Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

An update on that national park announcement

Oh my.

It appears one of my humble blog posts touched a nerve, and a rather sensitive one at that.

In Wednesday’s post, I detailed how national park designation for West Virginia’s northern Allegheny Highlands might cause the area to be closed to hunting, and might affect trout stockings too. Within hours, Judy Rodd, the source quoted in Paul Nyden’s original Gazette story about the potential park, posted a reply to the blog, which read as follows:

Hunting would be allowed in the proposed High Allegheny Park and Preserve and in fact would be encouraged. Fishing would also be a main attraction. — Judy Rodd, Friends of High Allegheny National Park.

Not long after that, I received a phone call from Marni Goldberg, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Ms. Goldberg explained that Sen. Manchin would never support legislation that might curb hunting in West Virginia’s mountain highlands or anywhere else. She said Manchin was willing to consider the area as a preserve, but not as a full-fledged national park.  She offered to e-mail me a formal statement from the senator, which read as follows:

“Senator Manchin is a lifelong hunting enthusiast and is committed to making sure that the Alleghany Highlands remain open to hunting if the area receives a new designation from the National Parks Service.”

So apparently the idea is to create in northeastern West Virginia something akin to the New River Gorge National River in the south — an area administered by the National Park Service, but not a full-fledged no-hunting national park.

I find it intriguing that Rodd’s reply to the blog post referred to the proposed area as “High Allegheny Park and Preserve,” while her signature line affiliated her with an entity called “Friends of High Allegheny National Park.” Did the word “preserve” only recently get added to the name, and if so, why?

I also find it intriguing that the original Gazette story sent shock waves through the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. My sources there say interoffice e-mails were flying fast and furious.  Apparently they didn’t get the “hunting will be allowed” memo, either.

I might be wrong, but my reading of the tea leaves is that proponents of the “High Allegheny Park and Preserve” didn’t adequately address the question of hunting in their early public-relations efforts, or possibly they failed to gauge the backlash that would result from a push for a full-fledged national park.

According to the National Park Service’s own website, a “preserve” designation is possible for lands where hunting is important to the local populace. Hunting is allowed on reserves. The Denali and the Wrangell-St. Elias parks in Alaska are examples, as is the Big Cypress Reserve in Florida.

The website also says that when lands receive the full “National Park” designation, hunting is not allowed.

The Park Service’s study of the High Allegheny National Park and Preserve issue will begin soon. My guess is that the issues of hunting and fishing will be adequately addressed.


National park could halt hunting in W.Va. highlands

Tuesday’s article by Gazette colleague Paul Nyden focuses on a soon-to-begin  National Park Service study to determine whether sizable chunks of West Virginia’s Randolph, Tucker, Pendleton and Pocahontas counties should be designated a national park.

While park status would certainly add another layer of environmental protection for what are currently U.S. Forest Service lands and designated federal wilderness areas, it could put an end to deer and turkey hunting in a part of the state where people pursue hunting with an almost religious fervor.

Read Paul’s story to get an idea of the scope of the proposed park:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Next month, the National Park Service will begin conducting a survey to determine if some areas within the Monongahela National Forest should be made into a national park – something West Virginia doesn’t currently have.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., requested the survey, which is scheduled to be completed by September 2012.
On Monday, Manchin said he “is pleased that the National Park Service is undertaking this survey to evaluate whether this beautiful part of our state should be designated as a national park.”
In a recent news release, the NPS said the survey would “determine whether the historic, natural and recreational resources in the project area are ‘likely’ or ‘unlikely’ to meet Congressionally-required criteria for a national park.
Judy Rodd, executive director of the group Friends of Blackwater Canyon, said the proposed High Allegheny National Park would be formed from “lands in the northern area of the Monongahela National Forest, which is already federal land,” as well as Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley state parks.
“It would not cost anything,” Rodd said.
The new park would offer visitors a unique ecology, the chance to see a wide variety of beautiful and rare birds, as well as historical battlefields and forts from the Civil War era, Rodd said. Lands in the proposed park would also include those improved during the Great Depression, under projects run by the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps.
The proposed new national park would include lands east of Elkins, north to the towns of Thomas and Davis, east to Petersburg, and south to Seneca Rocks and Franklin.
The park could also include well-known sites such as Spruce Knob, Seneca Rocks, Blackwater Falls, the Otter Creek Wilderness, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Dolly Sods.
The headwaters of the Potomac, Monongahela and Greenbrier rivers would all be within the park. Recreational activities available to visitors could include hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing and spelunking.
Last year, T. Destry Jarvis, president of Outdoor Recreation and Park Services LLC, prepared a report given to Manchin that stated, “The High Allegheny Plateau, currently a portion of the Monongahela National Forest, is the best preserved and least ‘developed’ region of the state.
“The High Allegheny Plateau offers outstanding scenery, composed of nationally significant natural features and cultural sites, abundant wildlife and rare species of plants and animals — as well as the hospitable, well-cared-for communities that offer the service amenities needed by the recreational visitors [and] tourists,” Jarvis wrote.
“This would help put West Virginia on the map as a place to visit. It would be an economic engine for the highlands,” said Rodd.

We’re talking about a big chunk of land here. I’m sure I’m a little off here and there, but it appears to me that the park would start in Randolph County somewhere east of Elkins — possibly in the vicinity of Shavers Mountain  — and extend eastward into Pendleton County’s Seneca Rocks – Spruce Knob area. From its northern terminus at Thomas in Tucker County, it would extend southward through the Blackwater Canyon and Canaan Valley all the way to Durbin in northern Pocahontas County.

If the area becomes a true national park, managed under the rules established in parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains and others, most of West Virginia’s northern Allegheny Highlands (minus private in-holdings, of course) would become a no-hunting zone overnight.

Of course, lawmakers being lawmakers,  it’s always possible for them to create a special rule that would keep the lands open to hunting. When members of Congress voted to designate the New River Gorge area as a National River, they did just that.

Equally worrisome to sportsmen should be the National Park Service’s attitude toward trout stockings. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Park Service officials are attempting to eradicate rainbow and brown trout from streams where native brook trout can live. It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario whereby trout stockings might be prohibited for the Blackwater River, the North Fork of the South Branch, Seneca Creek, Gandy Creek, Dry Fork, Glady Fork, Shavers Fork and the East and West forks of the Greenbrier.

Stay tuned. This could get interesting…


Angler eats potential record fish

Kurt Price and his dinner

Kurt Price will never be able to savor the sweet taste of having his name immortalized a book of fishing records.

He’ll have to settle for the flavor of sea bass.

The 25-year-old Welshman devoured his chances of making the record book when he fileted and ate the rather large sea bass he’d caught from the lquay at Tenby, Wales. The record for shore-caught sea bass is 19 pounds, 11 ounces. After examining the photo of Price holding his catch, authorities believe Price’s fish would have eclipsed the record.

The full story is here, in the London Daily Mail.

Price’s sad tale reminds me of the time when I visited West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources headquarters to interview a DNR official. The official’s secretary was all a-twitter because she was preparing to call a Marmet man who had caught a 10-pound paddlefish — a real rarity back in those days. She planned to ask the man to pose with his catch for a photo in Wonderful West Virginia magazine.

When the man answered, she launched into her spiel: “Hello, this is Alpha Gerwig of the state Division of Natural Resources. We understand you caught a paddefish, and we’d like to take a picture of you and the fish for our magazine.”

(Pause, followed by wide-eyed astonishment)


Yep, he sure did. Just like Kurt Price.


Salmon returning to namesake river

Anglers net a good-sized Chinook salmon from the Salmon River (AP photo)

The Salmon River in upstate New York has had salmon for years, but they weren’t the right kind.

The Lake Ontario tributary used to harbor fine runs of Atlantic salmon, but those disappeared during the late 1800s. Now the river is better known for runs of hatchery-bred Pacific salmon species — Chinook and coho — and hatchery-bred brown trout and steelhead.

Now Atlantic salmon are coming back. The Associated Press has a terrific piece about the comeback:

PULASKI, N.Y. (AP) — Native Atlantic salmon are once again reproducing in the wild in central New York’s renowned Salmon River, where anglers travel from across North America and overseas every autumn to reel in hatchery-bred Atlantics as well as non-native chinooks, cohos, brown trout and feisty steelheads that swim upstream from Lake Ontario.
After more than a century without a wild-breeding population, this is the third year in a row that researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey have found young Atlantic salmon in the river, said USGS scientist Jim Johnson. When the young mature, eggs will be taken from some to propagate at the USGS research lab in Cortland, he said.
The goal is to re-establish a heritage species that had a prominent place in the cultural history of the region, where early settlers wrote of spearing hundreds of salmon a night during the spawning run.
“Our geneticist says any strain that survives to adulthood will be a preferential strain to use in the future,” Johnson said.
Lake Ontario once supported the world’s largest freshwater population of Atlantic salmon. But the fish vanished in the late 1800s as a result of overfishing and habitat destruction. Government agencies in the U.S. and Canada have maintained an Atlantic salmon fishery by the annual stocking of millions of hatchery fish, but the fish haven’t been able to reproduce in the wild because of a thiamine deficiency caused by eating alewives, an invasive species. Alewives contain an enzyme that destroys thiamine, also known as Vitamin B1.
“After Atlantic salmon and lake trout were extirpated, there was no longer a major predator to eat the alewives in Lake Ontario and the population exploded,” said Fran Verdoliva, Salmon River program coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Pacific salmon — chinook and coho — were brought in from hatcheries to control the alewife population in Lake Ontario in 1968, and brown and steelhead trout were added in the 1970s.
“The sport fishery developed out of what started as biological control of invasive species,” Verdoliva said.
On a typical fall weekend, you’ll find anglers lining the banks of the Salmon River almost shoulder to shoulder. The fish are so abundant that in shallow areas, it seems you could walk across their shining backs from one stony bank to the other.
Tens of thousands of mature fish that instinctively return to the state hatchery where they were born are stripped of sperm and eggs by hatchery workers to breed a new generation.
The workers toss the fish, which naturally die after spawning, into a garbage bin because of state Health Department limits on consumption by humans or animals. All fish from Lake Ontario are contaminated with low levels of toxic PCBs and the pesticide Mirex.
The health advisories don’t deter anglers from their annual pilgrimage to the Salmon River. Last year, an estimated 113,000 people fished the river, making it one of the most intensive fisheries in the United States, Verdoliva said. Many, including Verdoliva, release all the fish they catch, fishing only for sport.
“On the 18 miles of the Salmon River below the dam, the number of fishermen surpasses all other tributaries combined plus the boat fishery on the lake,” Verdoliva said.
“This is the only place in the Northeast where you can catch 25-inch king salmon in ankle-deep water,” said Phil Bortz, a fishing guide who has had clients from as far away as Oregon, Arizona and Switzerland. “Steelhead are the holy grail of the species. Pound for pound, they’re the toughest fighting fish out there. It’s like having a lightning bolt on the end of your line.”
Gail Sult, of Allentown, Pa., said she and her husband, Frank, fish in Canada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and North Carolina, but the Salmon River is their favorite. “Here, the fish are much bigger, the scenery along the river is awesome, and people are very nice, down to earth.”
Atlantic salmon are a welcome addition to the Lake Ontario fishery not only because they’re native to the lake, but also because they run up the rivers earlier than the fall-spawning fish, thus extending the fishing season. They’re also prized by anglers because of their fighting spirit.
“The Atlantic is a better-fighting game fish than the chinook,” said tackle shop owner Malinda Barna, who would like to see the state reduce the number of chinooks stocked and concentrate more on coho, steelhead and Atlantic salmon.
It’s unclear why Atlantic salmon are now reproducing in the wild, but a decline in the number of alewives coupled with a rise in numbers of another invasive species called the round goby may have something to do with it.
“Gobies are high in thiamine,” Verdoliva said. When salmon eat gobies, it may increase their thiamine level, countering the ill-effect of alewives, he said.
The downside of the Salmon River’s huge fish population is that it draws some people who are less interested in sportfishing traditions than in bragging rights to a trophy fish — particularly during the fall chinook run, Barna said. She said many anglers still snag fish — the now-illegal practice of dragging hooks through the water to catch fish by the tail, gills, or other body parts. Many leave beer cans and other garbage along the riverbank and in the woods.
She wants to see more state enforcement of fishing regulations and stiffer fines for violators.
The capsized boat (Fla. Fish & Wildlife photo)

Sadly, one member of the eight-person fishing party apparently did not survive. From the Associated Press:

MARATHON, Fla. (AP) — Four hours into a family fishing trip, rough waves flipped a 22-foot boat off the Florida Keys, tossing eight people overboard. Seven of them, including a 4-year-old girl, survived by clinging to their capsized vessel and a small blue cooler for almost 20 hours, suffering exhaustion, jellyfish stings and hypothermia.
A 79-year-old woman, the matriarch of the group, was missing and presumed drowned.
“When the will to live kicks in, human beings can do amazing things,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen said. x
Those rescued were taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The family left Layton in the Middle Keys around 8 a.m. Saturday to fish in less-than-ideal conditions. It was raining, seas topped 7 feet and winds were whipping up to 38 mph. After they anchored 3½ miles off the island chain, two waves hit suddenly, capsizing the vessel.
The women grabbed the girl and the 2½-foot cooler. One of the men tried to rescue his mother, but she slipped through his grasp and disappeared into the water.
Almost immediately, the two groups — the three women and girl and three men — drifted apart.
Nearly a day later, they were rescued when a commercial fisherman spotted the men Sunday morning and alerted the Coast Guard, which found the women and the blue cooler several miles away in the warm waters.
The women said the boat turned over so quickly that there wasn’t time to grab life jackets for anyone except the child, said Kendra Graves, a seaman with the Coast Guard.
Florida law requires children 6 or under on a boat 26 feet or less to wear a life jacket if the boat is moving. If the craft is anchored or docked, they don’t have to wear a life vest.
As the weather improved Sunday, fishing boat captain David Jensen headed out with customers to catch live bait. Off in the distance, he saw a large object floating in the water.
As he turned the boat to get closer look, he saw a man waving. At first, he said, he thought there was only one person holding on to the sunken boat, its bow protruding just a few feet out of the water. When he got closer, he realized there were three men.
“I tried to get them to swim to the boat, but they said they didn’t know how to swim,” Jensen said. “Then I had the mate throw them life jackets. One guy put on the life jacket and swam to the boat. The other two guys wouldn’t get off the boat. … They said they didn’t know how to swim.”
One of Jensen’s customers jumped in and swam over. He tied the boats together, and helped the other two men, one at a time, back to Jensen’s boat.
“They were exhausted. One guy overnight had lost his mother,” Jensen said. “He was very visibly upset, which was a little tough because he was the one who spoke the best English.”
Zaida San Jurjo Gonzalez died. Her son, Jorge Alejo Gonzalez, survived along with his wife, Tomasa Torres, the elderly woman’s daughter, Elena G. Gonzalez, and her boyfriend, Juglar Riveras.
Also rescued were Jorge and Elena Gonzalez’s uncle, Jose Miguel De Armas, his wife, Yunisleidy Lima Tejada, and their 4-year-old daughter, Fabiana De Armas Lima. All are from South Florida. The other survivors’ ages ranged from 30 to 62.
After the men were found shortly before 9 a.m., the fishermen called the Coast Guard, who found the women. They men were hanging on to the floating cooler and started waving and yelling for help when they saw the Coast Guard boat.
All of the boaters were soon reunited, wrapped in blankets and treated for shock and hypothermia.
“They were all pretty happy to see each other,” Graves said.
It wasn’t clear if the boaters were aware of a small-craft advisory that had been posted early Saturday.
“They shouldn’t have been out there,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife spokesman Robert Dube, whose agency is investigating. “It was nasty from the get-go.”

Illegal net kills 3,000 sharks off Texas coast

What a waste. From the Associated Press:

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (AP) — As many as 3,000 sharks died in an illegal gill net state officials say stretched for miles just off the South Texas Gulf coast.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot says game wardens found the three-mile net just off the South Padre Island beach on Sept. 20.
Lightfoot says no arrests have been made, but officials suspect Mexican nationals set the net.
KGBT-TV of Harlingen reports overfishing has all but ruined commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico on the Mexican side of the U.S. border.

For a ‘pier fish,’ that’s a whopper

Kinison and his trophy red drum

Fishing from Jenette’s Pier near Nags Head, N.C., earlier this week, Gary Kinison of Charleston landed one honkin’ big red drum. The fish measured 43 inches in length and 26.5 inches in girth.

Kinison released the fish after the photo was taken. Using a standard formula to calculate the weight, the lunker redfish weighed between 37 and 38 pounds.

Some people deride fishing piers as tourist gimmicks that offer only marginal fishing. That sure wasn’t the case this time.

‘Catch and kill’ targets non-native fish

From the Associated Press:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Wildlife officials in Utah frustrated with the ongoing problem of illegal fish stocking in lakes, rivers and reservoirs may require anglers to kill some nonnative species they catch.
The catch-and-kill regulations, proposed to take effect next year on two northern Utah lakes, are a new approach for Western states struggling with waters ruined by fish that don’t belong in specific waterways, such as the northern pike, smallmouth bass and yellow perch. The species occur naturally in some areas, but can destroy ecosystems in others.
The intent of the program is less about eradicating the problem and more to educate people about the impact, which the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says is far worse than poachers who shoot big game animals.
Eliminating a non-native fish often requires draining a reservoir or poisoning all the fish in the effected part of a lake or river and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, said DWR’s Drew Cushing.
“It’s a really severe problem throughout the West, and it seems like it just keeps getting worse,” Cushing said. “The catch-and-kill rule is unique, but we want people to understand that just about the worse thing they can do with these fish is release them.”
Cushing said while educating fisherman is the primary purpose of the catch-and-kill rule, they are looking into requiring the people who purposely dump illegal fish to pay for the clean-up. Most nonnative fish are put into waters by people who release them from their aquariums or fishermen who want their favorite sport species close to home.
Even with penalties in place, like in Idaho where the illegal stockers are forced to pay for eradication, catching them can be difficult, said Ed Schriever, chief of fisheries for the Idaho Department Fish and Game. But it is one of the ways in which Idaho officials have battled the problem.
Idaho, for example, prohibits the transport of live fish without a commercial permit, Schriever said. They also have removed the size and bag limits on nonnative fish throughout the state, a step Utah is also taking on some southern reservoirs and rivers where smallmouth bass are a problem.
Educating people is an important step but it may not be the most effective approach, Schriever said.
“There may be some people in 2011 who don’t know this is an illegal activity,” he said. “But there are people who want their fish in their water and don’t care about the implications.”
Nevada officials are currently dealing with yellow perch and northern pike infestations in reservoirs near Ely and Elko, said Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy.
They have tried to encourage anglers to help fix the problem by removing limits, although fish like the northern pike are so prolific that they seem to reproduce faster than they can be hooked. Healy said the department has also used some predatory hybrid fish that don’t reproduce.
The most effective answer for at least some reservoirs, however, seems to be “draining it and starting over,” Healy said.

Angler catches ‘fish of a lifetime,’ then dies

Fellow Coupeville resident Joe Beller with Dan Dodds' 28-pound salmon

Many people say they’d like to die doing the thing they love most; only a precious few ever do.

Dan Dodds did.

Dodds, 62, of Coupeville, Wash., landed the king salmon he’d always dreamed of catching. Minutes after beaching his trophy, he died of an apparent heart attack. The Whidbey News-Times has a sensitive and touching account of the incident. It’s a fine read.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher at the Outdoor Pressroom.

Angler drowns trying to rescue son

Stuff like this shouldn’t happen, but it does.

From the Associated Press:

NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Authorities say a 43-year-old Uxbridge man has drowned while trying to rescue his 6-year-old son from a Northbridge pond.
Police Chief Walter Warchol says Sarwat Hanna and his son, Yousef, were unconscious and in cardiac arrest when they were pulled from Meadow Pond just after 3 p.m. on Tuesday by rescue personnel with the help of two Good Samaritans.
Both were taken to a Worcester hospital where the father was pronounced dead and the son was in serious condition.
Authorities say the family was fishing and the boy apparently fell in the water. The father jumped in in an effort to save his son. Hanna’s wife and 3-year-old daughter were on shore and unhurt.