Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Bear hunt on; activists sue to protest

Subject to protest?

The ongoing saga of New Jersey’s bear hunt is — well, it’s ongoing. Now animal-rights activists are suing to protest at a game-checking station. From the Associated Press:

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Animal rights activists seeking to protest the state’s black bear hunt will head to court Monday to try to persuade a judge to allow them to demonstrate at a bear check station.
The animal advocates conceded Friday that there wasn’t enough time for them to challenge a court decision allowing the state’s six-day bear hunt to begin Monday. The protesters then got the verbal approval of a state Department of Environmental Protection official to demonstrate at the Franklin bear check station in Sussex County, according to Doris Lin, an attorney for the protesters.
But Lin said the agency then formally denied the protest request late Friday afternoon and instead offered two alternate sites that the groups declined because they would provide “much less visibility” than the check station. The activists also want to be at the station so they can document how many bears are killed by hunters.
Lin says the groups will ask a state appellate judge to overturn the agency’s decision on the protest site. The judge’s ruling is expected Monday.
Agency spokesman Larry Ragonese said Sunday that the agency never agreed to the groups’ request. He said safety concerns spurred the decision to keep protesters from the check station, noting its limited space and location on a major highway.
“There’s insufficient space for protesters and others to move around out there, and there’s also not enough parking and inadequate lighting. Combine that with drivers traveling along Route 23, and it’s a potentially dangerous situation,” Ragonese said.
“When we and the Franklin authorities reviewed everything, it was determined that it wouldn’t be safe to have the protest there, so we offered them the chance to use other sites, which they declined,” Ragonese added. “We want to give them their opportunity to express their views, but we don’t want to compromise public safety.
The animal rights groups’ legal bid comes just days after a state appellate court rejected their request to stop the hunt from taking place. They plan to take that case to the state Supreme Court to try to block another hunt from occurring next year.
State wildlife officials have said the hunt is necessary to keep the state’s black bear population, now thought to number about 3,400, in check. The population has remained fairly stable after increasing dramatically since the 1980s. Confirmed bear sightings have been made in all 21 of the state’s counties.
The hunt is only one component of the state’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy, which also includes public education and nonlethal bear management measures.

Photographers and hunters feud over elk

National Park Service photo

Geez. Can’t we all just get along?

Apparently not. Wildlife photographers who capture images of elk in and around Grand Teton National Park are upset that hunters are being allowed to control the elk population by killing some of the animals.

From the Associated Press:

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Along the Gros Ventre River, a snowstorm plasters the cottonwood trees white as Grand Teton National Park ranger Matt Wilber drives east to check on hunters participating in the park’s elk reduction program.
A meteorological starting gun, the mid-November storm sent the elk from their hiding place in the Snake River bottom to the National Elk Refuge.
Along the way, they thread past a gantlet of hunters who, until now, had little prey to shoot as the wapiti were content to graze on the abundant forage in the closed areas of Grand Teton National Park to the west. The late migration is a bonanza. Hunters with wide grins drive past in pickup trucks with elk legs and antlers jutting out from the truck beds.
The Grand Teton National Park elk reduction program is a hunt, codified by Congress, that opponents say is antithetical to the National Park Service mission of protecting natural resources for future generations.
Photographer Tim Mayo, one of the hunt’s most vocal critics, tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide that someone left an elk head in a grotesque position this year.
Some of the elk reduction program hunters “have no respect for the area, and they have no respect for their prey,” he says. “It went a step further when they mutilated the head and cut off the ears.”
Hunters have also shot elk near private homes and chased elk in pickup trucks, Mayo maintains.
“I have watched these hunters shoot across the road,” he says. “I’ve watched them shoot in closed areas. I’ve watched them cripple animals. There’s so much that goes on up there.”
But the hunters tell a different story.
Wilber turns into a pullout and checks the paperwork of several successful hunters. All of them have the proper license and all of them say the hunt is a good tradition.
“This is the first place my dad, my brother and I could hunt,” Jackson resident Ian Schroth says. “It’d be a shame if they shut down the hunt. It’s been a tradition for 50-plus years.”
Schroth shot a bull elk in the river bottom Oct. 21, close to where a hunter was mauled by a bear on an elk carcass earlier this year.
Today, he is out helping some family members fill their tags. Those who rail against the hunt, many of them wildlife photographers, have had their own impact on the park’s wildlife, Schroth says.
“They show up like a pack of dogs,” he says. Schroth says he has watched photographers push moose up and down the road, harassing the animal in their quest for pictures.
The photographers’ complaints are “way out of line,” he says. “It’s so hypocritical to say ‘don’t hunt’ when they take pictures for profit. They don’t respect the Park Service. They get tickets for being too close.”
“Why not work together,” Schroth says. “The goal is the same, to protect the animals.”
Teton County resident Bruce Ostendorf shot a cow elk in the park. When asked about the controversy, he says he pays no attention.
“We just want to get along and be good stewards of the land,” he says. “We just want to play by the rules.”
Most of the hunters do play by the rules, Wilber says.
“There’s been a couple of small things, but everybody has been pretty good so far,” he says.
Park rangers have issued at least three citations to hunters participating in the elk reduction program this season, officials say.
One hunter was cited for shooting within a quarter mile of a road, the other for shooting within a half mile of a building. Another hunter was fined $245 for harvesting a spike bull with a cow tag. Two hunters were warned for dragging their elk out of the field before attaching their tag, and another for killing an elk of the wrong sex, park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.
Three other hunters have been cited for poaching this year, but two of the incidents occurred before the elk reduction hunt began and one was a bison hunter who strayed over the park boundary near Uhl Hill.
In 2010, rangers issued eight citations. Warnings were issued 10 times, including one for shooting across the roadway.
Hunters typically have a 30 percent success rate, with 750 permits issued in 2011 and 825 permits issued in 2010.
Park law enforcement rangers and their counterparts from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department spend a significant amount of time each fall making hunter “contacts,” Wilber says.

Judge: Bear hunt can proceed as planned

Fair game in the Garden State

It’s always a crapshoot as to whether New Jersey’s black-bear season will be held.

Animal-rights activists always go to court to try to have it stopped. Several times in the past, judges have ruled in their favor. Last year and again this year, judges have ruled against them.

From the Associated Press:

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s black bear hunt can go on as scheduled, a state appeals court ruled Thursday in rejecting a challenge by animal rights activists that the state’s bear management policy is flawed.
Two animal rights groups sued the state last year, challenging the bear management policy that allows an annual six-day hunt. The activists failed to stop last year’s hunt, in which 592 black bears were killed, but the lawsuit was allowed to continue on its merits.
Doris Lin, a lawyer for the activists, said Thursday that an appeal to the state Supreme Court will be filed. This year’s hunt is scheduled to start Monday.
“We’re disappointed that the court disregarded the science and instead gave such deference to the Division of Fish and Wildlife as to effectively hold them above the law,” Lin said. “The hunt is a trophy hunt, plain and simple. No state agency should be allowed to misrepresent their own science and push the agenda of a special-interest minority.”
The state maintains the hunt is needed to keep the black bear population in check. Wildlife officials estimate the number of black bears in the state at around 3,400.
The Department of Environmental Protection commissioner said he was pleased by Thursday’s ruling.
“This ruling affirms the science- and fact-based policy that we have adopted as part of a comprehensive approach to managing black bears in New Jersey,” Bob Martin said. “The plan is a legitimate response to deal with a large black bear population and a resultant increase in public complaints about bear and human encounters. This is a public safety issue that requires responsible action by the state.”
Last year’s hunt was the first in five years.
The department has said the hunt allowed the black bear population to remain relatively stable, but Lin argued that a disproportionate number of pregnant bears were killed.
A similar legal challenge succeeded in 2007 and no hunt was held after a court found flaws with the management policy. That court said the 2005 hunt should not have taken place. A new policy has since been adopted.
In its most recent opinion, the court rejected the activists’ claim that the population management policy was developed arbitrarily. The three-judge panel said repeatedly in their ruling that they defer to the agency that developed the document.
“While there may be disagreements as to available data and its interpretation, under our standard of review we defer to agency findings that are based on sufficient evidence in the record,” the judges wrote.
Lin argued the policy was based on skewed data and should be invalidated.
For example, she said the number of bear complaints reported by the state rose in the years from 2007 to 2009, but that’s only because data was collected from 32 police departments in 2009 but just 17 departments two years earlier.
The bear hunt is scheduled to run Monday through Dec. 10, concurrently with the state’s six-day firearm deer hunting season. Bear hunting zones are in northwestern New Jersey, north of Interstate 78 and west of Interstate 287.
There is a limit of one bear per licensed and registered hunter.

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…


Activists will sue to halt bear hunt — again

Another year, another court case

Gotta hand it to animal-rights activists in New Jersey; they aren’t quitters. Even though last year’s effort failed to cancel a scheduled New Jersey bear hunt, they’re back in court trying to stop this year’s.

From the Associated Press:

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Animal protection groups are heading to court Tuesday to try to convince a New Jersey appeals panel to halt this year’s black bear hunt in its tracks.
The case is expected to be decided by Dec. 5, the scheduled start of a six-day hunt in the northwest part of the state.
The Animal Protection League of New Jersey and The Bear Education and Resource Group will try to convince the judges that the state’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy is flawed. The policy includes an annual hunt.
The state maintains a hunt is necessary to keep the black bear population in check.
The Department of Environmental Protection recorded 2,667 reports of bear activity this year through October. That number includes bear sightings, attacks on livestock, 46 home entries and 516 reports of bears picking through garbage.
Bear activity has been reported in 19 of the state’s 21 counties this year.
Hunters killed 592 black bears last year. It was the first hunt in five years.
The animal activist groups failed to get last year’s hunt stopped, but their court case was allowed to continue.
“The black bear policy is full of scientific flaws, self-contradictions and outright fabrications,” said Doris Lin, director of legal services for the BEAR Group. “The lawsuit is not about philosophical objections to hunting; it’s about integrity and science, both of which are missing from the policy.”
For example, she says the number of bear complaints is actually decreasing, and that the state’s claims are based on more police departments being included in the reporting data.
A judge acting on a petition to the state Supreme Court refused to grant an emergency stay last year, after an appeals panel declined to call off the hunt.
A similar challenge succeeded in 2007 and no hunt was held. An appeals panel found flaws with the management policy and ruled that the 2005 hunt should not have taken place.
Some 6,680 bear hunting permits were issued for last year’s hunt, with each hunter entitled to one bear regardless of age or gender. The DEP maintains the right to halt the hunt early based on the number of bears killed.
The hunt is held concurrently with the firearm deer season. Bear hunting is allowed in the area north of Interstate 78 and west of Interstate 287.
Besides a hunt, the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy developed by the Division of Fish and Wildlife includes education, a bear feeding ban and aversive conditioning.

Thanksgiving and deer hunting go together

A Thanksgiving tradition in W.Va.

In West Virginia, where the annual firearm season for buck deer begins on Monday of Thanksgiving week, the holiday and deer hunting go together like — well, like mashed potatoes and gravy.

State residents who’ve moved outside the state always seem to make it back home for Thanksgiving. While they’re here, they celebrate not only with traditional Thanksgiving feasts, but also with blaze orange-clad forays into the woods with family and friends.

The happy juxtaposition of Thanksgiving and the buck season helps keep a small state like West Virginia — with just 1.8 million residents, one of the country’s least populous — among the leaders in sales of non-resident hunting licenses.

For residents, the season usually consists of three days of hard hunting before Thanksgiving, and a hurried rush home for the traditional dinner, and a rush back to deer camp for more hunting.

Hunters who don’t go to deer camp have the best of both worlds. They can go out hunting in the morning, come back at midday and gorge themselves on turkey, and make it back to their stand in time for the evening’s whitetail activity.

It’s a win-win all around. Thanksgiving would be popular in the Mountain State whether people hunted deer or not. But with more than half of all state households containing at least one family member who hunts, the term “holiday” takes on a special significance.

Hunters simply can’t catch a break

Spared by the rain

West Virginia deer hunters must feel like Joe Btsflpk.

Joe, for those of you too young to have read the Lil’ Abner comic strip, was an unhappy fellow who walked around with a rain cloud perpetually hanging over his head.

I’m beginning to wonder if our state’s hunters and ol’ Joe aren’t related. For what seems like the umpteenth year in a row, the opening day of the state’s firearm season for buck deer opened under rainy skies. Rain and fog blanketed the entire state during Monday’s opener.

When it rains anytime during the first three days of the 12-day season, hunters kill substantially fewer deer than expected. As one wildlife official told me, “When hunters get wet, they go home or go back to their camps. When they’re not in the woods, they’re not killing deer.”

That’s important, because the state’s buck season is literally the engine that drives the Division of Natural Resources’ deer-management program. The annual buck kill is the index by which all other deer-hunting seasons are set. When hunters kill lots of bucks, DNR officials assume the deer population is high, and allow hunters to kill  more female deer in an attempt to reduce the population. When hunters kill fewer bucks, DNR officials clamp down on doe hunting in an attempt to boost the population.

Bad weather during the first three days of the buck season throws a monkey wrench into the works. History shows that roughly three-fifths of the buck harvest takes place during those three days. Bad weather limits the kill and keeps antlerless-deer hunting regulations artificially conservative.

The past three buck seasons have been hammered by misfortune. An August 2009 outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease depressed the whitetail population before the season. On opening day, snow, wind and rain kept hunters out of the woods. The harvest suffered.

Last year, a bumper mast crop kept deer scattered widely throughout the woods and less vulnerable to hunters, and rain early in the season served what amounted to a death knell to hunters’ hopes. The buck harvest plunged 32 percent from already depressed 2009 levels.

And now this — rain statewide on opening day, with more predicted for today and tomorrow.

So much for hunters’ hopes. For yet another year, they’ll have to endure that rain cloud hanging over their heads.

Wounded deer kicks, kills hunter

A managed deer hunt in a Fort Wayne, Ind., park turned tragic when a wounded deer apparently kicked a hunter trying to finish it off with a knife.

Authorities found Paul J. Smith, 62, of Fort Wayne, unconscious and seated against a tree. Smith died shortly afterward, despite attempts to revive him.

The complete story is here, in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

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

Self-defense: Teen hunter kills mountain lion

AP/Oregon Fish & Wildlife photo

If a mountain lion had gotten to within 10 feet of me when I was 15 years old, I might have soiled my pants. Kudos to this kid for keeping his head and doing what needed to be done.

From the Associated Press:

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says a 15-year-old deer hunter shot and killed a mountain lion that was only 10 feet from him.
The boy, of Wayne, shot the cougar Saturday near Creighton in northeast Nebraska. Officials say he was hunting a shelterbelt in Knox County and spotted the mountain lion 10 feet away before shooting it.
Mountain lions are protected year-round in Nebraska, but may be killed if threatening people or attacking livestock. Officials say no charges will be filed, as evidence indicated the shooting was in self-defense.
A commission expert says the mountain lion was a young male. The cougar’s carcass was turned over to Game and Parks officials, as required by law.