I’m writing in response to the editorial in Sunday’s Steamboat Pilot & Today (“Our View: Cranes in the crosshairs”) regarding the proposal to allow a hunting season on sandhill cranes. I find it irresponsible of the editorial board to take a stand on an issue without fully researching it. Statistics can be manipulated to support any argument. Most of us know that it happens in corporate America on a regular basis.
Statistics are not science. The fact that 1,279 cranes were counted in 2011, up from 698 the year before, should not be used as justification for a hunt here. If conditions are favorable, cranes lay one or two eggs per year. Of those, typically only one colt (crane chick) survives long enough to migrate with the flock in the fall. For their numbers to almost double in one year, one would have to assume that every crane counted in 2010 was part of a breeding pair (5 to 7 years old) that successfully raised two colts in one of the worst nesting seasons in recent memory. These numbers just don’t make any sense.
The last nesting survey was performed in 2005, so no one really knows how many cranes of breeding age are in the Rocky Mountain population. The numbers presented in the issue paper were based on annual surveys performed in a limited area and did not make any reference to seasonal weather conditions such as drought, extreme heat or cold, flooding or winter snowpack. Trends in short-term studies have no statistical significance. This is not science and leads me to question how the justification for a hunt in Northwest Colorado can be based on these numbers.
Aside from the numbers game, I think that public sentiment needs to be taken very seriously. In just two weeks, more than 1,500 citizens have signed a petition asking the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to maintain the current state regulations that prohibit the hunting of cranes in Northwest Colorado. Comments have come in from across the state and across the country. Just as penguins and polar bears have become the “poster children” in a campaign to raise awareness of climate change, so too can cranes become the symbols of eco-tourism for Colorado. Colorado state parks are full of informational signs that include cranes as part of the wildlife watching experience here. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s survey, published in 2006, indicated that wildlife watchers outnumbered hunters by 7 to 1 and brought three times the amount of revenue to the state.
The ability of cranes to evoke strong emotional responses from people all across the world is just part of what makes them so special. Cranes have existed for millions of years without the need for humans to “manage” their populations. There certainly isn’t an overpopulation problem in the Rocky Mountain region. Loss of wetland habitats and hunting in other states already is putting pressure on the birds. Do we really want to add more stress by allowing them to be hunted as they migrate through our beautiful state? This is the only part of their range where they can roost, breed and migrate in peace. Today, 11 of 15 crane species throughout the world are threatened with extinction. Doesn’t that make it even more important to try to protect what we have here in Colorado?
I hope that we can all learn something from these peaceful, ancient birds. It is arrogant for humans to think that every species in the world is there to serve mankind and that our science is better than Mother Nature’s. I want my grandchildren to be able to enjoy the sound of the cranes’ ethereal calls as they fly overhead. If you feel the same way, write to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission at 6060 Broadway, Denver, CO 80216; email
CPWCommission@state.co.us; or sign the online petition at www.tinyurl.com/savethecranes.