood someone could gain access to hunting areas.

According to USFWS, the eastern population of Sandhills continues to  expand.  When KDFWR began consideration of a hunting season, the 3-year average was 46,000 cranes counted in the fall survey.  Today, that average count exceeds 90,000 cranes.  Because it is a one day count, and not an estimate, the department biologists say it represents a conservative minimum population size.  Telemetry data tells biologists that at least 20% of the population is being missed in the surveys.  Reproduction surveys consistently show that >10% of the cranes passing thru Kentucky are young of the year.  These results are mirrored by work of the USFWS at Jasper-Pulaski.  According to USFWS, a dramatic expansion of breeding ranges has been seen and now in many areas Eastern Population Sandhill cranes nest side by side with mid-continent cranes.


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Reward climbs to $15,600


Yesterday the  Center for Biological Diversity  added $5,000 to the reward for information leading to a conviction or fine in the latest illegal killing of #4-11, an endangered Whooping Crane in Indiana.

“It’s a sad injustice to all of us that someone would gun down this beautiful, endangered bird,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist with the Center. “This shooting reminds us that Whooping Cranes still face many threats to their survival and recovery.”

“We’re adding to this reward because Whooping Cranes are a critical part of America’s heritage, and we shouldn’t let a few killers deny future generations their opportunity to see these animals in the wild,” Adkins said.

Since then, others have also stepped forward to donate, bringing the reward to $15,600.

Read the Center for Biological Diversity press release here.


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