Sandhill Cranes, Crop Depredation, and Hunting in Wisconsin - International Crane Foundation

International Crane Foundation

 

Sandhill Cranes, Crop Depredation, and Hunting in Wisconsin

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Cranes evoke a strong emotional and spiritual connection for many people in Wisconsin and around the world. Cranes and the habitats they use are valued and supported by hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, farmers, and many other people in urban and rural areas across the state.

Once nearly lost from Wisconsin, Sandhill Cranes have undergone a dramatic population recovery over the past 70 years and are now a widespread breeding bird across our region. The recovery of the Sandhill Crane population is mostly attributed to their ability to adapt to agricultural landscapes in Wisconsin, coupled with hunting regulations and wetland protections that allowed this slow-reproducing species to thrive in the wild. Sandhill Cranes can be beneficial to farms at certain times of the year when they feed on agricultural pests and waste grain. However, cranes can also congregate in large numbers during the spring planting season, and in particular, locales cause damage to new shoots of corn and other crops.

A bill is currently under consideration in the Wisconsin State Assembly to create a hunting season for Sandhill Cranes in Wisconsin. Click here to view the bill. Approval of a Sandhill Crane hunt is sought by the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association and other farmers to reduce crop depredation on farms and trigger compensation payments to farmers.

Any consideration of a potential crane hunt should be undertaken using the best available science and diverse opinions while sharing a vision for sustaining healthy crane populations on healthy landscapes. The International Crane Foundation has the following concerns about the proposed hunt:

A public hearing about Bill Number SB-620 will be held at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 10 a.m. in the North Hearing Room. The bill number is required for people to submit written comments or request to speak during the public hearing. More information about the public hearing testifying process is available here.

If you cannot attend the hearing, please contact your State Representative and bill sponsor Senator Mary Felzkowski to share your views on a possible Sandhill Crane hunt in Wisconsin.

Fall hunting of Sandhill Cranes will not solve the problem of crane damage to corn, which occurs in the spring when the cranes feed on the germinating corn seed after planting

1. Hunting is not a solution for crop damage caused by Sandhill Cranes, but solutions are available.

• Fall hunting of Sandhill Cranes will not solve the problem of crane damage to corn, which occurs in the spring when the cranes feed on the germinating corn seed after planting.

• Farmers already are permitted to shoot Sandhill Cranes on their farms, if eligible, using a depredation permit obtained from the Federal government. In 2019, more than 1,000 cranes were taken using these permits in Wisconsin. However, despite the prevalence of this permitted take, it has not reduced crop depredation. There is no evidence that a hunting season will address crop depredation in a meaningful way.

• The International Crane Foundation played a key role in developing an effective chemical deterrent (Avipel) that offers a much more effective alternative for reducing crop damage than a limited crane hunt. The total area that farmers have chosen to treat has grown every year since we first received permission to deploy the technique from the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2006. Learn more about this research and the use of Avipel to stop crop damage, and download the fact sheet Protect your corn from cranes.

• With Avipel-treated crops, cranes remain on the farm but switch from germinating corn to other food items (such as insects). In this way, the crop depredation problem doesn’t move to other fields as occurs with hunting or other deterrents.

 

Although the eastern population of Sandhill Cranes is already hunted in several states, the proposed legislation would lead to the first authorized hunt on their core breeding grounds.

2. If not very carefully managed, Sandhill Crane hunting can harm populations.

• Over the last 70 years, Wisconsin’s Sandhill Crane population has recovered remarkably from very low numbers. However, in contrast to most game bird species, Sandhill Cranes reproduce very slowly. Most pairs do not successfully nest until four to five years of age, lay only two eggs, and typically only one hatchling survives to fledge once every three years.

• Around the world, hunting poses a threat to other crane species due to their slow rate of reproduction. Hunting was a key factor in the near loss of Sandhill Cranes from the Midwest and near extinction of Whooping Cranes in North America, contributed to the demise of the west Asian population of Critically Endangered Siberian Cranes, and is now triggering a steady population decline for Demoiselle Cranes in central Asia.

• Although the eastern population of Sandhill Cranes is already hunted in several states, the proposed legislation would lead to the first authorized hunt on their core breeding grounds. There is a significant risk that local breeding populations of Sandhill Cranes can be overharvested.

• Managing a Sandhill Crane hunt to protect the important breeding populations in Wisconsin will present significant challenges, including the need to identify the number and location of fall migratory birds in relation to local breeding birds in the state. The initiation of a hunt in northwest Minnesota in 2011, targeting the migratory Mid-Continent population of Sandhill Cranes that breed in the Northwest corner of that state, for example, led to a measurable population decline for that population for the next two years.

 

We need to make Avipel more affordable and widely available as a response to crop damage caused by cranes and other wildlife. We are committed to working with farmers, seed producers, legislators, and all others to make this happen.

3. The financial cost of a crane hunt would outweigh the financial benefit to most farmers and the State of Wisconsin.

• Despite the advantages and effectiveness of Avipel for solving crop depredation on the farm, the International Crane Foundation acknowledges that the use of Avipel is an added expense for farmers. We need to make Avipel more affordable and widely available as a response to crop damage caused by cranes and other wildlife. We are committed to working with farmers, seed producers, legislators, and all others to make this happen.

• One argument for approving a Sandhill Crane hunt is that an approved hunting season is necessary for farmers to qualify for claims under the statewide Wildlife Damage Abatement and Claims Program. Monies obtained from a Sandhill Crane hunting season would be pooled into this program, which addresses crop damage by deer, turkeys, bears, geese, and elk. If Sandhill Cranes are added to this program, however, we project that wildlife damage payments to corn producers would drain the available funds for all damage claims very quickly, for the following reasons:

A limited Sandhill Crane hunt would generate a low level of permit revenue;

Administrative costs would increase for enrolling producers in the program, providing abatement assistance, conducting crop appraisals, and processing damage claims;

Program costs would increase for the purchase of damage prevention tools/supplies that are required.

• Alternative, more sustainable solutions for farmers include ensuring that all corn seed is treated at the point of manufacture with Avipel or other deterrents to cranes and other wildlife that may prey on germinating corn or seeds. Such availability would very substantially reduce the cost of deterrents per acre.

 

Since the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership established the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes in 2001, at least one in 10 deaths was caused by shooting. This has clearly delayed the success of the reintroduction, and a Sandhill Crane hunt would likely increase the risk further.

4. The accidental shooting of Whooping Cranes is a threat to their successful reintroduction into Wisconsin and the eastern United States.

• The International Crane Foundation and partners have worked for 20 years to reintroduce the endangered Whooping Crane to Wisconsin and its flyway in the eastern United States. This small and young population is highly vulnerable to any deaths of adult breeding birds (read about the shooting of a breeding female in Indiana).

• Since the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership established the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes in 2001, at least one in 10 deaths was caused by shooting. This has clearly delayed the success of the reintroduction, and a Sandhill Crane hunt would likely increase the risk further.

 

The International Crane Foundation is a trusted source of information on Sandhill Cranes and their management. Through over 30 years of research on Sandhill Cranes, and hosting of the Annual Midwest Crane Count, the International Crane Foundation has a unique database and understanding of Sandhill Cranes. We share this knowledge through our website and direct discussion with stakeholders concerned about the hunt decision or any other conservation issue involving Sandhill Cranes.

 

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Federal and state conservation agencies have created a management plan for the Eastern Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes that identifies the framework for hunting in this population: Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes (2010)