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Tennessee Sandhill Crane Hunt...Proposed Again

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

It's baaaack.

After a two-year moratorium, Tennessee is once again proposing a hunt on its wintering sandhill cranes.

The Eastern Flyway sandhill crane population has recovered from near extinction in the last 70 years—in our lifetime--and state game managers have taken notice. Their reasoning appears pretty simple: There are enough cranes around now to shoot some. My reasoning is simple too. Does that mean they must be shot? Is giving a small set of hunters one more bird species to aim at ultimately going to be worth the ill will and polarization of camps between the growing throngs of wildlife watchers and the shrinking ranks of hunters?  For the fact-checkers out there: The USFWS estimates that 33 states saw declines in hunting license sales over the last two decades. Massachusetts alone has seen a 50 percent falloff in hunting license sales in that period. Yes, hunting is declining. Maybe if we offer more species that can be shot...

So let's follow this line of reasoning. There are enough cranes out there now to shoot some without causing another population crash. All right then. There are surely enough red-tailed hawks sitting along the nation's highways to shoot some of them. Robins? Those things are everywhere, and tasty, too. And come to think of it, new great blue heron rookeries are popping up all over the place. A little fishy-tasting, but with the right marinade...

photo by Cyndi Routledge

Ultimately, the proposal to hunt Tennessee’s sandhill cranes is about hubris. It’s about manipulating wild populations as we see fit, about tilting the balance of nature toward huntable species by feeding them artificial foods and encouraging them to hang around to provide us a little sport. Try as I might, I cannot cram the lanky four-foot length of a sandhill crane into the slot in my brain marked “Game Species.” They’re too tall, too graceful, too ancient and yes, much too magical. There goes my heart again. Head says: They reproduce too slowly,  producing one colt per year if they’re lucky. 

watercolor by JZ

 Ducks and geese can lay a dozen eggs; a crane lays two, and only one colt usually survives. That youngster is still heavily dependent on its parents for guidance in its first winter of life, and yet we’re proposing to let hunters shoot right into those family units. For sport. For fun. For food, maybe, if they have enough strong marinade.  Pretty gamey, I’m told. I intend never to find out for myself.

We should not be marinating the meat of sandhill cranes. We should be looking up at them alive and flying, our heads thrown back in wonder, gratitude and awe. We should be searching their cloud-gray numbers for the big white cranes who travel with them, and are at risk of being shot, their  precious genes squandered in the mud of a cornfield.
Photo by Vickie Henderson

In my view, the great irony in this whole proposal to hunt cranes is that the majority of people who are aware cranes exist feel exactly as I do, vastly outnumbering those who would like to take a shot at one. Note to Tennessee, Kentucky and Wisconsin: Those cranes you're proposing to shoot are everyone's cranes, not just yours. They may breed in Wisconsin and pass through the southern states, but they belong to everyone, and your proposal to let a small subset of hunters fire on them is not popular with the majority who want them left alone. You are shooting yourself in the foot.

People who believe strongly in their perceived right to hunt whatever they wish can be  persuasive in characterizing birders and wildlife watchers as soft-headed and silly for having an emotional connection to birds and animals, for being guided by heart and not head. I believe to my core that it is desirable to hold some species sacred. I feel that way about sandhill cranes because I have observed, from Nebraska to New Mexico, from Michigan to Ohio, that they are potent ambassadors for wild things and wild places to the many thousands of people who are moved by them. These are not necessarily birders, just ordinary people who are stirred by the sight and sound of cranes. Cranes, I submit, are worth infinitely more alive than dead. Just ask the director of the Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary on Nebraska's Platte River, where sandhill crane tourism brings 15,000 visitors from all 50 states and 46 foreign countries; brings more than $10 million into the local economy every year. All without firing a single shot. Wildlife watching is the fastest growing sector in tourism.

I'd love to do this experiment. Take 1,000 people who know what a sandhill crane is. What percentage of them do you think would want to bring one down with a gun? What percentage would simply want to watch one fly overhead? We haven't even begun to tap the tourism potential of live Eastern Flyway cranes, and states are already proposing to shoot them?

My Israeli friend Jonathan Meyrav, who was a founder of the Hula Valley Birding Festival, which celebrates the masses of common cranes which winter in Israel's strip of marshland, recoiled when I told him of American hunting seasons, existing and proposed, on cranes. "Absurd!" he said. 

Yes. Absurd. But real, and about to be rammed down our throats. We must make our objections known, quickly.

Here's what to do.

Now is the time to express your opinion about the proposed Sandhill Crane hunt in Tennessee: 
Please, if you haven't already read OM CEO Joe Duff's Field Journal entry from July 24th regarding the proposed Sandhill Crane hunt in Tennessee.

1) The USFWS has posted the proposed rule for a Tennessee Sandhill season in the Federal Register. The Federal public comment period ends AUGUST 5, 2013.  Go to!documentDetail;D=FWS-HQ-MB-2013-0057-0052, click on the blue "Comment Now" button and follow the instructions to submit comments on Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2013-0057.  (To read the section concerning Sandhill Cranes scroll down to #9 Sandhill Cranes)

2) On the state level, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) is accepting comments until AUGUST 10, 2013. Email comments (with the subject line "Sandhill Crane"), Ed Carter (, TWRA Director,and/or Dr. Jeff McMillin (, TFWC Chairman.  Letters may also be mailed to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Attn. Sandhill Crane Hunt, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville TN 37204.  

If recommended by TWRA, a vote on the season by the TN Fish and Wildlife Commission will take place on August 22 and 23 in Knoxville, TN

For more information go to

Thank you, and please spread the word!

I've borrowed this from Operation Migration's appeal. Thank you to all who are fighting this proposal, and thank you to all who act.



I'll definitely leave comments at the links listed, but have you thought about a petition too? I know Bat Conservation International used it earlier this year to try to protect Bracken Cave. I like how Change sends emails to registered users who "may" share an interest with a new petition. It might help spread the word.

Julie, thanks for posting this. Fyi, the USFWS link doesn't work - something to do with the redirect that's happening.

Are these people crazy to past this horrible hunt law for the Sandhill Cranes? What next one for Hummingbirds and Robins to be hunted and killed. Such morons should not be allowed to make these decisions. We have enough going on with our natural resources but to pass a bill to be able to hunt/kill these beautiful birds is the most assinine proposal ever. So is a hunter serving roasted Sandhill Crane for thanksgiving? Stupid.

Posted by Anonymous July 31, 2013 at 11:19 AM

What is wrong with people who want to destroy our natural heritage? We can no longer judge what is right or wrong by its economic value (and that is fundamentally what it is all about). We must respect the rights of cranes and all wildlife to life, good habitat and viable migration routes. As Aldo Leopold said: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

Actually the USFWS link is working now.

Posted by Musicmom July 31, 2013 at 3:45 PM

My family are hunters but can absolutely state that not one of them would consider this sportsmanship. What purpose does it serve to shoot one of these birds? If it is not a threat to you and you are not killing it to eat (as in subsistence, not just because you like the flavor) why kill it? And we wonder why life has become so cheap.

Posted by Anonymous July 31, 2013 at 4:38 PM

Thanks for the alert. I tweeted your blog post, the comment sites and made comments myself. It's wrong for so may reasons. They deserve respect, but I appealed to reason. Low birth rate and there is already stress on all species because of climate change and eroding breeding areas, water, food. We don't need to add hunting. Economic. Increase in birding tourism and fewer hunters. Thanks for the alert!

Having just seen a pair of sandhill cranes with their single colt while birding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in June, and having experienced that very wonder and awe you talked about, I'm horrified by this news and will comment on your links post haste!

Thank you Julie for posting those links to the people we can contact to oppose the crane hunting. I sent everyone emails and signed and made comments where ever I could.

I'm from Florida where everyone is caught up in discussing gun control. The NRA and other gun groups need to tread softly unless the public outcry for more legislation to accelerate and they end up with more restraintsand fewer targets. Sand hill cranes are not food for tables and targets for bullets. They are food for thought and targets for admiration.

So, it seems we should govern for the majority and not for minorities? Allowing for the freedom of Americans so they have freedom to choose, while maintaining stewardship of the earth and sustainability is the founding principle behind allowing a sandhill crane hunt. Just a thought.

Posted by Anonymous August 7, 2013 at 11:50 AM

Hmmm. Is it? Well, while we're at it, then, I think we should open season on red-tailed hawks and bald eagles, so Americans have the freedom to choose whether or not to shoot them, too. I may be thick, but I still don't get hunting sandhill cranes. I just don't get it.

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