Michigan voters have already rejected a mourning dove shooting season; how could the state open one anyway?
Mourning doves had been a protected species in Michigan for more than 100 years when the state legislature narrowly passed a law in 2004 authorizing an open season on them. But Michigan voters overturned that law with a referendum vote in the 2006 general election by an overwhelming 69% to 31% vote, across all 83 of the state’s counties, and returned mourning doves to protected status. And Mourning doves were given additional protection from shooting by a law passed in late 2016 that prohibits the state’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) from designating any species to the game list by a public act that has been rejected by a referendum vote before 2013—as mourning doves had been in 2006.
Some special interest groups now want to remove the obstacle denying them a mourning dove shooting season by urging the Michigan legislature to repeal that prohibitive clause enacted in 2016. Once that is done, the NRC—whose members are not elected and are therefore not subject to voter oversight—can immediately designate mourning doves as a game species and authorize a sport shooting season on them. Politically appointed NRC members are not required to be scientists, biologists, or trained wildlife specialists and are largely beholden to a wide spectrum of hunting and trapping interest groups.
Why is it wrong to shoot mourning doves?
There is no justifiable need to hunt mourning doves, so their “management” is superfluous. Mourning doves are not overpopulated, do not cause nuisance problems, and have very little meat on their tiny bodies. Simply stated, they are shot for target practice. It is nothing more than the gratuitous killing of an inoffensive species. Scientific studies also indicate that more than 30% of mourning doves shot in state-sanctioned hunts are wounded but not killed immediately. Michigan has a strong hunting tradition; currently there are plenty of game species for hunters to pursue. However, mourning dove shooting has never been part of our state’s outdoors tradition.
Many other states allow mourning dove shooting. Why shouldn't Michigan, too?
Michigan should consider the attributes and needs of the state’s northern dove population and not blindly follow what other states are doing. Michigan is not a migration flyway state--it is at the northernmost edge of the mourning doves’ breeding zone. Our state is not host to vast migrating flocks that typically may pass through states to our south. The best guide for what is right for Michigan and its own citizens is that our state has protected mourning doves for more than 100 years. In the last century, there may have been periodic discussions about authorizing the sport shooting of mourning doves in Michigan, but they had always been rejected—up until a bill to do so was narrowly passed by the legislature in 2004, only to be overturned by Michigan citizens in a 2006 landslide vote.
Who opposes the shooting of mourning doves?
Michiganders do. During the 2006 ballot referendum campaign to overturn the state’s dove shooting law, every major newspaper in Michigan published editorials opposing the shooting of mourning doves. What’s more, every statewide public opinion poll conducted at the time showed that a majority of Michigan citizens, including the majority of Michigan hunters, opposed dove shooting. More than 5,000 Michiganders volunteered to gather voter signatures for that campaign, and more than 285,000 of the state’s voters signed the petition to place the referendum on the ballot. When those Michigan voters went to the polls in the November 2006 general election, they overturned the mourning dove shooting law by an overwhelming vote of 69% to 31%. Every one of Michigan’s 83 counties voted against the dove hunt.
What’s more, dove shooting will contribute to the discharge of enormous amounts of toxic lead shot into Michigan’s environment. For every dove shot and bagged, hunters discharge an average of 8 shots, according to a long-term study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Densities of greater than 860,000 pellets per hectare have been reported in dove fields, which are usually crop-growing soils.[i] Cumulative lead deposits pose a significant risk to ground-feeding mourning doves and to other wildlife that directly and indirectly ingest toxic shot, including birds of prey and other animals who scavenge on downed birds.
If they allow the hunting of mourning doves, will they want to hunt other songbirds?
All of the state’s songbird species are beloved by Michiganders. It is alarming the effect a sanctioned dove hunt could have on our state’s social values. If the shooting of doves were allowed, what argument or science will preserve the protected status of other songbirds if hunting interests “target” those species? Birds such as blue jays, robins, cardinals, and many others could be hunted without imperiling their populations, but we have decided as a society that shooting those songbirds for sport is inappropriate and offensive. The success and stability of a songbird’s population should never be used as justification for a shooting season. Our social values—even in a state like Michigan with such a longstanding hunting tradition—have protected mourning doves for more than 100 years. The state's voters have already made it abundantly and resoundingly clear that they want it to remain that way.
Mourning doves won't become endangered if Michigan shoots them, will they?
There is no simple answer. The question is not just, “Can we hunt mourning doves without threatening their population?” but also, “Should we hunt mourning doves?” Human hunting always has an impact on wildlife populations, often in ways not always anticipated or considered. Introducing hunting pressure on a species leaves indelible marks on their perception of the world around them, and the behaviors and habits of the wildlife we love may be changed for years to come. Opportunities to view, study, and interact with our songbird friends, while enjoying their trust and accessibility, will most likely be endangered. For example: doves are “sentinel birds” -- when they flush, all the feeding birds flush, so the loss of docile, trusting songbirds to our bird feeders is a consequence that will not be acceptable to the majority of Michiganders.
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.
[i] Franson, J. C., S. P. Hansen, and J. H. SCHULZ. 2009. “Ingested shot and tissue lead concentrations in Mourning Doves.” In R. T. Watson, M. Fuller, M. Pokras, and W. G. Hunt (Eds.). Ingestion of Lead from Spent Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans. The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho, USA. DOI 10.4080/ilsa.2009.0202
[iii] “Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes,” Ad Hoc Eastern Population Sandhill Crane Committee, 2010.
Songbird Protection Coalition