Steamboat Today reader Stewart L. Beall submitted this photo of a sandhill crane along Routt County Road 18. A discussion about a proposal to establish a hunting season for sandhill cranes is at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Steamboat.
- Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 7 p.m.
Steamboat Springs Biologist Jim Gammonley said wildlife officials would take steps to try to protect pairs of sandhill cranes that nest locally if the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission approves a new limited autumn hunting season for the birds in Routt and Moffat counties.
Gammonley, the avian program leader for Parks and Wildlife, will be in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday night to take part in a public roundtable discussion about a proposal to establish a hunting season for greater sandhill cranes.
“We want to have minimal impact on our local birds,” Gammonley said Tuesday. “Whether we do have hunting or we don’t have hunting, the birds are going to be fine. The population has been chugging along nice and stable the last 30 years.”
Tentatively, Parks and Wildlife officials say no more than 20 to 50 licenses with a limit of one bird per hunter would be granted to Routt and Moffat county hunters. The licenses already are allotted to Colorado but have been reassigned to other states because Colorado does not have a hunting season for cranes west of the Continental Divide.
If hunting is approved, Gammonley said, the season probably would be timed with the beginning of waterfowl hunting seasons in late September, after most of the local cranes have headed south. Other birds that nest north of Colorado still would be in West Routt during a pause in their annual migration.
Gammonley knows that anytime the subject of hunting cranes comes up, it inspires a strong response from the public.
“Cranes have been hunted for a long time throughout North America. A lot of people just don’t like the idea, and for others, they are a pretty prized game bird,” Gammonley said. “In every case that new hunting has been proposed, it has been highly emotional and controversial.”
Some of that emotion has surfaced during the past week since Parks and Wildlife announced Wednesday night’s discussion in Steamboat. An online petition opposing the sandhill crane hunting season at www.signon.org had attracted 1,085 signatures as of 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. A number of the signors added comments.
Steamboat resident Katie Lindquist, who said she has hunted ducks and deer in the past, ascribed symbolic importance to the cranes that gather here to stage for the second leg of their annual migration to New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley.
“The sandhill cranes are typically the first impression visitors get driving from the airport to town,” Lindquist wrote. “They require large territories for nesting and the airport vicinity is ideal. These are incredible, exotic birds and they represent our valley. Let’s keep them!”
Gammonley said the sandhill cranes were listed by the state as endangered in the late 1970s. They were removed from that status in the 1990s, though they still are considered to be a species of special concern. He added that because the cranes hatch no more than two eggs every year, and often one of the chicks, or colts as they are called, does not survive, the sandhill populations are more vulnerable than those of ducks and geese.
“It’s easier to over-harvest cranes through hunting than other birds,” Gammonley said. “The cranes can sustain hunting pressure, but most populations that are hunted are always carefully managed.”
Although wildlife officials in a half-dozen states have detailed information about the health of the flocks in the larger Rocky Mountain population, it has been more than five years since studies were done to document how many young birds survive to join the adult population in Northwest Colorado.
Gammonley said he would expect people opposed to hunting cranes to raise that issue.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com