Our View: Cranes in the crosshairs | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Cranes in the crosshairs

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.

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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.

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