Nancy Merrill: Save the cranes


The cry of the sandhill cranes heard after a long winter joyfully announces that they, and spring, have returned to the Yampa Valley.  Sandhill cranes are among the most spectacular birds on Earth, and they are the oldest living species of birds, dating back in North America at least 9 million years. When you hear the voice of the sandhill crane in the spring, you are hearing a trumpet from the past.

Conservationist Aldo Leopold has written about the crane: “And so they live and have their being — these cranes — not in the constricted present but in the wider reaches of evolutionary time. Their annual return is the ticking of the geologic clock. Upon the place of their return they confer a peculiar distinction … a patent of nobility, won in the march of aeons.” Birders and non-birders alike agree that our valley is, indeed, made noble by the presence of these birds in our midst.

Because the cranes are so special to our valley, I am deeply disturbed to learn there is a proposal before the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to allow a sandhill crane hunting season in Routt and Moffat counties. While I am in no way anti-hunting, I adamantly oppose the hunting of sandhill cranes. As recently as the 1940s, the Rocky Mountain sandhill crane population (comprising parts of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Northwest Colorado) reached a historic low of 150 to 200 breeding pairs. In the 1950s, only 25 breeding pairs from this population were found in Colorado. This prompted the state to list them as an endangered species in 1973.  Since then, intensive efforts have been made to recover their populations within the state. The greater sandhill crane now has been downlisted within Colorado but still is considered a state species of concern. It has not yet fully recovered from its decimation as seen by the fact that it still does not occupy all of its former range.

Sandhills do not share the rapid reproduction rates typical of game bird species. They mate for life but do not begin breeding until 5 to 7 years old. Typically, a pair produces only one offspring per year. In difficult years such as 2011 when we experienced extensive and prolonged flooding, a pair may be unsuccessful in raising any young. The last nesting survey of cranes in our area was done in 2005, so we have no recent accurate data on breeding success, nor is there adequate information on the genetic diversity of the Rocky Mountain population. Why would we want to consider hunting this species when it’s still struggling to make a comeback? And shouldn’t certain species — cranes, raptors, herons and songbirds — be exempt from hunting, no matter how abundant?

Throughout the world, cranes are regarded with unique respect and affection. Here in the Yampa Valley, they draw tourists and wildlife watchers who spend their dollars and boost our economy. They thrill the tourists and our local population with their complex vocalizations, their joyful dancing and their soaring flight. We are blessed to have these birds in our presence, and we should make every effort to ensure they survive and flourish. 

There is no place for crane hunting in our valley. It is hard to believe that one less species to hunt would diminish the number of hunters visiting our area, whereas a hunting season for cranes could be devastating to birding and wildlife tourism. Please join us in defeating this proposal. Write or email the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission at 6060 Broadway, Denver, CO 80216 or email There’s also a petition at

Nancy Merrill



Thomas Litteral 3 years ago

Hundreds of school children have been introduced to the nesting sandhill cranes at the Legacy Ranch. The environmental lessons of real conservation measures in action with special agricultural practices, land use planning, responsible Nature base tourism, and the complex needs of land stewardship are part of what nesting cranes make possible. Will the final lesson be taught, that if these same sandhill cranes are guilty of flying over the river into a Colorado State Wildlife Area they will be shot on sight? Heartbreaking! Tom Litteral, Steamboat Springs


Brian Kotowski 3 years ago

Reading the first & fifth paragraphs of that letter was like choking down a marshmallow soaked in honey. Excuse me while I empty the sap out of my head.


kathy foos 3 years ago

Good Luck with that sap..Sep.Don't kill any cranes,that is just a sick idea.I hardly ever even see one and our wildlife people want them hunted?


George Fargo 3 years ago

If we must go out and blast another bird, how about open season on magpies....


mark hartless 3 years ago

Kathy, When was the last time you saw a baby crow?


Brian Kotowski 2 years, 12 months ago

How about a season on Golden Retrievers? If it's good enough for the President...


Fred Duckels 2 years, 12 months ago

When I was young we had small animals in abundance, but today save for foxes a sighting is rare. Cranes certainly are not abundant.


cindy constantine 2 years, 12 months ago

I have no great desire to go hunt cranes. I too enjoy watching them and every year I seem to see more all over the valley. However, this is not a "hunting issue". This is a wildlife "management issue." This would not even be a consideration if this was an endangered or declining species. I think we should let the Division of Wildlife do their job of managing the species appropriate to the habitat that is available. Crane hunting is available on the front range, what is the difference on the western slope if the habitat does not support the growing population. Anyone seen the winter wheat fields in the south and midwest after a snow geese flock has descended? So much for that farmers hard labor as the field becomes barren in short order. No bag limit on snow geese hunting in south Texas. Also a beautiful bird and from personal experience VERY TASTY!!!


Fred Duckels 2 years, 12 months ago

Cindy, I tend to be leary of advice from those who make a buck from hunting. I think that our guides and outfitters occasionally have too much clout. I was raised on wild meat but I no longer have a dog in the hunt. The state also depends on liscense sales for it's revenue and it is not entirely without motive. I've heard the talking points before but proving one's mettle by shooting cranes is suspect.


rhys jones 2 years, 12 months ago

Fred -- Your depth continues to impress, I see we don't disagree on everything, and you are right, there are several dogs in this fight. Opposing us bleeding hearts are the license/stamp lobby, as well as trophy hunters, who would love nothing better than to stuff one of these ancient beauties to add to their collection.

I grew up hunting -- lost the urge -- and have eaten many varieties of game and fowl, including snow goose, and not including crane. I say let these sirloins fly, and find something else to eat.


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