Tennessee’s Nov. 28-Jan. 1 inaugural hunting season for sandhill cranes, approved during last month’s meeting of the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission, offers a compromise with the state’s ornithological society and various anti-hunting groups.
For the past two years they had waged a battle against the hunt, and although it has finally been approved, it will be more limited than it could have been.
Only 400 permits will be issued, with a bag limit of three birds per permit. That means that at most 1,200 sandhills can be harvested from a flock estimated at over 87,000.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service approved the hunting of sandhill cranes in Tennessee – as it already had in 15 other states – and would have allowed even more birds to be harvested.
Although professional wildlife managers testified that such a limited hunt will have no adverse impact on the overall sandhill population, the TFWC tried to allay some of the ornithologists’ concerns. In response to claims that the rarer Whooping Crane might be confused with the abundant Sandhill and shot by mistake, every hunter who draws a sandhill permit will be required to take a “crane identification class” before going on the hunt.
Details of the class and the process for drawing the 400 permits will be announced at a later date by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The sandhill hunting will be done primarily in southeast Tennessee where the migrating birds congregate every winter. Their numbers have become so profuse – estimated at more than 87,000 – that they cause extensive crop damage and compete with waterfowl and other indigenous wildlife for food.
In past years a number of federal permits have been issued to allow farmers to kill “nuisance” sandhill cranes to protect their crops.
During the TFWC meeting, presentations were made by individuals both for and against the hunt. Among those supporting the hunt were the TWRA and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.
Among the opponents were former President Jimmy Carter and primate observer Dr. Jane Goodall. Their expertise on the subject of crane hunting was unclear.
Another item on last month’s TFWC agenda was a resolution honoring Sen. Lamar Alexander for his “support of the TWRA and the sportsmen and sportswomen of Tennessee.”
Alexander helped prevent the closing of boat access below dams on the Cumberland River system by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He also helped secure funding for federal fish hatcheries in Tennessee and Georgia.
The Chattanooga Chapter of the Safari Club International presented the TWRA with a $4,000 donation to its elk-restoration project, now it its 12th year.
In other commission news, the statewide waterfowl season will open on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28) and run for 60 days.
Some changes in the state’s sport and commercial fishing were proposed for 2014 and will be discussed in detail at later meetings.
Also, the TWRA’s 2014-15 budget was approved without any announced increase in license fees. For several years the TWRA has held the line on license costs, despite increases in operating expenses. The agency receives no taxpayer funds.