Kentucky: The Case For Hunting Sandhill Cranes
Opinion pieces opposing a proposal before the Kentucky
Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to allow for a limited
harvest of sandhill cranes have appeared in several newspapers and
on the Internet in recent months. Here are the facts about the
The Eastern Population of sandhill cranes migrates through and
winters in portions of Kentucky. Sandhill cranes are the most
abundant crane species on the planet, with more than 700,000
spending part of their year in North America. The Eastern
Population is the world’s second largest sandhill crane population,
numbering between 60,000 and 100,000 birds.
This population continues to grow and has become increasingly
visible in Kentucky in recent years. Peak counts in Kentucky now
approach 20,000 cranes in the Barren River Lake area.
Sandhill cranes are classified as a game species by Congress
under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. They are hunted in 13
other states, three Canadian provinces and Mexico. The midcontinent
population of sandhill cranes, which occurs in the central United
States, Canada and Mexico, has been hunted for 50 years. Two other
populations of sandhill cranes are also hunted in the U.S. All of
these hunted populations continue to increase.
Hunters prize the opportunity to pursue sandhill cranes for the
excellent table fare and the challenging hunt they provide. They
are hunted in fields over decoys very similar to the way hunters
pursue Canada geese.
This increasingly visible population of sandhill cranes prompted
sportsmen and sportswomen in the eastern United States and Kentucky
to request a crane hunting opportunity here.
A management plan must first be in place and approved by the
Flyway Councils (cooperative management bodies consisting of state,
federal, provincial and university biologists) where that species
occurs before a population of migratory bird may be hunted. A
management plan is a comprehensive document that examines all
aspects of the life history of a population. The Management Plan
for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes was developed with
the input and review of more than 50 professional wildlife
biologists in the U.S. and Canada.
These biologists, with decades of successful experience managing
migratory birds, come from state and provincial wildlife agencies,
such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife
Service, universities and other conservation organizations. This
plan took more than 10 years of careful work to develop and takes a
conservative approach toward the harvest of this species. Above all
else, the management plan ensures that hunting will not have a
negative effect on the population.
Beyond hunting, a management plan directs wildlife professionals
to needed areas of research and management. 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.
Once the management plan was in place, Kentucky Fish and
Wildlife personnel began the careful process of considering if a
season would be appropriate in the Commonwealth. Countless hours
were spent studying all aspects of hunting cranes in Kentucky.
Biologists dedicate their lives to wildlife conservation and will
not support a plan they believe might pose a threat to the cranes
or any other wildlife species.
The plan that would allow hunting of sandhill cranes in Kentucky
has been carefully crafted to: 1) have no impact on the eastern
population of sandhill cranes as a whole or in Kentucky; 2) have as
small an impact on nature watching as possible; 3) protect the
experimental eastern population of whooping cranes; and 4) provide
hunting opportunity for those who are passionate about hunting
This proposed season is structured to minimize impact to bird
and nature watchers as well. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife considers
bird and nature watchers important members of the conservation
community. Department employees have kept the Kentucky
Ornithological Society (KOS) and other birding groups informed of
the status of the management plan’s development.
Bird watching and hunting are not mutually exclusive. Sandhill
cranes are hunted in many of the states where people also go to see
them. Kentucky hunters and bird watchers already pursue such
migratory bird species as ducks, geese and mourning doves with
little or no impact to each other’s groups.
The proposed sandhill crane plan will provide hunting
opportunity for those who are passionate about hunting migratory
birds and still provide for the needs of nature viewing public.
Some people simply object to hunting. Others enjoy hunting and
consider it an integral and important part of our heritage.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife understands both viewpoints. 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. We believe there is no
The biology is indisputable. The Eastern Population of sandhill
cranes can sustain limited hunting. Cranes have been hunted in the
United States for 50 years, and flock numbers in all of the hunted
populations are at all-time highs. The interest in the species
generated by the hunters pursuing these birds has been instrumental
in the successful management of this species.
Hunters have paid the bills for many decades to build the
Eastern Population of sandhill cranes to its current record
numbers. 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.