The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission will again consider instituting a sandhill crane hunt, but they could have a fight on their hands.
"These are spectacular birds. They're over 4' tall. They have a wing span that's between 5 and 6' wide," said Melinda Welton, with the Tennessee Ornithological Society.
Some 90,000 sandhill cranes migrate to the Volunteer State between December and March each year - a sight tens of thousands of bird watchers flock to Tennessee to see.
"It's magnificent," Welton said.
But advocates like Welton worry a proposal the commission is considering to allow Tennesseans to hunt the cranes could cause irreparable harm.
"Hunting and crane watching would be happening in the same area," Welton said. "You could hear the guns. You could perhaps see birds being killed. You would see birds that have been crippled."
"They have said the sandhill cranes are so numerous now that if states want to begin having sandhill crane hunts, that we can do so without having any impact to the population," said Daryl Ratajczak, with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
In fact, more than a dozen states already allow sandhill crane hunting, including Kentucky. Tennessee wildlife leaders considered the idea a few years ago but tabled it for further study and public input.
"We have waterfowl season that takes place all the time. Right now, guns could be going on around that crane fest, because there are duck hunters there. And so there's really going to be no difference," Ratajczak said.
If approved, the TWRA could allow each hunter to kill up to three cranes per season only in designated areas for a max of 2,300 cranes over the 60-day season south of Interstate 40 and east of State Route 56.
It's still not good enough for folks like Welton.
"This is not a right-to-hunt issue. Show how the agency embraces watchable wildlife," she said.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission will make a final decision on this issue at its next meeting in late August. If approved, the TWRA would hold a drawing for permits near the Hiawassee Refuge near Chattanooga.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will take public comment until Aug. 10. The agency's website is http://www.state.tn.us/twra.
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