Songbird Protection Coalition

​​Michigan Songbird Protection Coalition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            

December 11, 2017

FOIA’d correspondence shows that Michigan DNR trumped up demand for recreational sandhill crane hunt

Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, internal emails within the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reveal a shocking false narrative to support demands by special interest groups to create a hunting season on sandhill cranes, the Michigan Songbird Protection Coalition announced today.

“The stunning FOIA findings indicate that the DNR, anticipating great public opposition to the recreational hunting of sandhill cranes, worked under a cloak of darkness with the Michigan
Natural Resources Commission (NRC) and state lawmakers to create the false impression that hunting sandhill cranes is needed to mitigate conflicts with the state’s crops. Nothing could be farther from the truth,” said Julie Baker, the coalition’s director. 

The emails reveal a pattern of bureaucratic sleight of hand that included the DNR encouraging powerful agriculture and hunting lobbyists to push for a hunt.

“The notion that a recreational sandhill crane hunt will somehow provide relief to farmers is not backed by any solid data or science,” Baker said. “Instead, a sandhill crane hunt would succeed only in generating a few dollars for the DNR, at a time when hunter registration is in a steady decline and wildlife watcher
numbers and expenditures are climbing sharply.”

The DNR has sidestepped taking an official position on a sandhill crane hunt, including an official statement on a Michigan House resolution adopted by voice vote in October that urges a recreational hunt of sandhill cranes. In the
Detroit Free Press on June 26, 2017, DNR waterfowl specialist Barbara Avers said that the DNR had no position on the hunt but would provide technical advice to the NRC should it consider one.

But in a January 2017
email, DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason urged two members of the governor-appointed NRC to lobby powerful agriculture entities to make it appear as if the purpose of a hunt would be only to resolve conflicts with sandhill cranes. Mason said that “…it would be good to see if [two members of the NRC] could talk to the FB [Farm Bureau] and the Ag Commission and see whether they’d formally encourage the NRC to explore whether a permitted hunt might be a worthwhile addition to resolving conflict?”

The Michigan Farm Bureau is the state’s largest farming interest organization. The five-member, governor-appointed Michigan Agriculture Commission recommends and determines state policy on food, agriculture, and rural development issues.

According to another DNR email correspondence obtained by the coalition, agency staff began formulating a strategy to promote a sandhill crane hunt as early as October 2016. In one
email, a DNR staff member wrote that Mason “…has been fairly interested in getting a season…” on sandhill cranes.

Then in a December 2016
email, Mason said to DNR staff about a potential for a sandhill crane hunt: “FYI, as you might suspect, this is one I could get behind.”

Michigan citizens have demonstrated that they oppose recreational hunting seasons on traditional non-game species, rejecting a mourning dove hunt proposal in a landslide ballot referendum vote in 2006, and the trophy hunting of wolves in two ballot referendum votes in 2014.

Sandhill cranes are a vulnerable and recovering species that was nearly wiped out in Michigan by the mid-20th century due to hunting and loss of habitat. Because of sound, scientific non-game conservation policy, their population has begun to stabilize. Often described as majestic in flight, their trumpeting call is considered one of the most unique sounds in nature.

More facts about sandhill cranes:

·         Michigan has a strong hunting tradition, and there are already
dozens of game species for hunters to pursue.

·         The sandhill crane is Michigan’s largest bird, with a wingspan reaching up to seven feet. Sandhill cranes mate for life, but pair bonding and breeding takes time. It often takes four to seven years before the cranes breed, making them among the
slowest reproducing birds in North America.

·         There is no clear consensus on sandhill crane
population numbers in Michigan. This, combined with other existing challenges to sandhill crane persistence that include a slow reproduction and recruitment rate, disease, poisoning by ingesting lead ammunition and tackle, collisions with power lines, and other hazards, indicates a lack of sufficient evidence that a sport hunting season would not hinder continued recovery of sandhill cranes.

·         If sandhill cranes are affecting corn seed planted near prime wetland habitats, Michigan farmers may obtain a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to
control conflicts caused by those migratory birds on corn farms adjacent to prime wetland habitats. But biologists and researchers agree: a fall hunting season would not provide direct assistance to crop areas impacted by sandhill cranes occurring in the spring, and a 2017 report published by the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service notes that documentation is lacking to determine whether hunting or other lethal means of removing sandhill cranes actually reduces crop damage. Groups like the International Crane Foundation have worked at developing a non-toxic and non-lethal chemical deterrent, called Avipel, which is more effective than lethal control in reducing crop issues by sandhill cranes.

The Michigan Songbird Protection Coalition is a group of Michigan citizens that includes hunters, biologists, bird hobbyists, environmentalists, farmers and animal welfare advocates, among others. For more information about our call to action to prevent hunting of mourning doves and sandhill cranes and, please visit the Michigan Songbird Protection Coalition website: www.songbirdprotection.com