By Glen Wunderlich
Ribeye of the sky is what they’re known as in the Central flyway of the United States. Before running for cover, there are no reports of cattle taking to the air, but for those hunters in the Central states it doesn’t matter, because they’ve found a delectable substitute: sandhill cranes.
Michigan has no sandhill crane hunting season, but Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ (MUCC) agenda includes proposed resolutions to change that. However, what some folks don’t realize is that they are already being hunted in Michigan under federal nuisance permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Depredation permits, however, require that any birds killed cannot be kept for any purposes and must be disposed of, typically in a landfill or buried.
Farmers applying for permits must first demonstrate that other non-lethal methods have been attempted unsuccessfully to keep cranes from eating or otherwise destroying crops. And, permit numbers are growing commensurately with the sandhill crane population. Nuisance cranes typically appear in farm fields in spring, where they uproot young corn sprouts and eat the kernel often requiring replanting of entire fields. Also, affected are wheat fields, where even mature plants are stripped of grain.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports a growth rate of 10.5 percent per year over the past 50 years for the once-endangered species. That’s astonishing success!
If Michigan is ever to approve a hunting season for sandhill cranes, it won’t come without certain turmoil, just as was the case with our short mourning dove season a few years ago. Discussions are certain to focus primarily on emotional arguments, in opposition to scientific reasons to the contrary, though.
One legitimate argument against hunting of the majestic birds centers on the possibility of killing endangered whooping cranes by mistake. Whooping cranes and sandhill cranes are similar in size and shape, but whooping cranes are white with black wing tips. The penalty for shooting a whooping crane is a fine of up to $100,000 and/or up to one year in prison. An online test for all sandhill crane hunters must be completed to minimize identification mistakes.
It seems immoral to kill them and bury them, however. Plus, since no game animal has ever been threatened with species survival in the history of regulated hunting, there simply is no reason to believe that if crane hunting in Michigan is legalized, crane sustainability will be threatened.
The arguments will surface eventually and there is undoubtedly going to be plenty of fireworks, when the proposal is put on the table; we’ve been there with wolves and doves. By the way, doves are on the MUCC menu, too and we could see this controversial issue raised, once again.
In any event, the anti-hunting fraternity from Washington D.C. is sure to bring out the long knives and the fake-news TV celebrities foisting their typical emotional rhetoric upon us all. Meanwhile, sandhill cranes will continue to be hunted from Canada to Mexico, while we enjoy another round of popcorn.