Crops can be protected without hunting cranes, but Wisconsin wants to hunt them anyway.
Who'll stop the crane
Thank the International Crane Foundation (ICF) for proving that damage to Wisconsin corn crops by sandhill cranes can be halted with the application to seed corn of a non-toxic bird repellant.
Years of careful ICF study led to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval in 2006 of the use of anthraquinone (AQ) to repel the majestic birds away from eating newly sprouted corn seedlings and instead going after waste grain and harmful insects such as beetle larvae, to the ultimate benefit of farm crops.
Last year, 76,000 of Wisconsin’s 4 million acres of corn were treated with AQ. The crane foundation, headquartered in Baraboo, claims that nationwide approval for the use of AQ is likely by 2013.
But will science be enough to protect sandhill cranes from being added to the list of birds of prey in Wisconsin?
“The issue comes down to: ‘Do we really want to hunt cranes?’” Jeb Barzen told me just a few days after the advisory gatherings of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress in each of the state’s 72 counties. Barzen is the crane foundation director of field ecology. On April 9, a crane-hunting season was favored by a statewide Conservation Congress vote of 2,559 to 1,271.
Crop damage and population control are two reasons cited for considering a crane hunt. The savingcranes.org website speaks to both issues. Crop damage can be halted with the use of AQ, and “population growth of sandhill cranes will cease on its own as the cranes occupy all breeding wetlands.” That narrows the remaining reason for a crane hunt to the will to kill cranes.
The use of seed corn treated with AQ, an organic and naturally occurring compound developed by some plants to keep marauders away from their unripe fruit, can switch the cranes early spring diet from a problem to an asset, Barzen said, because they’ll eat pests instead of corn.
That kind of information, however, seemed insignificant as conservation congress voters statewide favored “asking the Wisconsin Legislature to give the DNR authority to develop a hunting season for Sandhill Cranes” by a 2 to 1 margin. The vote was advisory only.
As crusaders for a sandhill crane season gain traction, so is the likelihood that the smell of cooked crane meat will waft through the halls of the state capitol.
That’s what happened 12 years ago when hunting zealots hosted a meal of mourning dove meat in the third-floor office of Assembly Representative DuWayne Johnsrud, a Crawford County Republican. Johnsrud imported 24 mourning doves as non-living proof of their palatability. His office was packed with legislators and reporters eating mourning doves.
I know because I went there to protest Johnsrud’s outlandish promotional stunt. The prospect of hunting mourning doves (Wisconsin’s official symbol of peace) was repugnant to me, and perhaps to most people in Wisconsin.
Conservation Congress meetings in 2000 drew huge crowds. Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Cranes and Doves fought the dove hunt in court. But the DNR, lobbied by militant hunter groups like the National Rifle Association and the Conservation Congress, established the dove hunt while the Wisconsin Supreme Court denied an injunction to stop it.
Living in rural Iowa County, we haven’t noticed legions of hunters blasting away at the harmless mourning dove. Twelve years ago, dove hunters argued that not many “sportsmen” would indulge in the hunt. That argument is afoot now regarding sandhill cranes, begging the question: Then why establish a crane season?
The answer has to do with maintaining a political power base for shooters. After all, deer do far more damage to farm crops than sandhill cranes ever will. But an unseemly effort is sponsored and paid for to maintain just the right number of deer so that hunters can “harvest” them. We’re paying a deer czar from Texas $125,000 in taxpayers’ money to criticize the DNR. Hiring the deer czar proves that Scott Walker is a job creator.
I was among about 25 people attending the Iowa County Conservation Congress meeting in Dodgeville High School. It was very civil and educational.
I learned that the DNR recommends that firing ranges be located at least one-half mile from the nearest residence. I felt knowledgeable enough to vote on about 25 percent of the 91 advisory questions on the ballot. I also learned that the Iowa County congress is served by men who don’t always agree with each other. Five delegates serve two- or three-year terms from each county. In Iowa County, a newly-elected delegate described how tasty he found sandhill crane meat to be after hunting them in another state.
A 33-year congress activist said he was moved to get involved after a round from a deer rifle penetrated his house and went through a baby’s crib. There were too many deer seasons at the time, he said.
Most instructive were comments surrounding a number of questions under the heading “regulation development.” Many of those questions included words like “simplify” or “consistent” or ”have identical.” It was astutely pointed out by a delegate that those questions pertained, in a broad sense, to attempts to reduce regulations or de-regulate aspects of DNR licensing practices.
At meeting’s end, it was noted that our votes would be counted and considered, and probably supported by the Iowa County delegates when they gather with other county representatives to make conclusive recommendations. The majority vote, we were told, is followed nine times out of ten, in an almost democratic manner.
Iowa County went for the crane hunt 14-9. I voted with the minority.
April 19, 2012
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David Giffey is a freelance journalist and FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Arena. He is the author of "Long Shadows: Veterans’ Paths to Peace" (Atwood Publishing), "Struggle for Justice: The Migrant Farm Worker Labor Movement in Wisconsin," and "The People’s Stories of South Madison."