Government proposes Sandhill crane research

MANITOULIN – Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is developing a proposal to research Sandhill cranes across Ontario, including Manitoulin Island.  

Marilyne Lavoie of ECCC told the Recorder last week, “Sandhill cranes were once near extinction due to habitat loss, human disturbance and over harvesting. However, a shift from forested to agricultural landscapes throughout much of Eastern Canada and the United States, coupled with agricultural practices that provide abundant and reliable food sources throughout much of the year, has enabled the species to rebound.”

“Currently, the population is increasing throughout much of its range and re-establishing in areas that it occupied historically,” said Ms. Lavoie. “This has resulted in increased conflicts between agricultural producers and Sandhill cranes.”

“The population of cranes is relatively small in Ontario and Quebec compared to many other species (like Canada geese, mallards). However, cranes can play a significant role in agricultural damage in some areas, often impacting the same farms year after year,” explained Ms. Lavoie. “While permits from Environment and Climate Change Canada-Canadian Wildlife Service (ECCC-CWS) are available to producers experiencing damage to help mitigate conflicts, more information is required to better understand the nature of these conflicts and to provide science-based guidance. The proposed study is a collaborative effort between the ECCC-EWS, stakeholders from agricultural and wildlife sectors in Ontario and Quebec as well as academics from both provinces.”

“The key elements to this proposed study are to examine large- and small-scale movements in relation to agricultural land use and potential for conflicts,” said Ms. Lavoie. “Data will be used to determine changes in abundance and distribution and assess risk factors associated with field characteristics at different times of year. This information will also help augment current monitoring efforts for Sandhill cranes as well as provide insights into the ecology of Sandhill cranes nesting in Ontario and Quebec.”

“The collection of genetic and isotopic data from Sandhill cranes will determine the breeding area of individuals using agricultural areas throughout Ontario and Quebec,” she continued. “Involvement of individuals from different areas of the breeding range in conflicts at different times during the year will be sought, and an assessment of agricultural damage and mitigation techniques, to inform best management practices.”

Ms. Lavoie pointed out the study is being carried out, “in response to concerns from stakeholders. ECCC-CWS had been collecting data to assess the status and harvest potential for Sandhill cranes in Ontario as well as to evaluate if a hunting season would help mitigate agricultural conflicts in Ontario. ECCC findings indicated that, with the exception of potatoes, the majority of damage occurs before September 1. September 1 is important as it marks the earliest start date for any migratory game bird hunting season in Ontario as prescribed by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. As such, hunting is not a practical tool for mitigating agricultural conflicts with Sandhill cranes for most producers.”

“As a result, ECCC-CWS is renewing focus towards on-farm mitigation strategies, which continue to be the most effective approach,” said Ms. Lavoie. “This initiative is designed to improve ECC’s knowledge of conflicts and their mitigation to provide enhanced guidance and tools for stakeholders experiencing significant losses due to conflicts with Sandhill cranes.”

Ms. Lavoie noted, “the proposed study is a multi-year initiative and is still in planning stages as we are working with partners to finalize study design. Initial fieldwork is set to begin this fall and much of the work will be completed by one or more graduate students from the University of Waterloo over the next several years.”

“The overall objective of the research is to gain a better understanding of agricultural conflicts involving Sandhill cranes, to provide enhanced, science-based mitigation strategies and inform policy development related to this so that producers are better able to mitigate conflicts attributable to Sandhill cranes. ECCC-CWS looks forward to working with the agricultural community and other stakeholders on this initiative.”

The study area will include Manitoulin Island/the North Shore of Lake Huron and other parts of Ontario and Quebec.