The Humane Society of Utah stepped up its campaign Thursday to stop a scheduled hunt of the Rocky Mountain greater sandhill crane, taking to Salt Lake City streets to collect signatures of support.
"We're trying to get as many signatures as possible to present at the (State Wildlife Board) meeting to show the board just how much the public opposes this kind of hunt," said Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society.And if the signature campaign doesn't sway the board, then perhaps a lawsuit will. Baierschmidt said the society is preparing a lawsuit against the state Division of Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Fish and Game Department to try to stop the hunt.
Even Gov. Norm Bangerter has stepped into the controversy, asking the State Wildlife Board to carefully reconsider its controversial decision to allow hunting of the cranes.
"The governor has asked the board to review all aspects of the situation and maybe study it for another year," said Barclay Gardner, executive assistant to Bangerter.
One published report said Bangerter "doesn't want them killed in Utah," but Gardner said, "That's not the governor's position. He doesn't oppose the hunt."
The board earlier agreed to allow additional comment on the hunt because of numerous complaints from bird watchers, animal rights groups and some hunters. The board will review the issue at a meeting Aug. 11 at the Juab County Courthouse in Nephi.
Just because Bangerter has asked the board to reconsider doesn't mean the hunt will be called off. "All the governor can do is request," said Gardner. "If the board deems it necessary to postpone the hunt for another year, fine. If they decide to go ahead with the hunt, that is their decision."
The Rocky Mountain sandhill crane is about 40 inches tall with a wing span of about four feet. A few of the cranes breed in Utah, but hundreds migrate through the state during the spring and fall.
The sandhill population was once very small because of indiscriminate hunting, prompting the ban since 1917. Since then, the population has grown to an estimated 18,000, prompting the federal government to allow states to hunt the migratory birds on a limited basis.
Gardner said the sandhill cranes will be hunted somewhere. "But that doesn't mean they will be shot in Utah," he said. DWR biologists believe there are enough birds to justify a limited hunt.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said about 200 applications have been submitted for the permits. Most appear to be from persons interested in hunting the birds, he said.
The DWR has also received about 40 letters from hunt opponents, including Sen. Frances Farley, D-Salt Lake, who said she has received many more complaints from concerned citizens.
"The gist of the concerns are that the decision may be premature; that whooping cranes are still traveling with the sandhills and may be mistakenly brought down; that the amount of damage to crops has not been clearly documented; and that if it were, 100 birds would not make a measurable difference," she said.
Baierschmidt agrees, saying there is no demonstrated evidence of crop damage by sandhill cranes. "We feel this particular species has been almost hunted to extinction once already this century, and that it was a poor management decision to allow the hunt."
The Division of Wildlife Resources has scheduled an Aug. 12 drawing for permits.