By Howard Meyerson
Michigan’s iconic Sandhill Cranes, majestic and standing three to four feet tall, are by all accounts an example of conservation success. Once nearly extirpated by market hunting and wetland loss, they thrive today in marshes all around the state. Nearly 24,000 were counted across Michigan last spring. Only 27 Lower Peninsula pairs could be found in 1944.
“Sandhill Crane populations have grown exponentially over the past few decades,” reports Dave Luukkonen, avian research specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). “From 1966 to 2013, the growth rate has been 10.5 percent a year. At one point they were endangered here.”
Michigan’s cranes make up a growing percentage of the U.S. eastern population which totaled 87,796 in 2012, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). That growing presence on the Michigan landscape is viewed with pleasure and concern in different communities. Birdwatchers enjoy seeing more of them. Farmers increasingly complain about them eating crops. Hunters have asked whether Michigan will open a season for them, and three Michigan Indian tribes have proposed hunting seasons for this fall.
“The tribal take is marginal,” notes Russ Mason, MDNR wildlife division chief. “They have seasons already. It won’t make a difference (to the population).”
A 2012 harvest report by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission reported two Wisconsin cranes were killed during Great Lakes tribal seasons that year. Subsistence harvests are far smaller than non-tribal sport harvests according to Luukkonen, who has compared waterfowl harvests for both groups. The bigger question, he says, is whether Michigan is ready for a Sandhill Crane hunting season. He thinks not. Continue reading