We are requesting that USFWS: 1) re-evaluate the Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes to examine its underlying science; and 2) remove the Plan objective that provides for "hunting opportunities for EP sandhill cranes" until known science insures the welfare of the population, and a system is in place to include input from hunters and non-hunters who do not wish to see this population hunted.
The Eastern Population of Greater Sandhlll Cranes has come back from the brink of extinction from only 25 breeding pairs remaining in Wisconsin in the 1930's to an estimated 60,000 now migrating through the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways, making this population of sandhill cranes historically unique. A combination of hunting restrictions, wetland conservation and sandhill crane adaptation to foraging in waste grain field and use of smaller breeding territories have made this recovery possible.
The recovery of this population has become a much celebrated wildlife success story and the staging of thousands of sandhill cranes during migration has been enjoyed with awe and appreciation by many. This recovery has led to hunting organizations pushing for hunting opportunities. In 2010, the Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes was approved. Subsequently, a hunt proposal developed by the TN Wildlife Resources Agency was considered and postponed by the TN Wildlife Resources commission in January 2011. In June 2011, the Kentucky Wildlife and Resources Commission voted to go forward with a hunt season proposed for December 2011.
Supporting information for the petition's request:
1) The information below supports our belief that the Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes has prematurely set hunting as an objective. Problems described have been identified by authors of the plan and by additional sandhill crane experts.
a. Problems with survey methods are identified within the plan. Survey discrepancies have resulted in the setting of harvest strategies that have the potential for reducing the population by 50%. b. Ecological data is insufficient. Without data showing where breeding populations stage and winter, a disproportionate harvest of birds could adversely impact a single breeding area. c. Recruitment rate is low for this population and no population modeling has been done. Only one in three nests produces fledged young in a breeding season; only one in five fledglings survive to migrate. Under the KY proposal, for example, it would take 2800 nesting territories to replace the hunting loss. This represents a large percentage of nesting pairs in Wisconsin and Michigan, the chief breeding areas for cranes migrating through Kentucky. The KY proposal follows the guidelines set forth in the EP Management Plan. d. In the absence of sufficient information about the EP, the Plan has made assumptions based on the mid-continent population. There is evidence that these two populations are not comparable.
2) The inclusion of hunting in the plan does not provide a solution for crop depredation. No study has documented a situation in which hunting has prevented crop damage caused by cranes; however, other remedies are available.
3) Citizens who hunt were overly-represented in the decision-making process for the plan, while citizens who do not wish to see the Eastern Population hunted were under-represented, if not excluded during the decision-making process. These individuals include hunters who are also opposed to hunting the sandhill crane population.
Given that the EP of sandhill cranes is one population, and that this population crosses many state boundaries, and given that hunting does not solve the problem of crop depredation, but rather responds to the request of a special interest group, it makes sense that the important ethical question of whether citizens want to see the EP hunted should be addressed at this level. The USFWS and the flyway counsels are the entities that can address disparate citizen values and ethics presented by a hunting management objective that affects the entire EP of sandhill cranes.
The current Management Plan for the Eastern population of Sandhill Cranes fails to provide sufficient science to support hunting of the EP, and establishes a hunting objective that does not solve a problem, but rather responds to a special interest group without input from opposing views.
For the above reasons, we are asking the USFWS to with hold approval of hunting proposals based on this plan, and that the plan be re-examined and revised. Additionally, we request that Objective 4 of the Plan, "Provide hunting opportunities for EP sandhill cranes" be omitted from the Plan until an equitable process can be developed to include consideration of the values of citizens who do not wish to see the Eastern Population of sandhill cranes hunted.
We, the undersigned, respectfully request a review of the Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes prior to giving approval to any hunting proposals that will be governed by this plan. It is our belief that the current Plan has prematurely set hunting as an objective without adequate scientific knowledge to insure the welfare of this population.
Additionally, the current plan has failed to include input from hunters and non-hunters who do not wish to see this population hunted. Since this population breeds and migrates through the eastern region of our country, citizens of this region deserve to have opportunity to comment and question plan objectives. The flyway councils failed to offer this important comment opportunity. Since there is no study that shows hunting decreases crop depredation, the hunting objective does not function as a management tool, but caters to a special interest group, excluding consideration of all other citizens.
Thank you for your consideration of our request and for your work in the protection of our lands and wildlife.