Tuesday, September 11, 2012

CRANE HUNT THOUGHTS

I don't want to dwell on this sandhill crane hunt issue just yet but, it bothers me no less this year than it did when I first heard about it two years ago.  I have received a few emails pertaining to the previous post already.  Hiwassee was not designed or installed as a sandhill crane refuge.  Its initial purpose was to be a duck refuge.  The cranes came later.  They stopped off on their migratory flights.  Grain was planted for the ducks and the cranes found the pickings easy.  Most moved on carrying out their migratory expedition.  Many started to stay and take advantage of the planted grain.  Over the years more and more grain was planted to satisfy the hungry mouths.  Years passed with more and more grain planted and more and more cranes stopping over for the winter.  Eventually folks started a crane festival that revolved around the migratory movement of the cranes.  Whooping cranes could be viewed intermingled with the sandhills.  It was a viewing treasure and, still is.  Now the festival is a money maker and if the grain planting is reduced - the festival will fall short of its revenue, as I understand it..  If the grain planting is reduced the cranes will overflow into the local farm grain fields and decimate them.  That's a quick, inexact snapshot of what the situation is.  If they are a bother at Hiwassee, the thing to do is to stop planting grain for them.  They will still take advantage of local fields but, within a year or so they will not stop over and stay.  Enter the sportsman/hunter.

It is hunter dollars that created and maintains Hiwassee.  It is hunter dollars that planted the grain.  It is the hunter dollars that pay the entire bill on the reserve.  Hunters feel they have the right to hunt that which they have invested in.  To a point they are correct.  Their passion for hunting is backed up with their dollars and sporting goods taxes.  Non hunters who are outraged at the thought of killing cranes have not invested money into the crane habitat, nor do they contribute financially to the stewards in charge of Tennessee's wildlife - Tennessee Wildlife Resource's Agency (TWRA),  that is funded solely by hunter and fishermen's dollars along with a tax collected on sporting goods throughout the state.  That is the second part of the issue.

The third part is that the sandhill crane has successfully returned to life from the edge of extinction.  Along with them stand the whooping crane that is still in very great peril of disappearing from the face of the earth.  The question is, is it right to kill this bird simply because it exists in healthy populations large enough to hunt?  Should something so beautiful and so impressive be shot simply because it is there?  There are biological factors that enter into this whole affair and I'll leave those explanations up to the professionals.  I know enough about it to get myself in trouble.  There are experts in the birding community who have solid data explaining why hunting cranes is detrimental to the species.

As for myself - I have been mesmerized by the beauty of the soaring sandhills ever since the first time I saw them at Hiwassee.  The increasing audible sounds of hundreds flying toward me made a chill run down my back the first time I experienced their awesome spectacle of flight.  To shoot these amazing birds is sacrilege.

The last part of my rant follows:  There is absolutely nothing about shooting a sandhill crane that is sportsman like.   They fly very slowly.  They are big birds.  I can't imagine how anyone could experience a sense of accomplishment at killing one of these beautiful birds.  They are not challenging to a shot gun at all.  The bird is admired by folks all over this country and to insert the species on the hunting game list seems ridiculous.  I personally feel that any hunter who would kill a sandhill should review his or her definition of "sportsman."  They are shot in some other states.  That shouldn't be a reason to kill them in Tennessee.  Let me add the following:

I heard on the state radio two days ago that a fisherman called the TWRA poachers hot line and reported  that a duck hunter just shot a great blue heron, protected bird.  I was incensed!  This beautiful bird poses no threat in any way to any resource and is considered a welcome resident on the lakes.  Much to TWRA's credit - a TWRA chase boat was dispatched immediately to the scene.  I was working the area myself and shot pictures of the cruiser rushing to intercept the culprits.  Think about it a second.  $50,000 worth of equipment was dispatched to the scene of a single bird in peril.  That is dedication to resource protection whether you like TWRA or not.  They are dedicated to the resources of this state.  At times their decisions are unpopular but then they are governed by law and the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission who act for the hunters and fishermen of the state.  Not two hours later another call went to dispatch from a farmer who was reporting that between 25 and 30 wild turkeys were slaughtered in his pasture field and left laying there. What sense does that make?  Hunting season brings out the bad with the good in man.  Point is that this evil mentality will also be unleashed on the cranes, along with the responsible sportsmen.  And then there is the issue of the whooping cranes flocking with the sandhills.  Very similar looking and difficult for the layman to differentiate between the two species.  I could go on and on but most of my gripes with the proposed hunt are emotional.  Emotional pleas won't get it this year folks.  I tried to tell everyone to unite and contribute to the resource and even suggested a means to do so but it fell on deaf ears.  My fingers are crossed that the birders across the state can prevent this impending travesty.