Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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DNR working to establish northwest sandhill crane season

Bemidji, Minn. – A plan that’s been in the works for a few years
could come to fruition this fall.

The DNR_next week will ask for flyway council approval of a
sandhill crane season in the northwest part of the state. If the
Central, Mississippi, and Pacific flyway councils approve, the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service would rule on the request this
summer.

If the Service Regulations Committee were to sign off, the DNR
could create a season and hold it as soon as this fall.

“They are plentiful and they are doing well,” said Dennis Simon,
DNR_Wildlife Section chief, who will make the pitch to the councils
next week. “We just think it’s an opportunity that we should take
advantage of for a fairly small cost.”

The details of any season aren’t clear, but the DNR proposes
that the existing northwest goose zone be used as a boundary, since
“it approximates the range of where those midcontinent cranes are,”
said Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the DNR.

The season couldn’t begin any earlier than Sept. 1, and it would
last as long as 37 days. It’s possible it could begin when the
early goose season begins, or it could be delayed some.

Hunters would be targeting birds that breed in the northwest
part of the state, as well as those that breed in Canada and stage
in the state before flying south to Texas.

“We would be talking about September until about mid-October as
far as the peak time,” Cordts said._”Cranes are a fairly early
migrant, and by the second or third weekend in October, most cranes
are out of that part of the state.”

If the season is approved, Minnesota would become the first
state in the Mississippi Flyway to have a sandhill crane season. In
the Central Flyway, though, they can be hunted in every state but
Nebraska.

Minnesota needs approval from its flyway council, which is the
Mississippi Flyway, as well as from the councils of the Central and
Pacific flyways. While most of the midcontinent sandhill crane
population sticks within the Central Flyway, some breed and stage
in northwest Minnesota, and others breed in Alaska and migrate
through the Pacific Flyway.

Sandhill crane hunting is most popular in Texas, where about
6,000 people target them every year. Throughout the Central Flyway,
about 10,000 hunters a year kill just under 20,000 cranes a year,
Cordts said.

“It’s a crane or two per hunter, per season,” he said.

It’s hard to say how much interest there would be in Minnesota
in crane hunting, Cordts said. There are hunters in the state who
travel elsewhere to hunt cranes, and he figures the number of
hunters who participate might be in the hundreds.

“Cranes wise up pretty quickly to hunting pressure, so if we
opened it and there was some interest, I would think they would
wise up to it pretty quick,” he said.

It’s unclear exactly how large the state’s breeding sandhill
crane population is, but it’s in the tens of thousands, Cordts
said. During August roadside surveys last year, observers noted
large numbers of cranes in the northeast and east-central parts of
the state. Other surveys have shown the same thing, he said.

Additionally, the midcontinent crane population is doing “very
well,” Cordts said.

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