Science Supports Sandhill Hunts in Tennessee, But Hunters Don't?

The Duck Blog

Science Supports Sandhill Hunts in Tennessee, But Hunters Don't?

Posted 2013-07-23T09:29:00Z  by  Joe Balog

Science Supports Sandhill Hunts in Tennessee, But Hunters Don't?

Tennessee is considering a hunting season for sandhill cranes, and research indicates that hunters themselves may be opposed.

As populations of the cranes continue to climb throughout many areas of the U.S., 16 states now allow hunting the birds. Many have a 60-day season. Often times, a duck stamp is not required, and traditional lead shot may be used. The population estimate in Tennessee is more than 80,000 birds, with 650,000 estimated nationwide.

Just like other migratory birds, it's the USFWS that determines whether or not sandhills can be hunted. They have given their blessing to the state of Tennessee, and proposed a full 60-day season.

In response, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency hired a public opinion research firm to determine the level of support or opposition a hunt would generate. The Knowledge and Opinion of Sandhill Crane survey found that, although 84 percent of all Tennesseans support legal hunting (assumingly for species like deer, turkey or ducks), 62 percent of the state's population opposes hunting sandhill cranes.

Now remember, the USFWS, the brains behind our nation's ever-improving game populations, has determined that hunting sandhills is legit, and that the population can support such pressures in the same way that other migratory bird populations can.

Further investigation into the survey showed that, of those who considered themselves hunters, 42 percent favored a sandhill hunt, while 35 percent opposed it. Hunters opposing a hunting season based on scientific knowledge: very interesting.

One major factor to consider here is the sandhill's overwhelming popularity with the birding community, or those who enjoy bird watching (I will hold my tongue here). Sandhills are a magnificent species with wingspans reaching 6 feet. And, back in Tennessee, there is a festival devoted just to the cranes' migration each January that attracts thousands of people. The USFWS proposal suggests a halt to the hunting immediately before, and during, the crane festival." Talk about potential for a conflict of interest; have you seen the Shark Week commercial where the news covers the release of the rescued seal, and the shark comes out of nowhere to eat it? Yeah - I was thinking the same thing.

Anyway, also considered is the sandhill's close cousin, the whooping crane, now on the federal endangered species list. Accidental killing of these birds is a real concern, and sandhill hunters in Tennessee would be required to prove they know the difference between the two crane species. I have no idea how the state would implement such a test. Unfortunately, I envision quite a few cheat sheets being whipped out while at the license counter at Wal-Mart.

It will be interesting to see what Tennessee decides at their August meeting. As we've discussed here in the past, this is essentially a social issue, not a biological or scientific issue. The population can support a hunt, but does the public? Even more surprising is that many hunters aren't on board.

My big question: do sandhill cranes really taste like "ribeyes in the sky" as their nickname suggests?