Sandhill Cranes FAQs
How could a sandhill crane hunt happen in Michigan?
Sandhill cranes are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), but states with a sandhill crane population have the option of authorizing a hunting season on these vulnerable birds. In order for a season to be opened in Michigan, the state legislature or the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) would have to designate them as a game species, and then the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would submit a proposed plan for a hunt to the NRC. That proposal would then be opened for public comment and the persuasive “pressures” of lobbyists before the NRC would vote on it, but there would be no avenue of public appeal once the NRC made its decision.
Will a hunting season help reduce crop damage by sandhill cranes?
No. The International Crane Foundation points out that a fall sandhill crane hunting season will not solve damage to corn crops, which occurs in the spring when the sandhill cranes feed on the germinating corn seed after planting.[ii] The Ad Hoc Eastern Population Sandhill Crane Committee also found that a fall hunting season would not provide direct assistance to areas impacted by sandhill crane spring crop damage.[iii] The International Crane Foundation has worked at developing a non-toxic and non-lethal chemical deterrent, called Avipel, that is evidentially more effective in reducing crop damage by sandhill cranes. You can find out more about their work here.
What can Michigan farmers do if sandhill cranes are damaging their crops?
Since sandhill cranes, along with Canada geese, gulls, hawks, and waterfowl, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), farmers must obtain a special permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to control conflict caused by those migratory birds on corn farms that are adjacent to the prime wetland habitats these valuable birds frequent. Additional information can be found on the MSU Extension website here.
What other states already hunt sandhill cranes?
Currently the following states authorize the hunting of the Mid-Continent Population (MCP) and Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) of sandhill cranes:
Only recently have two states allowed a hunting season on the Eastern Population (EP) of sandhill cranes: Kentucky in 2011 and Tennessee in 2013. Michigan is host to EP sandhill cranes, but traditionally, does not allow hunting.
How could a hunting season affect the overall health of Michigan’s sandhill cranes?
Recent research has noted that opening a recreational hunting season on the Eastern Population (EP) of sandhill cranes could easily wipe out genetically unique populations and the diversity necessary for long-term survival of the species. This is particularly crucial in the northernmost range of the EP, which includes Michigan. There are other less measurable, but still important ways the pressures of hunting would adversely impact Michigan’s sandhill cranes. Harassment, hunting, non-kill injuries, and other disturbances to their migratory routines would undoubtedly affect their perception of the world around them. Additionally, their understanding of humans as a threat would be compromised, and it would ultimately impact their pairing, breeding, and parenting behaviors as they are forced to coexist with the formerly tolerated presence of normal human activity.
Songbird Protection Coalition
Isn't this effort being pushed by out-of-state groups that oppose all hunting?
No. The Songbird Protection Coalition is a group made up of Michiganders -- people that include avid hunters, biologists, bird hobbyists, concerned citizens, environmentalists, farmers, children, city and community administrators, legislators, retailers, religious groups, ornithologists, restaurant and hotel/hospitality workers and owners, professors, wildlife rehabilitators, and animal welfare advocates. All these people have the common goal of retaining Michigan’s longstanding protections for our mourning doves and sandhill cranes. These protections benefit birds and humans, alike -- in countless ways.
How are humane organizations involved in this effort?
Among other conservation and environmental advocacy organizations, several humane societies throughout Michigan are involved in maintaining the protection of traditional non-game birds in the state. These include The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization, which serves the interests of its hundreds of thousands of members, supporters, and volunteers in Michigan. They, along with other Songbird Protection Coalition members, are committed to retaining and continuing the protected status of mourning doves and sandhill cranes in our home state of Michigan.
[iii] “Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes,” Ad Hoc Eastern Population Sandhill Crane Committee, 2010.
Songbird Protection Coalition