Wednesday, October 20, 2010


This post will be updated periodically as things unwind.  I will place a post on the blog when updated.

 For those who have not heard;   Tennessee Wildlife Resources (TWRA) has proposed a hunting season on sandhill cranes.  I feel this is unconscionable and I can not let the issue rest without at least being a voice for the cranes.  Below you will find some pieces written by myself and a few others that have been sent to the TWRA commissioners across the state expressing our disapproval at the proposition of shooting this ancient bird.  I currently am trying to post these letters in newspapers across the state in hopes of instigating the general public to take action by writing the commissioners and voicing their opinions on this hunting proposition.  The letters express passion for the animal that is loved and admired in this state.  A list of the commissioners with addresses and some with emails will follow at the end of this blog entry.  Please take issue with this hunting proposal and write these commissioners.   Possibly we can delay the hunting proposition on the cranes, at least until wildlife and birder groups can become united with the result of many speaking as one in defense of this noble bird.  The letters follow:

This is a second addition to my first opinion concerning the proposed hunting of sandhill cranes in Tennessee.  I have written a letter to all the TWRA commissioners’ state wide and have submitted a written piece to two of the major newspapers that serve Tennesseans state wide.  I plan to forward letters to ten other major newspapers.   I further intend to gather public opinion utilizing public schools, colleges and bird clubs across the state.  The latter plan can not happen quick enough to prevent the passage of the crane hunting proposal into law.  But, it will provide a vehicle for public sentiment to be conveyed to the commissioners at a later date.

I have been a hunter in my past and I recognize the right to hunt, as prescribed by law, for the American public.  The law is the law.  In my later years I have personally determined that taking the lives of the animals I love was a senseless act for me.  I shifted my attention to the camera and found the digital hunting experience to far outweigh the bullet that ends life.  Photographs can be a forever memory of that moment when a gorgeous creature shares its space with me.  I’m not advocating non hunting or hunting.  I’m simply stating I don’t care to harm wildlife.  There are laws governing the hunting of game animals and that’s just how it is.  There is a school of thought that believes hunting is our heritage.  Actually, the taking of game to sustain human life on the frontier is our heritage.   Whether it is or not depends on what side of the hunting fence one stands upon.  I do not want to debate the issue here.  But, dead is dead and that creature is removed from the scene and can never be brought back.  It can, however, be replaced through natural reproduction.  Hunting is here to stay until; at least, massive anti hunting sentiment forces political change upon that activity.  This brings me to the proposition of shooting sandhill cranes.  Hunting is a benign word.  It is a politically correct term; a friendly term.  Let’s use words that properly describe the taking, thinning, culling, and managing of the crane population. 

A beautiful light gray sandhill crane soars between two tall pines, elegant wings extended, feet trailing behind on long slender outstretched legs, its beautiful buff gray color catching the sun as the wings beat only occasionally.  He is poetry in perfect harmony with life as he prepares to join his brethren who are gathered together on the muddy edge of a quiet lake.  A loud shotgun blast is heard and delicate feathers puff off the crane’s body and red splotches appear.  The bird’s legs fall straight down and hang limp under the cranes body.  The right wing dangles from its right shoulder, broken and useless.  Imagine how confused the bird must be.  A second shot is sounded and the head and neck instantly drop below the level of the birds body and point straight down and the crane tumbles in mid air and thuds into the earth.  It lies quiet with only its eyes open; and finally the lids shut and life is over for a member of an ancient species of bird.  A single, gorgeous, once near extinct species of crane lies broken and dead on the ground.  What purpose has been served here?  What glory lies in the taking of this magnificent bird’s life?  Will it be held up proudly by the neck by the shooter for a photograph?  Who could be proud of killing a bird that has been the nucleus for countless thousands of wildlife visitors to this state?  There have been more dollars spent by crane admirers in Tennessee than will ever be collected by TWRA by hunting them.  I don’t have the numbers now but would gladly do the research if I thought it would help the cranes.  I have included my letter to the TWRA commissioners and two other letters below stating opinion on the proposed hunting of cranes.  I won’t restate their contents here, but I will state that TWRA works for the public; not just hunters and fishermen.  They are “our” agency in Tennessee who care for and manages “our”, the public’s, natural wildlife.  The agency can find more favorable means of gathering revenue than killing this much revered bird.  TWRA management creativity is the answer for acquiring revenue.  Simply pointing the finger at another creature to put on an already full hunting roster is not.  The killing of sandhill cranes in ludicrous and will certainly be met with unfavorable public opinion toward TWRA and hunting practices in the state.  Please send your letters to the below addresses.  The cranes don’t have the luxury of waiting.  Thank you.      Gary Loucks

2nd letter to newspapers

This issue of the proposed hunting season on Sandhill Cranes is wearing on me a lot, as it is with others.  We, in Tennessee, have magnificent cranes that have been brought successfully back from near extinction to a relatively healthy position in the habitat,  observed and admired by outdoor people from all walks of life, are looked upon reverently by birders and marveled at by all who see the cranes flocked together in the skyways or at the Hiwassee reserve being put on a hunting game list for shot gunners. And, to add insult to injury; the Whooping Cranes flock with the Sandhills.  They ARE endangered and are having a very difficult time holding onto their numbers.  I have no reason to believe that the average hunter can tell, or cares to be able to tell the difference between the two species.   Of course I'm not talking about the responsible sportsman with that statement.  But regardless; Whooping Cranes are going to take a fall with the Sandhills.  I am a transplanted Pennsylvanian and consider myself somewhat of an outsider down here in Tennessee and have been impressed with the TWRA organization and all who work for it.  I still hold my experience (previous employment) with that agency in high regard.  This ridiculous crane hunting proposal may cause me to re-access my opinion.   Now; I don't know what it is with the rural attitude of Tennesseans and their obsession or fixation to constantly kill game at every opportunity, in and out of season but, I will say this.  TWRA may be funded by taxes on sporting equipment and licenses but, the word "public" extends further than just hunters and fishermen.   It is my understanding that TWRA is the agency in charge of stewardship of wildlife and habitat in the state for all the public.  If I am wrong then someone correct me please.  I guarantee if the gun sights are aligned onto the cranes that public opinion of the agency will be degraded and plummet sharply.  I do not believe the agency realizes how much the Sandhills are held in high esteem by the general public of this state.  Whatever small increase in revenue that would be gained will be miniscule compared to the distrust and loss of public respect that will be garnered upon the TWRA.  And I'm afraid that even I, who have always admired TWRA, will have to rethink my opinion of the agency.  The task of the agency is a noble one.  The politics, by which it is directed, in this case, is deeply flawed and despicable.  I love things natural but find it impossible to get behind the opinion that Sandhill Cranes are viable as a hunting target.  The thought sickens me.  It really does.  I'm not a “tree hugger” but a person who spends the biggest part of his free time among the mountains, waters and wildlife of Tennessee.  I can not abide seeing my natural environment and its wild inhabitants become some political fundraiser for a government agency unnecessarily.  Want more money?  Raise the price of the hunting license and associated sporting goods taxes.  Add a buck to every box of shotgun shells sold.  If hunters are truly concerned outdoors men, they won't care.  The cranes, as an added game species, won't make or break TWRA.  If public opinion is important to the agency then give the cranes a reprieve.  If it is not then continue on and slaughter them and brag about the days kill.  Measure public opinion after the first hunt.   What pride and gratification one must acquire by killing a gorgeous, slow flying, graceful crane!!

Gary L. Loucks
6710 Morganton Road
Apt #1
Greenback, TN 37742
(865) 548-3596

 3rd letter - concerned birder

Janet Lee McKnight
163 Hammontree Lane
Greenback, TN 37742
(865) 271-8337

October 10, 2010

I am writing in opposition to the proposed Sandhill crane hunting in the state of Tennessee.  I am aware that my status as a birder, and not a hunter, would naturally put me in opposition to this matter.  I am also aware that it is the hunters and their fees that pay for most of the habitat where I enjoy birding.  That said, allow me to convey why I do not want to see sandhill cranes become a Tennessee game bird.

I know very little of hunting, but as an avid birder and an individual who loves all birds, the shooting of cranes strikes me as tragically silly.  Sandhill cranes are huge, loud birds that fly low and slow, and would be nearly defenseless against a gunner on the ground;  I cannot see where there would be any sport in this target.  And as I understand it, sandhill cranes are not fantastic eating.  So they would be shot simply because they are one more thing allowed to be shot;  to me, that does not justify the reasoning.

The sandhill crane population was increased through supplemental feeding, and then the cranes were heavily promoted as “watchable wildlife”.  If their numbers are a problem and I do not know of any reasons that they are (i.e. habitat destruction, crop destruction, displacement of other species), why not decrease the supplemental feeding and allow the population to stabilize on its own?  It devastates me to think that for years, the birds have been lured to a safe wintering ground, only to become extremely easy targets for hunters that have plenty to shoot already.

Furthermore, it scares me to think of hunters aiming at cranes and making the very possible mistake of shooting a whooping crane.  The whooping cranes have been trained to use the same flyway as the sandhill cranes, and we cannot allow whooping cranes to be in the line of fire.

Lastly, sandhill cranes are one of our most ancient bird species, and the sight and sound of them thrills me to the point of goose bumps!  It saddens me on a very deep level to think of these magnificent creatures being shot out of the sky for no valid reason, other than as a fundraiser for TWRA.  I wish there was a way to charge a birder for looking at them, for I would gladly pay a fee to ensure the safety of the sandhill crane.


Janet Lee McKnight

4th letter - Naturalist, Writer, Birder (Julie Zickafoose)

I am a writer, naturalist and artist with a special interest in human/bird interactions.
For my new book, due out in 2012 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I’ve been researching sandhill crane hunting. The sandhill crane has the lowest recruitment rate (average number of young birds joining a population each season) of any bird now hunted in North America. Historic recruitment rates of all migratory sandhill crane populations range from 7.5% to a high of 11%.

Since 1975, hunting in the Central Flyway has taken around 20,000 cranes annually (E.M. Martin, U.S. FWS report). This represents 6% of the estimated mid-continental spring population of 322,700 birds for the same two decades. Given the projected recruitment rate, harvesting 6% of the population each year in the US alone seems to me to be cutting it too close to the edge. Kills in Canada, Alaska and Mexico are not included in the count. What about all the other birds that die from inexperience, disease, natural predation and accidents? Further, the crane take in Mexico is a free-for-all: neither regulated nor recorded.

Hunting sandhill cranes in Tennessee is a bad idea from a public relations standpoint, considering the growing cadre of birders and nature enthusiasts for who cranes are a touchstone species. How can Tennessee possibly garner enough revenue from crane hunting to offset the outrage when birdwatchers find out that the cranes they love and travel to see are being shot? Hunting is on a steady downturn, and nonconsumptive wildlife pursuits are on a tremendous upswing. Nationwide, wildlife watchers now outspend hunters 6 to 1. The explosion in digital photography allows people to stalk wildlife without harming it. Initiating a hunting season on a large, charismatic species like a crane, in a state where it has been deliberately fed and celebrated for 17 years, is no way to resuscitate hunting. It is, however, an excellent way to alienate nonconsumptive wildlife enthusiasts, and further polarize the camps.

Texas and North Dakota together account for 88% of the total yearly kill of sandhill cranes. There is evidence that a unique Canadian prairie population of lesser sandhill cranes is being selectively wiped out, since they migrate over the most heavily hunted areas of Texas. It should go without saying that the incidental kill of endangered whooping cranes is an unacceptable cost of adding another state to the shooting gallery all along both species’ migration route. Of the Central Flyway states, Nebraska alone holds out in protecting the cranes, having proven by its longstanding Festival of the Cranes in Kearney that a crane is worth infinitely more alive and purring in the sky with its family than thudding, broken and bleeding, into a cornfield. Crane overpopulation in Tennessee is a manmade problem with a vastly kinder and simpler solution than killing the birds. Stop feeding them and they will move on.

Thank you for considering my views. 



Julie Zickefoose

5th letter - Concerned About Wildlife and a hunter.

Mr. Michael Chase, TWRC Chairperson
PO Box 50370
Knoxville, TN  37950

Dear Mr. Chase,

I have traveled to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge for the crane festival on several occasions over the years.  I enjoyed the cranes, the refuge, and the fellowship of thouseands of like-minded conservationists.

I'm a frugal person.  I'm not into fancy motels, preferring mom-and-pop joints for both lodging and eats.  Nonetheless, I'm betting that over the years I've dropped several thousand dollars into Tennessee coffers in the Chattanooga area.

But no more.  If a season is opened on Sandhill Cranes, I shall boycott the festival and the State of Tennessee as I do the other states that allow hunting of those magnificent birds.

The Commission made a serious mistake when it "baited" fields for the cranes and interrupted their migration patterns.  That some have decided to enjoy the largess year-round is not a reason to allow them to be killed.  The proper thing to do is close down the fields and allow them to assume their normal migration -- or as close to it as they can, after having had it interrupted for generations.

I've gotta tell you, this is going to become a cause celebre in the birding community, and it's likely to cost the state far more than it gains in the small revenue from Sandhill hunting and goodwill of "sportsmen" who think it's cool to kill one of the easiest targets in the air.  Tell them to go shoot Snipe if they want some sport.  

I'm a former hunter.  I have no problem with hunting that makes sense, but this idea makes no sense at all.


William E. Webb

Finally;  a piece I wrote to the comissioners

Gary L. Loucks
6710 Morganton Road, Apt #1
Greenback, TN 37742
(865) 548-3596


The question is a sincere one and not meant to be a portrayal of my disappointment in TWRA for putting this magnificent bird on the game bird list  but, an honest question.  Why?   We have two species of cranes in Tennessee out of a total of 15 species world wide.  The very endangered Whooping Crane and the Sandhill Crane share the same flyways as they make their annual pilgrimages North and South.  I have read of the resiliency of the Sandhill as it made a comeback from near extinction to the healthy population it enjoys today.  Many professional hours and enormous sums have been expended to make the Sandhill Crane a success story and a bird that outdoor folks marvel at on a regular basis.  I find the following a contradictory circumstance:

TWRA announced viewing days at Hiwassee  to be held January 15 thru 16, 2011.  This particular event is named to the top 20 event list by the Southeast Tourism Society in 2002 and continues in that vein today.  However;  TWRA proposes a 60 day hunting season on the same birds to run concurrent with the 2011 – 2012 waterfowl season.  So, I guess we can observe these magnificent birds in their protected sanctuary at Hiwassee and marvel at their resiliency to make the comeback from near extinction to a healthy population, and then slaughter them a little later on in the year. 

I am fairly well read about things natural and I can assure you that a Sandhill Crane is not even a slight challenge to any hunter of even minimal experience.  They are huge, they move very slowly on the ground and in flight they move like and present about the same profile as a Great Blue Heron.  That is ultra slow when on the wing.   The birds are not really good to eat unless the meat is treated with seasoning.   Let me highlight one more issue.  There aren’t many hunters who can identify the difference between a Sandhill and a Whooping Crane.  Rest assured that both will be killed.  To kill a Sandhill is shameful but, to kill a Whooping Crane is criminal. 

 But, cut to the chase.  What is this proposed season on Sandhills all about?  It’s not about hunting at all.  There are an extravagant number of varied species of birds and animals currently on the hunting list that confuses even the well read seasoned hunter.  I will never understand that when a species reaches a certain “safe” population number, it is placed on the hunting roster.  Usually a separate stamp must be purchased in order to hunt and kill it.   An Idea just occurred to me.  Bald Eagles are now considered to have reached populations greater than they held in 1890.  How about a Bald Eagle season.   TWRA could have a special drawing on 1000 permits at $500 dollars per  permit.  Kill only 1000 birds.  That’s serious money and will help fill the budget coffers. 
 I’m being ridiculous I admit.  But, where do we draw the line with wildlife.  Are we propagating our precious heritage to maintain it’s existence and guarantee its preservation for our children or, are we simply being farmers preparing for the next crop of wildlife to charge hunters a fee to kill. 

In summary I submit there must be more advantageous ways for TWRA to bring in revenue other than shooting a magnificent piece of Tennessee heritage out of the sky..  Increase hunting license fees.  Understanding hunters should not object and would rally behind the effort to increase revenue for their sport.  Increase the cost of special species stamps.  Hunters should  willingly support the small increase in cost to protect and enhance their sport..

The answer to more revenue is creativity.  Educated managers working together exchanging creative ideas in order to increase revenue for their agency is fundamental.   I can not possibly envision anyone displaying pride in shooting and watching a magnificent, slow flying Sandhill Crane crumple up in mid air and falling to the ground.   I always thought we were better stewards of our wildlife than this………

If the question of to hunt or not to hunt the Sandhill Crane were submitted to the general public and not only hunters;  what do you think the resulting consensus would be?

I'm certain that every hunting club in the state of Tennessee has been notified far ahead of the crane hunting proposal and they have the organizational tools to solidify their numbers and press their vote in favor of the proposal to the commissioners.    The general public does not have "one speaks for all" voice.  There  is no organization to carry the public sentiment to TWRA.  Therefore;  it is essential that letters be written and sent to the commissioners of TWRA.  Their addresses appear below.  

Michael Chase
PO Box 50370
Knoxville, TN 37950
Business  (865) 522-3500
FAX:  (865) 522-8526

James Fyke (statewide) Commissioner-TDEC
21st Floor, L&C Tower
401 Church Street
Nashville, TN 37243-0435
Business: (615) 532-0104
FAX:  (615) 532-0120

Dr. Jeff McMillan (statewide)
1705 Edgemont Avenue
Bristol, TN 37620-4307
(423) 968-1933
FAX:  (423) 968-5015

Terry Oliver (statewide Commissioner
TN Dept of Agriculture
Ellington Agriculture Center
Nashville, TN 37204
Business:  (615) 837-5202
FAX:  (615) 837-5333

Eric Wright (statewide)
1587 Highway 91
Elizabethton, TN 37643
(423) 213-9514

Please contact these gentlemen and be the voice for the cranes and help end this peril they find themselves in.  Please feel free to comment to me on this blog or email me.  I invite you're comments and suggestions. 



I have been watching the situation as it winds down to the proposed crane hunt.  It seems the only thing non hunters can do is send their emotional pleas to TWRA in hopes of swamping the TWRA commissioner's offices with letters indicating their dismay at this proposed hunt.  The sandhill crane is held in reverence in this state and retains a position of importance in the eyes of the general public as near equal, if not equal, to the bald eagle.   The reasoning for the hunt is not clear.  I don't know if the idea was created over some biological reason, habitat, or hunter pressure or a combination of all.  But, I do know that if this sandhill crane hunt goes to fruition;  TWRA will polarize itself from the citizenry of Tennessee to a point that it may never recuperate.   It is fairly well understood that hunter funds, licenses, are a primary means of support to the wildlife and habitat in the state.  But, other means of support are contributed by the public and the birding community as well.  Bird stamps contribute enormously to the preservation and support of wild birds.  Only problem is, as I see it,  that all the funds from bird stamps do not stay and are not directed "only" to the birds of Tennessee.  That money supports habitat in other states as well.   Hunting license fees stay within the borders of the state.  Hunters receive a lot of consideration when they want something.  My most recent letter to TWRA, yesterday, points out this polarization affect that will result from a sandhill crane hunt.  I further stated that even if the hunters contribute the most moneys;  it doesn't mean they get everything they want.  No one gets everything they want.  It is possible to "just say no."  The sandhill is a gorgeous, graceful, huge bird and an easy target and there is shame involved if any sportsman would level the barrel of a shotgun on it. In my eyes that person isn't a sportsman but a slayer of animals for the sake of killing.  I once was an avid hunter myself and I know what the term sportsman means.  There is nothing sporting about shooting a magnificent creature that can't fly fast enough to get out of it's own way.  It's ludicrous to even think of slaying this bird.  Why not kill bald eagles?  Well;  why not?