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Hunting season set for sandhill cranes

Minnesota will hold its first-ever sandhill crane season this fall, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Monday.

The season will open Sept. 4, the same day as the early goose season. The regular waterfowl season opens at 9 a.m. on Oct. 2.

A Youth Waterfowl Hunting Day will be Sept. 18.

Final decisions about waterfowl limits and season length will be made after the Mississippi Flyway Council meetings later this month.

The sandhill crane season will run from Sept. 4 through Oct. 10 in the Northwest Goose Zone, which includes portions of Kittson, Roseau, Marshall, Pennington, Red Lake and Polk counties.

There will be a daily bag limit of two birds with a possession limit of four. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset until the opening day of duck season on Oct. 2, when shooting hours for sandhill cranes are the same as for waterfowl.

Ten other Central Flyway states, including North and South Dakota, have been hunting cranes for years, said Dennis Simon, DNR chief of wildlife.

The meat of sandhill cranes is considered fine table fare, sometimes referred to as "ribeye in the sky."

Sandhill cranes that occur in northwestern Minnesota are part of the midcontinent population, which is estimated at more than 450,000, according to the DNR. The population is well above the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service population goal of 359,000, said Dave Schad, director of the DNR's Fish and Wildlife Division. Sandhill cranes have been hunted in some states since 1961.

Schad said the DNR has been discussing a crane season internally for a couple of years and listed the possibility of a crane season among items discussed at spring wildlife meetings held around the state. No wider series of public meetings was held on a proposed crane season. The season was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Objections to a season have been minimal, Schad said.

"It's been fairly quiet, in part because this population we're hunting is being hunted in many other states," Schad said.

Duluth's Jan Green, a longtime birder and environmental activist, is concerned about how the sandhill crane hunting season came to be.

"In terms of public input, there was no public process," Green said. "It would seem it's just DNR staff talking to the federal (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) staff without the citizens in Minnesota being involved in this discussion at all."

Green says she is not opposed to a crane season.

"I'm worried more about the process than anything else," she said.

Currently, sandhill cranes are listed as "protected" species in Minnesota, like other waterfowl. The DNR commissioner has the authority to establish seasons on protected species within federal frameworks.

Hunters will be required to use nontoxic shot and possess a $3.50 permit when crane hunting. Permits can be purchased at any of the 1,600 DNR license vendors across the state.