Topeka State wildlife officials Thursday did not establish greater protections for endangered whooping cranes that migrate through Kansas despite the November shooting deaths of two birds in Stafford County.
After hearing nearly two hours of public comment on the issue, the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission said it would await results of an ongoing federal investigation into the shootings to see whether any changes in state hunting regulations are needed.
Hunters arrested in connection with the whooping crane deaths said they shot them thinking the birds were sandhill cranes, which are legal to shoot in season.
Sandhill cranes and the whooping crane flock that migrate through Kansas from Canada to Texas, often travel together.
"I would like to see what comes from the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) investigation," Commission Chairman John Dykes, of Fairway, told the more than 100 people attending the meeting.
Animal advocates, however, had several proposals, ranging from abolishing sandhill crane season to establishing larger no-shooting buffer zones around whoopers when they are spotted. Delaying the sandhill crane season and moving the sunrise shooting time to later in the day also were suggested.
"They need all the protections that we can give them," said Susan Iversen, conservation chairwoman of the Jayhawk Audubon Society in Lawrence.
Lawrence resident Elizabeth Schultz said Kansas should follow Nebraska's lead and get rid of sandhill crane season.
"Long live the cranes," she said, as she gave origami cranes to each commission member.
But the bird enthusiasts faced steep opposition.
A Wildlife and Parks staff biology report stated emphatically that sandhill crane hunting didn't jeopardize whoopers.
Biologist Helen Hands noted that since sandhill crane hunting was allowed in Kansas in 1961, the whooper population had increased 450 percent.
But though that sounds like a lot, Iversen said, that percentage increase equaled 180 whoopers.
Hunters asked the commission to hold off on any changes until more is known about the deaths of the two whoopers in Kansas.
"I don't see any reason to change until we know what happened," said Tim Keenan, of Great Bend. The investigation is ongoing, and officials haven't said when it will be concluded.
"We've had one very bad day in 11 years," said Dan Ward, executive director of the Kansas Wildlife Federation, which supports hunters.
There have been only a handful of reported shootings of whooping cranes in the past decade. If convicted of killing a whooper, a person could face one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
But animal enthusiasts said they believed there had been more shot and killed that haven't been reported.
Mark Robbins, an ornithologist at the Kansas University Natural History Museum, said he and his family saw a hunter once shoot a sandhill crane that was next to a whooper.
He said it was possible the whooper took some shot.
"This does happen more frequently than you think," he said.