In October, state senate Republicans introduced S.B. 620, which would require Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish a sandhill crane hunting season. If passed, the bill could spell disaster for the Eastern Population of greater sandhill cranes.
Sandhill cranes are an ancient species with fossil records dating back at least 2.5 million years. In the 18th and 19thcenturies, overhunting and habitat destruction nearly caused the Eastern Population to become extinct. In the 1930s, Wisconsin was down to an estimated 15 breeding pairs; the birds had already disappeared from five other states: Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Ohio, and Indiana. Through concerted conservation efforts, the population has slowly increased over the past 70 years. In 2020, the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that Eastern Population number at nearly 95,000, with nearly half the population in Wisconsin.
Proponents of the hunt claim that there are now too many birds and that the hunt should be part of an overall management strategy. Senator Mary Felzkowski, who sponsored S.B. 620, argues that because the Wisconsin sandhill crane population is no longer endangered, “it’s time now to manage that resource, just as we do with all our other waterfowl and birds.”
Another backer, Bruce Ross, the executive director of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association (WWA), says his organization would like to see “an ethical and sustainable sandhill crane hunt in Wisconsin” that is “science-based.” But in crafting the bill, Republicans failed to consult expert groups such as the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission, or even the DNR. The International Crane Foundation (ICF), the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology (WSO), the Madison Audubon Society, and the Green-Rock Audubon Society have come out against the bill.