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: M. Stroman 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: W. Chen 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Miami - WP: S. Dyson 6 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Familia 5
NY Yankees - LP: S. Kelley 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Peralta 1
Cincinnati - LP: P. Villarreal 0 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: H. Rondon 1
Chicago WSox - LP: J. Petricka 3 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: W. Davis 4
Cleveland - LP: Z. McAllister 1 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 3
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: C. Fien 6
Los Angeles - WP: J. Wright 11 FINAL
Colorado - LP: C. Bergman 3
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
Arizona - WP: W. Miley 6
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 1 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: M. Shoemaker 8
Philadelphia - LP: J. Williams 0 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 1
Philadelphia 30 FINAL
Indianapolis 27
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Toronto 9/19/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Edmonton 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
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