“Amid the endless mediocrity of the commonplace, a crane marsh holds a paleontological patent of nobility, won in the march of aeons, and revocable only by shotgun.”
— Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
The original title I had in mind for this piece was “Another noxious slob staining the honor of the state,” but I thought that might be too subtle. So instead I propose “Joel Kleefisch: Republican hero!!!” The Assemblyman from Oconomowoc and husband of Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch proposed a bill yesterday requiring that the state DNR add a hunting season for the sandhill crane. Now while the common robin is technically the state bird of Wisconsin — elected as such by schoolchildren in the heyday of the Roaring Twenties, when bachelorettes were called flappers, the foxtrot rivaled flagpole sitting as all the rage, a Red Scare tainted the popular imagination while we banned alcohol and crashed the entire world economy — the sandhill crane is to Wisconsin what the bald eagle is to America. It’s not for nothing that the little logo mascot thingy for WisconsinEye, the state’s local version of C-SPAN, is a sandhill crane:
At their essence they are tiny dinosaurs. Granted, all birds are, but when you look at a crane the atavistic comparison is a heck of a lot closer to home than, say, a boring robin. Exquisite, majestic creatures with a wingspan of five to seven feet(!), whose ruddy, rust-streaked head and battleship grey plumage embody sage and grace, yet whose guttural, glottis-curdled crackle call invokes a cry not just of the wild, but a prehistoric presage, a time before man. “When we hear his call we hear no mere bird,” Leopold so elegantly wrote. “We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.”
Or, to the likes of Joel Kleefisch, a meal on wings he calls “the rib-eye of the sky” which should be shot on account of its corn rabble raids and bane to farmers. Call it out of sight, out of his mind.
The crane is from the Eocene, meaning coming after dinosaurs but well before humans. The crane called this land home long before the last glacier sculpted the landscape of Wisconsin. Before the French fur trappers collected pelts. Before the Welsh descended into mines. Before the Germans and Norwegians felled trees for farms. His this land; we are mere sharecroppers upon it.
3 Fun Facts about how awesome sandhill cranes are:
~ Their mating ritual consists of elaborate dances!
~ After mating, they’re a monogamous pair “wed” for life.
~ Despite being birds, their young are not called chicks, but colts! Watch one run and you’ll know why.
Here’s a video of sandhill cranes for the uninitiated:
(Thus confirming that acoustic guitar and piano are to nature films what saxophone and wah-wahs are to retro porn flicks.)
Now here’s a video of Joel Kleefisch:
Perhaps he too should cut back on the corn-based products. But maybe that’s a cheap shot. I mean, after all, it’s unfair to compare different species. So here is a photo of Aldo Leopold:
Though this too may prove to be as ill-fitting a match as Rep. Kleefisch’s polo shirt in the above clip. Leopold is cut from the cloth of avuncular suave. He is our grandfather. He could be President Eisenhower’s best friend, or humbler brother. His is the soul of poet and scientist incarnate, urbane in demeanor and erudition but salt of the earth naturalist. By contrast, Joel Kleefisch is an obnoxious slob with as much refinement as a ruptured appendix.
Purportedly, Rep. Kleefisch is looking out for the farmer. In addition to adding a new season for sandhill cranes to ostensibly help cull the flocks, under his bill farmers could collect compensation for damaged crops. Remember how “broke” the state was last year? That’s what all the Republicans were saying. But now we’re flush with enough petty cash to recompense a bunch of bristled farmers over an issue that out of nowhere is now a problem? I am not casually dismissing what damage cranes do cause upon crops — even Leopold himself admitted to it: “they ate the grain, and when some irate farmer failed to concede their usufruct in his corn, they trumpeted a warning and sailed across the marsh to another farm.” In other words, shoot at them, and they will fly away to someone else’s field, problem unsolved. But is this really necessary, now especially?
While it may be disputed how much of a problem this truly is, perhaps first we should ask how many new jobs such a bill would create in Wisconsin. Isn’t that what the Republicans in the state have been all about? That the state is broke but we’re open for business; that Governor Walker was going to focus “like a laser” on creating new jobs; that Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, wife of Joel, was the self-appointed “jobs ambassador” of the state? I wonder what happens around the Kleefisch dinner table, after thanking the Lord, of course:
Rebecca: Gosh, hun, how we gonna drum up some business? Scott promised 250,000 new jobs by the end of his first term. We’re, uh, got a ways to go on that.
Joel: These chicken fingers remind me — I hear that sandhill crane’s good eating, the rib-eye of the sky, some say.
Rebecca: We’re practically giving the farm away to lure factories to move up here!
Joel: I sure could go for some crane right about now…
Rebecca: Don’t even get me started on cranes; manufacturing’s been down in the pits.
Joel: Some nice sandhill on the grill, corn on the cob, mm-mm!
Rebecca: Corn! That’s it! We’ll give hunters the go-ahead to shoot cranes and say they’re decimating the corn crops, and the money we’ll get in licenses can be paid back to our friends who tell us their farms have been taken over by cranes. Great thinking, hunny!
Joel: Bet their eggs make great omelets, too…
Or, like collective bargaining, voter ID, beer distributorship, defunding Planned Parenthood, concealed carry, charter schools, personhood, et al., is this one more thinly disguised example of pay-to-play politics and ideological favor? Speaking of, I would be interested in knowing who the ornithophobe is who donated to Kleefisch’s campaign to bribe this bill’s bidding. Or does jolly Joel really just have an unslakeably salacious taste for rib-eyes with wings? Regardless, the math would never add up: whatever pittance in purchased hunting licenses would come to the state’s purse could never even match as a zero sum gain what would be remunerated to flustered farmers. And it sure would not make a dent in the crane population — if that were the objective.
At the risk of sounding radical, there are other ways of managing “trespassing” birds without blowing their heads off. First we had concealed carry pass in Wisconsin. Then the so-called “castle law,” allowing a homeowner to shoot all transgressors with impunity. Now let’s shoot sacred cranes? Notice a pattern here? Also, how many hunters are going to discern the difference between sandhills and whoopers from a distance? Whooping cranes (aka “whoopers”) — the only other species of crane in North America — is the rarest of all cranes and the most endangered native bird of North America. Both birds have survived insurmountable odds. There were only some 25 pairs of sandhills in Wisconsin in the 1930s, compared to an estimated 20,000 total birds today. The whoopers’ plight is even more precarious. According to the Audubon Society, in 1941 there were roughly 21 birds in the wild — in all of North America. After 50 years of laudable conservation efforts and considerable sacrifice roughly 341 were found in the wild, with an additional 145 living in captivity. Think about this. The whooper exists on the razor-edge of extinction. A female lays only 1-2 eggs at a time. Every year there is a heart-piercing story of some harebrained dumbass who “accidentally” shoots a whooper. When there are only around 500 total birds comprising this one species, and one is needlessly killed, the result is utterly devastating. To put it a little anthropomorphically, if there are seven billion people on the planet, one whooping crane is the equivalent of 14 million human beings. One killed crane would be roughly 58 Hiroshimas and Nagasakis combined. That’s all of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago combined gone. That’s the entire country of Ecuador gone. For every one whooping crane that gets shot.
So there you are, in your blind or whatever, and from far afield or past the sedge of marsh you espy a crane. Thanks to Joel Kleefisch, you can shoot the thing to smithereens. You squint, take a deep breath, wait for it, then pull the trigger. Kow! But how the hell can you tell from even fifty yards away whether it’s a sandhill or a whooper?
That we would even think about sanctioning such a perilous risk is ridiculous, and all in the name of corn!?!
For more info and a spectacular short video on rehabilitating whoopers, you will not want to miss this.
While I myself will always prefer to look like this…
than ever to even remotely resemble this…
(amongst other matters my manhood, whatever it may allegedly have wrong with it, is not so insecure or fatuously stifled as to kill living creatures for “sport”) — there is a way of addressing this issue without triggering (sorry) the divide-and-conquer false dichotomy of hunters and environmentalists, and there are far less violent methods of protecting corn without relying on the age-old logic of shoot ’em all & let God sort ’em out. Indeed, the International Crane Foundation (ICF) has been studying this issue for years. Recognizing frankly that harmless noise deterrents do little to dissuade the nibbling cranes, ICF conceded (con seeded?) that until fewer toxic chemicals were found, pre-treating corn with the insecticide Lindane was an effective prevention of crop damage and certainly preferable to calling shotgun. After more research was conducted, the ICF identified anthraquinone (AQ), a naturally produced compound in plants to protect their fruit from being eaten before coming to full fruition that has low toxicity or environmental impact. Together with such agencies as the EPA, the USDA, the state department of Agriculture, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl’s office, and many local farmers, the ICF was successful in lobbying for the use of AQ to treat corn. Use the links provided below to remind both Rep. Kleefisch and your own lawmakers to consider a less lethal consensus. While you’re at it, they would do well to remember, too, that exactly ten years ago during the 2001-2002 legislative session, a petition by approximately 20,000 citizens of Wisconsin in opposition to the then proposal to hold a hunting season on sandhill cranes was read and referred to the committee on Environmental Resources.
One more thing bears mention: not even the most gluttonous, most “Kleefischian” of sandhill cranes comes close to matching the waste of corn as we human beings do. The federal government has paid farmers to grow surpluses of corn for years now. The sale of corn is far less than the actual cost of growing it, but so what? The what is our skyrocketed rates of obesity and diabetes, as corn by way of high fructose corn syrup (yes, I’m going there) is snuck into every damned imaginable thing there is, from what we eat in a grocery store or out of a vending machine to paint to paper to plastics to cosmetics, textiles, and tires, and a whole lot more. It’s what we feed lot animals with, beef or dairy cows, chickens and pigs — no basic breakfast table is bereft of corn — and then need to inject antibiotics into said animals as most cannot digest corn. Pesticides to grow the crop, antibiotics for the animals gobbling the crop — all of which we then eat as consumers. Or consider the local farmers in developing nations to which we export our surplus corn, who will never be able to make a living off of their own crops when our insanely subsidized Yankee corn costs less in market value. Why are we so enthralled to King Corn?
A few more thoughts from Aldo Leopold: “Land-use ethics are still governed wholly by economic self-interest, just as social ethics were a century ago … Obligations have no meaning without conscience, and the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land.” And “our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy … Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.” Amen, brother. Those last lines were written here in Madison on March 4, 1948, nearly 64 years ago today. (“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”) Leopold is the father of wildlife ecology, a hero and pillar of Wisconsin history. He was also the Chair of the Department of Game Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As such he stands in sharp contrast to Marlin Laidlow, the chairman of the agricultural damage committee for the Conservation Congress, “an influential group of sportsmen who advise the DNR,” as reported by Todd Richmond of the Wisconsin State Journal. “The problem with the people who don’t understand wildlife and wildlife management,” Laidlow bellowed, “they join an organization and fall in love with a particular species. As far as they’re concerned, you can’t have too many. They just don’t get it. You’ve got to control populations.”
The same might be said about our own species, bub.
Cranes, Not Grains!
Contact Rep. Joel Kleefisch here and tell him that his bird-brained idea will not fly. Then contact your state elected officials and ask the same. (To find yours, click here.) Current Gov. Walker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Secretary of the DNR Cathy Stepp at email@example.com. Lastly, I have created a simple petition and would appreciate your assistance signing it (especially for those of you who live out of state):
I would ask, too, that if this is important to you, you share it with others to help spread the word. If 20,000 people signed a petition on behalf of sandhills ten years ago, we can do it again. But I will need your help. Please share this with your friends and family, tweet it, post it to Facebook, whatever.
Finally, I would like to close with the following song as you gaze upon some heart-tugging pics of cranes. Thanks so much!