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The Crane Battle Moves to Kentucky

Monday, March 14, 2011

I cropped off the heads, with their big grins. Hunters tell me it's not hard to get your daily limit with such a huge, slow-flying target. 

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled inspection of armadillo carcasses with this important action alert for wildlife enthusiasts everywhere.  MARCH 15, 2011 is the deadline for public comment on a proposal to hunt sandhill cranes in Kentucky. That's TOMORROW. If you wrote to Tennessee in the campaign this winter, you can cut and paste and change "Tennessee" to "Kentucky." If not, please read my letter, crib bits of it in your own words if you wish, avoiding overly sentimental or confrontational wording,  and politely email Mr. Gassett at this address:

Copy your letter to

Do it now, please, for the cranes. We fought them back in Tennessee; there's a two-year stay on their proposal. We can fight them back in Kentucky, too. The Kentucky Ornithological Society and the Beckham Bird Club have both come out strongly against the hunting season.  Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Jon Gassett has indicated that if enough people write in protest, the proposed hunting season--due to start this December-- will be reconsidered. Nobody owns these cranes--they're free for all to enjoy. If you think it's wrong to shoot them, please take the time to email Mr. Gassett. THANK YOU!

March 14, 2011

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife 
Jon Gassett, Commissioner
 One Sportsman's Lane
 Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

Dear Mr. Gassett,
I am a writer, naturalist and artist with a special interest in human/bird interactions.
 For my new book, due out in 2012 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I’ve been researching sandhill crane hunting. The sandhill crane has the lowest recruitment rate (average number of young birds joining a population each season) of any bird now hunted in North America. Historic recruitment rates of all migratory sandhill crane populations range from 7.5% to a high of 11%.

 Since 1975, hunting in the Central Flyway has taken around 20,000 cranes annually (E.M. Martin, U.S. FWS report). This represents 6% of the estimated mid-continental spring population of 322,700 birds for the same two decades. Given the projected recruitment rate, harvesting 6% of the population each year in the US alone seems to me to be cutting it too close to the edge. Kills in Canada, Alaska and Mexico are not included in the count. What about all the other birds that die from inexperience, disease, natural predation and accidents? Further, the crane take in Mexico is a free-for-all: neither regulated nor recorded.

 Hunting sandhill cranes in Kentucky is a bad idea from a public relations standpoint, considering the growing cadre of birders and nature enthusiasts for whom cranes are a touchstone species. How can Kentucky possibly garner enough revenue from crane hunting to offset the outrage when birdwatchers find out that the cranes they love and travel to see are being shot? Hunting is on a steady downturn, and nonconsumptive wildlife pursuits are on a tremendous upswing. Nationwide, wildlife watchers now outspend hunters 6 to 1. The explosion in digital photography allows people to stalk wildlife without harming it. Initiating a hunting season on a large, charismatic species like a crane is no way to resuscitate hunting. It is, however, an excellent way to alienate nonconsumptive wildlife enthusiasts, and further polarize the camps.

 Texas and North Dakota together account for 88% of the total yearly kill of sandhill cranes. There is evidence that a unique Canadian prairie population of lesser sandhill cranes is being selectively wiped out, since they migrate over the most heavily hunted areas of Texas. It should go without saying that the incidental kill of endangered whooping cranes is an unacceptable cost of adding another state to the shooting gallery all along both species’ migration route. Of the Central Flyway states, Nebraska alone holds out in protecting the cranes, having proven by its longstanding Festival of the Cranes in Kearney that a crane is worth infinitely more alive and purring in the sky with its family than thudding, broken and bleeding, into a cornfield.  Just ask Bill Taddicken, director of the Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River in Kearney. Crane tourism brings that little town around $10 million each year in revenue, without a single shot being fired. 

Proposing a hunting season on a bird with that kind of ecotourism potential simply doesn't make sense. Giving a few hundred hunters something else to shoot, in my opinion, cannot be worth the blowback from tens of thousands of people who are willing to travel and spend just to watch the birds fly over.  Please reconsider this proposal, and consider taking a lesson from what happened in Tennessee. Letters and emails by the thousand poured into the commissioners' offices, protesting its crane hunting proposal. Even more telling, the support the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission was expecting from its hunting community simply never materialized. I've received letters and emails from a number of avid hunters who find the concept of shooting cranes repugnant. TWRC's response to the outcry was a two-year stay on the proposed season. I feel certain that, given Tennessee's 18-year track record of celebrating cranes in a tremendously successful festival, the opposition will only be stronger in 2013. I would encourage the the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to take Tennessee's example as an indication that offering sandhill cranes for hunting will create far more public relations trouble than it's worth. 


Julie Zickefoose


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Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I've seen them many times in my journeys out West and a time or two at home here in Ohio. It's mind boggling to think anyone would ever want to harm these amazing animals! Appreciate your concern and action and will spread the word!

email sent. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed that they see the light and protect these beautiful birds.


Oh my gosh are you kidding me?? I just don't understand why someone would want to shoot these beautiful birds. They need our protection. Emailing now!

That is a very good letter Julie. I sent an email. I really hope we can do this.

email sent. I looked at your letter and shut it off and winged it, as it were, so mine looks nothing like yours. Keep us apprised.

Thank you for this information. I sent my email against. I've never seen a wild sandhill crane but hope to get to Nebraska in the next few years to see a few! Susan E

Posted by Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 4:54 PM
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Amen to Nebraska, where I know call home. The cranes are what gave my daughter the desire to go into conservation. After hearing the calls and sitting among them settling down after dark, I cannot imagine hunting them. I plan on renewing my time with them this year at Rowe Sanctuary. I wish all success in defeating Kentucky (I'll email)

I've sent an e-mail too, and will notify other people. Your letter was an excellent model.

Posted by Anonymous March 14, 2011 at 7:58 PM

I emailed.

Posted by Musicmom March 15, 2011 at 1:49 PM

lovely, strong, pointed, sensible letter. Hunting them seems utterly insane to me.Thanks for working hard. XOM.

Posted by Anonymous March 15, 2011 at 1:58 PM

I just linked over from a person who commented on my blog post about my visit to the cranes in Grand Island, NE last week (I live in NE). I cannot believe what is going on. I've heard of their being hunted in the Plains, but to think we ensure populations of animals simply to hunt them--well I already knew this was the case, but my god, your posts on the cranes makes me literally weep and rage!! I'm working on a book that intertwines grassland ecology, Native Americans, and Mennonite settlers in Oklahoma Territory in the late 1800s, and it always astounds me to see that what we do to ourselves and each other must always reflect into the land (and back, as was the case with dustbowl), until everything is dissolved and scattered, either gone or on the edge. We are on the edge. We are, perhaps, gone (insane) when we shoot cranes who mate for life and are still recovering their populations.

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