Sandhill crane hunt supported in 52 counties

Online voting ties at county level, eeks out win on popular vote total

By Greg Seubert

Contributing Writer

Citizens in 52 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties support a state sandhill crane hunt, based on votes tallied during the annual spring fish and wildlife hearings April 10.

The overall vote wasn’t as lopsided, however.

According to figures from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), 2,349 persons supported the question, while 2,049 persons voted no.

The question asked if voters support legislation that would give the DNR authority to begin the process to develop a season for sandhill cranes, one of two crane species in North America.

The proposal passed in Barron, Brown, Buffalo, Burnett, Calumet, Chippewa, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dodge, Door, Douglas, Florence, Fond du Lac, Forest, Grant, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Iron, Jackson, Juneau, Kenosha, Kewaunee, La Crosse, Langlade, Lincoln, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marinette, Menominee, Monroe, Oconto, Oneida, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Price, Racine, Rusk, St. Croix, Shawano, Sheboygan, Taylor, Vilas, Washington, Waupaca, Waushara, Winnebago, and Wood counties.

It failed in Adams, Ashland, Bayfield, Dane, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jefferson, Marquette, Milwaukee, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Sawyer, Trempealeau, Vernon, Walworth, Washburn, and Waukesha counties.

Lafayette and Portage counties reported tie votes.

The strongest opposition came in Dane and Milwaukee counties. Dane County turned down the vote 328 to 89; it failed 132 to 46 in Milwaukee County.

A sandhill crane season would require legislation to become reality. The state Legislature would have to approve a quota-based season before the DNR can develop a season.

This marks the third time in six years that an advisory question on a sandhill crane season has been supported.

“With sandhill cranes, it’s not a matter of if, but when. I’m not yet hearing anything from legislators in the way of getting moving on this, but it will happen,” said Larry Bonde, Conservation Congress chairman.

Seventeen states currently have a season for sandhill cranes across the three populations (eastern, central, and western). Two states – Kentucky and Tennessee – have sandhill seasons on birds from the eastern population, the same birds that pass through Wisconsin.

North America’s other crane species, the whooping crane, is an endangered species that has been reintroduced in Wisconsin. Unlike the white whooping crane, sandhills are gray and are often mistaken for a great blue heron.

Renewed interest?

The number of participants (5,073) at the 2017 DNR and Conservation Congress spring hearings surpassed 5,000 for the first time since 2014. In that year, more than 7,000 Wisconsin citizens turned out – some believed to address a proposal to legalize of hunting white and albino deer. A related question that year asked citizens to approve another proposal to protect white deer. While many of the questions on this year’s ballot drew little interest, some were controversial.

Bonde expressed his appreciation for the participation increase.

“It’s gratifying to see more people contribute to the discussion about the protection of our natural resources,” Bonde said. “Whether this level of enthusiasm will continue or if there was a particular question that brought people out remains to be seen.”

It was anticipated that the crane question might bring hunt opponents to the hearings, but reports from a number of counties indicated very limited to no discussion on the crane question.

A Congress advisory question about the possibility of creating an online voting format for future hearings may have also brought out atypical voters.

The vote in the 72 counties was evenly split 35 to 35, with two counties posting tie votes.Dane County, which includes the Madison area, voted strongly in favor of online voting, 250 to 147. Conversely, Dane County voted against the sandhill crane hunt by an even wider margin, 328 to 89.

Bonde expects debate over the issue at the Conservation Congress state convention in Oshkosh.

“We’re getting screamed at from both ends. The Natural Resources Board asked us to move forward with this – they want more input. Gen X’ers don’t often go to meetings, but maybe they would do online surveys,” said Bonde.

“What I would like to do to assuage people on all sides is to set up a system – first making sure people aren’t cheating – and do a trial for two or three years. If the results are way different between the people in attendance and the people who are online, then yes, we have a serious issue,” he said.

Correspondent Lee Fahrney and Editor Dean Bortz contributed to this report.

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