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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Crane Hunting Legislation Proposed

Sandhill Cranes reportedly cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to crops each year.
About 100 years ago, the nation's Sandhill Crane population - plagued by unregulated hunting and habitat loss - wasn't looking good.
According to recent counts, the migratory bird population is up - big-time.
Recent estimates from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources puts the Eastern Population of the Sandhill Crane - which stretches from Ontario down to Florida - at around 72,000.
From that count, which took place in late October, around 38,000 birds were counted in Wisconsin.

It is those numbers that has grain farmer Randy Kuehl worried.
"[Farmers] are basically feeding your deer, turkey, geese,” said Kuehl, at his farm just outside Kewaunee. “Now we're starting to feed the cranes.  And we have no control over them."
Kuehl says the Sandhill Cranes go down the rows of corn and pluck the newly planted seeds from the ground.
He says that can make for some problems when the birds take out 50 feet or more of planted seeds.
According to numbers submitted to the United States Department of Agriculture, over the last four years Sandhill Cranes have caused more than $1. 7-million worth of crop damage.
"They definitely are a detriment to farmers," said Wisconsin State Representative Joel Kleefisch (R) Oconomowoc, the sponsor of the bill that would create a hunting season on the birds.
In order to fall within national Sandhill Crane management plans, migratory bird specialists with the DNR helped Kleefisch write the bill.
Kleefisch, who is a hunter and the host of a hunting show in Wisconsin, says the proposed bill would add to the hunting traditions of Wisconsin and be rigorously enforced to not affect the total population.
"In order to hunt them, according to our bill, you will have to go through a course that will teach you how to identify a Sandhill Crane so you're not out there shooting other species of birds," said Kleefisch in a phone interview Thursday.
Crane advocates say they aren't against hunting in general and understand the crop damage facing farmers. But say all options to control the Sandhill Cranes should be considered.
"Crane hunting will not solve crop damage,” said Jeb Barzen, Director of Ecology for the International Crane Foundation, based in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Barzen says the foundation, which focuses its efforts on crane habitat preservation, doesn't have an official stance on crane hunting.  But he says there are methods to try and mitigate the problems farmers face, when it comes to cranes.
“We have developed methods for solving crop damage for farmers.  It's a [chemical] deterrent that keeps the birds from eating the corn seed,” said Barzen in a phone interview Thursday.  “And once they stop eating the corn that the farmers plant, the cranes remain in the field and feed on other food items.”
Noel Cutright, historian and past president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology says the Sandhill Crane population is stable and could probably withstand a hunt.  But, like Barzen, agrees that other options should be pursued first.

“I think chemicals can play a role and I think compensation [to farmers], which is already going on in the state for other species that do crop damage, can also play a role," said Cutright.
Kuehl, who is in favor of the bill, says the seed treatments don't always work and are often too expensive to implement.
If the legislation is passed, crane harvest caps would be put in place by the DNR.
Kleefisch says he hopes to have the bill slated for a public hearing in the coming weeks.

by: Bill Miston

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