Protests from animal rights groups and environmentalists have prompted the Utah Wildlife Board to reconsider plans for a sandhill crane hunt.

The board will reconsider the matter during an Aug. 11 meeting at 10 a.m. at the Juab County Courthouse in Nephi.The sandhill hunt is now set for Sept. 3-5 and 10-12 in Cache and Rich counties.

Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, said his group will be at the meeting along with others opposed to the hunt. He said the Humane Society has been gathering signatures on a petition that will be given to the board at that meeting.

Wildlife officials believe the protest is a result of misunderstanding and believe the hunt is needed to control the crane population, which is outgrowing available habitat and is responsible for damage to grain fields in Rich County. They say that even if the hunt is canceled in Utah, the 100 permits that were to be granted Utah hunters will simply be reallocated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to states where hunts are already established.

Baierschmidt said his group opposes the plan because the sandhill crane was on the endangered species list earlier this century and because the sandhills are presently involved in a foster parenting program aimed at increasing the nation's whooping crane population. The sandhills are being used to incubate whooping crane eggs and care for the offspring that are born.

Animal rights groups believe the proposed hunt could result in the accidental shooting of whooping cranes migrating with the sandhills or could result in the death of sandhills who are caring for young whooping cranes.

Should efforts fail to get the hunt canceled, an alternative effort is underway to "water down" the hunt by having animal rights activists apply for hunting permits and then not use them.

Baierschmidt said this will require people to purchase a $12 small game permit and pay $2 for the application for the sandhill hunt. The sandhill permits will be awarded through a random drawing that is presently scheduled for mid-August. Applications for the drawings must be submitted to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources by 5 p.m. Friday.

"We don't know how many cranes we will be able to save in this way but we hope it will have an impact," Baierschmidt said.

Humane Society officials hope to prevent the drawing itself by seeking a court injunction. The group is citing a California precedent in which a similar hunt was stopped by the courts.