Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Game warden rescues trapped coonhound

Sometimes conservation officers are called upon to do rather … unusual things.

From the Associated Press:

PARIS, Ind. — A hunting dog that spent more than a day trapped underground after falling into a southeastern Indiana sinkhole was rescued early Sunday by a state conservation officer.
Indiana Conservation Officer Zach Walker was smeared with mud after he rescued the unharmed coonhound, MoMo, about 1 a.m. Sunday from the Jennings County cave.
Walker said he carried MoMo part of the way up a ladder he had used to reach the cave’s floor, and the dog was raised the rest of the way via rope and reunited with his owner.
“He was really excited to be back aboveground,” Walker said Sunday.
The coonhound went missing about 9 p.m. Friday during a raccoon hunt near the town of Paris about 35 miles north of Louisville, Ky. Walker said MoMo may have fallen about 20 feet into one of the cave’s numerous sinkhole openings.
The dog’s owner and two other raccoon hunters searched throughout Friday night for MoMo and returned to the area again Saturday. They finally called police after finding the trapped, barking dog late Saturday night, and realizing they wouldn’t be able to free the hound.
When Walker arrived, he lowered a ladder through a narrow opening and carefully entered the cave.
“If I weighed five more pounds, I wouldn’t have been able to fit through that hole. It was like fitting a key through a hole,” he said.
At the bottom, Walker found the excited dog in a cave room that was about 30 yards long and lined with a layer of mud.
Because the hole was too narrow to bring the dog up in a cage, Walker carried the hound up the ladder part of the way.
“His owner asked how much he owed me and I said he’d already paid for my services with his tax money,” Walker said.

Big changes for hunters of antlerless deer

Since some blog readers don’t read the rest of the Gazette website, I’ll post here today’s news story about West Virginia’s new antlerless-deer regulations:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The people who set West Virginia’s hunting seasons have finalized a set of regulations designed to have hunters kill many more female deer.
Members of the state Natural Resources Commission on Sunday approved regulations for the state’s 2012 big-game seasons, including those for deer. The new regulations seek to reduce deer populations in most counties by increasing bag limits for antlerless deer and creating incentives for hunters to kill antlerless deer instead of bucks.
One of the new regulations’ most salient features include a requirement that hunters in counties with very high deer populations must kill an antlerless deer before they’re allowed to kill a second antlered buck. The change will be in effect during both the archery and firearm seasons.
Another significant change — which will go into effect in 2013 — will allow hunters to take up to two deer a day, provided at least one is antlerless. This year, however, hunters will be allowed to kill just one deer a day.
The approved regulations also include a significant change to the antlerless-deer bag limits. In counties that had two- or four-deer limits in 2011, the 2012 bag limit will change to three. Wildlife officials sought the change in an attempt to simplify the regulations.
For towns and cities that hold urban deer seasons, the commission approved dramatically more liberal regulations. In place of bag limits that varied from town to town, a statewide bag limit of seven deer will go into effect this fall. Of the seven, two can be antlered bucks and the remainder must be antlerless. Municipalities will be able to open their special seasons as early as the second Saturday in September.
To increase the take of female deer before the “rut,” or deer-mating season, commissioners approved a new three-day, late-October firearm season for antlerless deer. This year’s season will be held Oct. 25-27.
The new October season forced wildlife officials to split the state’s fall turkey season.
The original Division of Natural Resources proposal called for three weeks of turkey hunting that would have begun on a Monday, followed by another week in December. The proposal proved unpopular with hunters, who argued that the Monday opener would cause them to lose one full Saturday of turkey hunting.
DNR officials acquiesced, instead proposing a Saturday opener followed by a full week of turkey hunting; a break to accommodate the new antlerless-deer season; and an unbroken three-week resumption of the turkey season. This year’s fall turkey season dates will run Oct. 13-20 and Oct. 29-Nov. 17.
Complaints from hunters also forced a change in the DNR’s proposal to open the deer archery season on the Monday closest to Oct. 1. Bowhunters didn’t like the idea of a Monday opener, so DNR officials changed it to the Saturday that falls closest to Oct. 1. This year’s archery season will open Sept. 29.
Commission members approved a DNR recommendation to close the September antlerless-deer archery season, which had been less than popular with sportsmen. DNR officials had also proposed to shorten to three days the six-day September antlerless-deer muzzleloader season, but commission members instead chose to eliminate it altogether.
Other significant changes approved by the commission include:
* Moving the traditional December muzzleloader season ahead one week;
* Moving the traditional December antlerless-deer season back one week and reducing it from six days to three; and
* Allowing nonresident hunters to apply for antlerless-deer permits in counties and on public areas where the state offers limited permits. Before the change, applications for those permits were restricted to state residents only.
Agency officials were “extremely pleased overall with the meeting,” said Paul Johansen, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief.
“We took very seriously the comments the public had made regarding our initial proposals. We came back with some modified proposals, and the commission adopted the vast majority of those we had revised.”
Members of the commission include Jeff Bowers, from Pendleton County; Byron Chambers, Hampshire County; Pete Cuffaro, Ohio County; Dr. Tom Dotson, Greenbrier County; Dave Milne, Preston County; Dave Truban, Monongalia County; and Kenny Wilson, Logan County.


A little perspective on Nugent’s conviction

The gavel drops

As expected, Ted Nugent pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor federal charge earlier this week.

What’s interesting is that the judge — who lives in the same part of Alaska where Nugent broke the law — said he had never before heard of the law Nugent broke.

The law, in effect only in southeastern Alaska, states that if a hunter wounds an animal and loses it, the hunter’s tag is considered filled. Nugent wounded and lost a bear while hunting on an island off the Alaska coast. He then hunted and killed a second bear.

It’s also interesting that Alaska wildlife officials never charged Nugent with any crime. The charges came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who charged the 62-year-old rocker with a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act because he transported an illegally killed animal across state lines.

The Associated Press has the full story:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Rocker and gun rights advocate Ted Nugent pleaded guilty Tuesday to transporting a black bear he illegally killed in Alaska, saying he was sorry for unwittingly violating the law.
“I would never knowingly break any game laws,” Nugent told the court. “I’m afraid I was blindsided by this, and I sincerely apologize to everyone for this.”
With his plea, the singer and avid hunter followed through with a signed agreement he made with federal prosecutors earlier this month.
Magistrate Judge Michael Thompson accepted the deal at a U.S. District Court hearing in Ketchikan. Nugent and his attorney participated by telephone.
Asked by Thompson if the agreement was clear, Nugent responded: “It is with me, your honor.”
According to the document, Nugent illegally shot and killed the bear in May 2009 on Sukkwan Island in southeast Alaska after wounding another bear in a bow hunt. The bow incident counted toward a seasonal limit of one bear in that location. Nugent and his lawyer, Wayne Anthony Ross, said neither of them knew about that law.
The judge said he wasn’t aware of the “sort of one-strike policy” either.
“It probably is not widely known, and if there is a side benefit to the agreement reached here today — since apparently newspapers are interested in Mr. Nugent and his doings — this probably will serve to alert a great many hunters to that very issue and may, in fact, prevent violations in the future and court activity for a whole slew of folks.”
The plea agreement says Nugent knowingly possessed and transported the bear in misdemeanor violation of the federal Lacey Act.
Ross said after the hearing that he was unaware of any state charges pending. A database search found no state charges against Nugent.
“It seems to me that would be double dipping,” Ross said.
The hunt was filmed for Nugent’s Outdoor Channel television show “Spirit of the Wild,” according to the plea deal.
Under the agreement, Nugent must pay a $10,000 fine and serve two years of probation, including a special condition that he not hunt or fish in Alaska or on U.S. Forest Service properties for a year. Nugent used a number of bear-baiting sites on Forest Service land during the Alaska hunt, the document said.
He also must create a public service announcement that will be broadcast on his show every second week for a year after approval by a representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Nugent told the court he wanted to make numerous PSAs to keep the interest level up, “so it’s not just the same statement.” Thompson said that would be fine, as long as the PSAs were approved before airing.
The musician famed for his 1977 hit “Cat Scratch Fever” also must pay the state $600 for the bear that was taken illegally.
Nugent briefly drew the attention of the Secret Service last week after he rallied support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and said of the Obama administration: “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.”
His comments were made during a National Rifle Association meeting in St. Louis.
As a hunter, Nugent has run afoul of the law before.
In August 2010, California revoked Nugent’s deer hunting license after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of deer-baiting and not having a properly signed tag.
Nugent’s loss of that deer hunting license through June allows 34 other states to revoke the same privilege under the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. Each state, however, can interpret and enforce the agreement differently.

W.Va.’s cutest turkey slayer

Raegan and her gobbler

Nine-year-old Raegan Brooke Good joined the band of successful turkey hunters last Saturday during the Mountain State’s one-day youth turkey season. Hunting with her father, Joe Good, Raegan killed her first turkey — a 19 1/2-pound gobbler taken at 20 yards with a 28-gauge shotgun.

Congratulations, both to the happy huntress and to the proud papa!

Another lousy turkey-season opener

Turkeys aren't dying here today

I’m beginning to believe West Virginia’s spring gobbler hunters are star-crossed.

For what seems like the umpteenth year in a row, weather is clobbering hunters’ chances of success. Opening day dawned rainy and snowy. A winter storm warning is still in effect for the the state’s mountain region, and will remain in effect until tomorrow.

The National Weather Service says up to a foot of snow is possible in parts of Grant, Mineral and Pendleton counties. Preston and Tucker counties could get up to 10 inches, and Greenbrier, Pocahontas and Randolph could get up to 8 inches.

Expect the weather to wreak havoc on the turkey kill. The season is four weeks long, but more than half the harvest occurs during the season’s first three days.

Nighttime temperatures will drop below freezing tonight in the mountains, and will hover near the freezing mark elsewhere. Hunters who choose to brave the elements tomorrow morning are going to be mighty uncomfortable.

Know the laws, Ted

Once again, bowhunter Ted Nugent has run afoul of the law because he and his television show staff failed to familiarize themselves with the law of the land. This time the oversight will result in a misdemeanor conviction in federal court.

From the Associated Press:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Rocker and wildlife hunter Ted Nugent has agreed to plead guilty to transporting a black bear he illegally killed in southeast Alaska.
Nugent made the admission in signing a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that was filed Friday in U.S. District Court.
Calls seeking comment from Nugent, his Anchorage attorney, Wayne Anthony Ross, and assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt were not immediately returned.
The plea agreement says Nugent illegally shot and killed the bear in May 2009 on Sukkwan Island days after wounding a bear in a bow hunt, which counted toward a state seasonal limit of one bear.
According to the agreement, first reported by the Anchorage Daily News, the six-day hunt was filmed for his Outdoor Channel television show, “Spirit of the Wild.” In the hunt, Nugent used a number of bear-baiting sites on U.S. Forest Service property, according to the agreement.
The document says Nugent knowingly possessed and transported the bear in misdemeanor violation of the federal Lacey Act.
Nugent, identified in the agreement as Theodore A. Nugent, agreed to pay a $10,000 fine, according to the agreement, which says he also agreed with a two-year probation, including a special condition that he not hunt or fish in Alaska or Forest Service properties for one year. He also agreed to create a public service announcement that would be broadcast on his show every second week for one year, the document states.
“This PSA will discuss the importance of a hunter’s responsibility in knowing the rules and regulations of the hunting activities that they engage in, which is subject to the review and final approval, prior to any broadcast, by a representative of the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Alaska,” the agreement says.
Nugent, who signed the document April 14, also agreed to pay the state $600 for the bear that was taken illegally, according to the agreement. He would still need to enter the plea in court and have the plea be approved by a judge.
Nugent — a conservative activist famed for his 1977 hit “Cat Scratch Fever” — drew the attention of the Secret Service after he rallied support last weekend for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and said of the Obama administration: “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.” His comments were made during a National Rifle Association meeting in St. Louis.
Nugent said on his website Thursday that he discussed the matter with two agents on Thursday while in Oklahoma.
“The meeting could not have gone better,” he said. “I thanked them for their service, we shook hands and went about our business. God bless the good federal agents wherever they may be.”
Nugent said he was just speaking figuratively and that he didn’t threaten anyone’s life or advocate violence.
“Metaphors needn’t be explained to educated people,” he said.
A Secret Service spokesman has said the issue has been resolved.
With hunting, Nugent has run afoul of the law before.
In August 2010, California revoked Nugent’s deer hunting license after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of deer-baiting and not having a properly signed tag.
Nugent’s loss of that deer hunting license through June 2012 allows 34 other states to revoke the same privilege under the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. Each state, however, can interpret and enforce the agreement differently.

W.Va. hunters get a new place to play

My colleague Rick Steelhammer has a story guaranteed to appeal to West Virginia’s hunters.

The state Division of Natural Resources is acquiring 3,070 acres of land in the northern end of Tucker County’s Canaan Valley, and will manage the tract for public hunting, fishing, hiking and mountain biking.

Want to know more? Read Rick’s article.

Scimitar-horned oryx in Texas

Boy, that’s some gratitude for you. Texas game ranchers pulled a few African antelope species back from the brink of extinction, and the federal government rewards them 1.)  by making it impossible to profit from controlled hunting for the animals; and 2.) devaluing the animals to the point they become impossible to sell.

From the Associated Press:

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — For years, hundreds of Texas ranchers have made big money on exotic antelopes, with hunters paying up to $10,000 to bag just one dama gazelle, a rare animal with short horns curving outward.
Starting Wednesday, however, the U.S. government will stop allowing anyone to hunt the dama gazelle or two other exotic antelopes native to Africa, the addax and the scimitar-horned oryx — unless ranchers obtain a permit.
The move to give the animals full protection under the federal Endangered Species Act is being praised by animal-rights groups that abhor such hunts and has upset the ranchers whose efforts have led to a rise in the numbers of those exotic animals. The ranchers say they won’t be able to afford the upkeep for their antelopes — but they also can’t legally kill the entire herds or release them.
Texas has the largest population of the animals in the world — far more than even their native Africa. In 1979, Texas had less than three dozen scimitar-horned oryx, just two addax and nine dama gazelles, according to the Exotic Wildlife Association. But by 2010, the state had more than 11,000 scimitar-horned oryx, about 5,100 addax and nearly 900 dama gazelles, according to the association
Knowing that the new regulations were set to take effect, some ranchers have sold their exotic antelopes. But prices have dropped by up to 40 percent and will drop an additional 50 percent after Wednesday, said Charly Seale, executive director of the Texas-based Exotic Wildlife Association.
The ranchers can apply for federal permits to continue the hunts, but most are refusing because they say it’s government intrusion. Seale said just 10 percent of ranchers have sought the permits and he does not expect more to apply. Others are so irate they’ve threatened to kill the herds or just set them free, but that may not happen because both options are illegal under the federal act, Seale said.
“They are very prolific and had been valuable because a lot of people wanted to hunt them,” Seale said. “We’ve built our herds with our own money, and we increased an extinct population, one of the biggest conservation efforts in the world. And now they’re telling us we can’t do it? It’s ridiculous.”
The scimitar-horned oryx, which has horns up to 4 feet long curving toward its back, was declared extinct in the wild in 2000. The three species were listed on the Endangered Species Act, but they were exempt from the no-hunting rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Now the rule is being enforced so the animals won’t be killed in “canned hunts,” said Priscilla Feral, president of the Connecticut-based Friends of Animals that successfully challenged that exemption.
“The ranchers care about offering them in trophy hunts on property from which they cannot escape,” Feral said. “They only live so they can die. To call that conservation is ludicrous.”
Ranchers allowed just 10-15 percent of their herds to be killed each year, said Seale, who has a South Texas ranch with exotic animals. The dama gazelle is the rarest of the three, but hunters still shelled out big bucks for the others — up to $5,000 for the chance to bag a scimitar-horned oryx and $7,000 for an addax, known for its long, thin, spiral-shaped horns.
Because trophy hunters have known that the hunting restriction was approaching, they have flocked to Texas ranches in recent months, thinning the herds even more. But ranchers — even those with other exotic animals that are not affected by the rule — say they’re left with few options. The herds are too expensive to feed without the hunting revenues, and obtaining a permit means the government can make unannounced inspections.
“We’ve applied for permits, but the process is cumbersome,” said Aaron Bulkley, owner of the Texas Hunt Lodge, which has 23 ranches northwest of San Antonio. “This rule will have a major impact to our business. There is no fix to this.”
Only a few animal sanctuaries for such animals exist, and “they don’t want 100; they want two or four,” Bulkley said. The Exotic Wildlife Association plans to send about two dozen of the animals to a nature preserve in Senegal.
The rule will not only hurt the $1.3 billion exotic animal industry in Texas but will cause the scimitar-horned oryx population to be reduced to 1,000 in a decade, Seale said.
However, the animals becoming extinct in Texas is better than what’s been going on, Feral said.
“Now they’re saying they will shoot them now rather than later,” she said. “(Having the three species in Texas) is not an advantage to anyone other than those in the hunting business.”


‘Deer czar’ criticizes agency’s policies

John McCoy photo

Want to make a political point without the risk of being held accountable for it? Hire a ‘czar’ to make that point for you! From the Associated Press:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The deer population estimates of Wisconsin’s wildlife officials are flawed, and they don’t know enough about how predators affect deer and have reduced deer in chronic wasting disease zones to pests, according to a report Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “deer czar” released Wednesday.
James Kroll’s study concludes hunters and landowners feel an “intense dissatisfaction” with the Department of Natural Resources and the agency needs a more human touch to rebuild its credibility.
“The WDNR has placed an inordinate emphasis on estimating population goals and establishing population density goals (which commonly are not met), while giving much less emphasis to habitat and people,” the report said.
DNR big-game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang downplayed the report, saying the agency welcomed it as a path to improvement.
“We expect challenges. We expect things to be pointed out. We’re not afraid of that,” Wallenfang said.
Walker’s administration hired Kroll, a Texas-based deer researcher, in October for $125,000 to review the DNR’s deer management strategies. Walker promised on the campaign trail two years ago to respond to hunters’ complaints that the DNR’s overzealous herd control programs have led to anemic hunts.
The report said Kroll and two other researchers spoke with DNR staff and deer hunting groups and took comments from the public at large about perceived problems at the DNR. Kroll’s group also reviewed previous studies looking at the DNR’s methods.
The report doesn’t go into extensive detail, but said the DNR’s credibility problems with hunters stem from population overestimates and concluded the estimates are indefensible. Some of the data that goes into the estimates is decades old, the report said, citing as an example deer ranges based on 1993 satellite imagery. It said DNR biologists spent little time in the field studying the ranges and assessing herd health.
The DNR also hasn’t conducted adequate studies on the state’s wolves and the role the play in Wisconsin’s ecosystem. The agency also lacks data on how bobcats, coyotes and bears affect deer and their habitat.
The agency’s efforts to control chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain ailment in deer, in southern Wisconsin were a failure, the report went on to say. The DNR’s main strategy — kill as many deer as possible in affected areas to prevent the disease from spreading — resulted in a “serious erosion” of public confidence in the agency and a perception that deer in disease zones are pests rather than a key game animal.
Among the reports other findings:
— The DNR uses an antiquated system to register deer at check stations using paper forms. Other states use electronic registration.
— The state lacks a buck record book, which could foster information gathering and another way for biologists and state residents to interact.
— The DNR has done little to help landowners manage deer on their property, revealing a mindset based on regulation.
— The agency needs to simply its season structure and keep seasons consistent.
The DNR is already addressing many of the points Kroll raised. In 2010 the agency launched a $2 million project to improve deer population estimates, including studying predators’ impact, expanding a database of hunter observations and improving communication with stakeholders. The agency has warned that some of the initiatives could take years to complete, however.
The agency also suspended its contentious earn-a-buck program, a herd control technique that required hunters to kill an antlerless deer before taking a buck, outside of CWD zones in 2009 and 2010 before Republican lawmakers outlawed the program last year.
“Some of things they’ve identified in there are things the department has known for a long, long time,” Wallenfang said.
Kroll is due to turn in a final report before the end of June. He plans to gather input at a series of town hall meetings around the state in April.
Temporary ruling

From the Associated Press:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday sided partly with a group of outfitters from four Western states who complained their constitutional rights to conduct business in New Mexico were being upended by changes to the state’s hunting draw.
The outfitters had asked U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo to issue an injunction and temporary restraining order to keep New Mexico’s law from taking effect.
The outfitters are challenging language that specifies 10 percent of hunting tags awarded through New Mexico’s annual big game draw would go to those hunters who hired New Mexico-based outfitters.
Before the law was changed last year, an outfitter’s location didn’t matter.
“This is brand new and that’s why we challenged it,” said Albuquerque attorney B.J. Crow, who is representing the plaintiffs. “Basically, it was excluding any out-of-state outfitter from doing business in New Mexico, which is unconstitutional.”
Armijo ruled that the plaintiffs who operate as individual outfitters or sole proprietors would be eligible for the 10 percent pool for this year’s draw. The plaintiffs include outfitters from Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Washington.
Armijo has yet to make a final determination on whether New Mexico’s statute is constitutional. Crow said the case could take up to five months, and the outcome could affect countless out-of-state outfitters as well as hunters.
Jeremy Vesbach, director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said he was relieved the judge’s order keeps intact for the next draw new quotas established by the statute.
The law spells out how many New Mexico residents, non-residents and outfitters can be awarded hunting tags through the draw system. Tens of thousands of hunting licenses are sold in the state every year, and a portion of those are doled out through the draw by the state Game and Fish Department.
The quota system was changed last year after some sportsmen fought to ensure in-state hunters received a larger portion of the hunting tags. On average, New Mexico had the lowest preference for resident hunters — less than 80 percent — of any state in the Rocky Mountain region.
“We essentially are caught in the crossfire here and the question was do we dodge a bullet or not,” Vesbach said. “I’m just relieved. The judge spent a lot of time on this and I think she came up with something that really minimized the overall disruption and kept folks like us from getting harmed.”
Hunting, guiding and outfitting are part of a big business in New Mexico, where rural communities depend on money spent by outdoor enthusiasts. Studies have shown hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation annually contribute billions of dollars to the state’s economy.
Crow said if his clients weren’t allowed to do business in New Mexico this year, it would have meant thousands of dollars of lost revenue for each one.
The deadline to apply for this year’s draw is March 28. So far, some 70,000 hunters have applied.
“It’s our lifeblood. For those of us who hunt, if we get a tag or not, it’s a huge deal,” Vesbach said.
Game Department officials said they still intend on having the draw in early May.