FRANKFORT, KY - Over the objections of a bevy of birdwatchers, a sandhill crane hunting season may soon become a reality in Kentucky. Sandhill cranes are large, migratory birds that were almost completely wiped out in the early 1900's, but rebounded with federal protection. The population east of the Mississippi River now numbers around 60,000 and many of the birds winter in Kentucky.
Hundreds of people flock to see them, including Ben Yandell of Louisville.
"To push a hunting season on such a popular bird, after almost a hundred years, as if it were just any other technical proposal shows a concerning insulation from the views of the general public," said Yandell.
But the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission believes the sandhill crane population is now large enough to support limited hunting. After four hours of testimony, both pro and con, the commission voted unanimously to allow 400 birds a year to be taken, beginning in December. The plan still needs federal approval.
Prior to the vote, former Kentucky Poet Laureate Richard Taylor of Frankfort was among 14 people speaking in opposition to the hunt.
"I think we've learned in recent decades that every decision we make has a cost, and it has a social cost," said Taylor. "And opening season on sandhill cranes is a cost we simply can't afford to pay."
Among hunt supporters was Jay Bicknell of Fit2Kill Outdoors, who believes there's enough scientific evidence on sandhill crane populations to support the limited season.
As board members cast their votes, Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Doug Hensley spoke for the majority.
"We will never do anything at this body to hurt the resource," said Hensley. "It will not happen. And if we make a mistake to do it, we'll change it. But we won't do anything to hurt the resource. We spend too much volunteer time doing this and we would never do anything to hurt the resource."
Sandhill cranes have been legally hunted west of the Mississippi River for years.