Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sandhill Cranes (A Replay)

Dear Friends,

Nearly two decades ago, Tennessee wildlife officials began cultivating over 700 acres of feed crops (corn, millet, buckwheat and winter wheat) inside the 6,000-acre Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County. It was done in order to entice and encourage among other birds tens of thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes to linger awhile in our state. As expected, the cranes liked the abundant food supply and soon began to stop and feed in and around the refuge.

Today, the refuge has become the temporary home of over 40,000 migrating Sandhill Cranes, and according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), the home to the state’s largest wildlife viewing event – the Cherokee-Crane Days festival. Thousands of individuals from all over the southeast and even other parts of the world gather at the refuge during the winter festival each year to view these majestic creatures.

Sharing the skies and the waterfront with the Sandhills is a small group of endangered whooping cranes along with a flock of snow geese, egrets, herons, bald and golden eagles, and other waterfowl and songbirds.

Recently, the TWRA discreetly informed the public that it was considering changing the status of the Sandhill Crane to a “game bird” in Tennessee, and if approved, would start a hunting season on them in the southeastern part of the state in 2011-2012.

When I first heard what the TWRA was contemplating my immediate responds was – THEY’RE WHAT?

To even consider such an action is beyond belief. Why would a government agency spend limited taxpayer dollars for nearly two decades to lure and entice a defenseless creature with sustenance and sanctuary, encourage them to flock and gather in enormous numbers, create a 17-year-old festival to celebrate their charismatic existence, attract thousands of devoted wildlife enthusiasts to Tennessee each year to admire these magnificent creatures, and then, in a complete reversal, propose hunting them for the “sport” of it?

It is mind-boggling, incredulous! Besides revealing the TWRA as a poor manager of Tennessee’s wildlife and resources, it completely and utterly identifies them as another government agency that cannot be trusted, an agency that is easily manipulated by a small but politically powerful group.

If this is an attempt by the TWRA to revitalize the vanishing “sport” of hunting, it is both imprudent and unwise. I can assure them, authorizing the killing of Sandhill Cranes will be extremely provocative and polarizing. Though the small influential hunting community will be thrilled, the larger more diverse community of wildlife watchers will not.

Sandhill Cranes attract tens of thousands of wildlife enthusiasts each year  to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge area. The communities near and around the refuge benefit from the increased revenues brought in by ecotourists. Nationwide, wildlife watchers and photographers outnumber and outspend hunters 6 to 1. The sport of bird watching alone is a multi-billion dollar business.  It is a valuable part of our nation’s economy, much more so than the so-called "sport" of hunting.

If the TWRA, once again, insists on using “crop damage” and “over population” to justify instituting a hunting season for yet another protected species in Tennessee, especially after using taxpayer dollars to intentionally interrupt the crane’s natural migratory behavior for over two decades, the cry from the larger community will be “foul”.

Killing should never be the first and primary solution to any perceived problem. It should always be the last resort, if that.

Has it not occurred to these so-called state wildlife managers to stop feeding them? To allow them, once again, to fly along their migratory routes as they have done for thousands of years without TWRA’s meddling?

The Agency's mission is "to preserve, conserve, protect, and enhance the fish and wildlife of the state and their habitats for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the citizens of Tennessee and its visitors." Nowhere in the Agency's mission statement does it mention providing hunters with an abundant number of wild animals to hunt and kill. And yet, it seems that that has been and continues to be the Agency's primary mandate and endeavor.

If the TWRA needs a broader based funding mechanism to accomplish its mission, let us all advocate for it. Believe me,  wildlife watchers, photographers, and birders will gladly pay fees to use state wildlife refuges. But, they will not pay fees to observe innocent wildlife killed by hunters.

Recently, Sandhill Cranes have become “game birds” in a number of states where they breed and/or migrate. These wild stately prehistoric symbols of life on earth are shot for "sport" and food all up and down the Central Flyway. Allowing them to be hunted in Tennessee, after luring them here would be a travesty.

I am not optimistic that the opinion of the general public will have any impact on TWRA’s final decision. Nonetheless, if you believe, as I do, that shooting these beautiful creatures (who are only capable of fledging, if they’re fortunate, one offspring a year) is an appalling act, please write or email the TWRA and express your views.

Thank you.

Dee Newman

Please call your TWRA Commissioner and other state-wide Commissioners! The website,, has a list of phone numbers, email addresses and a link to a map showing each of your districts. Comments need to be sent to Also, please send a copy of your comments to Chairman Mike Chase:


Stickup Artist said...

I will certainly and happily advocate for the Sandhill Cranes! Just when you think the world can't get any crazier, it somehow manages to do so. If it boils down to economics, state and federal parks have ALWAYS been fought by locals but when they see how much revenue they generate, change their tune right quick. Not to mention, who in their right mind could shoot those birds? Dee, this is beautifully written.

mythopolis said...

Changing political winds make laws and reverse them as they wish. Just because a wilderness area is declared protected one year doesn't mean it will be the next year! So, a sanctuary turns into a baited field where hunters can await the hapless creatures and shoot them down by the dozens. Pathetic!

Anonymous said...

While I understand that some of you may not want to hunt these cranes when a season is opened in the state, I think that you should consider a few things that give hunting and hunters value. Your precious wildlife viewing area would not be possible if not for hunters. TWRA funds are largely generated by, you guessed it, hunting and fishing license sales. I'm sure some grant or federal assistance dollars went into the purchase of Hiwassee Refuge, but I'm willing to bet that most of the money needed to manage the area for the cranes comes from revenue generated by license sales.

I agree with the fact that wildlife viewers contribute to the economy in a huge way through their purchases, travel, etc.. but the problem is that most of them do not contribute directly to the habitat protection or management of the species that they watch. This is where hunters differ. It may seem self serving to those that don't hunt, but without a doubt, hunters statewide, and nationwide for that matter, contribute more toward management and enhancement of habitat for the species that they enjoy pursuing than any other group of outdoor enthusiasts. Don't take my word for it, look it up. Federal duck stamps purchased largely by hunters have funded the federal refuge system. License sales have funded the purchase and management of hundreds of thousands of acres of state wildlife management areas. Hunters do this not just so there are more animals to kill, but so there are more to watch at sunrise in anticipation of a great day out in the field with friends and/or family. hunters are not all bloodthirsty and greedy as we are sometimes portrayed. Nor are we always dimwitted, toothless and arrogant.

A few other things to clear up before I end my rant. This refuge would not be hunted. It would still be a sanctuary for the birds. Crop fields in the vicinity would be where the birds would be hunted. This will likely result in increased revenue for surrounding areas due to hunter influx and the ability lease some of these fields for hunting. This model has been proven time and again where the same system is in place for ducks and geese. They quickly learn the boundaries of the refuge and fly over the danger zones to safety unscathed.

This will likely end up being a very small ripple in the pond after it is all sorted out. Hunters will have higher success the first year, but as the birds become aware of the areas where hunters frequent, their success will dwindle.

mythopolis said...

Anonymous: I don't wish to argue the points you make. I don't stereotype all hunters. I have been a hunter. Mostly dove, squirrel, rabbit, and a deer or two. I grew up with hunters on one side of the family. Squirrel stew and venison was a regular on the dinner table. I watched my grandmother grab chickens from the pen, tie their legs, hang them from the clothesline and lop their heads off. We would have fried chicken that night. It's just the way it was in the Appalachians back then. So, I did not find it hard to take an animal in the field. I eventually began to find it harder to do, however. For me, to pick up a dead dove, yank its head off, then push my thumb into its gut and rip the chest out sorta made me lose my appetite. Somehow, hunting, which seemed such an integral part of my grandparent's lives, seemed not so valid in my own.

I like to shoot a gun. I like knocking cans off a stump. But looking at a crane, such as the ones pictured in this beautiful they are, I can no longer imagine a reason for killing one. Maybe that makes me a wimp, but I would like not to be characterized as one, just as a hunter might not care to be thought of as stupid and toothless. I guess I would like to ask the question though of why. Why do you want to kill an animal? I understand how the fees and licenses and stamps hunters buy may put money into wildlife preservation, but I am asking the personal question. What is the joy you find in hunting?

Dee Newman said...

Anonymous, you sound a bit defensive. My letter to the readers of my blog did not describe or portray hunters in any way whatsoever, least of all, as bloodthirsty, greedy, dimwitted, toothless and arrogant. Those descriptions were generated within your mind, not mine.

Your “rant” (as you describe it) leaves one wondering why you felt compelled to try and deflect a perceived judgment or criticism of you and other hunters that was neither rendered nor presented.

I must say, it seems a bit ludicrous to respond to your plea for me to “consider a few things that give hunting and hunters value,” since I never once in my letter indicated that you and your fellow hunters lack value. However, since you asked, to be blunt, your protests and appeals for approval not only lack merit, they are, to some extent, misleading and inaccurate.

Though it is true that hunting and fishing license sales provide a goodly portion of the TWRA's operating funds (and rightly so, since the TWRA furnishes hunters and fishers more services than the general public), federal excise taxes, in fact, comprise the majority of the Agency’s budget as it does in most states. TWRA also is funded by the sale of four specialty license plates. In fact, the original wildlife plate, the Eastern bluebird, is the most popular specialty license plate sold in the state of Tennessee. Furthermore, TWRA, over the years, has received a number of specific federal and private grants (land, as well as, financial endowments).

Setting all of these fact aside, as I said in my letter “ If the TWRA needs a broader based funding mechanism to accomplish its mission, let us all advocate for it. Believe me, wildlife watchers, photographers, and birders will gladly pay fees to use state wildlife refuges. But, they will not pay fees to observe innocent wildlife being killed by hunters.”

Your assertion that the Hiawassee Wildlife Refuge “would not be hunted” and “would still be a sanctuary for the birds” is categorically untrue. Since I do not know who you are, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and accept your false assertion as merely a lack of knowledge and not intentional deception. Every so-called wildlife refuge in the state of Tennessee (as any hunter should know), including the Hiawassee Wildlife Refuge, allows the in season hunting of “game birds.”

Now, if you need some kind of affirmation from me regarding your value and worth as a human being, you have it. But, if you are looking for me to tell you that I believe that the hunting and killing of other living sentient beings for the “sport” of it is morally acceptable, then you are in need of something that I cannot give you.

The fundamental moral principle by which I live is not – do unto others as they do unto you. It is – do unto others, as you would have them to do unto you. Morality is not arbitrary. It is, therefore, morally wrong to allow our wanton desires to interfere with the basic needs and interests of other sentient beings. Killing and eating other animals is morally wrong, unless one’s survival is at stake. Then, and only then, is it – interest against interest. Otherwise, it is – desire against interest.

As someone who has been an ethical vegetarian for over forty years, I know that it is not only unnecessary to eat other animals, it is far healthier.

For sixty-six years I have witness human beings rationalize the irrational, justify the unjust, and moralize the immoral. Tell me how do you do it?

Dee Newman said...
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