Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

In this Sept. 16, 2016, photo, dead northern pike are seen in the Des Lacs River near Burlington, N.D.  State health and wildlife officials are investigating a fish kill in the river in northern North Dakota. (Kim Fundingsland/Minot Daily News via AP)Fish kills happen. Everyone knows that.

Pipeline ruptures, tanker-truck wrecks, train wrecks and accidental discharges from industrial sites are unfortunate, but until someone creates a perfect world such incidents are going to occur from time to time.

It still hurts to see the results — fish dead, recreation harmed, ecosystem damaged.

It hurts twice as bad when the fish kills are caused by people who, ironically, are seeking to prevent pollution. The latest example is a fish kill in a Colorado water-supply reservoir. From the Associated Press:

JOHNSTOWN, Colo. (AP) — Colorado Parks and Wildlife is investigating Johnstown officials after their attempt to treat an algae outbreak left nearly 1,000 fish dead.
The Greeley Tribune reports that Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill says a worker put a copper sulfate into the town’s reservoir this summer to treat the algae. She says chemical ended up suffocating 972 fish.
The National Pesticide Information Center says copper sulfate can cause sudden plant death, causing fish to suffocate because of depleted oxygen and clogged gills.
The reservoir is used for the town’s drinking water and recreational fishing. Officials didn’t say there was any concern about the chemical’s effects on human health. In higher concentrations, it can cause nausea.
Churchill says officials aren’t currently considering criminal charges or fines.

Sigh. The Churchill spill immediately brings to mind a 2010 incident on West Virginia’s Blue Creek. That spill, caused by workers seeking to drain a tailings impoundment, killed smallmouth bass, rock bass and trout along 9 miles of the stream.


CWD infected deer (NY Dept. of Env. Conservation)By now, just about everyone familiar with deer hunting has learned at least a little bit about chronic wasting disease.

Here in West Virginia, CWD was discovered in 2005 in the state’s Eastern Panhandle, near the Hampshire County town of Slanesville. The state Division of Natural Resources set up a containment zone, placed restrictions on the transportation of animals outside the zone and began sampling the population to discover the extent of the outbreak.

West Virginia is by no means the only state dealing with CWD problems. The true extent of the disease can’t be known because the disease’s delayed onset keeps animal-health officials about half a step behind when it comes to diagnosing chronic wasting disease’s extent and spread.

The University of Georgia’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Survey probably has its finger on the national CWD pulse better than just about any other organization. SCWDS officials recently documented what they know in a newsletter devoted exclusively to the the disease. It’s a fascinating read, and it points to the increasingly obvious evidence that captive-deer breeding and high-fence hunting facilities are hotbeds for CWD’s ever-accelerating spread.

(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.

(DNR photo) Ryan Bosserman with a 61.8-pound, 50.2-inch bighead carp from the Ohio River.
(DNR photo)
Ryan Bosserman with a 61.8-pound, 50.2-inch bighead carp from the Ohio River.

If anyone needs evidence that invasive Asian carp are making it into West Virginia waters, they need only to check out the adjacent photo.

It shows Ryan Bosserman, acting manager of the state’s Apple Grove Fish Hatchery, holding a 61.8-pound 50.2-inch bighead carp. The fish was found dead (or nearly so) recently in a lock chamber of the nearby Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. Corps of Engineers employees alerted the folks at the hatchery, and some of Bosserman’s assistants retrieved the fish.

Although two Asian carp species — bighead and silver — have taken over entire ecosystems in some of the Ohio’s lower tributaries, Division of Natural Resources biologists believe that won’t happen in West Virginia’s Ohio and Kanawha rivers because the rivers’ currents are too strong. The fish tend to favor slow-flowing waters.

One thing’s for certain, though: The Ohio seems perfectly capable of growing really large specimens, at least of the bighead species.

Rare W.Va. crayfish found in another stream

(Photo courtesy Zach Loughman)
(Photo courtesy Zac Loughman)

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

A West Liberty University researcher conducting crayfish surveys for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has discovered a new location where Guyandotte River crayfish live within that species’ historical range in Wyoming County, West Virginia. The researcher located the crayfish in the Clear Fork watershed and reconfirmed the species in its presumed last known location in Pinnacle Creek. However, the species was not found at any other historical locations in the Upper Guyandotte River basin.

The researcher, Zac Loughman of West Liberty University, rediscovered Guyandotte River  crayfish in 2009. Up until then, biologists believed the species had gone extinct. The Fish and Wildlife Service funded further surveys this summer to firm up the picture as to whether rare crustacean should be placed on the Endangered Species List.

Finding the crayfish in two locations removes a little of the pressure to put it on the list, but only a little. Under the law, Fish and Wildlife Service officials have until next April to make their decision. If the crayfish qualifies for endangered or threatened status (either of which seems likely), the service will have to identify its critical habitat and put in place measures to protect that habitat from being degraded.

That could place additional restrictions on coal and timber operators in the Pinnacle Creek and Clear Creek watersheds. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have already identified sedimentation from “fossil energy development, road construction and forestry operations” as the primary threat to the species’ continued survival.

W.Va. fish lands on Endangered Species List

The diamond darter (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
The diamond darter (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service comes news that a tiny fish currently found only in West Virginia’s Elk River is being added to the federal Endangered Species List.

Here’s the news release:

The diamond darter, a tiny fish that has faced serious threats to its habitat, will now be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced. The diamond darter’s protected status will take effect in 30 days.

The native diamond darter could once be found along the southern Appalachians from Ohio to Tennessee. Years of changes from dams, water quality degradation and other threats have restricted this small member of the perch family to one stream in West Virginia’s Elk River, where fewer than 125 diamond darters have been collected during the last 30 years.

Darters play an important role in waterway systems as indicators of good water quality and diversity. The presence of healthy darter population indicates that a river is healthy and would sustain other populations of fish, such as musky or bass. To determine if the diamond darter requires ESA protection, the Service evaluated five factors, including effects to the species’ habitat or range, overuse of the species, disease or predation, inadequate regulatory protection and other natural or manmade factors. Out of all factors, the darter is most threatened by the destruction, change or limitation of its habitat.

In July 2012, after extensive evaluation, the Service proposed that the diamond darter be protected as endangered under the ESA and requested comments on the proposed rule. The Service received and fully considered 24 letters from peer reviewers, state and federal agencies and the public. The subject of comments ranged from water quality degradation and coal mining activities to historical survey methods and macroinvertebrate studies. See the final rule for more information on comments and the Service’s responses.

In July 2012, the Service also identified a total of 123 river miles in West Virginia and Kentucky as habitat critical for the darter’s conservation. The proposed critical habitat includes areas in Kanawha and Clay counties, West Virginia, and in Edmonson, Hart and Green counties, Kentucky. The Service will finalize this and address comments specific to the proposed critical habitat in a separate rule.

Dumb and dumber, wildlife category

Florida manatee

The late, great George Carlin used to say, “It’s hard to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.”

Case in point: The rocket scientists in Florida who decided it would be fun to lure endangered manatees toward a dock and then cannonball into the water near them, record the stupidity on video and post it on their Facebook pages.

Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel has written a deliciously scathing column about it, including a link to the disgusting video. If you possess a perverse desire to see stupid people in action, check it out.

At the center of another legal battle

I’ll say this about environmental activists: If they put as much effort into conservation as they do into litigation, they’d be a heck of a lot more effective at making the Earth a better place.

Some environmentalists in Arizona want to ban the use of lead bullets because bullet fragments ostensibly poison condors. The groups’ leaders think they can bring about the ban by suing the U.S. Forest Service.

News flash: Congress passed a law more than 20 years ago that prohibits federal agencies from writing regulations to ban lead ammo. You’d think the enviros would know that.

From the Associated Press:

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Environmental groups in Arizona are proposing a lawsuit against federal officials, saying they need to ban lead bullets that are killing California condors.
The Arizona Daily Sun reports three organizations are considering suing the U.S. Forest Service for not doing enough to protect condors from hunters’ lead ammunition.
Jay Lininger, of the Center for Biological Diversity, says condors living on federal land cannot survive if there is a risk they will ingest lead.
Wildlife officials say about 22 California condors have died from lead poisoning in the last two decades.
Environmental advocates say the Forest Service is violating the Endangered Species Act.
A spokeswoman for Arizona Game and Fish, which tracks condor survival, says voluntary measures such as handing out free non-lead ammunition are helping.

EPA: Keep lead in ammunition

Well, how about that? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to kowtow to environmental lobbyists seeking a ban on lead ammunition.

From the Associated Press:

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency has denied a petition from environmental groups asking it to regulate the lead used in some ammunition.
The agency told the groups Monday that it has no authority to ban or regulate lead in ammunition.
The Center for Biological Diversity and more than 100 other groups submitted the petition last month, asking that the lead be regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act. They contend the lead is responsible for poisoning millions of birds and other animals every year.
Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity told the Lewiston Tribune that he felt the EPA’s decision was shameful.
Many hunting groups and ammunition makers say lead alternatives are too expensive, and that bullets containing lead don’t pose a threat to animal populations.

Truth be told, the decision was kind of a no-brainer for EPA officials. Many years ago, Congress specifically exempted ammunition from being banned under federal pollution laws.

Denying the petition will probably cost the EPA political capital with its more vociferous constituents, but it will keep the agency out of a protracted court fight that likely would end up in the Supreme Court.

One solution to the feral hog problem


Texans have found a unique way to get rid of the feral swine that root up their crops — hold a contest to see who could kill the most. From the Associated Press:

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — A competition aimed at curbing the feral hog problem in Texas has resulted in the demise of 12,632 of the animals that damage or destroy hundreds of millions of dollars in crops and ranchland every year, the Texas Department of Agriculture said Thursday.
Hardeman County on the Oklahoma border bagged the most — 2,047 hogs — in the Hog Out Challenge to win $20,000 to help with further abatement. Four other counties will share the remainder of the $60,000 in awards.
The department’s commissioner and candidate for Texas lieutenant governor, Todd Staples, said he’s put feral hogs on the state’s most-wanted list.
“We need to track down these destructive pests and eliminate them. Not only are feral hogs a costly nuisance to agricultural operations and wildlife habitats, but they are a serious threat to the traveling public and are increasingly finding their way into urban areas and destroying residents’ yards, public parks, golf courses and more.”
Last year’s contest ran two months longer than the inaugural one-month program and resulted in the elimination of 8,773 more hogs. There were 3,859 kills in 2010.
Clay County will receive $15,000, Lavaca County will get $10,000, and Callahan and Goliad counties each will receive $7,500. The formula for the awards was based on the number of animals killed and the number of people who attended educational forums on hog abatement.
Steven Sparkman, the Texas AgriLife extension agent in Hardeman County, said 44 counties participated last year, down from 60 the year before.
Funds from winning the contest could be used to pay for construction of more hog traps to either give away or sell at a discounted price.
“We’ve been dealing with hogs here the last 20 years or so,” he said. “And they’ve just progressively gotten worse.”
An estimated 2.6 million hogs cause $550 million in damage annually, including $52 million in agricultural destruction.
Armed with razor-sharp tusks, the hogs shred fields and pastures and wreck ecosystems by wallowing in riverbeds and streams. Even perennials planted at graves aren’t safe. In recent years, the hogs are increasingly showing up in urban neighborhoods around the state.
Feral hogs, which can stand 3 feet tall and weigh up to 400 pounds, make meals of lambs, kid goats, baby calves, newborn fawns and ground-nesting birds. They compete for food and room with many native species of wildlife.
The animals commonly destroy urban yards, parks and golf courses, as well as rangeland, pastures, crops, fencing, wildlife feeders and other property. Additionally, they contribute to E. coli and other diseases in Texas streams, ponds and watersheds.
The hogs are also a road hazard. Motorists sustain an estimated $1,200 in damage per collision.