Photo by Gwyn Calvetti
The Minnesota Nongame Wildlife Program made another beloved species, the Sandhill Crane, their actual poster child for the nongame program in the northwest region. This is ironically the exact region where the DNR opened a Sandhill Crane hunting season in 2010. Three seasons of crane hunting have come and gone, yet the Nongame Wildlife Program keeps that photo of a Sandhill Crane on that region’s nongame web page. Back when we started donating, Sandhill Cranes were a hotline bird hardly ever seen in northeastern Minnesota. Thanks to research and conservation work by non-profits such as the International Crane Foundation and by nongame wildlife programs, the Sandhill Crane is flourishing again. We didn’t realize that the end result of our hard conservation work would be to re-designate cranes as game birds—their status before their populations were wiped out, partly by overhunting, in the first place. I particularly hate the idea of hunting cranes because they are so bonded to their lifetime mate.
The DNR first betrayed supporters of the nongame wildlife program in 2004, when they opened a Mourning Dove season. Sadly, anti-hunters showed up at hearings, unfairly and even viciously attacking hunting and hunters, dooming a fair scientific evaluation of the proposal. I talked to several hunters who told me they personally were opposed to hunting doves until they heard the mean-spiritedness of the opposition. Duluth Audubon and I had made two requests regarding the season. First, we wanted the hawk migration pathway along the North Shore of Lake Superior closed to dove hunting. Even in states with longstanding dove hunts, hunters mistake a lot of birds for doves. One Texas case made national news when a TV news team followed a hunting party as the leader winged a bird. It was still alive when he picked it up and wrung its neck. None of the experienced hunters nor the TV crew noticed that the bird wasn’t a dove at all—it was a Killdeer—until it aired on the evening news. At Hawk Ridge, I’ve heard fairly experienced birdwatchers mistake flying doves for our two small falcons, American Kestrels and Merlins, and I’ve seen experienced birders confuse kestrels and doves when one is sitting on a power line at a weird angle. Since the hunting season coincides with the peak of falcon migration along the shore, we thought restricting hunting in this unique area of international importance was justifiable, especially because dove numbers are so much lower here than in other parts of the state anyway. Our other request was that they limit this new hunt to non-lead shot. But the DNR refused to even consider these requests.
So as 2012 draws to a close and Russ and I work out how much we can afford to donate to good causes, the Minnesota DNR has made one decision a no-brainer. I feel sad abandoning a program that still does a lot of good for wildlife. But this new wolf season and that Sandhill Crane photo still gracing the Minnesota Nongame Wildlife Program’s northwest region webpage are ample evidence that this program has jettisoned its original mission and left us behind.