Let's work together to help farmers with crane depredation

Anne Lacy
Sandhill cranes gather in a farm field near Seymour, Wis. in autumn, as they prepare to fly south.

In Wisconsin and other Sandhill Crane nesting areas, we need to take an honest look at the challenge of crop depredation to promote effective solutions for farmers. The bottom line is that a recreational hunt is not at all effective to decrease crop depredation, and we need other solutions.

For more than 20 years, I’ve worked on research and sharing information about Avipel, a seed treatment that provides a real solution to crop depredation, if we can get it in the hands of more farmers.  A managed Sandhill Crane hunt won’t work for farmers in Wisconsin. Here’s some reasons why.

First, as acknowledged in the Management Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes, the hunting season would occur in the fall and would not ease the levels of spring crop damage. Hunts aren’t allowed for migratory birds in spring, when most depredation would occur. Thus, the chances of a hunt removing the relatively small percentage of the overall population causing the damage is small.

Second, a hunting season in Wisconsin would have a small harvest total. States that currently allow hunting Sandhill Cranes have relatively small harvest rates. Kentucky has averaged 94 birds each year, between 2011 and 2018, while Tennessee has averaged 479 birds each year, from 2013 to 2018.

Third, the recovery of Sandhill Cranes began on farms and wetlands. These landscapes are their preferred habitats. Even if hunting levels in the flyway increased to extraordinary and unsustainable levels, Sandhill Cranes would continue to choose wetlands on agricultural fields. The problem is best solved with solutions that don’t try to remove cranes from these farms and wetlands, but rather aim to make sure cranes do not damage crops--specifically during the window when new seedlings are vulnerable to predation.

Avipel is a safe, affordable and effective solution to prevent cranes from damaging corn. Based on the information that is available to us, we believe a hunting season is not an effective strategy to decrease the damage some farmers experience in the spring. The International Crane Foundation is willing to take the lead on finding real solutions for farmers. We need a diverse working group including you, Wisconsin farmers, seed corn companies, the Wisconsin DNR, USDA, University of Wisconsin-Extension and our state legislators, to work together to make Avipel more affordable for all.

Anne Lacy

Anne Lacy is the Crane Research Coordinator for the International Crane Foundation