SANDHILL CRANES BE HUNTED?
January 9, 2011
state of Kentucky is considering a change in its game regulations that
will allow hunting of sandhill cranes." My first reaction upon reading
that statement was "It's a game bird? Can you even eat a sandhill
crane?" The answer to that second question is "of course."
At various times in various places, people have probably eaten every kind
of animal they have been able to kill. Sandhill cranes certainly would
not be the exception to the rule.
the state wildlife agency in Kansas, one of the states where sandhill
cranes are already hunted as a game species, says that "crane meat
is considered excellent table fare, probably the best of all migratory
game birds." A friend even gave me a recipe for the big birds--a
concoction of soy sauce, brown sugar, minced garlic and cayenne pepper.
The only edible part of the sandhill crane is the breast, but the recipe
calls it the "flying rib eye of the sky." OK, so one part of
this magnificent migratory bird that is larger than a great blue heron
But does being good to eat in itself qualify a species for legal hunting?
I imagine there were many fine recipes for the now-extinct passenger pigeon.
Like many other North American birds, sandhill crane populations dipped
drastically when European settlers came to the New World. The climb back
since the mid-1900s has been steady, and current estimates set the number
of birds at more than a half million. The U.S. Geological Survey states
that sandhill cranes are now "the most abundant of the world's cranes."
To learn what a sandhill crane looks and sounds like, go to the Cornell
Lab of Ornithology website www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Sandhill_Crane/id.
Some land managers maintain that keeping the number of cranes trimmed
down is important because "if concentrations become too high the
risk of disease increases." This paradigm may be reasonable for some
game species in some situations, but these migratory species did quite
well in enormous numbers before people arrived on the scene to "take
care of them." The International Crane Foundation states that "limited
data . . . suggest that crane populations do stop growing without the
need for hunting. . . . [But] ICF data [also] show that the eastern population
of sandhill cranes is large enough for a sustainable harvest to occur."
Fish and Wildlife Service and state game agencies consider sandhill cranes
to have reached such levels of abundance that removal of individual birds
by hunters will not impair populations. This is considered to be especially
true for the midcontinental migratory routes from Canada to the southern
United States and Mexico. State and federal wildlife officials have effective
procedures for monitoring populations of game animals and for limiting
hunting in ways that ensure sustainable levels are maintained. No doubt
they will apply those practices to sandhill cranes, and I am not concerned
about survival of the species simply because it is designated a game bird.
not want to shoot a sandhill crane any more than I would want to kill
a mockingbird or cedar waxwing. But I am well aware of the positive role
hunters play in environmental conservation, and antihunting critics should
remember that states acquire major funding from hunting licenses each
year. Those proceeds, which are further supplemented by federal taxes
paid by hunters, are used to maintain wildlife habitats that benefit nongame
species as well as game animals.
I am not
opposed to hunting per se, but I do question whether adding sandhill cranes
to the list of game birds in Kentucky is necessary, particularly when
you realize that whooping cranes sometimes fly in the flocks with them.
The penalty for killing a whooping crane can be thousands of dollars,
plus jail time. So if you think it is OK to shoot into a flock of high-flying,
long-legged wading birds with little edible meat on their body, be sure
not to hit the white ones with black wing tips. That could cost you.
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