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Commission votes to support limited hunt of sandhill cranes 
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Post Commission votes to support limited hunt of sandhill cranes
Commission unanimously votes to support limited hunt of sandhill cranes
By Rebecca Williams

Posted August 23, 2013 at 11:07 a.m.

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously agreed Friday to allow limited hunting of the sandhill crane in Tennessee.

Members voted this morning on the second of two days of routine meetings, held at the Holiday Inn on Cedar Bluff Road in West Knoxville.

The vote was not unexpected.

The 14-member commission, responsible for setting Tennessee’s game limits and hunting seasons, was asked to rule on a proposal to stage the hunt beginning in November.

This is the second time in three years that the issue of hunting sandhill cranes has come before commissioners. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency argued for the hunt in 2011, but the proposal raised such an outcry that the vote was tabled to gather more information.

In the early 1990s, a recovering population of sandhills began stopping at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County to rest and feed on their way to and from their wintering grounds in Florida. Today, an average of 23,000 sandhills stay at the refuge all winter.

Biologists estimate the eastern population of sandhills at 87,000. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the population has increased to the point where it can sustain limited hunting.

Fifteen states, including Kentucky, allow sandhill crane hunting.

Tennessee’s hunt would be Nov. 28-Jan. 1, with the state issuing three-permit packets to 400 hunters who would be selected by lottery. The refuge would be off-limits to hunting, and hunters would be required to pass a test proving they can differentiate between sandhills and federally endangered whooping cranes that share the same eastern flyway.

Opponents and proponents alike packed a meeting room at the hotel Thursday to speak to the commission.

“We don’t disagree from a biological standpoint that sandhill cranes can withstand a hunting season,” said Axel Ringe of the Tennessee chapter of the Sierra Club. “Our contention is that the sandhill crane has more value to the people of Tennessee as a majestic symbol of the wild than as a dead carcass.”

For 22 years the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge has hosted the Sandhill Crane Festival, which draws thousands of bird watchers and is recognized by the Southeastern Tourism Society as one of the region’s top-20 events.

TWRA said public comments it received indicated strong opposition (888-188) to the hunt.

Billie Cantwell, president of the Knoxville chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society, urged commissioners to weigh equally the input from non-hunters and hunters. “You have a hard decision in front of you,” he said. “I hope you represent all the people of Tennessee.”

Eugene McCallie, whose farm is just two miles from the Hiwassee refuge, said the overwintering sandhills are eating his crops and out-competing the ducks.

“Up till the 1980s the refuge was filled with waterfowl with hardly any cranes,” he said. “Now, it’s the reverse. I understand that the cranes provide a special opportunity to bird watchers, but when you live where I live, you see their detrimental impact.”

More details as they develop online and in Saturday’s News Sentinel. ... t-limited/

Fri Aug 23, 2013 3:08 pm
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