Friday, April 17, 2015

Sandhill cranes are my resource, too

By David Horst

For many years, I listened to the moans of my newspaper colleagues as they went off to what they described as an endless evening covering one of the spring Conservation Congress hearings held in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties.

Sandhill cranes call in the hayfield
of Sandhill Llama Farm
Last Monday finally found me at the Outagamie County conservation hearing at Appleton North High School. I was there for the birds.

While the hearing did grind on like a tortured old winch motor, it only lasted about an hour and a half. No one shouted. No one booed. In fact, not many people even spoke. Even so, I felt like staying through the whole hearing should have earned me a cap or something.

DNR conservation warden Thomas Sturdivant dutifully read through the often minute changes in regulations for fishing in this location or trapping at that hour of the day. Then he came to proposal No. 25 on the green ballot. It was to create a hunt for sandhill cranes.

Check my email address, check the name of our farm, check my license plate and you will see I am a fan of cranes. I raised my hand and made my way to the microphone to state my case for a vote against crane hunting to a crowd I knew was not in my camp.

First of all, this proposal was not a recommendation from the DNR. The Conservation Congress allows a single citizen to propose a change in hunting or fishing regulations. This one came from a farmer in Manitowoc County.

That sounds like a rare example of basic democracy, but its not. Democracy represents all of the people and, at the Conservation Congress meetings, the only ones really represented are guys who hunt and fish. Thats the fault of all of the rest of us who dont attend but, lets face it, this agenda has a limited draw.

Whether to hunt sandhill cranes should not be an issue of public opinion, was my argument. Cranes are a public resource and my right to enjoy them by looking through my kitchen window and watching them dance out in the hayfield is just as important as someone elses interest in eating them. The question is, what does the science say? Is the population greater than the environments ability to sustain them?

A man who spoke after me talked about crop damage caused by cranes and said farmers would overwhelming favor a crane hunt.

Cranes cause crop damage. Thats clear. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who says he saw cranes walking down a row of corn plucking out the seedlings. The question is, how much damage?

Can noise generators or seeds coated to taste bad to cranes or crop loss reimbursements handle the problem? Whats the balance? That takes research, and DNR researchers are a threatened species in the state budget currently before the Joint Finance Committee.

Not surprisingly, my arguments werent that persuasive. Outagamie Countys hearing recorded a vote of 58-31 in favor of a crane hunt. Statewide, the crane hunt prevailed in 56 counties, lost in 15 and tied in one. They did, however, oppose the shooting of white deer and advocated for people planting milkweed for monarch butterflies.

Luckily, in the Conservation Congress, a majority vote doesnt necessarily win. Cooler heads on the Natural Resources Board review these proposals and Im hoping they reject this majority vote, as they did last year.

With the current trajectory of the comeback of cranes in Wisconsin, there may come a day that a crane hunt is necessary. But that day shouldnt come based on how many other states hunt cranes, what the guy on the next barstool heard from a farmer he knows or what a hundred or so guys in a school auditorium mark on the green ballot.

Its my resource, too. Give me the facts.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Keep looking up

By David Horst 

The drive to work has gotten a bit less interesting.
A sandhill crane prepares to land at Sandhill Llama Farm 

The snowy owl that had added some expectation to the trip has headed back to the arctic, but she generated a lot of interest in owls while she was here. Several more emails came in from readers with white owl stories to tell.

Robert Petri and his wife were on their way to work. As they passed a Greenville industrial park, his wife told Robert about a delivery man who talked about spotting a snowy in the area several times. The words were hardly out of her mouth when Robert pointed to the roof of an industrial building and said, "You mean like that one?"

Kathy Moderson was on her way home from the funeral for her sister-in-law -- a victim of cancer. She wasn't up to going home right away, so she and her husband went for a drive to check out the area around Outagamie County Regional Airport, where they had read snowy owls had been sighted. They saw nothing at the airport and headed down State 76. There they saw a pair of snowy owls.

"I hope and believe my dear sister-in-law had something to do with that," Kathy wrote to me.

There is something spiritual about a mysterious creature that appears only infrequently. While the snowies have left, spring brings new hope and new reasons to look up.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Snowy winter has lots of fans

By David Horst

Faithful reader Alice Wagner posed this question after seeing my last column, which recounted the saga of me trying to photograph a female snowy owl my wife and I were seeing regularly near the Outagamie County Regional Airport.
Photos by Jordan Feucht
“I wondered, how do you know this is one owl, the same owl, at each different place you and your wife saw it?” Alice asked.

I explained that the black bar pattern on the owl identified it as a female. The pattern, which can vary substantially among individuals, and the close proximity of the sightings left me fairly confident we were seeing the same owl, a winter visitor for the arctic driven south by a short food supply.

Then comes an email from Jordan Feucht of Appleton that demonstrated that, while we may have been seeing the same owl, it wasn’t alone.

Jordan worked security at the Oshkosh Truck building on State 96 near the airport where our owl frequently perched. Photos he shot with his smartphone show there was a male companion, nearly pure white in color.

A shot he took through a chain link fence gives the eerie impression of a snowy owl doing hard prison time.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Snowy makes elusive photo subject

By David Horst

The Outagamie County Regional Airport’s owl has been leading me on quite a chase.

It's a snowy owl, an occasional visitor from the arctic who takes a foodie vacation in Wisconsin when its favorite rodent back home, the lemming, falls into short supply.

This has been one of those years, which is odd because so was last year.


My wife spotted the snowy near the airport first. She was driving down State 96 and saw it on a utility pole.

A week or so later, I was scanning the airport perimeter with jealousy still in my heart, when I saw outstretched wings directly above my truck. The figure was white and it had the unmistakeable wide head of an owl.

Having seen it, my next challenge was to photograph it.