Hunting has a long tradition in Northwest Colorado and is a publicly acceptable tool used by wildlife managers. When a species becomes a nuisance like the bears roaming around our towns, wildlife managers can adjust the “take” to help reduce the numbers. When a wild species becomes less than wild and has a population explosion like that of Canada geese, wildlife managers once again can adjust the “take” and use hunting as a tool to reduce the population, and in the bargain, the hunters get additional opportunity. A similar example is that light-colored geese have been wildly successful in the breeding grounds in Canada, and hunters throughout the flyways are given extra seasons and bag limits, even here in Colorado.
When animals exceed the carrying capacity of their summer or winter habitats, wildlife managers once again can use hunting as a method of controlling the herd numbers. Our local population of elk is especially subject to winter ranging limitations, a key in maintaining a healthy herd. This is science-based management.
Sandhill cranes are not in excess numbers. They have yet to occupy or nest in the full range as in previous years in Colorado. This is shown with the Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas project results. I am one of the volunteer surveyors. Sandhill cranes in Northwest Colorado have not exceeded the carrying capacity of the habitats they occupy, there is no notable crop damage because of cranes and they do not threaten livestock. In fact, cranes are great foragers of hay crop-damaging insects. So in that regard, cranes are very beneficial to our local ranchers.
The question about whether to hunt the Rocky Mountain population of greater sandhill cranes should be based on whether there is a biological need to hunt the cranes. At this point, there is no scientific or biological argument that we need to control the number of local or migrating sandhill cranes in Northwest Colorado.
Sandhill cranes do add to the bounty of our natural resources in Northwest Colorado. Hundreds of local children thrill to the sight and sounds of these large impressive birds. Hundreds of locals and tourists get the thrill of observing the pair bonding, the calls, the gentle flight or the staging spectacles in the spring and fall.
When a nesting crane pair is found near an educational center, they become a showpiece of conservation practices to show how to have compatible agricultural operations and low-disturbance observations by students of all ages. It is a privilege for a landowner to host a nesting sandhill crane pair, and often, the land steward goes to great lengths to protect the pair as was done on Haymaker Golf Course.
Hundreds of people have signed a petition to ban the hunting of sandhill cranes in Northwest Colorado. In informal polls and more formal polling in this newspaper, there is resounding resistance to hunting sandhill cranes for sport. For those voicing opposition on either side, please be respectful and understand this is a specific issue, not a forum for or against hunting. This is about a very watchable, highly regarded and highly valued bird species. The public is speaking loud and clear; they are not in support of “taking” cranes. I would urge the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to strongly consider the vast majority of opinions of those interested in this issue and not allow additional hunting of sandhill cranes in Northwest Colorado.