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About those pesky cranes

Paul Andersen

The cry of the Sand Hill Crane is a veritable voice of Nature, untamed and unterrified. Its uncanny quality is like that of the Loon, but is more pronounced because of the much greater volume of the Crane’s voice. Its resonance is remarkable and its carrying power is increased by a distinct tremolo effect. Often for several minutes after the birds have vanished, the unearthly sound drifts back to the listener, like a taunting trumpet from the under-world.

– George Gladden, “Birds of America,” 1917

The Division of Wildlife has decided to do something about those pesky sandhill cranes. Why open a season on the crane? Because they can.

The fascination with shooting them is akin to bringing down a small aircraft, and for that, bird hunters may rejoice.

The cranes have a large wingspan that enables them to migrate vast distances, from breeding grounds in Siberia, the Canadian Arctic, northern California and Colorado, to wintering grounds as far south as Central Mexico. They are graceful, strong and ancient animals.

If you saw the film documentary “Winged Migration,” then you know what it is like for migratory birds to commute long distances. Cutting these trips short with the blast of a shotgun is rationalized as the privilege of a superior species.

I have often wondered who at the DOW is in charge of deciding what and how many species to kill. This role elevates man to the rank of demigod, in which game managers must exult.

The big-game seasons are unimpeachable because of a paucity of natural predators and a traditional economic rationale. How else is Colorado going to attract millions of tourist dollars if not with the incentive of shooting wild animals?

Here on the Fryingpan, where I live, the DOW aggressively manages bighorn sheep that are about as wild as Mary’s Little Lamb. Collared in garish yellow bands containing radio beacons, the sheep are regularly netted, bound up and shipped off to furnish breeding stock for new herds.

Last year’s bighorn roundup was a cluster of carnage as one sheep died and one ram escaped with his hind legs strapped in shackles. Unschooled observers like me wonder if the DOW has gone a bit too far in its management techniques.

Not being a hunter, my opinion doesn’t compute into the DOW’s equation. I just like to look at the animals and maybe take their pictures, and that is not a valid perspective in resource management.

The DOW is about hunting. It’s goals include protecting and growing game species for the kill. This is a tradition. It is sacrosanct. Man is a hunter who must stalk his prey, even when it’s mostly done in pickups and four-wheelers loaded with high-powered firearms.

Animals have few rights because that ethic is not widely recognized. Animals are units, things. The time to pick the fruit of creation is for man to judge, and without any bothersome morality, thank you.

Sandhill cranes are mostly benign, at least to my knowledge. I haven’t read about them soiling golf courses like the often vilified Canadian geese. They can probably poop up a storm while flying in formation, but cows leave a lot more poop, and they aren’t hunted.

The cranes have been flying over the DOW’s radar for long enough. Now we approach the day of reckoning, and the guns are being oiled and the silhouettes studied. There may come a time when they fall from the sky with lead in their breasts or their long, graceful wings broken, and there will be joy in the killing.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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