Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Bear kill sparks controversy

Controversial in Georgia

When I first saw the following Associated Press story, I was surprised that people in Georgia were getting up in arms about a bear season that killed only 34 bears.

The more I read, though, the more apparent it became that the story has subplots and undertones that didn’t show up in the first couple of paragraphs. Interesting stuff.

From AP:

MACON, Ga. (AP) — About a tenth of the Middle Georgia black bear population was killed when the first-ever open bear season was held in three Middle Georgia counties last month. Although some wildlife advocates are raising concerns about harm to the bear population, state officials say the hunt will be held the same way next year.
A population of about 300 bears, centered in Houston and Twiggs counties, was a key driver behind Georgia’s $29 million purchase of 10,000 acres of the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management area in Houston County a year ago. But as both bear and human populations grow, the state Department of Natural Resources has fielded an increasing number of complaints about nuisance bears from residents of Houston and Bibb counties.
For more than a decade, hunters competed for permits to participate in a quota bear hunt at the Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Area in Twiggs and Bleckley counties. In recent years, that hunt was moved from December to November, when bears are more active. On average, one bear was shot there every three years, said Bobby Bond, a senior wildlife biologist and specialist on Middle Georgia’s bears for the DNR.
But this year, after a public comment period, the state settled on a one-day open season on private lands in Bibb, Houston and Twiggs counties.
Thirty-four bears were killed Nov. 12, half of them females, and all in an area near Tarversville in Twiggs County, Bond said.
“We killed too many bears, especially females,” said John Trussell, an outdoor writer and founder of Save Oaky Woods. “There were too many hunters in that area, and there was a lot of baiting going on in that area. … We shouldn’t have a bunch of folks crowding into one small spot and shooting every bear that walks across.”
Trussell, a longtime hunter, contends that the state should switch to a quota system and perhaps shift the hunt back to December to protect more female bears.
“It’s taken us 100 years to get where we’re at,” he said. “It’s better to start slow.”
Six bears were killed at a single hunt club. Other hunt clubs had three and two bears harvested, Bond said.
“Anytime you get six bears on one property, that’s a lot,” DNR ranger Cpl. Robert Stillwell said.
Bond said the most bears ever harvested in one day at the Ocmulgee WMA quota hunts was two. He said the only time he has ever heard of bears congregating is around food sources, such as in fields where peanuts are being harvested.
Hunting bears over bait is a misdemeanor “of a high and aggravated nature.” DNR rangers issued six citations related to two bears killed by hunters who were using bait, Stillwell said.
He said the illegally shot bears included the largest bear killed that day, a 436-pound male, and a 250-pound male. Rangers caught hunters in the act on two different leased properties.
Each citation for hunting bears over bait can involve fines of up to $1,500 plus restitution of up to $1,500, but the penalty will be up to a judge in Twiggs County Probate Court, Stillwell said.
He said next year there will be more rangers patrolling the hunt, which attracted as many as 40 or 50 hunters to hunt clubs with a few thousand acres. Some landowners charged $300 or $400 for one-day hunting rights on their land, he said.
Stillwell said hunting bear over bait is harder to prove without a tip, now that Georgia has legalized hunting deer over bait. He said a hunter can claim that the bait was intended for deer, even if it’s dog food with honey poured over it.
“If we find a place (like that), then we’d know to go back there and check,” he said. “But in some instances, you have to wait for a bear to be killed to get them. That bothers me. My job is to protect the bears. … So it’s harder with having the baiting laws legalized, for sure.”
Bond said hunters in Twiggs County have been clamoring for a bear hunt there for years, and in a recent opinion survey most participants favored hunting them. Comments to DNR were overwhelmingly positive when the open season hunt was proposed, said John Bowers, DNR’s assistant chief for game management.
The hunt was also intended to cut down on conflicts between bears and humans in Houston and Bibb counties — where no bears were actually killed.
“We were getting to the point where we were getting more and more bear complaints and more showing up where they shouldn’t be and getting habituated to humans,” Bond said. “We thought (the hunt) would help increase their fear of humans.”
Bond expressed surprise that so many bears were killed in such a small area and that none were killed in Houston County — although one was shot there that wasn’t recovered, he said.
“As long as you don’t go over 10 percent of your population (harvested by hunters), you’re OK,” Bond said. “But for Twiggs County, it might be kind of concerning to lose 17 females.”
“That’s an awful lot of bears to be killing out of one place,” Stillwell said. “It’s not as if we have thousands and thousands of bears like we do deer.”
Trussell argues that if the rules aren’t changed, “the harvest is going to increase next year, probably by a harmful amount.”
He thinks Georgia should follow the example of South Carolina, which allowed its first bear hunt in three coastal counties this month. According to The State newspaper in Columbia, a quota system was used to permit just 30 hunters to have a shot at the population of 500 or so bears over the course of several weeks.
Georgia’s hunting seasons and rules are determined on a two-year cycle and won’t change before next year’s hunt Nov. 10, Bowers said.
“We’re pleased with the harvest that was achieved,” he said. “It fell right in line with what we anticipated. The number of females was a little higher than we would like, but is not of great concern to us.”
Bowers said the bears’ core habitat on the wildlife management acted as a preserve, since it wasn’t hunted.
But a large portion of the land that was once part of that preserve has fallen into private hands, and in many cases is leased for hunting, Trussell pointed out. About 7,000 acres each of the Ocmulgee and Oaky Woods wildlife management areas has gone into private hands since 1994.
Trussell said the 7,000 acres of Oaky Woods that Georgia stopped leasing this fall is being advertised for hunting leases now, and he expects far more hunters — many from out of state — to be taking aim at bears next November.
Bowers said the DNR will consider the rules again only after it has two years of data.
That data is likely to be enhanced by a new bear survey being conducted by the University of Georgia with funding from DNR and the Georgia Department of Transportation, which will be widening Ga. 96 in the heart of the bears’ territory. Underpasses for the bears are built into the highway plans, and officials want to gather information on bear movement patterns to pick the best spots, Bond said.
He said bears will be caught and radio collared, as they were in several previous studies. (Two of the bears killed last month were part of the most recent study.) Wildlife officials hope to learn more about the bear population size, reproductive habits and den sites, Bond said
Bowers said that study is starting now and will conclude in 2014.

Bullet that killed hunter hit grizzly first

Ah, the marvels of DNA analysis. In this case, it gave investigators a definitive picture of what happened during a September incident that ended with a Nevada man dead of a gunshot wound suffered while he was being attacked by a wounded grizzly bear.

From the Associated Press:

LIBBY, Mont. (AP) — Officials in northwestern Montana say a shot fired at a grizzly bear as it attacked a Nevada hunter passed through the bear before striking and killing the hunter.
The Western News reported Wednesday that tests requested by the Department of the Interior found grizzly bear DNA on the .30.06 bullet that killed 39-year-old Steve Stevenson, of Winnemucca, Nev., on Sept. 16.
Stevenson and 20-year-old Ty Bell, also of Winnemucca, were hunting near the Montana-Idaho border when Bell shot what he thought was a black bear.
The men tracked the bear into heavy cover, where the 400-pound animal attacked Stevenson. Bell fired several shots trying to kill the bear.
Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe called the shooting a “horribly tragic accident.”
“It started off with a single misjudgment and ended up in a horrific act that will affect families for a very long time,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect charges will be filed. That decision will be up to the county attorney.
It is illegal to kill grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, where the animals are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Grizzlies were largely exterminated across the lower 48 last century, but their population has rebounded dramatically in recent decades.
The bear shot by Bell was one of about 45 of the animals that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates live in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem Area in northwest Montana and northern Idaho.
The area the men were hunting in is a grizzly bear recovery zone.

Want to play on public hunting land? Pay toll!

For decades, public lands paid for by hunting- and fishing-license money have been open for everyone’s use, free of charge.

Virginia state officials are changing that. Owners of hunting and fishing licenses will still get in free, but other folks will have to pay. From the Associated Press:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will begin charging a limited $4 fee at its wildlife management areas and public fishing lakes starting Jan. 1.
The access fee will apply to visitors who do not possess a valid hunting, freshwater fishing or trapping license or a current state boat registration.
The department owns more than 201,000 acres and 35 public fishing lakes statewide. Most of the land and lakes were purchased primarily through revenue generated by those licenses. Those license-holders also support the upkeep of department-maintained roads, parking areas, kiosks and the management of those properties.
The access fee will be required for bird watchers, horseback riders and others outdoor lovers over 17 who use the department’s holdings.
The annual access permit will be $23.

Interesting. Unless I miss my guess, Virginia’s action will start a trend.

Father and son shot in separate hunting incidents

Remind me never to go pheasant hunting on public land in New Jersey.

From the Associated Press, this story about a father and son who were shot on the same day in separate incidents while on a pheasant hunt:

JACKSON, N.J. (AP) — State officials say a New Jersey man and his adult son were wounded in a pheasant hunting accident this weekend, then shot a second time while they were discussing the first mishap with authorities
Both shootings occurred Saturday morning in the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management area in Jackson. The first shooting involved a single hunter who fled the scene, while the second involved a group of other hunters.
The victims — identified only as two Jackson residents, ages 60 and 34 — each had pellet wounds to their face and hands, but the injuries were not considered serious.
A state wildlife conservation officer was also hit during the second shooting, but did not require medical treatment.
No charges have been filed. But authorities said both shootings remained under investigation Sunday.

829-pound black bear smashes N.J. record

The man who killed the heaviest black bear ever taken in New Jersey was actually hunting for deer.

Imagine that. One minute you’re scanning for signs of a buck, and the next you’re trying to figure out how the heck you’re going to get an 829-pound bear out of the woods.

The Parsippany Daily Record has the story, complete with a photo of the behemoth bruin.

When a black bear can grow to the size of a grizzly, it’s a sure-fire sign that: a.) The bear has been supplementing its usual diet of acorns, grubs, deer and small mammals with people food of some kind; b.) the bear is in an area where too few bears get killed; or c.) both.

I vote for c.)

Disabled hunters’ special privileges draw ire

There’s trouble a-brewin’ in Montana, where authorities believe able-bodied people are gaming the system by obtaining permits that allow disabled hunters special privileges. From the Associated Press:

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana wildlife regulators suspect more and more people are faking disabilities to take advantage of privileges granted to disabled hunters, so they want to remove one of those perks in hopes of curbing abuse.
Permits to hunt from a vehicle, called PTHV permits, are given to Montana hunters with certain disabilities certified by a doctor, chiropractor, nurse or physician’s assistant. The permit allows a disabled person who can’t get around without assistance to hunt from a self-propelled or drawn vehicle.
In some prime hunting areas, those permit holders are allowed to drive along roadways normally gated and closed to all other vehicles. They are also allowed to shoot cow elk without buying an additional antlerless elk license, even in some areas where licenses aren’t available to the general public.
That kind of access has led to abuse of the permits by apparently healthy hunters, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said.
“Most of what we see is people utilizing the permit as an opportunity or a resource to be able to take an antlerless elk,” said James Kropp, the FWP’s chief of law enforcement. “They’re a long way from their vehicle dragging elk off the mountain unassisted, really in a situation the permit was not designed for.”
As of Monday, 9,188 lifetime PTHV permits have been issued, according to FWP. The result has been a reduction in the number of cow elk in some areas, such as the Bitterroot Mountains in southwestern Montana, said FWP commission chairman Bob Ream.
“The population is being knocked back because of the substantial cow harvest in certain districts,” Ream said.
But even when they encounter instances of apparent abuse, it’s usually difficult for wildlife officials to penalize a person who holds a valid permit without putting them in the awkward position of deciding whether a person is disabled.
“Given the fact that these are signed off by a medical physician, it’s not really our judgment to determine whether they are or they aren’t,” Kropp said.
Ream and his fellow commissioners gave initial approval Friday to a plan that would ban holders of the special permit from shooting shoot cow elk with just a general big-game permit.
The ban, which was originally proposed by a disabled hunter’s group out called Blackfoot Access Group, aims to curb the problem by taking away one of the biggest incentives for abusing the program.
“You’ve got so many people who scam their way into getting a PTHV because of these incentives,” said George Hirschenberger, a retired Bureau of Land Management program manager who works with the Blackfoot Access Group. “We’re not asking for that privilege to go away, we’re asking the commission to suspend the privilege until the PTHV is back under control.”
Hirschenberger said he saw evidence of the abuse in the sheer number of people without apparent disabilities who would arrive at his BLM office and at other BLM and U.S. Forest Service offices seeking keys to open the gates of the roadways closed to all but the PTHV permit holders.
“If this guy can walk from his car to the front desk without a problem, what is the reason for him to have a PTHV?” Hirschenberger asked.
Ream said he hopes the ban will be a temporary measure that lasts just until the Legislature tightens the criteria to qualify for the permits, a cause the Blackfoot Access Group plans to lobby for during the 2013 legislative session.
The permit qualifications are set in state law. A person must be dependent on an oxygen device, wheelchair, crutch or cane, or else be an amputee above the wrist or ankle. The last qualifying clause is that a person must be unable to walk unassisted for 600 yards over rough terrain while carrying 15 pounds within an hour and be unable to handle or maneuver up to 25 pounds.
“That last clause — that’s ridiculous,” Ream said. “It needs to be more medically based than that. And secondly, it shouldn’t be a lifetime permit.”
That last category is where the biggest spike in PTHV applications comes from, and those applications have been rising since 2008, when the commission allowed permit holders to hunt cow elk without a license, FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim said.
In 2005, before the change, 564 new permits were issued to disabled hunters who cited that qualifying condition. In 2009, the year after the change, 943 new permits citing that condition were issued, Aasheim said.
The proposed ban, which is now out for public comment before a final decision will be made in February, has been endorsed by hunters’ groups in Helena and Missoula.
“This proposal will return respect for the disabled hunters program,” said Rod Bullis of Helena Hunters and Anglers.

Some answers on that national park issue

For this week’s Gazette-Mail column, I went to Judy Rodd, the principal source for the push to create a national park and preserve in West Virginia’s northeastern highlands. Judy was able to answer some of the existing questions, but not all. Here’s the column.

Last week, when news broke that much of West Virginia’s northern Allegheny Highlands might be considered for national park and preserve status, sportsmen raised a ton of questions:
How big would the park be? Would hunting be outlawed? Would trout stockings be curtailed? Who would manage the fish and wildlife? And what would become of trapping, ramp digging and ginseng hunting?
We have answers now for at least some of those questions. Earlier this week, I spoke with Judy Rodd, a spokeswoman for Friends of High Allegheny National Park and Preserve, who clarified some of the murkier points.
The preserve, as currently envisioned, would be pretty darned big – roughly 750,000 acres.
Rodd said it would start at Cathedral State Park in Preston County and extend southward to Cass in Pocahontas County. Its western boundary would start at Shavers Mountain near Elkins and would extend eastward to include current units of the George Washington National Forest in Hardy and Hampshire counties.
“All the lands that would be included in the preserve would be lands that are current state parks or are part of the Monongahela and George Washington national forests,” Rodd explained. “No private lands would need to be purchased.”
She added that only a portion of the land would be considered a full-fledged national park.
“The main units of the national park portion would include Cathedral, Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley state parks, and some portion of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area,” she said.
“The Park Service folks have said units of the park could be spread apart like that. The rest of the land in the Allegheny Highlands – the vast majority of the land under consideration – would be in preserve status, where hunting and fishing would be encouraged.”
Rodd said she wasn’t sure if the Park Service would allow trapping on the preserve. However, a subsequent Internet search of several preserves’ websites showed that trapping is allowed on most of them.
The question of ginseng hunting caught Rodd by surprise; she said she “would have to talk the Park Service about that.” As to ramp digging, she harbored a rather strong opinion: “I dig them too, so naturally I would want [that] to be allowed.”
One of the more ticklish questions surrounding the preserve concept would be whether the state Division of Natural Resources or the National Park Service would have primary control of fishing-related issues.
In the New River Gorge National River, for example, DNR officials manage fisheries as they see fit. One sticking point has arisen, though. Park Service officials several years ago asked that non-native fish – rainbow and brown trout, specifically – not be stocked within the park’s boundaries. Stockings continue to this day.
In the state’s mountain highlands, trout fishing is a big issue. Most of the state’s most popular stocked-trout streams and rivers are in the preserve area, and most of the fish stocked are rainbows and browns. Rodd said she didn’t know whether DNR or Park Service policies would prevail.
“That’s too technical an issue for me,” she said.
Rodd said provisions to address any or all of sportsmen’s concerns could be written into legislation that would establish the park.
“That’s a long way off, though,” she said. “The [upcoming] study is called a reconnaissance study. If it finds that the area is unique enough to be included in the national park system, a resource study would follow. And then there would be a period of time to write the legislation and get it passed. Park and preserve status is still years away.”

Poach a big buck, forfeit a big buck

Kerr posing with his poached buck (AP Photo)

If you do the crime, you’ve got to do the time. To a Michigan deer poacher’s credit, he’s willing to admit he screwed up. From the Associated Press:

LAPEER, Mich. (AP) — After his hunting buddy missed, Jeff Kerr says he couldn’t resist: He shot a 13-point trophy buck on his grandmother’s land in Lapeer County, a deer with a generous rack.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime rack for a deer hunter,” said Lt. Dave Malloch of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
But the antlers and the venison no longer belong to Kerr. The DNR seized everything after learning that Kerr didn’t get a hunting license until after he shot the deer on Nov. 20.
“I was wrong,” Kerr, 28, said Thursday. “I’m not going to point fingers.”
With a construction job going well, he doubted he would get a chance to hunt. Then a pal called and they were off to his grandmother’s 40 acres in Lapeer County’s Marathon Township. Kerr didn’t have a license but had a Remington shotgun.
“He missed it twice and I couldn’t let it go again,” Kerr said of the deer. “I shot him at 10 yards.”
He got a license and removed the deer from the field the next day. He put the animal in his pickup truck and posed for a photo at a shop in Lapeer. The picture was posted on a website where people can see other Michigan trophy deer.
The DNR said it got a tip that Kerr didn’t have a $15 license when he shot the buck. He confessed after a visit from conservation officer Ken Kovach.
“I wasn’t going to lie. There’s nobody to blame but myself,” Kerr said.
He could face fines of up to $1,500. The DNR plans to display the antlers during public talks on hunting laws.

Bear hunt going well despite protests

Season shaping up

Hunters in New Jersey apparently aren’t letting a few protests get in their way.

In two days of hunting, sportsmen have bagged 309 bruins. They’re going to have to go quite a bit to top last year’s mark of 592, especially with foul weather setting in over the Garden State.

Police appear to be doing a good job of keeping animal-rights protesters from disrupting hunts.

The New Jersey Herald has a pretty good account of the season so far. Interesting reading!

Father’s accidental rifle discharge kills son

This is the second such accident this fall. The first happened in Idaho; this one happened here in West Virginia. Another family needs our thoughts and prayers.

From the Associated Press:

GAP MILLS, W.Va. (AP) — A Virginia deer hunter is dead after his father’s rifle discharged while being unloaded.
The incident occurred at about 2 p.m. Saturday near Gap Mills in southeastern West Virginia.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources says 18-year-old Travis B. Smith of Waynesboro was fatally shot when a rifle discharged as his father, 37-year-old Thomas Scott Wright of Fisherville, Va., was unloading it near the pair’s vehicle.
The incident remains under investigation.