Opponents of a proposed hunting season for sandhill cranes still have several more chances to have the policy blocked or overturned.
The nine-member Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously approved last month a pilot plan to allow up to 400 hunters to kill up to 400 cranes this winter.
About 20 attended a public meeting Thursday morning at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources building at the Game Farm to voice their opposition to the hunt.
Opponents say sandhill cranes are a popular subject for bird watching and a hunting season will cause them to
become wary of humans.
Critics were cautious to say they do not oppose all forms of hunting but only the proposed season for sandhill cranes.
Jeb Barzen, director of field ecology for the International Crane Foundation, said he neither supports nor opposes the proposed hunting season but questioned some facts used to justify it. He gave a 25-minute presentation Thursday.
Barzen said breeding productivity of eastern Sandhill Crane groups has been on the decline since the early 1990s.
On the other hand, officials at the Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources have said the hunt will not have a negative impact on the population of Sandhill Cranes in the eastern United States.
However, Barzen also praised the hunting plan because there are several rules in place to prevent over-hunting in Kentucky.
Officials at the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources previously criticized his data because it had not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Barzen countered that the agency’s figures had not been published either.
He also said the hunting plan does not account for activities in other states, such as Wisconsin, where farmers are allowed to kill cranes that damage their crops. Barzen also said there was very little analysis of cost versus benefits from the hunting season.
Ceci Mitchell, of Frankfort, said Sandhill Cranes mate for life and the hunting season would cause suffering.
Mary Yandell, of the Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes, said the agency did not allow for sufficient input while the hunt was being planned.
“The outcome was determined long before we walking into the room,” she said. “The process so far has been an imitation of democracy.”
David Roemer, of Bowling Green, said he is a hunter but is concerned the proposed hunting season will encourage poaching.
James Daniel, of Frankfort, said only a select few exotic game trophy hunters will benefit from the proposal.
Nancy Osborne, of Frankfort, said the agency has not been neutral on the issue by publishing editorials in favor of a Sandhill Crane hunting season.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources must respond to the comments received Thursday and any additional written comments filed before Aug. 1.
The agency will file a response on Aug. 15 but general counsel Margaret Everson said the agency is not required to change or amend the hunt because of comments received.
However, the proposal must go through a series of administrative hurdles where it could be confirmed, withdrawn or amended.
The hunt requires both state and federal approval. The proposal was listed in the Federal Register this month and public comments will be accepted until midnight Monday. To provide comments to the federal government go to regulations.gov and search for regulation FWS-R9-MB-2010-0088-0001.
The regulation could be amended but a federal official said last month he had heard nothing from critics that would challenge the policy.
A state legislative committee must also approve the hunt. The Administrative Regulation and Review Subcommittee will receive the hunting regulation in September and likely refer it to the joint interim committee on Natural Resources and the Environment.
If the committee does not meet or fails to act on the proposal it will become effective 30 days after being sent to the committee. If the committee adopts the hunting regulation it will go into affect the day it is approved.
Either committee could declare the hunting regulation is deficient or the Department of Fish and Wildlife could voluntarily withdraw the proposal at any point. Officials said regulations are rarely ruled to be deficient but it is more common for them to be withdrawn under pressure.
If the interim committee approves the regulation, opponents could lobby to amend or overturn the regulation during the legislative session. It would require approval of a bill by a majority in both the House and Senate.
If lawmakers find the hunting plan is deficient the Governor can withdraw it, amend the regulation or let it go into effect notwithstanding the legislative ruling. Officials said the Governor has never withdrawn in recent history a regulation found to be deficient and usually allows them to go into affect despite the legislative ruling.