Thousands of people flock to our area annually to celebrate the
Sandhill Crane Festival held in Birchwood each January, but beginning this month the arrival of the large cranes is much different. For the first time in decades, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is allowing hunting of the sandhill crane between November 28 and January 1 for 400 hand-drawn license holders who pass a virtual identification test. The number of sandhill cranes each hunter is allowed to kill is limited to three.
While sandhill crane hunting has been permitted in the central U.S., Canada and Mexico since 1961 and Kentucky came on board with sandhill hunting in 2011, TWRA's decision to open up hunting here has drawn controversy and criticism. Of the approximately 1,000 responses TWRA received about the hunting plan, 888 were in opposition to opening up hunting for the once-endangered bird.
But the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission's action is in response to the sandhill crane's remarkable resurgence from near extinction just 70 years ago. In the 1930s, the sandhill crane was narrowed down to merely 25 breeding pairs in the eastern United States, according to TWRA. But years of outstanding population recovery have not only encouraged the TWRA concerning the species' population but has also placed it in need of population control. In recent years, TWRA has cited sandhill crane populations in the area that outcompete other waterfowl. The sandhill crane population now tops out at more than 600,000 worldwide.
The hunting season will wrap up about three weeks prior to the annual festival at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, which will run this year January 18-19.
Did You Know?
Sandhill cranes have one of the oldest fossil records. A 10-millionyear-old crane fossil was found in Nebraska that is often regarded as one of the sandhill cranes, but the oldest indisputable sandhill crane fossil is 2.5 million years old.