Sandhill crane research study begins

Manitoulin to be included in ministry study

MANITOULIN—A study by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) for developing a proposal concerning Sandhill cranes across Ontario, including Manitoulin Island, has begun.

Marilyne Lavoie, spokesperson for ECCC explained last week, “fieldwork for research concerning Sandhill cranes across Ontario began in September (2019) and since that time 14 transmitters have been deployed on Sandhill cranes in Northeastern Ontario and the Abitibi region of western Quebec. Many of the cranes with transmitters have already migrated to the agricultural areas along the North Shore of Lake Huron.”

Ms. Lavoie pointed out that, “while not the focus of the 2019 field effort, (ECCC) does plan to deploy transmitters along the North Shore and/or Manitoulin Island in the future. Currently, field crews are in the Temiskaming area deploying transmitters. The goal is to deploy up to 28 units this fall.”
The study is being carried out in response to stakeholder concerns, but the objectives relate to gathering information on movement and habitat use in relation to agriculture and periods when crops are vulnerable to damage. “The evaluation of whether or not a hunting season is an effective means of mitigation is not an objective of this project; rather, the focus is on informing on farm mitigation strategies,” explained Ms. Lavoie.

Ms. Lavoie had told the Recorder in the May 24, 2019 edition, 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 (e.g. Canada geese and 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-CWS, 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 to determine the breeding area of individuals using agricultural areas throughout Ontario and Quebec and the 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 ECCC-CWS has 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 forwards to working with the agricultural community and other stakeholders on this initiative.”

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