Wisconsin lawmaker proposes sandhill crane hunt, says the creatures are destroying cornfields

  • Article by: TODD RICHMOND , Associated Press
  • Updated: February 2, 2012 - 2:09 AM

MADISON, Wis. - To bird lovers, sandhill cranes are majestic creatures whose cries hearken back to prehistoric times. To others, they're the rib-eye of the sky.

A Wisconsin lawmaker has quietly proposed a bill that would let hunters blast the birds to stop them from chewing up farmers' cornfields. The legislation promises to spark a bitter debate in state that is both defined by its deep-rooted hunting traditions and serves as home to the International Crane Foundation, one of the world's premier crane protection organizations.

"I don't think this is the state to push for a crane hunt," said Karen Etter Hale, a vice president of the Wisconsin Audubon Council. "If hunters want to further damage their reputations by pushing for yet another species to hunt, then that's what they should do."

Sandhill cranes, tall, elegant birds with a wing span that can reach 5 feet and a call that sounds like a velociraptor crossed with a pteronodon, are found throughout North America and eastern Siberia. They're not to be confused with whooping cranes, the birds famous for trailing ultralights to their winter homes.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates the sandhill is now the most abundant crane species in the world with a population of around 600,000. Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario, Canada, have become the core nesting grounds for what's known as the eastern population, a flock of about 70,000 birds that move up and down the eastern half of the United States.

Thirteen states, mostly in the U.S. mid-section, have now implemented hunts. Kentucky became the most recent in December when it launched a limited hunt, but it went over with a collective shrug. The state issued 342 permits and hunters killed just 50 birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated Wisconsin's sandhill population stood at about 25,000 in late October, according to data provided by the Wisconsin DNR. They've etched a special place in the heart of Wisconsin bird lovers and the Baraboo-based International Crane Foundation has become a world-renowned authority on cranes and their habitat, performing research and advising scientists. Thousands of schoolchildren visit the foundation every year.

But as the sandhill population grows, more Wisconsin farmers have been complaining about sandhills eating their corn seeds and fledgling stalks. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, federal wildlife officials issued 55 permits to landowners in southern Wisconsin to kill problem cranes last year, up from 16 in 2008.

State Rep. Joel Kleefisch, an Oconomowoc Republican and avid duck hunter, quietly began circulating a bill Tuesday that would require the DNR to create a sandhill season.

Under the bill, farmers would be allowed to seek state compensation for sandhill crop damage. Hunters with a small-game license who take a sandhill hunting course could legally kill the bird. The DNR would be allowed to limit the harvest and the number of hunters, however.

"Many call (sandhill cranes) the rib-eye of the sky," Kleefisch said. "When I was a kid, you never saw a sandhill crane. Now you never go water-fowl hunting without seeing them. They're beautiful animals that deserve to be respected. At the same time we have a strong heritage of fishing and hunting in Wisconsin and it's time we looked at a potential season."

The bill fits a hunting culture that runs deep in this state. The state is the go-to destination for deer hunting every fall; children routinely take days off from school to join in. In 2003, legislators decided to let people to hunt mourning doves, the state's official peace symbol. Currently legislators are pondering a wolf hunt.

Bird advocates are already balking at the sandhill plan. They fear hunters might mistake whoopers for sandhills. They also argue that hunters can't possibly kill enough cranes to make any real difference in crop damage and should instead use chemical repellants on their seeds.

"I don't think any management is necessary other than protection of their habitat," said Noel Cutright, the Wisconsin Society of Orinthology's historian. "Hunting has no role in that in my estimation. A species is here for the entire population of the people of Wisconsin."

The ICF hasn't taken a stance on sandhill hunting, preferring to remain neutral so its data and statistics are seen as objective. Still, the foundation's ecology director, Jeb Barzen, said hunting won't solve crop damage problems.

"You're telling farmers you're giving them a solution when you're not," Barzen said.

Paul Zimmerman, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said repellants just drive the cranes to a neighbor's corn. He pointed out sandhills have made a significant comeback and populations have stabilized.

"We're not asking for cranes to be wiped out or anything extreme like that," he said. " ... but we want to make sure farmers aren't just feeding them on behalf of everyone else."

Marlin Laidlow of Marshfield is the chairman of the agricultural damage committee for the Conservation Congress, an influential group of sportsmen who advise the DNR. He said sandhill crop damage hasn't been a huge issue for his committee, but the population is growing out of control.

"It's fun to see (sandhills) around but at the same time, if you look at it, it's not all good," he said. "The problem with the people who don't understand wildlife and wildlife management, they join an organization and fall in love with a particular species. As far as they're concerned, you can't have too many. They just don't get it. You've got to control populations."

The bill's fate is uncertain. The legislative session ends in mid-March, and a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said the bill isn't a top priority.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 1
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: N. Karns 5
Cleveland - WP: C. Kluber 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: A. Swarzak 2
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas - WP: S. Tolleson 2 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Street 1
Philadelphia - LP: M. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Doolittle 8
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: I. Kennedy 8
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: C. Bergman 8
Cincinnati - WP: A. Simon 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: L. Lynn 2
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 37 FINAL
Carolina 19
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Washington 1
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Calgary 1 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Edmonton 0 FINAL
Calgary 1
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close