Sandhill cranes were once nearly extinct but have rebounded so well in Wisconsin that they're becoming a headache for farmers in Manitowoc County.
Jim Knickelbine, the director of Woodland Dunes Nature Center near Two Rivers, told the Herald Times Reporter that there were 390 sandhill cranes in Manitowoc County in 2012. They typically return to the area in March and eat corn seed out of the soil in the early part of planting season.
Chad Staudinger, of Blue Royal Farms in Reedsville, said the operation racked up more than $90,000 in damages largely caused by having to continually replant in areas where birds eat the corn seeds. He said cranes dig around the soil to get at the corn seed, which exposes the roots to sunlight and in turn kills the corn.
Staudinger said he's had as many as 100 cranes in his fields in the past. The farm has started treating seeds with a solution prior to planting that makes the seeds unpalatable to the cranes in hopes of discouraging them from eating the seeds, he said, but it costs about $30 an acre.
"I think we have a remedy, but it's going to be costly," Staudinger said.
Wisconsin lawmakers introduced a bill for a short sandhill crane hunting season in 2012 but it did not get a vote. Farmers who have experienced agricultural damage can get individual permits to shoot the cranes.
Staudinger got a permit to shoot up to five cranes, although he hasn't yet shot any. To get it, he had to prove he'd taken other steps to prevent crop damage.
"It's a difficult situation because, although we like having animals around, when they start doing economic damage close to $100,000 per year it becomes a situation we need to deal with," he said.
No bill has been proposed for a sandhill crane hunt in 2013, but Staudinger said he believes more farmers are leaning toward supporting a seasonal hunt.