Our View: Cranes in the crosshairs


Editorial Board, February to May 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Karen Massey, community representative
  • Jeff Swoyer, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife should approve a limited hunting season of greater sandhill cranes in Northwest Colorado.

The proposal under consideration would grant hunters between 20 and 50 sandhill crane permits in the program’s first year. The number of permits allocated in subsequent years would be re-evaluated based on hunter success ratios and updated population counts on the migratory birds.

Key to the proposal — and a significant reason for our support of it — is that the hunting permits won’t result in an overall increase in the number of Rocky Mountain region sandhill cranes vulnerable to a hunter’s shotgun. That’s because the licenses already are allotted annually to Colorado, which in the past has reassigned those permits to hunters in other Rocky Mountain states where sandhill crane hunting is allowed. Colorado doesn’t currently permit sandhill crane hunting west of the Continental Divide.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service establishes an annual cap on the crane harvest for a six-state region that includes Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona. Introducing a sandhill crane hunting season in Routt and Moffat counties would result in Colorado reclaiming its pro-rated share of permits from the other five states.

The passionate and emotional response from residents who oppose the introduction of a sandhill crane hunting season is understandable. The beautiful birds are a sight to behold, and for many, the desire to kill a crane for sport or food is unfathomable. But we agree with Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials who stress that the decision should be based on science, not emotion.

The most recent survey of sandhill cranes in the Rocky Mountain region counted 19,600 of the birds. In autumn 2011, a survey counted more than 1,200 of the birds in Routt County, up from 700 in 2010 and 375 in 2007. Those numbers are up dramatically from the 1970s, when Colorado listed the sandhill crane as an endangered species.

The increasing number of sandhill cranes doesn’t mean the species is completely in the clear. In order to protect the local nesting population of sandhill cranes, wildlife officials plan to offer the hunting season in the fall. At that time, most of the birds who nest here in Routt and Moffat counties should already be on their migratory flights south. The birds likely to be hunted would instead be cranes stopping in Routt and Moffat counties while making their way south from locales farther north.

We don’t think a carefully established and limited hunting season will have a detrimental impact on the Rocky Mountain population of greater sandhill cranes. Colorado Parks and Wildlife should move forward with the proposal and then carefully monitor the local sandhill crane population to ensure the continued success of the bird.


cindy constantine 5 years ago

Thank you, Editorial Board for your reasoned response on this issue. Sandhill cranes are the most studied of all migratory species and as such will be closely monitored. I would also assume that the majority of the permits will be filled in Moffat County where the snows typically lag Routt County and where there are larger grain fields. (And Fred, this is not a money-maker for the gun store---there are no crane shotguns, loads or decoys available therefore no money to be made off of this very limited seasonal hunt).


Bob Woodmansee 5 years ago

Violation of Editorial Integrity I am dismayed by the editorial in today’s Steamboat Pilot “Cranes in the crosshairs”. Among the many unsubstantiated assertions in the editorial there are two that are particularly troubling. At the bottom of paragraph 4 you state, “We agree with Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials who stress the decision should be based on science, not emotion”. The decision should be based on both defensible, well-reviewed science and community values. I am submitting to the Pilot and Today staff a letter I wrote to the Parks and Wildlife Commission for their next meeting. In that letter, I challenge the validity if the data and the “science” used to support the crane hunting plan.

In paragraph 5 you cite (cherry picked) data drawn from the CPW Issue Paper. You state crane numbers in Routt County were 375 in 2007, 700 in 2010, and 1200 in 2011. What you didn’t state were the numbers for 2002 – 778, 2003 – 711, 2004 – 223, 2005 – 528, 2006 – no data, and those you did cite for 2007 - 375. It doesn’t take a statistician to look at that short-term data set to question its validity and ask why the numbers vary so wildly. There is no way that the Routt County crane population quadrupled in four years. In my opinion, this type of distortion of “science” is a violation of editorial integrity.


cindy constantine 5 years ago

Mr. Woodmansee--

I understand your points, but the editorial also clearly states " . . . . the hunting permits won't result in an overall increase in the number of Rocky Mountain region sandhill cranes vulnerable to a hunter's shotgun." Seems to me the same number of permits over a wider geographical area would be more sporting for the birds.


cindy constantine 5 years ago

And how do you know Routt County cranes are being hunted? With the short hunting season going into October they are probably WY MT or ID birds. Is it okay for those birds to be hunted?


Bob Woodmansee 5 years ago

Tom, Don't confuse your pro hunting mantra with good, statistacally supported, peer-reviewed science. You may want to believe what your group calls "science" is definitive but until you support your conclusions with transparent and defendable sampling methods, statements of assumptions, statistical analysis, and peer reviewed conclusions, you can't claim to be using science, opinion maybe, but not science.

Your argument about cranes being migratory big-birds is exactly the point - migration introduces a variability factor that cannot be quantified and thus projections about population increase, decrease, or stability are invalid. No one knows.

If you would like to learn about resilience in nature I suggest you read a short book by Brian Walker and David Salt titled "Resilience Thinking". You might learn something you didn't know.

What is the biological need to for hunting cranes? Granted we tell ourselves we need to kill wildlife in order to save them. I agree that some populations of deer and elk need to be hunted to control their numbers. But, morning doves, pheasants (introduced species), ducks, bears, cranes, mountain lions - I doubt it. I think hunters like to shoot them and thus bring political pressure to the CPW and the legislature to be able to do so.

Be careful about throwing around the "ignorant" term. It might come back and bite you. Thoughtful and critical thinking never hurt anyone.

By the way, I'm proud to have my CHS.




Fred Duckels 5 years ago

Now that science is in the equation let's go back a couple of years when wasting disease was all the rage. It suddenly got the cure when it started hitting pocketbooks both state and private. Was this a miracle that appeared? Is science being used as a political tool?


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