Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

pokemongoYes, it’s true. The Pokemon Go craze is taking the world by storm.

Newspapers (the Gazette-Mail included) have run stories about Pokemongers wandering the streets of the city while staring intently into their cellphones. There have been reports of people trespassing on private property to collect Pokemon. Pundits beyond number have decried the game because it keeps players even more inseparably tethered to their mobile devices.

I think the inimitable Sgt. Hulka from the movie, “Stripes,” said it best: “Lighten up, Francis.”

At least the Pokemon players are outside. In this day and age when kids and adults spend far too much time vegetating inside their homes, anything that gets them outside into the fresh air and sunshine should be viewed as a godsend.

Are people doing dumb things because of this game? Yes. Do a few people get so wrapped up in it that they put themselves (or others) in danger? Yep. But at least they’re outside. And while they’re outside, they’re getting a healthy dose of what recreation specialist Kim Hawkins calls “Vitamin N” — nature. Those who don’t walk off cliffs or stride headlong into lampposts are walking miles and miles in the good ol’ outdoors. It’s an example all of us should follow, whether or not we play the game.

Yellowstone bison calfIt was a “facepalm moment” for everyone concerned.

A few days ago, a couple of foreign tourists to Yellowstone National Park decided that a bison calf looked cold. They put the calf in the back of their van to warm up. When park rangers tried to return the calf to its mother, the herd wouldn’t accept it. Rather than allow the young bison to starve to death, rangers euthanized it — unpleasant, to be sure, but necessary under the circumstances.

Since that recent unfortunate event, the Terribly Concerned have clucked and tut-tutted their high-minded little heads off. To them, the incident was evidence that too many of The Great Unwashed are being allowed into Yellowstone and other national parks. Rather than risk the life of some other bison calf, bear cub, wolf cub, mule deer fawn or elk calf, the Terribly Concerned are proposing that some national parks might be better off if — well, if people were kept out of them.

Excuse me? Weren’t national parks created specifically for people’s recreational benefit?

It is true that the sheer volume of people sometimes causes problems. The main road through Yosemite National Park, for instance, becomes a giant traffic jam during the park’s high season. Wildlife in Yellowstone are often crowded and harassed by nature-ignorant visitors.

As bad as those things are, though, I don’t believe the answer is to put a virtual plate-glass cover around parks in order to save them from “the rabble.”

Traffic problems can be engineered away. Human ingenuity knows no bounds, and solutions can be found for most any problem.

As long as people remain ignorant about wildlife, however, conflicts will continue to occur. Wild animals go where they want to go and do what they want to do. People might encounter them anywhere. Tourists who don’t know how to deal with animals will inevitably make mistakes. Sometimes, as with the bison calf, the animals suffer the consequences.

At other times, the humans do.

The first time I visited Yellowstone National Park, in 1984 or thereabouts, the ranger at the gate handed me a flyer about the park’s wildlife. The flyer warned that bison killed and injured more visitors than all other species combined.

“Is that really the case?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” the ranger replied. “Just last week, we had a visitor who decided to take a picture of a big bull bison that happened to be lying beside the road. The man didn’t want a picture of a bison lying down, he wanted a picture of one standing up. So he walked over to the bison and kicked it in the rear end. The bison whirled around and killed him on the spot.”

Some people can’t be saved from their own ignorance. For them, perhaps a Darwinian approach is the way to go.

Bear cubs can drown in their dens?

Perhaps bears' winter hibernation isn't as safe as we think it is.
Perhaps bears’ winter hibernation isn’t as safe as we think it is.

I suppose anything is possible, but Maryland wildlife officials definitely surprised me when they theorized that some black-bear cubs drown in their dens when deep snows melt in spring.

Here’s the story, from the Associated Press by way of the Cumberland Times-News:

CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) — Maryland wildlife officials are concerned that some bear cubs may have been drowned this winter because of fast-melting snow that could have flooded their dens.
The Cumberland Times-News reports that the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service will begin checking bear dens on Wednesday.
Black bear project leader Harry Spiker says that when weather conditions were similar in the past, crews have gone to dens where cubs were known to have been born in January and the young bears aren’t there. He says sometimes drowned cubs are eaten by their mother.
Spiker says crews are hoping to visit the dens of nine radio-collared sows over the next three weeks in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties. Each March, the agency sedates the sows and pulls the cubs for inspection, tagging and veterinary treatment.

Mortality low in urban deer, study shows

Research shows that the greatest danger to the fawns of urban deer is being hit by vehicles.
Research shows that the greatest danger to the fawns of urban deer is being hit by vehicles.

Researchers at Ball State University have discovered that the fawns of deer that live in urban surroundings suffer much lower mortality than fawns of deer in rural settings.

They attribute the increased survival to a lack of predators. For rural fawns, the greatest cause of mortality is being eaten by coyotes. Not surprisingly, the greatest cause of mortality to urban fawns is being hit by cars.

You can read up on the Ball State study on their Facebook page or on their website.

That’s one honkin’ big bobcat!

Photo courtesy of Jon Rogers
Photo courtesy of Jon Rogers

What would you do if you stepped out onto your deck one morning and found that a bobcat had dragged a deer carcass almost to your back door?

Jon Rogers, who lives just south of Charleston not far from Corridor G, didn’t haul the carcass away. Instead he set up a trail camera nearby in the hope he might capture a photo or video of the critter responsible for the carcass. He didn’t have to wait long. The cat returned to feed on the carcass, and Rogers ended up with some nifty still photos and video clips.

As you can tell from the accompanying photo, the bobcat turned out to be a really big one. Rogers said he sent a picture to a Division of Natural Resources official, who told him that it was one of the biggest he’d ever seen.

(National Park Service photo) Once West Virginia gets its elk-stocking program started, large bulls like this might become commonplace sightings in the state's southwestern coalfields.
(National Park Service photo)
Once West Virginia gets its elk-stocking program started, large bulls like this might become commonplace sightings in the state’s southwestern coalfields.

West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation apparently have finalized plans for the state’s elk restoration (read: stocking) plan.

They’ve sent out invitations to government and media types for a Sept. 11 shindig at the Chief Logan Conference Center, at which a formal announcement will be made. According to the invitation, the creation of a new wildlife management area will also be announced. My guess is that the new area will be rather large. Elk are big critters that require lots of room, and if the new area will be used to launch the elk-stocking program, it stands to reason that the area would be several thousand acres in size.

An announcement also would seem to indicate that DNR officials have found a source for the elk they plan to import. That’s interesting, because Kentucky — the most likely source — is currently sending its surplus elk to Wisconsin. There had been talk of asking Kentucky’s Fish and Wildlife Commission to allocate some animals to West Virginia, and perhaps that’s what has happened.

I guess we’ll all find out on the evening of Sept. 11.


Rare W.Va. crayfish found in another stream

(Photo courtesy Zach Loughman)
(Photo courtesy Zac Loughman)

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

A West Liberty University researcher conducting crayfish surveys for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has discovered a new location where Guyandotte River crayfish live within that species’ historical range in Wyoming County, West Virginia. The researcher located the crayfish in the Clear Fork watershed and reconfirmed the species in its presumed last known location in Pinnacle Creek. However, the species was not found at any other historical locations in the Upper Guyandotte River basin.

The researcher, Zac Loughman of West Liberty University, rediscovered Guyandotte River  crayfish in 2009. Up until then, biologists believed the species had gone extinct. The Fish and Wildlife Service funded further surveys this summer to firm up the picture as to whether rare crustacean should be placed on the Endangered Species List.

Finding the crayfish in two locations removes a little of the pressure to put it on the list, but only a little. Under the law, Fish and Wildlife Service officials have until next April to make their decision. If the crayfish qualifies for endangered or threatened status (either of which seems likely), the service will have to identify its critical habitat and put in place measures to protect that habitat from being degraded.

That could place additional restrictions on coal and timber operators in the Pinnacle Creek and Clear Creek watersheds. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have already identified sedimentation from “fossil energy development, road construction and forestry operations” as the primary threat to the species’ continued survival.

California’s ‘lone wolf’ has a family

(Photo courtesy California Department of Fish & Wildlife)  One of the photos released Aug. 20 by California officials shows wolf pups roaming about the countryside not far from Mt. Shasta.
(Photo courtesy California Department of Fish & Wildlife) One of the photos released Aug. 20 by California officials shows wolf pups roaming about the countryside not far from Mt. Shasta.

Trail cameras deployed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have confirmed the presence of a wolf pack in northern California.

A lone male wolf had been observed in the region earlier in the year, and biologists put out trail cameras to try to gather more evidence on its comings and goings. On Thursday, DF&W officials announced they had photos of the wolf, its mate and five pups.

The “Shasta Pack,” so named because their proximity to Mt. Shasta, has wildlife officials and conservationists all a-twitter. Biologists believe the predators are the descendants of wolves originally stocked in Idaho. The Idaho pack eventually spread into Oregon, and from there apparently into California.

Braxton County’s weird-eared deer

The ear-tufted deer, as seen in Braxton County. (Photo by Bob Dawson)
The ear-tufted deer, as seen in Braxton County. (Photo by Bob Dawson)

I guess it’s possible to see just about anything in nature, even a white-tailed deer with long tufts of hair growing out from its ears.

Reader Bob Dawson sent in the accompanying photo, which he took when he saw the deer in his back yard near the Gilmer County line. Dawson said he sent the photo to a Division of Natural Resources biologist who told him he’d never seen anything quite like it. The biologist suspected the deer might have some piebald (white-splotched deer) genes. Dawson acknowledged there is at least one piebald deer in his area, but added that the piebald is too young to have borne the whitetail with the ear tufts. He believes the pictured animal survived the recent hunting season.




Wolf kill confirmed in Kentucky

Gray wolf
Gray wolf

Wildlife officials got quite a surprise recently when an animal, shot and killed in west-central Kentucky earlier this year, was confirmed to be a gray wolf.

Wolves hadn’t been seen in the Bluegrass State for more than a century, but all that changed on March 16, when varmint hunter James Troyer shot an animal he believed to be a coyote. The 73-pound creature turned out to be a wolf. To be sure, Kentucky wildlife officials shipped the carcass off to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s genetics lab in Oregon. Scientists there identified the remains to be those of a gray wolf.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has the full story here, in a news release.

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