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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