■ Natural history of sandhill cranes: www.wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/Profiles/Birds/Pages/SandhillCrane.aspx
■ Save the cranes petition: www.tinyurl.com/savethecranes
Email comments about the proposed sandhill cranes hunting season to cpwcommission@sta... before a preliminary meeting scheduled for May 10 in Grand Junction.
Steamboat Springs If hunters here get a chance to take their first shot at a migrating sandhill crane, it’s likely to come as the big birds, accompanied by a flock of geese, bank over a harvested grain field studded with decoys on a late September morning in Routt or Moffat counties.
“Most crane hunting takes place over decoys, and the hunters are often hunting for geese,” area wildlife manager Jim Haskins told a gathering here Wednesday night.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to make a decision on a proposal for a limited hunting season for greater sandhill cranes in Routt and Moffat counties during a meeting July 12 and 13 in Sterling.
Haskins added that his staff has found no biological reason the crane population could not sustain limited hunting pressure.
“We try to stick to the science and not deal with the social issues,” he said.
Almost 60 people, avid birders and hunters among them, turned out at the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife Steamboat Field Office on Wednesday night to hear Parks and Wildlife avian research leader Jim Gammonley describe how the population of the birds in Routt and Moffat counties has stabilized since the early 1970s.
“The midcontinent population has been hunted since 1961,” Gammonley said. “All of these crane hunts are predicated on the size of the population. The birds have been overhunted in the past. There were dramatically low populations at the turn of the (20th) century, but populations have seen a fairly dramatic recovery since midcentury.”
A significant factor, he said, is the cranes are very well adapted to taking advantage of waste grain in farm fields. As they feed on the grain to build fat reserves on their migration, the likelihood that they successfully will raise chicks increases.
For most of the past five years, the estimated number of birds staging to migrate in Northwest Colorado has been greater than 20,000, Gammonley said, a number that surely includes birds from states to the north such as Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
The number of hunting permits issued here for cranes likely would be fewer than 50 for at least the first two seasons. However, they later could be increased modestly to account for hunter success ratios — it’s almost never the case that hunters enjoy 100 percent success.
Colorado allows hunting for cranes on the Eastern Slope but never has sanctioned hunting for the birds from the Rocky Mountain population that migrate through Northwest Colorado.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com