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.
Please call your TWRA Commissioner and other state-wide Commissioners! The website, www.state.tn.us/twra/comnames.html, 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 TWRA.Comment@tn.gov. Also, please send a copy of your comments to Chairman Mike Chase: firstname.lastname@example.org.