Promoting the enjoyment, study, and conservation of Wisconsin's birds.

Around the state, at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 10, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress will hold hearings in each county to discuss a multitude of DNR-related conservation issues. Whether to open a hunting season on Sandhill Cranes in Wisconsin will again be up for consideration and these hearings provide everyone in the state a chance to voice their opinion.

QUESTION 80 reads as follows: Sandhill crane hunting season (540616) (requires legislation) There are 700,000 Sandhill Cranes in North America and 17 states have hunting seasons, including two states in our flyway: Kentucky and Tennessee. A management plan approved by 31 states and Canadian provinces in eastern North America established that the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes was large enough to be hunted and established a process for a state to apply for a limited quota based hunting season. In Wisconsin, the State Legislature must approve a quota-based hunting season on Sandhill Cranes before the DNR can develop a season. Do you support legislation which would give the DNR authority to begin the process to develop a hunting season for Sandhill Cranes? 80. YES____ NO_____

The WSO Conservation Committee is asking Society members to consider this issue through the lens of four major reasons for preserving biodiversity: pragmatic, biological, aesthetic and ethical.

From a pragmatic view, we protect biodiversity because it is useful to us in some way: trees provide oxygen, plants provide medicines, and fish provide protein. Therefore, we must protect them to protect ourselves. Sometimes we argue for preserving biodiversity based on the biological implications. For instance, if we institute hunting, how will this affect a given population and can that population withstand this hunting pressure? We might also argue for protecting a species on aesthetic grounds. Like the Quetzal, because its beauty is truly inspiring. Finally, there is an ethical argument based on the premise that other species simply deserve the right to exist and to live free of human-caused pressures.

From a pragmatic standpoint, a properly managed Sandhill Crane hunt would likely be sustainable and would probably not result in a large or dangerous population decline (especially if closely monitored). Based solely on population size, it appears that the Sandhill Crane population in Wisconsin could likely withstand a hunt. The number of Sandhill Cranes in Wisconsin is reasonably high and mates would likely be quickly replaced should one member of a pair be killed.

However, there are other factors beyond population size that need to be considered:

-- First, if a bird loses a mate due to hunting, it is typically unable to successfully fledge a chick for at least two to three years after it finds a new mate, even if it retains its breeding territory.

-- Second, models currently being considered to manage the Great Lakes population are based on harvest models used for cranes harvested while migrating along the Platte River in Nebraska. It is currently unknown how these management scenarios will affect the population in the Great Lakes.

-- Lastly, this population in the Great Lakes was threatened with extirpation less than 100 years ago. The last thing that anyone wants is to cause a similar crash to this population.

Another issue to consider is that an extensive and expensive effort has been undertaken to re-establish a migratory flock of Whooping Cranes in Wisconsin. Opening a hunting season on Sandhill Cranes would place Whooping Cranes at greater risk of accidental shootings. A Sandhill Crane season provides hunters with a “plausible” misidentification excuse if they were to shoot a Whooping Crane. Though they would still be responsible for their actions, legal action may be reduced on these grounds.

Long revered for its beauty and jubilant call, the Sandhill Crane may deserve protection on its aesthetic value alone. Just because we can hunt it, does not necessarily mean we should hunt it. For many, this elegant and stately species serves as the hallmark of spring’s return and all that is wild in our state.

The Sandhill Crane also is one of only 15 species of cranes worldwide, all of which have some level of cultural, spiritual and philosophical importance. The Sandhill Crane is a truly iconic symbol of the avian fauna of Wisconsin, and from an ethical standpoint, perhaps should not be classified as a game bird, measured only by its ability to sustain a hunting season. Ethics however are unique to the individual, so, as part of the WSO birding community, we are asking you to decide for yourself where you stand on this issue and encouraging you to make your voice heard on April 10.

For a county-by-county listing of locations for these hearings, see the DNR webpage

For a more detailed WSO issues paper on this topic:

To learn more information about Sandhill Cranes:

By Andy Cassini and Matt Hayes, WSO Conservation Committee