Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Yellowstone bison calfIt was a “facepalm moment” for everyone concerned.

A few days ago, a couple of foreign tourists to Yellowstone National Park decided that a bison calf looked cold. They put the calf in the back of their van to warm up. When park rangers tried to return the calf to its mother, the herd wouldn’t accept it. Rather than allow the young bison to starve to death, rangers euthanized it — unpleasant, to be sure, but necessary under the circumstances.

Since that recent unfortunate event, the Terribly Concerned have clucked and tut-tutted their high-minded little heads off. To them, the incident was evidence that too many of The Great Unwashed are being allowed into Yellowstone and other national parks. Rather than risk the life of some other bison calf, bear cub, wolf cub, mule deer fawn or elk calf, the Terribly Concerned are proposing that some national parks might be better off if — well, if people were kept out of them.

Excuse me? Weren’t national parks created specifically for people’s recreational benefit?

It is true that the sheer volume of people sometimes causes problems. The main road through Yosemite National Park, for instance, becomes a giant traffic jam during the park’s high season. Wildlife in Yellowstone are often crowded and harassed by nature-ignorant visitors.

As bad as those things are, though, I don’t believe the answer is to put a virtual plate-glass cover around parks in order to save them from “the rabble.”

Traffic problems can be engineered away. Human ingenuity knows no bounds, and solutions can be found for most any problem.

As long as people remain ignorant about wildlife, however, conflicts will continue to occur. Wild animals go where they want to go and do what they want to do. People might encounter them anywhere. Tourists who don’t know how to deal with animals will inevitably make mistakes. Sometimes, as with the bison calf, the animals suffer the consequences.

At other times, the humans do.

The first time I visited Yellowstone National Park, in 1984 or thereabouts, the ranger at the gate handed me a flyer about the park’s wildlife. The flyer warned that bison killed and injured more visitors than all other species combined.

“Is that really the case?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” the ranger replied. “Just last week, we had a visitor who decided to take a picture of a big bull bison that happened to be lying beside the road. The man didn’t want a picture of a bison lying down, he wanted a picture of one standing up. So he walked over to the bison and kicked it in the rear end. The bison whirled around and killed him on the spot.”

Some people can’t be saved from their own ignorance. For them, perhaps a Darwinian approach is the way to go.

Mark Blauvelt (right) and fishing partner Ryan Lawrence with Blauvelt's 59.88 state-record blue catWhen Mark Blauvelt released the heaviest blue catfish ever caught from West Virginia waters, he fully realized his shiny new state record might be short-lived.

“At just 60 pounds, that fish has plenty of room for growth,” said Blauvelt, who caught the gigantic blue cat (which officially weighed 59.88 pounds). “I wanted to release it so someone else might have a chance to catch it.”

The chances that some angler might land the very same fish are probably slim, but there are other blue cats in the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers that might easily eclipse Blauvelt’s name from the record books. Four record-breaking fish have been caught from the Ohio in the past five years. In just half a decade, the record skyrocketed from 32 pounds to 44 pounds to 52 pounds and now to almost 60.

Blauvelt (on the right in the accompanying photo) caught the fish during the May 14 Cabela’s King Kat Tournament, held on the Ohio and lower Kanawha. It earned the New Lebanon, Ohio, resident and  tournament partner Ryan Lawrence the prize money for the biggest fish, but wasn’t enough to win them the tournament. The first-prize money went to a team that had caught an impressive stringer of trophy flathead catfish.

Does it really measure up?The world of kayak bass fishing got rocked to its core recently when the winner of a Kayak Bass Series tournament on Tennessee’s Dale Hollow Lake got caught using an altered measuring device.

The angler, later identified as Andrew Shepherd of Prestonsburg, Ky., was disqualified after tournament officials noticed something funny about the photos Shepherd turned in to have his tournament-winning catch verified. In kayak bass fishing, contestants are required to measure and photograph each fish on a “bump board,” a broad ruler that cradles the fish. A vertical stop at one end of the bump board ensures accurate measurement by making sure each fish’s nose gets placed at the same spot.

Sharp-eyed judges figured out that Shepherd’s bump board had had 4 inches removed from it, which had the effect of making the bass he caught appear 4 inches longer. Shepherd allegedly disguised the subterfuge by holding his hand over the fish in way that concealed the alteration.

Not surprisingly, Shepherd’s disqualification triggered a social media firestorm from indignant anglers.

One unanticipated side effect of the incident could be that anglers will lose confidence in so-called “golden rule” tournaments, which rely on anglers’ honesty in measuring and reporting their catches. I suppose that when hundreds or even thousands of dollars in prize money are at stake, verifying results takes on even more importance.

‘Blaze pink’s’ time is coming

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blazeOn Feb. 4, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill that made it legal for hunters to wear fluorescent pink — aka “blaze pink” — instead of blaze orange during the state’s hunting seasons. A similar measure is moving smoothly through the Louisiana Legislature. From the Associated Press:

The Louisiana House voted 95-5 Wednesday to add the fluorescent color “blaze pink” as an alternative to the traditional “hunter orange” that hunters are required to wear under state law.
Bogalusa Rep. Malinda White, a hunter who sponsored the bill, says she thinks the addition would encourage more women to hunt. The Democratic lawmaker, who wore a pink shirt and glasses to debate the measure, says Wisconsin has passed a similar provision.
Rep. Neil Abramson, a New Orleans Democrat, worried about the safety of wearing pink, questioning if it would be visible enough.
The bill, supported by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, heads next to the Senate for debate.

Rep. White’s assertions aside, some women’s groups are steamed about the bill because they think it casts female hunters as shallow beings who would let themselves be swayed to hunting simply because they could wear a “woman’s color.”

The bottom line, to me, is whether the color prevents its wearer from being mistaken for game. Studies have shown that fluorescent pink shows up slightly better than orange, especially under low-light conditions. Fluorescent chartreuse shows up even better; that’s why road and construction crews wear it.

If lawmakers would detach themselves from gender politics and vote solely on the merits of the colors’ visibility, hunters might have their choice of fluorescent orange, pink or chartreuse clothing. My only question is what they’re waiting for.


(Photo courtesy Zach Loughman)After a year’s worth of consideration and review, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have decided that the Guyandotte River crayfish (Cambarus veteranus) is in danger of extinction.

The species, which exists only in isolated segments of Wyoming County’s Pinnacle Creek and Clear Creek, will now have the full power of the federal  government protecting it from threats to its remaining habitat.

USFWS officials also have placed the Big Sandy crayfish (C. callainus) on the list of threatened species. The Big Sandy species exists in a sizable portion of the upper Tug River watershed in West Virginia, and in several Tug/Big Sandy tributaries in Kentucky and Virginia.

Detailed information can be found in the latest USFWS publication on the listing.

WVU freshman makes Olympic shooting team

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Olympian Ginny Thrasher (West Virginia University photo)West Virginia University freshman Ginny Thrasher is on her way to the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Thrasher, the reigning NCAA champion in both smallbore and air rifle, won the women’s 50-meter three-position competition at the recent U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Smallbore in Fort Benning, Ga.
The Springfield, Va., native was among 16 shooters in contention for a single slot on this year’s U.S. team. She became the third WVU female shooter to make it to the Games. Ann-Marie Pfiffner competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and Jean Foster competed in the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympics.


Wildlife calendar racks up another award

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Image courtesy W.Va. Div. of Natural Resources
Image courtesy W.Va. Div. of Natural Resources

West Virginia’s annual Wildlife Calendar is a little like the West Virginia University rifle team — it just keeps winning and winning.

The calendar’s latest honor is the Gold Award from the Calendar Marketing Association. This marks the second time West Virginia’s calendar, produced by the state Division of Natural Resources, has captured the top honor. In addition to the two golds, the calendar has won a slew of silver and bronze awards through the years.

DNR officials began publishing the calendar in 1985. It always features original wildlife art produced, for the most part, by Mountain State artists. It also is packed with information — natural history facts, hunting and fishing regulations and articles about fish and wildlife.

This year’s competition featured hundreds of calendars from around the country. According to a DNR release, awards were based on “the superiority of the artwork, readability, information quality and originality.”

Mountain lion rescue captured on video

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Rescuing an adult mountain lion from a bobcat trap isn’t for sissies, especially if you choose to do it without tranquilizing the animal first.

Two wildlife workers from Utah managed it, though. Someone captured the feat on camera, and it’s must-see TV. Check out the video.

Hat tip: My friend Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review

Who killed 13 bald eagles in Maryland?

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Photo by Officer First Class Robert Karge/Maryland Natural Resources Police via AP)
Photo by Officer First Class Robert Karge/Maryland Natural Resources Police via AP

Perhaps in an effort to avoid spooking the killers, investigators are staying mum about what killed 13 bald eagles on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. All they will say is that the birds didn’t die naturally. From the Associated Press:

Federal wildlife officials say 13 bald eagles found dead on Maryland’s Eastern Shore did not die of natural causes.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Catherine J. Hibbard said in a statement Thursday that necropsy results of the eagles discovered in Federalsburg on Feb. 20 ruled out disease, leading investigators to now focus on finding those who were responsible for the deaths.
Hibbard says eliminating the possibility of diseases such as bird flu is important because the area has numerous poultry farms and migratory birds.
She declined to release further details about how investigators believe the birds might have died.
A $25,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.

Bear cubs can drown in their dens?

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Perhaps bears' winter hibernation isn't as safe as we think it is.
Perhaps bears’ winter hibernation isn’t as safe as we think it is.

I suppose anything is possible, but Maryland wildlife officials definitely surprised me when they theorized that some black-bear cubs drown in their dens when deep snows melt in spring.

Here’s the story, from the Associated Press by way of the Cumberland Times-News:

CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) — Maryland wildlife officials are concerned that some bear cubs may have been drowned this winter because of fast-melting snow that could have flooded their dens.
The Cumberland Times-News reports that the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service will begin checking bear dens on Wednesday.
Black bear project leader Harry Spiker says that when weather conditions were similar in the past, crews have gone to dens where cubs were known to have been born in January and the young bears aren’t there. He says sometimes drowned cubs are eaten by their mother.
Spiker says crews are hoping to visit the dens of nine radio-collared sows over the next three weeks in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties. Each March, the agency sedates the sows and pulls the cubs for inspection, tagging and veterinary treatment.