Skip to main content

Greater Sandhill Cranes

08/12/2012 15:50, Published by Christina Freeman, Categories: In Print, Living, Community


"Morning Symphony" / Photo Courtesy of Images of Nature © Tom Mangelsen



By Jennie Lay

When the immediate fate of the Yampa Valley’s greater sandhill cranes was up for debate last spring, one fact remained clear: the crimson-headed birds’ lifespan may extend to 20 years, but its legacy is prehistoric.

Scientists point to a 10 million-year-old Miocene epoch fossil found in Nebraska that is structurally identical to the modern sandhill crane. That makes sandhill cranes the oldest known bird species alive, but it doesn’t spare them the predicaments of 21st century wildlife management.After surveying three years of population estimates, Colorado Parks and Wildlife proposed creating a limited fall hunting season for greater sandhill cranes in Northwest Colorado. Colorado listed the migrating birds as endangered in 1973 but de-listed them in 1998. The state currently ranks them as a “species of special concern” – although the Colorado Natural Heritage Program deems them “under-conserved” with immediate threats.

Prospects of hunting the tall, elegant birds that are a mainstay on the local landscape caught many people off guard, including members of the Yampa Valley Birding Club. By contrast, a group of hunters hailed the idea. Jim Haskins, CPW’s area wildlife manager, stood behind the agency’s recommendation and was the first to sign a pro-hunting petition, followed by another 150 fans of the plan.

But more than 2,000 opponents signed an anti-hunting petition – and their outspoken efforts prevailed. CPW bagged their proposal on Thursday, June 7, more than a month before a final decision was slated to be made by a newly appointed Parks and Wildlife Commission.

“We were amazed at the outpouring,” says Nancy Merrill, a member of the Yampa Valley Birding Club who helped spearhead the anti-hunting petition. She has since started the nonprofit Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition to help sustain public focus on protecting the birds. “Sandhill cranes are a real iconic, charismatic mega fauna. They’re part of what makes this part of the world special,” she says.

This fall, Steamboat Springs and Hayden is hosting a Celebration of Cranes instead of a crane-hunting season. It kicks off what organizers hope will be an annual festival on the cusp of the birds’ staging time in the Yampa Valley. The two-day festival (Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 18-19) includes films, crane watching, an art show and a community talk by Dr. George Archibald, an internationally revered ornithologist and conservationist and cofounder of the International Crane Foundation.

The failed hunt request originated from 29 goose hunters. Under CPW’s proposal, 20 to 50 licenses, with a limit of one bird per hunter, would have been sold in Routt and Moffat counties for a 58-day hunting season. This would have created Colorado’s first crane hunt west of the Continental Divide, although the Rocky Mountain population of sandhill cranes is hunted in surrounding states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that 1,336 were harvested in 2010.

Still, the greater sandhill crane appears to have struck a different chord across Colorado. In the San Luis Valley, where the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is a stopover for up to 20,000 cranes each spring and fall (and draws about 10,000 annual visitors), a similar crane hunting proposal died in 2005.

“People feel really connected to the cranes. They’ve been watching pairs on their property for years,” says coalition cofounder Barbara Hughes. She surmises that their size, their elaborate dance, vocalization and their habit of mating for life “evoke a personal, emotional response.”

In a letter to the Parks and Wildlife Commission, Stagecoach resident Bob Woodmansee, a retired CSU professor of ecology and ecosystem science, summed up the crux of the local debate: “I can passionately and rigorously apply scientific scrutiny to complicated data sets and question, challenge or defend their validity. But, I cannot pretend to be emotionally detached from the idea of hunting these long-lived, iconic birds that give us a glimpse of our past and a sense of place in Northwest Colorado….I am proud of living in Routt County where I can see and hear these birds and enjoy them again in their unthreatened state.”



Steamboat Steamboat Magazine sandhill crane greater sandhill cranes cranes Steamboat Springs Miocene crane fossil oldest bird species species of special concern Yampa Valley Birding Club Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition Celebration of Cranes wildlife


You might also like

Thumb_jensen-17

Running with Wildlife

In the field with photographer Abby Jensen
Thumb_2013dec31_6732-l

94 Athletes to Represent U.S. in Sochi

A record 94 skiers and riders have been named to the U.S. Olympic Team.
Thumb_olympic-sendoff--005

15 Steamboat Athletes Head to Sochi

Fifteen skiers and riders will represent the U.S. and four other countries at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

  • Holy Eucharist

    02/01/2015
    10:30am — 11:30am

    All are welcome at this Episcopal communion service.


  • Holy Eucharist

    02/01/2015
    08:00am — 09:00am

    All are welcome at this Episcopal communion service


It looks like we don't have any events for this date. You can always add an event.

It looks like we don't have any events for this date. You can always add an event.

  • Winter Carnival Dual GS Ski Race and Party

    02/05/2015
    06:00pm — 09:00pm

    Come race head-to-head and show your GS technique on Howelsen Hill! Location: Howelsen Hill, Down...


  • Snowboarding Jam Session

    02/05/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Located under the lights of the Howelsen Hill Terrain Park, this event is open to the public. Loc...


  • Air Bag Jam Session

    02/05/2015
    04:00pm — 06:00pm

    Located under the lights of the Howelsen Hill Terrain Park, this event is open to the public. Loc...


  • Cross-Country Obstacle Race

    02/05/2015
    04:30pm — 12:00am

    A fun and entertaining obstacle race on Klumker field for nordic skiers. Spectators welcome. Loca...


  • Soda Pop Slalom

    02/06/2015
    10:00am — 12:00am

    This is a fun race and is open to any skier or snowboarder in the 5th grade or U10 program & belo...


  • Community Tubing Party

    02/06/2015
    04:00pm — 06:00pm

    Come experience Howelsen Hill’s Tubing Hill. FREE fun for the whole family with Winter Carnival b...


  • Nordic Jumping Exhibition

    02/06/2015
    04:00pm — 06:00pm

    SSWSC Nordic Combined athletes jumping the Hill size 20, 30, 45 and 75. Location: Howelsen Hill, ...


  • Dual Slalom Bicycle Race

    02/06/2015
    06:00pm — 08:00pm

    An exciting on-snow, mountain bike event down the face of Howelsen Hill. Event includes practice,...


  • Amateur Ski Jumping

    02/06/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Ski Jumping (on Alpine equipment) under the lights on the historic ski jumps of Howelsen Hill. Pr...


  • Ski Jumping Jamboree

    02/06/2015
    01:30pm — 03:00pm

    An enjoyable time for children to take to the Bump Jump and 20 meter jump at the Nordic jumping c...


  • Sorel Soiree

    02/06/2015
    07:00pm — 12:00am

    An exciting on-snow, mountain bike event down the face of Howelsen Hill. Event includes practice,...


  • 100-Meter Nordic Sprint

    02/07/2015
    08:00am — 12:00am

    The Steamboat Springs Nordic Council is looking for the fastest skate skiers in the Boat! They ar...


  • Night Extravaganza

    02/07/2015
    07:00pm — 12:00am

    A must-see evening of entertainment at historic Howelsen Hill. The evening features a winter spor...


  • Night Show After Party

    02/07/2015
    08:00pm — 10:00pm

    Warm up by the fire with friends after the Fireworks. $5 donations for tickets for food and libat...


  • SSWSC Athlete Exhibition

    02/07/2015
    06:15pm — 06:45pm

    SSWSC athletes demonstrate their skills. Location: Howelsen Hill, Downtown off of 5th Street


  • Holy Eucharist

    02/01/2015
    10:30am — 11:30am

    All are welcome at this Episcopal communion service.


  • Holy Eucharist

    02/01/2015
    08:00am — 09:00am

    All are welcome at this Episcopal communion service


  • Speed and Flight Night Ski Jumping

    02/04/2015
    06:00pm — 08:00pm

    Learn to ski jump (on Alpine or Telemark equipment) under the lights on the historic ski jumps of...


  • Winter Carnival Opening Ceremonies

    02/04/2015
    05:30pm — 12:00am

    A celebration honoring the Winter Carnival Queen, her Court of Attendants, Little Princesses, and...


  • Winter Carnival Dual GS Ski Race and Party

    02/05/2015
    06:00pm — 09:00pm

    Come race head-to-head and show your GS technique on Howelsen Hill! Location: Howelsen Hill, Down...


  • Snowboarding Jam Session

    02/05/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

    Located under the lights of the Howelsen Hill Terrain Park, this event is open to the public. Loc...


  • Air Bag Jam Session

    02/05/2015
    04:00pm — 06:00pm

    Located under the lights of the Howelsen Hill Terrain Park, this event is open to the public. Loc...


  • Cross-Country Obstacle Race

    02/05/2015
    04:30pm — 12:00am

    A fun and entertaining obstacle race on Klumker field for nordic skiers. Spectators welcome. Loca...


Order a hardbound copy of the Summer 2014 Wilderness Issue