By Jennifer Dobner
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Utah will hold its first ever crow hunt this fall as authorities try to contain the noise and mess from a population of the big, black birds that officials say has tripled over the last 12 years.
The state's Wildlife Board voted 3-2 on Thursday to let hunters cull up to 10 crows each per day in September, and then again between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28, an official said on Friday.
State data shows the crow population has grown some 300 percent since 2002, in part because they live mostly in urban areas across northern Utah where they are relatively safe from predators and have easy access to food.
As communities have grown bigger along the Wasatch Front, the number of crows has grown alongside them, said Blair Stringham, the state's migratory game bird coordinator.
"It's gotten to be a nuisance issue," Stringham said.
"When they roost, it can be in groups of 1,000 or more, so there's a lot of noise associated with that and a lot of fecal matter and mess, which people don't like."
The proposal was prompted by a growing number of complaints from urban residents, and from farmers who say the birds damage corn, fruit and grain crops.
Bird enthusiasts and other opponents of the plan say it will not solve the problem because hunting will remain prohibited in the urban neighborhoods where most crows are found.
Bill Fenimore is an avid hunter and Wildlife Board member who voted against the proposal. He said he doubted many of his fellow hunters would rush to kill the birds for food.
"Nobody's going to go out to hunt crows because they are hungry," said Fenimore. Crows look similar to protected ravens, he added, and he said he worried that younger, less experienced hunters might accidentally shoot the wrong birds.
Under the new rules, homeowners will also be allowed to kill nuisance birds if other means of driving them out, such as the use of shiny objects or loud noises, are unsuccessful.
Crows are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty, but about 45 states allow them to be hunted, Stringham said.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)