Alberta considering 2015 sandhill crane hunt

A rifle owner checks the sight of his rifle at a hunting camp property in rural Ontario west of Ottawa in this Sept. 15, 2010 file photo.
A rifle owner checks the sight of his rifle at a hunting camp property in rural Ontario west of Ottawa in this Sept. 15, 2010 file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick

EDMONTON – The Alberta government is looking at allowing people to hunt sandhill cranes after years of lobbying by hunters.

Alberta Environment says there are now enough of the tall, heavy, long-legged wading birds to withstand hunting. Spokeswoman Carrie Sancartier said experts estimate about 580,000 of the migratory birds nest or fly over Alberta.

“We are going to be considering this for the 2015 hunting season,” she said.

“At this point the population is quite robust and we believe if we were to introduce a hunt it would not have a significant impact on the population.”

Sandhill cranes grow to more than a metre tall with wing spans of more than two metres.

The government would have to amend legislation to designate the sandhill crane as a game bird before hunters could legally draw a bead on the species, which was listed as sensitive in 2010.

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Members of the Alberta Fish and Game Association unanimously passed a motion in February calling for a sandhill crane hunt after making similar proposals over the years.

In the past the government has shied away from bringing in a hunt due to concerns from nature groups that fear hunters might mistake endangered whooping cranes for the bird.

Cliff Wallis of the Alberta Wilderness Association said a coalition will contact the province to voice opposition to the hunt.

“We continue to be opposed to the hunt, partly because there is a sub-species of sandhill crane which is rare in Alberta, and I don’t think anyone would be able to tell the difference between them,” Wallis said from Calgary. “And there are concerns about mistaken identity with whooping cranes.”

“The question is why hunt the birds?”

Gord Poirier, president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, said Saskatchewan and Manitoba allow hunters to bag sandhill cranes. So do a number of American states.

He said an Alberta hunt would help keep the population at a healthy level and would probably be restricted to areas in the province’s southeast.

Hunters are also curious about how the big birds taste.

“I have never hunted one or tasted one, but some people say they are very good eating,” Poirier said. “They are a pretty bird, but they are not prettier than a mallard duck or a wood duck.”

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Environment Canada regulations give federal wildlife officials the power to prohibit hunting of sandhill cranes in specific areas where there are also whooping cranes.

Poirier said the federal government has given the Alberta sandhill crane hunt its blessing.

“The Canadian Wildlife Service, the ones that are in charge of migratory birds that have negotiated the North American waterfowl treaty with the (U.S.) and Mexico, have also indicated that a sandhill crane season is viable,” he said.

Officials with Environment Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service were not immediately available for comment.

Alberta listed the sandhill crane as a sensitive species in 2010, 2005 and 2000 on a government website. It is not clear if that official designation has changed.

“Sparsely distributed through boreal and foothill bogs and marshes,” reads the website. “Vulnerable to wetland loss; sensitive to human disturbance. Land-use planning needs to incorporate the maintenance of breeding habitat.”

Sancartier said it is not clear when the province will make a final decision on a 2015 hunt.

“The consultation process is completed now and we do have positive feedback,” she said. “The hunt we are looking at would not adversely affect the population.”