One of Sen. Ed. McBroom, R-Vulcan, is calling on the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to declare Michigan eastern sandhill cranes a wild species and apply for federal permission to set up a hunting season. The matter is slated for a hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
The birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which means that federal officials decide whether they can be hunted. Hunting the birds is illegal in Michigan, although the government has approved hunts in a handful of other states.
The birds come to Michigan from the southwest in the tens of thousands to breed each spring, and attract bird watchers with their varied calls and dinosaur-like appearance. But they also damage corn and wheat by plucking seedlings out of the ground.
Farmers can get federal permits to shoot the birds if they become a nuisance on their property. But the permits prohibit the birds from eating, a restriction McBroom calls “silly”.
“We allow inspection permits to harvest the animal only to be left on the ground and rot,” he said.
Barb Avers, a DNR waterfowl and wetland specialist, said the federal permit restrictions are intended to prevent farmers from using the permits as de facto hunting licenses and killing more birds than necessary to gain access to the meat.
Protecting the populations of cranes in the eastern sand hill has long been a priority for the federal species managers. Habitat destruction and hunting made the birds nearly extinct in Michigan in the early 20th century, but their numbers have recovered in recent decades.
A 2020 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted 18,874 sandhill cranes in Michigan, a significant increase from just under 11,400 in 2004.
Amy Trotter, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which include hunters, said she plans to testify in support of the resolution. If the federal government approved a season, the Natural Resources Commission would still have ultimate power to set rules for the Michigan season.
“We support designation as a game species and have limited harvest so hunters can be part of the management effort,” said Trotter.
While McBroom said he drafted the resolution with farmers in mind, he believes the increasing numbers of birds warrant recreational hunting. The resolution itself does not call for hunting to be restricted to farmers. Leading proponents of birds accuse McBroom of deliberately misleading his colleagues.
There are many non-lethal ways for farmers to control crane damage in agricultural fields, said Heather Good, director of the Michigan Audubon Society. The good one accused McBroom of “trying to make the Senators believe they are helping farmers” when the real goal is to satisfy the whims of a “very small percentage” of Michigan hunters who use cranes Want to aim at sand hills.
For their part, government resource managers recognize that Michigan’s rising crane numbers raise questions about whether the population can withstand the pressure of hunting. Currently, however, the DNR employees have “no plans” to aim for a hunting season.
Rose, the chair of the commission, said commissioners are likely to discuss the merits of crane hunting this year, but formal season tracking measures will “not be the top priority”.
After gray wolves became extinct from Michigan due to widespread hunting and state bounty programs, they have recovered since returning to the state in 1988. By last winter Michigan had been home to at least 695 wolves, all in the Upper Peninsula.
Wolf advocates and opponents have repeatedly argued over when and if humans can kill the Apex predators, a debate that has taken place in the legislature and at the ballot box.
After the animals were briefly deprived of their federal protection in 2011, the Commission for Natural Resources approved a wolf hunt in 2013, in which hunters killed 23 wolves. A federal judge later lifted the delisting, reinstated a nationwide ban on wolf hunting and temporarily calmed Michigan’s wolf debate.
But old conflicts have resurfaced since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from its endangered and endangered species list in the fall and turned it over to the state in January. Environmental groups have sued in the hope of overturning the decision.
McBroom, a proponent of wolf hunting, supports a resolution calling on state resource managers to start a wolf hunt this year. The move, passed last week by the GOP-controlled Senate Committee on Natural Resources, was supported by several hunting groups.
Trotter’s group, which has long supported the idea of a limited wolf hunting season in Michigan, said the group did not comment on the resolution calling for a hunt in 2021, but generally supports the use of the hunt as a “resource” for the population manage. “
Although the measure is largely symbolic – state law gives the Natural Resources Commission control over whether to start a hunt – McBroom said the resolution “sends a message” about the legislative priorities that lawmakers put through “budgetary processes.” or other policy decisions’ might reinforce types managers are not listening.
Wolf officials say the state’s wolf population is too fragile to warrant hunting, and many Native American tribes in Michigan ideologically oppose recreational hunting of a clantier, which is an important part of the Anishinaabe culture.
“My first thought is frustration,” said Dan Mays, biologist with the Grand Traverse Band of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. “Management may need to take place in the future, but this is currently not supported by the tribes.”
McBroom, who lives on the western Upper Peninsula, claims that wolves have fully recovered on the Upper Peninsula and that allowing hunting and trapping would make them fearful of humans, thereby deterring them from hunting farm animals, such as they do it sometimes.
Nancy Warren, a UP resident and executive director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, challenged that logic.
“Management decisions should be left to biologists, not politicians,” Warren said.
While state species managers supported the federal delisting, they’re in no rush to start a Michigan hunt this year. At least, DNR spokesman Ed Golder told Bridge, the wolves’ legal status needs to be “more permanently regulated,” an indication of several lawsuits that question the federal delisting.
The state is also planning an overdue update to the state’s 2015 Wolf Management Plan, which will be updated every five years. Golder said the process should come prior to any hunt consideration, not least because it involves consultation with recognized tribal government leaders who are broadly opposed to wolf hunting.
Members of the Natural Resources Commission have also indicated that they want to wait before considering a hunt. Last month they unanimously approved a resolution supporting the procedure proposed by DNR staff.
Rose said the wolf recovery is “one of Michigan’s great conservation success stories” and it is possible that commissioners would approve a hunt once the wolf plan is in place. But “it’s not something we can just dive into.”
Michigan isn’t the only state grappling with the wolf issue. After a judge crushed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’s decision not to hunt wolves in 2021, hunters in that state killed 216 wolves in three days last month – nearly double the state’s quota.
That, Trotter said, is an example of an outcome that her group would not support. But she said experience with other animals from turkey to elk has shown that with reasonable rules we can “manage game species alongside their recovery.”