The commonwealth’s first official sandhill crane hunting season begins tomorrow. The hunt has been controversial, and hasn’t drawn as much attention from hunters as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife anticipated.
Sandhill cranes have been hunted for more than 50 years in North America, but the eastern population of the birds has been protected for a century. Now, Kentucky will allow up to 400 of the birds to be killed in a hunt.
The hunting season lasts for 30 days, or until the 400 bird quota is reached. Rocky Pritchert is the migratory bird coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. He says the sandhill crane population has drastically recovered in recent years.
“The eastern population has done so well; its numbers have recovered tremendously over the years,” he said. “Our most recent population count, which was just conducted last November, came up with a population of 72,000. It’s just a tremendous wildlife success story.”
Ben Yandell is one of the founders for the Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes, and fought against the hunt. He says it’s significant that the state allotted 400 permits for the hunt, but only 332 people applied.
“This was never about hunters wanting to hunt sandhill cranes,” Yandell said. “This was something the department wanted to do. The department has had to work hard to create a demand among hunters for this.”
Yandell says there’s no reason to hunt the birds, which aren’t overpopulated or damaging to the environment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has argued the birds are in demand for their delectable meat, and the federal government has signed off on the proposal.