The Utah Wildlife Board today decided the Rocky Mountain greater sandhill cranes will not be hunted in Utah this year.

Despite strong arguments from the Utah Farm Bureau and wildlife biologists, the board reversed an earlier decision and voted to delay the hunt for one year for more study.In an earlier meeting to set the upland game hunts, the six-member board approved issuing of 100 permits to hunt sandhill cranes in Cache and Rich counties. Farmers in both counties have reported heavy crop losses as a result of feeding cranes.

Public response to the announced hunt, however, prompted the board to reconsider the decision. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources received more than 50 letters in opposition to the hunt.

About 50 individuals showed up Thursday at the Juab County Courthouse in Nephi to offer comment on the crane hunt.

The strongest recommendation for allowing the crane hunt was presented by Rod Drewien, a research biologist for the Wildlife Research Institute at the University of Idaho.

Drewien told the board he has worked with and studied the cranes for many years. He said the cranes, once abundant, were nearly wiped out from Utah around the turn of the century.

"Through good management, the population of sandhill cranes has increased beyond our expectations now. We believe there are nearly 20,000 in the Pacific Flyway alone. That's too many. The wintering areas in New Mexico can't handle that many birds.

"And because of overpopulation, we're starting to see starvation and disease in the birds in these areas. Last year we lost four whooping cranes because of disease. What disease does to these birds is not pretty," he said.

Darrell Kunzler, a farmer in Cache County, told the board the birds have done about $3,000 in damage this year to his corn fields. He said the cranes eat the seeds, then return later to eat the small plants.

Those in opposition to the hunt argued that there was not enough evidence to support having the hunt and that there were species of animals, including the crane, that should not be hunted.

One individual presented the board with a petition with 1,985 signatures of people opposing the hunt. Tom Bingham of the Farm Bureau responded by saying the 2,000-plus members in his organization supported the hunt.

In other action, the board approved extending the pheasant hunt in Utah County from three days to 14 days, bringing it in line with the rest of the state.

Thursday, landowners had spoken out to keep the shorter season, while sportsmen had argued for a longer season.

The original recommendations from the DWR was for a nine-day hunt in the county.