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

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland - WP: J. Tomlin 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: S. Downs 2
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wada 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 13
Los Angeles - LP: J. Wright 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Stauffer 2
Milwaukee - LP: M. Fiers 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Peavy 3
Oakland - LP: J. Samardzija 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: Y. Herrera 2
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 3 FINAL
Seattle - LP: R. Elias 1
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 FINAL
(13) LSU 28
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 13 FINAL
(3) Oregon 62
(25) Washington 17 FINAL
Hawaii 16
Utah State 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Portland 3 FINAL
Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
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