Monday, January 24, 2011

A misguided hunting idea

Here's one for the record: I support hunting. I never did it myself; never owned a gun, never blasted a...wait. I did blast a couple blue jays when I was a teen in Michigan, but it was a friend's .12 gauge he handed to me way back in 1979. Maybe that counts.

But some hunting shouldn't happen at all, and this is one of them. Ladies and gentleman, meet two birds. The first is the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis), of much of North America. A bird with a 6-8 foot wingspan, light gray in color, with a red forehead. There's about 450,000 of those critters flying and wading about the continent, enough of them to cause hunts in various states. They taste like beef, say supporters. Imagine that...a bird that doesn't taste like chicken!

And Tennessee wants to do the same. 10,000 of the birds were counted early this month at a wildlife refuge, compared to about a dozen or so of the second bird I mentioned, the whooping crane (Grus americana). This bird also made the local news a few weeks ago, and it wasn't good. Whoopers pass by the Tennessee and other areas in the country twice a year, from a breeding location in Canada to summer refuges in Texas and Florida.

Why did I begin this as a nutty hunting idea, and why did I link the whoopers with the sandhills? In the first place, the link I provided for that December news story showed that anything flying can be a target to an ignorant hunter, and up in the sky a big light gray bird (Mr. Sandhill) can be mistaken for a big white bird (Mr. Whooper), especially when lighting conditions can make both appear gray. And whoopers have been known to fly with sandhills on migrations.

And in the second place, there's the numbers. The sandhill hunts won't do much to their numbers; they're pretty common and will remain so. But the whooping crane is the opposite; it is one of the rarest animals on the continent, numbering less than six hundred individual birds, and it took years to just get to that number from 1970, when the overall population was just one hundred. An ignoramous with a shotgun may not know - or care - about the difference between the two birds; a crane is a crane is a crane, and if one or the other can look good on a plate surrounded by cranberries, oh well.

Farm the sandhills like we do turkeys, and everything will be OK. But don't point a shotgun in the air on a new hunt, because there's a possibility that one of those birds will never be seen again.

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