|Growing sandhill crane populations will provide 21 additional hunters with a hunting opportunity in Utah this fall.
At its meeting June 14 in Heber City, the Utah Wildlife Board approved a total of 121 permits for hunts in three northern Utah counties. The 121 permits are 21 more than the 100 issued in 1999.
Of the 121 permits, 54 will be offered for a hunt in Cache County, 45 for Rich County and 22 for Box Elder County.
The Box Elder and Rich county hunts will run Sept. 2 - 10. The hunt in Cache County runs Sept. 16 - 24.
Tom Aldrich, waterfowl coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said the later Cache County season will provide an opportunity to hold an early September sandhill crane viewing event for anyone who is interested.
"The two-week delay in Cache County will also provide an opportunity to hunters who may not be able to hunt in early September," Aldrich said.
A 1 mile by 11 mile area in and around Mendon in Cache County is among areas in the counties closed to crane hunting. Areas open and closed to hunting will be listed in the 2000-2001 Utah Upland Game Proclamation. The proclamation should be available by mid-July.
The board approved a two-year upland game proclamation at the meeting, which will keep sandhill crane hunting rules the same for the next two seasons.
Wet conditions on summer breeding areas is the main reason the Rocky Mountain population of greater sandhill cranes has increased the past five years, Aldrich said. Wet conditions provide good nesting cover and more food for newly hatched cranes.
Fall surveys in 1995 found 16,028 greater sandhill cranes in the region. A total of 19,501 were counted in the fall of 1999.
The Rocky Mountain population consists of greater sandhill cranes that breed in Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, and winter mostly in New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico.
The number of young cranes in the population also has grown. When drought conditions prevailed in crane breeding areas from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, about 5 percent of the fall population wintering in Colorado's San Luis Valley were cranes hatched that spring. That number grew to about 10 percent as wet conditions returned in the late 1990s.
Sandhill crane populations also increased in the three northern Utah counties where hunts were held last fall. A total of 1,772 cranes were counted in the fall of 1999, compared to 1,727 in 1998.
Sandhill cranes are beginning to expand into new areas in Utah, Aldrich said, with many of the birds moving into central Utah.
Because of the increase in crane numbers, the Pacific Flyway Council will allow 80 cranes to be taken in Utah this year. That's up from 69 last year.
Sixty-six percent of the hunters who drew a permit and hunted cranes in the three-county area in 1999 took a bird. If hunters have the same success rate this fall, the 121 permits approved by the board will result in 80 cranes being taken by hunters this fall.
Applications to participate in the hunts will be available by July 3 from hunting and fishing license agents statewide; Division offices and hunter education centers; and the Division's Internet web site (www.nr.state.ut.us/dwr/dwr.htm).
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