Sandhill cranes come in for a landing near Gibbon, Neb., on March 15, 2018. Alberta has announced there will be a sandhill crane hunting season this fall, a hunt that's been opposed by an environment group and was previously rejected by the provincial government three times in the past. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Nati Harnik

Alberta has announced there will be a sandhill crane hunting season this fall - a hunt that's been opposed by an environmental group and was previously rejected by the provincial government three times.

The province said in a news release on Sunday that the season launches on September 1 in more than 50 wildlife management units in southern and east-central Alberta.

Environment Minister Jason Nixon says in the release that it “will support the province's wildlife management goals and boost local economies.”

Alberta Conservation Association president Todd Zimmerling says in the same release that the birds make “excellent table fare” and that they've been hunted for many years across the rest of their range.

But Nissa Pettersen of the Alberta Wilderness Association said earlier this year, when the minister told a magazine he'd asked his department consider a hunt, that despite their healthy numbers, the birds reproduce slowly and are rapidly losing the wetlands where they live.

Alberta decided against sandhill crane hunts in 2009, 2013 and 2014.

“Alberta hunters care deeply about the province's environment, species and wild places, and providing another opportunity to engage in a pursuit that supports conservation as well as economic activity is a win-win,” Nixon said in the release.

The province said sandhill crane hunting seasons have existed in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba for more than 50 years, with the sandhill crane population remaining healthy.

It said the number of sandhill cranes in the Alberta has increased steadily in recent years, adding that the hunt is supported by Alberta hunting stakeholders, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Central Flyway Council.

There are more than 600,000 sandhill cranes across North America.

But Pettersen said in April that because the cranes depend on wetlands that are disappearing, and also have a low birth rate, that they might not bounce back from a year of hunting.

The Alberta Wilderness Association also said that a hunt would threaten the endangered whooping crane, which uses some of the same migration routes and could be mistaken for either bird.

The Canadian Wildlife Service proposed in December that the province open a fall sandhill season, saying it would provide a new hunting opportunity in Alberta and provide a mechanism to deal with crop depredation issues caused by cranes.

Pettersen discounted concerns about the birds eating crops in the field, noting that when that argument was made during the last debate over hunting, the total of actual complaints against the birds was five.

The province says hunters will need a provincial game bird licence and a federal migratory bird licence to hunt sandhill cranes. It says the Alberta hunt is expected to add only two per cent to the number of sandhill cranes harvested across North America.

The provincial release says fishing, hunting, trapping, and sport-shooting activities contributed $1.8 billion to Alberta's GDP in 2018, supporting 11,700 jobs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2020.