Tom Melius, Chair
Migratory Bird Regulations Committee
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
Dear Mr. Melius and Members of the Service Regulations Committee:
We are writing to voice our grave concern with the proposal advanced by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) to hunt the Eastern Population (EP) of Greater Sandhill Cranes in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We respectfully request that, as the lead federal agency within the Department of the Interior charged by law with the responsibility for managing and conserving migratory birds within the United States, the Service Regulations Committee (Migratory Birds Regulations Committee) defer any recommendation to the Director for approval of the proposed Kentucky hunt plan until such time as significant gaps in the current science concerning the recovery of this population have been adequately resolved.
KDFWR, which submitted to the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway Councils a proposed hunt plan almost a year before any opportunity for public comment on the controversial plan, has failed abjectly to adequately consider, address, and resolve significant concerns voice by the International Crane Foundation regarding both the Kentucky hunt plan and the Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes on which it is based.
The International Crane Foundation, an internationally recognized and well-respected non-profit organization that has gone on record as neither endorsing nor opposing hunting of Sandhill Cranes, raised several cautionary objections to the science on which the Flyway Councils based the guidelines for hunting seasons in the eastern United States. The ICF has recommended the formulation of a sound biological model for this population before further consideration of hunting of the eastern population is pursued. A copy of the ICF review of the Kentucky hunt plan and of the Management Plan for the EP, accompanies this letter and is incorporated herein as if fully set out below. Among the key concerns raised by the author and not responded to by the KDFWR are these:
"Proposed Harvest Rate
No population modeling has yet been done for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes (EP). The harvest rate proposed for the Commonwealth of Kentucky alone could consume a substantial portion of the productivity of the breeding crane population in the Upper Midwest. Data from one study in Wisconsin suggests that, in the last decade an average of one in three nests fledged a chick each year. If this rate of productivity is comparable for the EP as a whole, 1,500 nesting crane territories would be needed to produce the cranes proposed for harvest in Kentucky. In addition, the fledging rate is declining so the reproduction rate seen in most recent years might be more relevant. In 2009 and 2010, approximately one in five nests fledged a chick to migration. Given this 18% fledging to migration rate, a harvest and crippling removal of 480 birds would require 2,800 nests to replace the hunting loss. Whether 1500 or 2800 nests, this represents a significant percentage of nesting pairs in Wisconsin and Michigan, likely the primary breeding areas for Sandhill Cranes that migrate through Kentucky (see #3 below).
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Source of harvested birds
Data about the origins of birds that would be harvested in Kentucky are incomplete. Without knowing more about how birds from various nesting areas mix on migration and in winter it is difficult to prevent a disproportional harvest of birds from specific breeding areas. For example birds that summer in Ohio, a group of birds that are listed as endangered in the state, could be vulnerable to being disproportionately harvested if hunting occurs too early in the winter season. Support for banding and monitoring the hunted population will be important to implementation of a sustainable hunting plan in the EP."
Rather than address the concerns raised by the ICF both with respect to the Kentucky hunt plan and the underlying Management Plan for the Eastern Population, KDFWR rejected a request that the ICF be allowed to make a 20-minute presentation at the only public meeting of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission prior to the vote to propose a regulation establishing a hunt season, and then belittled the ICF?s concerns, calling the population numbers magic at several junctures. The KDFWR staff was combative with the public regarding the hunt plan and dismissive of the ICF concerns, despite the extremely limited experience of Kentucky staff in the management of this population of migratory birds relative to that of the International Crane Foundations 38-year record of advocating for the conservation of this migratory bird. The public involvement in the development of the hunt plan was late in the process, and occurred after the agency staff had dug in its heels in advocating for the hunt.
We believe that the only prudent path for the Migratory Bird Regulations Committee in the face of the gaps in the science identified by the ICF, is to defer action pending the collection of additional information and conducting of analyses responsive to those concerns. We believe that Tennessee acted appropriately in deferring action, and request that you do so as well.
We are additionally concerned that SRC consideration of a hunt plan for Kentucky is premature, inasmuch as the state agency has just begun the public and legislative review process for a state regulation that will establish the sandhill crane hunt season. Kentucky executive-branch legislative agencies are prohibited from acting by policy, and must instead adopt administrative regulations for, among other actions, any proposed hunt season for wildlife. Key parameters of the proposed hunt may change in response to public comment or in response to legislative review, making any consideration of the proposal by the SRC premature unless and until a final state administrative regulation is promulgated and undergoes legislative review by two committees of jurisdiction.
Finally, we understand that the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the migratory bird hunting program is still in draft form, and has not been finalized. Given the significant scientific uncertainties associated with a proposal to hunt this population of sandhill cranes, the controversial nature of the proposal, and the distinct possibility that hunting this population might result in the taking of the endangered whooping crane, we would assume that an Environmental Impact Statement would be developed to evaluate a full range of reasonable alternatives prior to any proposal to the Director for promulgating regulations allowing a hunt season in Kentucky or elsewhere in the Eastern population range. Deferring action on the Kentucky proposal will allow many of the uncertainties to be resolved in a manner more consonant with the letter and spirit of the National Environmental Policy Act and the regulations of the USFWS and the Council on Environmental quality implementing that law.
Mary Yandell, Hap Chambers, Ben Yandell, Roseanna Denton
Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes
Sierra Club Cumberland Chapter
Kentucky Resources Council, Inc.
Kentucky Ornithological Society
Audubon Society of Kentucky
Paul E. McAllister
Beckham Bird Club
Buckley Hills Audubon Society
Chapter J-51 of the National Audubon Society
Frankfort Audubon Society
Chapter J-53 - National Audubon Society
Dr. David Wicks
Kentucky Conservation Committee (KCC)
Kentucky Environmental Education Projects (KEEP), Inc.
Forest Watch Director
Kentucky Mountain Justice
Louisville Audubon Society
Founder and Acting President
Northern Kentucky Bird Club