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Facts don't faze crane-hunting critics

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:57 PM

Despite the fact that Tennessee's inaugural hunting season for Sandhill Cranes came off without hitch or glitch -- just as state and federal wildlife officials predicted -- critics continue their crusade.

They complain that the total number of birds tagged is greater than initially announced. That's because the TWRA used a mail-in system to compile the harvest figures, part of extensive data it is compiling. Some hunters were tardy in sending in their tags.

At last count the number of cranes killed was 328, and that's probably close to the final tally -- and nowhere near the 1,200 birds for which permits were issued.

Biologists estimate the number of Sandhills that migrate through southeast Tennessee every winter at around 60,000. Taking 328 out of a flock of 60,000 won't dent the population.

Opponents of the hunt said it would frighten away Sandhills on the Hiwassee Refuge where bird-watchers and other visitors converge for an annual "Crane Festival." That didn't happen.

Opponents predicted other crane species would be killed by mistake. That didn't happen either. (Each permit-holder was required to take a Sandhill-identification class.)

One letter-writer was upset, for some reason, that TV celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern participated in the hunt, killed a crane, and prepared it for an upcoming episode. Perhaps she didn't like it because it cast the hunt, and hunting in general, in a positive light.

She noted that former president Jimmy Carter and Jane Goodall opposed the hunt. I don't know what qualifies a Georgia politician a Tanzania chimp-watcher as authorities on Tennessee wildlife management.

The opposition to the Sandhills hunt was -- and continues to be -- based entirely on Disney-esque emotion, and that's why hunters should beware. If opponents could stop crane hunting, why couldn't they likewise stop hunting ducks, geese and doves using the same illogic? All are migratory game birds, just like Sandhills.

And what about upland game? How come the Sandhill defenders don't get their feathers ruffled over the killing of 30,000 wild turkeys every spring in Tennessee? Turkeys have been hunted for generations, yet today the population is at an all-time high, due to prudent management.

I personally have no interest in hunting Sandhill Cranes. I didn't apply for a permit for the recent hunt. I'd rather be deer hunting. The only dog I have in the crane fight is a concern about the disastrous precedent that could be set if the bird-watchers got their way. Today cranes, tomorrow turkeys?

Wildlife management should be left to trained wildlife professionals, not dilettantes and amateurs acting on emotion.

Tennessee's inaugural Sandhill season is completed, and contrary to critics' predictions the sky didn't fall -- just as it hasn't fallen in any of the other states in which the cranes have been hunted for decades.

I respect the passion and the good (though misguided) intentions of those who oppose hunting Sandhills, and if the birds were endangered I'd be the first to join their ranks. (I encourage the TWRA to suspend hunting quail for a couple of years to see if it will help the bobwhites rebound.)

But as long as the cranes remain plentiful, there's no reason not to allow hunters to harvest a limited number -- just as we harvest a limited number of ducks, geese, wild turkeys and other game birds every year.

Take away the emotion, and there's no reason not to.

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