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August 22, 2013

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In Japanese art, the crane is considered a national treasure, appearing everywhere in art, literature and folklore. The crane is known as a symbol of good fortune and longevity because of its fabled life span of a thousand years. It also represents fidelity, as Japanese cranes mate for life.

Sandhill cranes mate for life as well. But that doesn’t matter to the people proposing to shoot up to 2,300 of them during their migration season this year. Nor does it matter that the sandhill’s resemblance to the endangered whooping crane will probably get some of that species killed as well. But it does matter to some pretty high-profile people, who have spoken out publicly against the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s proposal.

Last Monday, Former President Jimmy Carter and world-renowned animal researcher Dr. Jane Goodall announced their opposition to the TWRA proposal to allow sandhill crane hunting in Tennessee. The proposal, set for a vote by the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission (TFWC) on Aug. 22 and 23 in Knoxville, allows for the issuance of permits to kill more than 2,300 sandhill cranes—despite experts’ warning that juvenile whooping cranes are likely, if accidental, targets as well.

“I am an avid hunter of quail, dove, turkey, geese, ducks, and other game fowl, but have for years been a strong vocal and financial supporter of the effort to protect Whooping Cranes and to reestablish the flock that flies over our farm in southwestern Georgia—and also over parts of Tennessee, “ the former president wrote to the commission. “I understand that your commission is contemplating opening hunting for Sandhill Cranes in Tennessee, and it is obvious that this will make it highly likely that Whooping Cranes might also be killed.”

 “For many, cranes are symbols of peace, a message they carry around the world,” Dr. Goodall stated. “The idea that these birds could be hunted for sport is distressing to me, and would be to many others.” Goodall continued, “It is clear that the Sandhills foraging and roosting in freedom during their stay in Tennessee, attracting visitors to view them and other local species, offer a good deal more all round than if hunters are permitted to kill them.”

According to Axel C. Ringe, Biodiversity Committee Chair of the Sierra Club’s Tennessee Chapter, pressure from the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, which is composed primarily of hunters, is one of the main reasons the TWRA is proposing this action. “The TWRA does not receive taxpayer funding; it is primarily funded by taxes on guns, fishing tackle and so on,” he said. “In terms of wildlife conservation, this is like the fox supporting the henhouse. We would prefer to see an excise tax on things such as outdoor recreation gear going to support the TWRA.” He noted, “The Sierra Club is not against hunting. But this is a case where a living icon of Tennessee wilderness has much more value than allowing the killing of it.”

In addition to the Sierra Club, other organizations opposing the hunt, including the Tennessee Ornithological Society and the National Audubon Society, cite a recent study revealed that 62 percent of Tennesseans oppose the hunting of cranes.  

Both species of cranes primarily congregate in a small area around the TWRA Hiwassee Refuge—at the junction of Meigs, Rhea, and Hamilton Counties—which was recently recognized as the best place in eastern North America to see and photograph cranes. The spectacle of migrating and wintering sandhill and whooping cranes delights and attracts thousands of wildlife viewers to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge every year in addition to the thousands that attend the two-day Tennessee Sandhill Crane Festival each January.

“Sandhill cranes are shy creatures, and once they are hunted, it will be very difficult for those who want to get close to them to view them each year,” said Crane.

Though the window for written public comment closed Aug. 10, you can contact recently appointed TFWC commissioner David N. Watson with your comments at (423) 802-1761 or david.watson@tn.gov. The August 22-23 meetings are also open to the public. Both will be held at the Holiday Inn, Knoxville West at Cedar Bluff. The Thursday, Aug. 22 meeting begins at 1 p.m., and the Friday, Aug. 23 meeting begins a 9 a.m.

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August 22, 2013