AUSTIN, Texas -- Hunters are reminded that due to the opening of the special snow goose conservation season in Texas, hunting seasons for sandhill cranes in the Rolling Plains and Coastal Prairies regions will end Sunday, Jan. 21, 2001.
"Hunters need to be aware that it will be unlawful to hunt or possess sandhill cranes after Jan. 21 in crane hunting Zones B and C. Zone A (West Texas) seasons will end Feb. 11 as previously published," said Jay Roberson, migratory bird program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife. "These dates differ from those listed in the 2000-2001 TPW Outdoor Annual, which had to be published last summer in order to be available when the new licenses went on sale in August. Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not set the dates for waterfowl seasons until early September."
The correct dates are published on TPW Web site (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/) and in the 2000-2001 Texas Hunting Regulations for Ducks, Mergansers, Coots and Geese.
Special federal regulations for the taking of snow geese go into effect in Texas on Monday, Jan. 22. Because of perceived increased vulnerability of cranes to electronic calling devices and unplugged shotguns allowed during the Special Light Goose Conservation Order, crane hunting seasons must close prior to the snow goose action.
"TPW is requesting that the USFWS allow sandhill crane hunting concurrent with the Light Goose Conservation Order as long as crane hunters don’t possess electronic calling devices and unplugged guns," said Roberson. "But, that will not change the season closure this year."
Roberson said the coastal sandhill crane hunting Zone C had its season reduced 66 percent (37 days to 16 days) to accommodate this Light Goose Conservation Order in 1999. As a result, the estimated number of cranes taken declined 64 percent (2,918 to 1,040) from 1998 to 1999.
"We had proposed to offset some of this lost hunting opportunity with an expansion of Zone C along the coast," Roberson said. "Our proposal was not accepted by the USFWS, despite biological evidence indicating that an expansion would not represent a significant increase in harvest. We^re disappointed that they did not grant our request."
Additional hunting opportunity would not harm long-term sandhill crane breeding populations, Roberson argued. "Surveys indicate breeding populations were the highest on record in 1996, 1997 and 1998 (since records of photo-corrected counts began in 1982)," he explained. "Hunting regulations for sandhill cranes have not been liberalized for 11 years even though crane numbers appear to be increasing along the coast."
The cooperative Mid-continent Sandhill Crane Management Plan allows for expansion of hunting opportunity when the 3-year average population index exceeds an upper threshold of 465,000 cranes. In 1998, that index was 528,487.
Roberson said wildlife agencies in the 10 states that comprise the Central Flyway Council have imposed moratoriums on themselves prohibiting expansion of hunting opportunity until more information on crane abundance, distribution and subspecies composition could be gathered.
"Texas has been involved in that crane research for over 5 years," Roberson pointed out. "Those results do not indicate a problem with moderate increases in hunting opportunity for coastal sandhill cranes. In a worst-case scenario, we^d only be looking at an additional harvest of less than ten percent as a result of expansion proposals throughout the Central Flyway."
"There are over 500,000 sandhills in the mid-continent population and the total harvest for the Central Flyway has been only 17,000 birds," said Roberson. "Up to 1,000 additional coastal cranes may be taken in the new area if this recommendation is approved. However, no increase in harvest would be expected over the most recent 5-year average if the daily bag limit were dropped from three to two."
Public comment on this proposed regulation change may be made to. Jon Andrew, Chief, Office of Migratory Bird Management, USFWS, Arlington Square, Room 634, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22203, or call (703) 358-1961. Comments may also be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail: Attention: Jay Roberson, TPW, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744.