The legal hunting of sandhill cranes in Kentucky has moved another step closer to becoming a reality, but final approval is still pending. Earlier this month, the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously approved a sandhill crane hunting season in Kentucky. The season, with a mid-December start, would last for 30 days, or until 400 of the huge, migratory birds have been killed, whichever comes first.
The plan also needs federal approval, and has cleared its first hurdle.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Service Regulations Committee approved the Kentucky hunt proposal, which is considered a three-year, experimental hunting season," Brian Blank told Kentucky Public Radio.
Blank, with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, says the hunt is still months away from final approval on both the state and federal levels.
The hunt is strongly opposed by numerous environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and the Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes.
Blank says regulatory committee approval gets the ball rolling on the federal level.
"So, the next step is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will publish the regulation in a federal register, for approximately a two-week period, for public comment," said Blank. "And this should occur around mid-July."
The proposed hunting season must also be considered by oversight committees of the Kentucky General Assembly. A hearing on the state regulation is scheduled for July 21 at the KDFWR office in Frankfort.
Blank says there may be federal hearings, too.
"The public comment period is from July 1st to August 1st," said Blank. "There would be public hearings, if requested. They would probably occur between July 21st and July 29th."
Sandhill cranes have been legally hunted for years west of the Mississippi River, but this would be the first time in nearly 100 years such hunts would be permitted in the eastern United States. Kentucky is the first eastern state to seek approval of a sandhill crane season.
Sandhill cranes were nearly hunted into extinction in the early 1900's, but rebounded through federal protections.