Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

That’s a lot of poachin’!

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nrplogoWow.

Eight men from West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle are facing 77 charges of illegal bear hunting. West Virginia Natural Resources Police filed charges against the men after a months-long investigation into their alleged violations. Here are the details, from the Division of Natural Resources’ news release:

ROMNEY, W.Va. – Natural Resources Police Officers have completed an investigation that has resulted in the arrest of eight men on 77 charges of violations of West Virginia game laws involving the illegal hunting of black bears. The investigation began in September 2015 when an illegal bear baiting site near Mount Storm in Grant County was reported to the DNR District 2 office in Romney.
Lead investigators Sgt. G.M. Willenborg and Senior Natural Resources Police Officer A.D. Kuykendall, assisted by natural resources police officers from Mineral, Grant and Pendleton counties, completed the investigation and filed the charges. The alleged illegal bear hunting violations occurred between May 2015 and September 2015. Charges have been brought against the following individuals and are pending in court. The charges identified are allegations and any defendant is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Mark Allen Lampka, Jr. of Mount Storm, West Virginia, was charged with violations ranging from (2 counts) illegal trapping of bear, (4 counts) illegal killing of bear, (6 counts) illegal possession of bear, (2 counts) spotlighting bear, conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code, hunting without permission, hunting bear during closed season and other game law violations. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Daniel Boddy of New Creek, West Virginia, was charged with (2 counts) illegal killing of bear, (2 counts) illegal trapping of bear, (4 counts) illegal possession of bear, spotlighting bear, conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code and other game law violations. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Chad Fridley of Mount Storm, West Virginia, was charged with illegal killing of bear, spotlighting bear, (2 counts) illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Steve Thomas Lyons, Jr. of Elk Garden, West Virginia, was charged with illegal killing of bear, spotlighting bear, hunting bear with use of bait, illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Dustin Knaggs of New Creek, West Virginia, was charged with illegal killing of bear, spotlighting bear, illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Mineral County.
Terry Kuh of Maysville, West Virginia, was charged with spotlighting bear, hunting bear with use of bait, illegal possession of bear, illegal taking of bear during closed season and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Grant County.
James Scott Kuhn of New Creek, West Virginia, was charged with hunting bear with the use of a trap, illegal possession of bear, and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Mineral County.
Ronnie P. Bothwell of Burlington, West Virginia, was charged with hunting bear with the use of a trap, illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Mineral County.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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.

You mess with the antelope, you get the horns

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Photo drones are fun to use, but they can really irritate wildlife.

A movement is afoot to outlaw harassing critters with drones. I’m sure the owner of this drone in this video wished his state had such a law. If it had, the drone probably wouldn’t have had to go to the repair shop.

Trying to enforce the (almost) unenforceable

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(Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia) Would a Washington initiative really protect this elephant?
(Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia)
Would a Washington initiative really protect this elephant?

The problem of ivory poaching should concern everyone, but not everyone is in a position to do anything about it.

My friend Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review recently commented on a voter initiative in Washington state that, if successful, would impose some pretty draconian demands on both the public and the state’s fish and wildlife cops.

This takes poaching to a whole ‘nother level…

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(Photo via North Carolina Sportsman) Accused poacher Nick Davis with his bogus 208-inch buck.
(Photo via North Carolina Sportsman)
Accused poacher Nick Davis with his bogus 208-inch buck.

A North Carolina deer hunter made quite a stir a short while back when he checked in a buck with a gigantic rack that measured more than 208 inches — a potential new state record.

Then the truth came out.

The man, Nick Davis of Elkin, N.C., reportedly had purchased shed antlers from a Pennsylvania deer farm, screwed them onto the skull of a 3-point buck he shot (out of season) with a rifle, and then disguised the graft with some clever taxidermy.

Davis almost got away with the deception. A veteran scorer from the state bowhunter association measured the rack but didn’t detect anything suspicious. Only after other hunters raised questions as to whether such a small deer could grow such a gigantic rack did authorities decide to investigate.

Ultimately, Davis confessed to the subterfuge. He now faces charges on four separate wildlife violations, including two allegedly committed during the 2014 season.

A fuller version of the story can be found on the fieldandstream.com website.

Poachers sought in elephant poisonings

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African bush elephant (Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia)
African bush elephant (Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia)

Ugh. From Zimbabwe comes news that more than 80 elephants have been slaughtered, indiscriminately poisoned by poachers.

From the Associated Press:

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Authorities in Zimbabwe said Tuesday that more than 80 elephants have died from cyanide poisoning in the country’s biggest national park over the past four weeks.
“The situation is getting bad, as the poison might have been taken by many other animals — not only elephants,” said Environment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, after touring Hwange National Park — Africa’s third largest wildlife sanctuary.
Last month the authorities reported they had arrested six poachers who had poisoned elephants with cyanide in the national park, which is roughly the size of Switzerland and is located about 50 miles southwest of Harare.
Kasukuwere has pledged stricter jail sentences for poachers.

 

 

A random act of conservation

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Luke King with his muskie (Courtesy photo)

Sometimes doing the right thing makes everyone feel good. Case in point: Nineteen-year-old Luke King of Burnsville, W.Va., who caught and released a muskellunge that probably would have broken the state’s length record for the species. Here’s my feature story about King’s good deed:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — How many people would catch the fish of a lifetime and release it, knowing full well it might have been a state record?
Ask Luke King, who did exactly that.
On April 15, King landed a muskellunge he hastily and conservatively measured at 53 inches in length, slightly longer than the current West Virginia record of 52.7 inches. Moments later he released his hold on the muskie’s tail and watched her swim away.
“I never dreamed I’d catch anything like that,” King said. “But there was no question I was going to release her.”
Since he began muskie fishing four years ago, King has caught more than 250 of them, and has released all but a handful.
Last year, the 19-year-old from Burnsville caught a whopping 83 legal-sized muskies, including several in the 45- to 50-inch range.
The first few months of this year had been a bit slower. King had fewer opportunities to go fishing, and by the time April 15 rolled around he had caught just 12.
And for most of that day his total remained right there. He and his fishing partner, Jake McLaughlin, spent a fruitless afternoon on the Little Kanawha River, casting their lures toward submerged logs in one of the river’s deep pools.
After they finished with the pool, King and McLaughlin guided their boat into a shallow area. What they saw there made their eyes grow wide.
“We had found a spawning riffle,” King said. “We were expecting to find pre-spawn fish, but instead we found muskies that were already paired up to spawn.”
Most of the fish were more interested in their mating rituals than in the 10-inch Red October pink tube jig King cast in front of them.
“They didn’t want to eat,” he said. “Most of them didn’t even want to look at [the lure].”
Female muskies are almost always larger than males, and King said a couple of the females he and McLaughlin saw were much larger.
“We saw one female that must have been 50 inches, and she was accompanied by a male that looked to be about 30 inches,” King said.
One pair in particular grabbed the anglers’ attention – a male in the 45- to 49-inch range, accompanied by a female several inches larger.
“I cast to the female, and she followed the lure back toward the boat,” King recalled. “She didn’t take, though. She just hovered there under the boat. I made some figure-of-eights with the lure, but she stayed down there. Then I dropped the lure down and started jigging it right in front of her face.”
That did it. The muskie inhaled the lure and nonchalantly turned to rejoin her mate. King set the hook.
“She took off down river, and peeled 50 yards of line off the reel in just a few seconds. I’ve never had a muskie pull that hard,” he said.
Fortunately for King, he had come prepared to do battle with just such a leviathan. The 8-foot, extra-heavy action rod helped him tire the fish quickly, and the 80-pound-test braided monofilament ensured a more-than-adequate connection between angler and fish.
“We used the trolling motor to help close the distance to the fish,” King said. “The fight probably lasted five or six minutes, tops. Jake netted her for me.”
As the net’s meshes closed around the huge muskie, the lure fell out of her jaw. Instinctively, King reached for the fish’s tail to make sure it wouldn’t flop out of the net.
“I couldn’t get my hand around the base of the tail,” he said. “It was too big.”
When King finally lifted the big female from the net, he noticed eggs coming out of her vent.
“She was spewing eggs,” he said. “We wanted to get her back into the water as quickly as we could so all her remaining eggs could be turned into little muskies.”
The fish was too long to lie out on a flat surface for measurement, so King and McLaughlin held her in the water and stretched out the tape.
“Her body was slightly bent, but she still measured 53 inches, and that was without a tail squeeze,” King said.
When fish are measured for recordkeeping, Division of Natural Resources officials allow anglers to squeeze the lobes of the fish’s tail together. Jeff Hansbarger, a DNR district fish biologist and muskie researcher, said a tail squeeze can add as many as 2 inches to a large muskie’s length.
“There’s a good chance [King’s] fish would have gone 54 or 55 inches,” Hansbarger said.
The current length record, held by a fish caught in 2004 from Stonecoal Lake, is 52.7 inches, so King’s fish probably would have eclipsed that mark rather handily.
King and McLaughlin also measured the big muskie’s girth at 24 1/4 inches. Using a weight-estimation formula based on length and girth, King calculated the fish’s weight at 45 pounds – huge, but well short of the state record of 49 3/4 pounds, set in 1997 by another Stonecoal Lake muskie.
“There was no question about releasing my fish, though,” King said. “I try to release all of them. I had caught a 50-incher before, and released that one too. But boy, I never dreamed of catching something like this latest one.”

 

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Photo courtesy Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Washington state wildlife police have gotten their first chance to sock it to poachers who not only kill game illegally, but also do it while trespassing on other people’s private property. A new law made it possible.

From the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police Facebook page:

Anyone who hunts knows that respecting private property is essential to continued access and preservation of a prescious resource and heritage. Prior to legislation passing last session, Fish and Wildlife Police Officers could makes arrests when trespass occurred, but because trespass wasn’t a ‘wildlife crime,’ they couldn’t seize the ill-gotten gains.
Well, some folks thought the risk was worth the reward if they got to keep the animal at the end of the day. And this seemed particularly true when trophy class animals were involved. For a $250 slap on the wrist, you could still brag about the wall hanger you harvested.
This was the case with a couple of men who repeatedly trespassed to kill trophy bull elk in East Pierce County. However, these two men will now be among the first to be prosecuted under the new ‘Hunting While Trespass’ law. They had cheated successfully before, but this time they weren’t so lucky. And perhaps their fate can help others decide whether the risk is still worth the reward.
The two subjects took one 5×5 and one 5×7 bull after setting up camp nine miles into private property (closed to hunting) during the archery elk season. It was no accident that Officers Leonetti, Summit, Langbehn, Prater, and Hillman were there when the two men tried to sneak portions of the first bull out at 1:15am. Nine days later, the Officers were back when the subjects took portions of the second bull out at 2:00am.
The two were arrested and booked into the Pierce County Jail on multiple counts of trespassing while hunting, criminal trespassing and wastage. A vehicle and two motorcycles were seized, along with all of their hunting gear and camping equipment. A search warrant was then served at the residence of one of the subjects. The antlers and portions of the first elk were recovered, along with two unlawfully possessed raptors that were found in the freezer.
For all of the true hunters who respect private property and understand the much bigger picture, this arrest is for you! For those who just don’t get it, here is what you potentially face if you ignore the new ‘Hunt While Trespass’ law: A penalty of up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.  In addition, upon conviction, the Department will revoke your hunting licenses and suspend your hunting privileges for two years. Any animal harvested or retrieved in violation of the section will be forfeited to WDFW.