More than 15,000 sandhill cranes are flying or feeding around the Hiwassee Refuge in East Tennessee.
(WBIR-Knoxville) State wildlife officials gave preliminary approval to create a new hunting season on Thursday.
A committee from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to recommend the creation of a Sandhill Crane hunting season.
Sandhill Cranes travel to Tennessee each year by the thousands since the establishment of the Hiwassee Refuge. TWRA says the population has grown so much they could be hunted.
If approved by the full commission, four hundred hunters would be allowed to kill three birds each during a November hunting season.
Before the vote, the committee listened to public comments about the proposal. In a previous public survey, an overwhelming majority opposed the hunt.
One primary concern is that endangered Whooping Cranes may be killed accidentally.
"It is our contention that Sandhill Cranes are more valuable to the citizens of Tennessee as a living resource than as a dead animal," said Alex Ridger, a member of the Sierra Club.
"Twelve hundred birds shot out of a population of 89 to 90 thousand birds. What does it hurt? It gives the hunter another opportunity to hunt. It brings money to the game and fish with the permits. Why not?" questioned Larry Jones, a hunter from Kingston.
The full Fish and Wildlife commission is set to make a decision during TWRA's annual meeting on Friday.