Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

tiger-attacking-womanOh my.

When I saw the headlines, I figured for sure that this latest tragedy was an example of someone vying for a Darwin Award by trying to “pet the big striped kitty.” Sadly, there’s more to it than that.

According to the Shanghaiist, a woman was killed after another woman stepped out of her car inside a Beijing safari-style wildlife park. The woman who got out of the car apparently had been arguing with a male passenger. Almost as soon as she stepped from the vehicle, she was attacked by a tiger. The second woman got out to help the first one, and she was killed. The first woman was hospitalized with what were described as severe injuries.

People who drive through the park are cautioned not to get out of their vehicles. In the heat of the moment, that admonition appears to have been forgotten — with tragic results.

Some websites, including the one linked above, are linking to what appears to be surveillance-camera video of the attack. I’m not sure because I won’t watch it. The still photo is gut-wrenching enough.

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.

Does it really measure up?The world of kayak bass fishing got rocked to its core recently when the winner of a Kayak Bass Series tournament on Tennessee’s Dale Hollow Lake got caught using an altered measuring device.

The angler, later identified as Andrew Shepherd of Prestonsburg, Ky., was disqualified after tournament officials noticed something funny about the photos Shepherd turned in to have his tournament-winning catch verified. In kayak bass fishing, contestants are required to measure and photograph each fish on a “bump board,” a broad ruler that cradles the fish. A vertical stop at one end of the bump board ensures accurate measurement by making sure each fish’s nose gets placed at the same spot.

Sharp-eyed judges figured out that Shepherd’s bump board had had 4 inches removed from it, which had the effect of making the bass he caught appear 4 inches longer. Shepherd allegedly disguised the subterfuge by holding his hand over the fish in way that concealed the alteration.

Not surprisingly, Shepherd’s disqualification triggered a social media firestorm from indignant anglers.

One unanticipated side effect of the incident could be that anglers will lose confidence in so-called “golden rule” tournaments, which rely on anglers’ honesty in measuring and reporting their catches. I suppose that when hundreds or even thousands of dollars in prize money are at stake, verifying results takes on even more importance.

‘Blaze pink’s’ time is coming

blazeOn Feb. 4, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill that made it legal for hunters to wear fluorescent pink — aka “blaze pink” — instead of blaze orange during the state’s hunting seasons. A similar measure is moving smoothly through the Louisiana Legislature. From the Associated Press:

The Louisiana House voted 95-5 Wednesday to add the fluorescent color “blaze pink” as an alternative to the traditional “hunter orange” that hunters are required to wear under state law.
Bogalusa Rep. Malinda White, a hunter who sponsored the bill, says she thinks the addition would encourage more women to hunt. The Democratic lawmaker, who wore a pink shirt and glasses to debate the measure, says Wisconsin has passed a similar provision.
Rep. Neil Abramson, a New Orleans Democrat, worried about the safety of wearing pink, questioning if it would be visible enough.
The bill, supported by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, heads next to the Senate for debate.

Rep. White’s assertions aside, some women’s groups are steamed about the bill because they think it casts female hunters as shallow beings who would let themselves be swayed to hunting simply because they could wear a “woman’s color.”

The bottom line, to me, is whether the color prevents its wearer from being mistaken for game. Studies have shown that fluorescent pink shows up slightly better than orange, especially under low-light conditions. Fluorescent chartreuse shows up even better; that’s why road and construction crews wear it.

If lawmakers would detach themselves from gender politics and vote solely on the merits of the colors’ visibility, hunters might have their choice of fluorescent orange, pink or chartreuse clothing. My only question is what they’re waiting for.


Wildlife calendar racks up another award

Image courtesy W.Va. Div. of Natural Resources
Image courtesy W.Va. Div. of Natural Resources

West Virginia’s annual Wildlife Calendar is a little like the West Virginia University rifle team — it just keeps winning and winning.

The calendar’s latest honor is the Gold Award from the Calendar Marketing Association. This marks the second time West Virginia’s calendar, produced by the state Division of Natural Resources, has captured the top honor. In addition to the two golds, the calendar has won a slew of silver and bronze awards through the years.

DNR officials began publishing the calendar in 1985. It always features original wildlife art produced, for the most part, by Mountain State artists. It also is packed with information — natural history facts, hunting and fishing regulations and articles about fish and wildlife.

This year’s competition featured hundreds of calendars from around the country. According to a DNR release, awards were based on “the superiority of the artwork, readability, information quality and originality.”

Previews of coming W.Va. attractions

Southern West Virginians are in for a treat.

Sometime within the next year or so, state wildlife officials will stock elk into portions of Logan and Mingo counties. The herd will be allowed to grow until it spreads over all of four counties — Logan, Mingo, McDowell and Wyoming — and parts of Boone, Lincoln and Wayne.

The treat will come during the elk mating season, which begins in late August and can extend through October. When they’re in a romantic mood, bull elk advertise their presence by making a sound known as “bugling.” It sounds sort of — well, it’s hard to describe. It’s probably better to hear it for yourselves. YouTube contains several examples of it; here is a brief one:

(Photo courtesy Westernbass.com) Greg Gasciel with his new Michigan state-record smallmouth bass.
(Photo courtesy Westernbass.com)
Greg Gasiciel with his new Michigan state-record smallmouth bass.

A note to West Virginians who like to fish for smallmouth bass: A new state-record bronzeback just might be lurking somewhere in the waters of the state.

I can’t offer proof, of course, but I can offer evidence that even the longest-standing state records can be broken. Last Sunday, a Michigan man caught a 9.33-pound, 24.50-inch smallmouth from Hubbard Lake in Alcona County. Greg Gasiciel was bait-casting with a green grub when the big fish hit.

Michigan’s previous record of 9.25 pounds had stood for 109 years. That should give hope to anglers in the Mountain State, where the smallmouth record has stood for 44 years.

It was in 1971 that a fellow named David Lindsay caught a 9.75-pound, 24.25-inch bronzeback from the South Branch of the Potomac in Pendleton County. No one has yet come close to breaking the record, but if the Michigan fish is any indication, it’s possible.

Scientists find another tick-borne disease

Dog Tick (photo from Wikimedia Commons / Gary Alpert)
Dog Tick (photo from Wikimedia Commons / Gary Alpert)

As if Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever weren’t enough, federal researchers have found a new disease that can be carried by ticks. From the Associated Press:

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Federal health investigators have confirmed that ticks carry the new virus that sickened two Missouri men.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspected ticks were a likely source of the Heartland virus, which was named for the St. Joseph hospital where the men were treated in 2009.
A study published Monday and authored by Harry Savage, a CDC research entomologist, said samples from ticks taken from the patients’ farms and other land in northwest Missouri have tested positive for the Heartland virus. The study was published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .
“It’s the first time that anyone found the virus in the environment,” Savage said. “This is yet another tick-borne disease in the U.S., and it’s another reason to take preventative measures to avoid tick attachment and tick bites.”
There are no treatments for Heartland virus, which can cause low white blood cell counts, fever, chills, diarrhea and other symptoms. Both Missouri men, who are the only recorded cases of Heartland virus, recovered after nearly two weeks in the hospital.
When the two men arrived at Heartland Regional Medical Center in 2009 complaining of fever and fatigue, Dr. Scott Folk at Heartland suspected ehrlichiosis, a common tick-borne disease that has infected at least 126 people in Missouri this year. The patients, however, didn’t respond to antibiotics used to treat ehrlichiosis. Folk then sent blood samples to the CDC, where researchers determined it was a new insect-borne virus, but were uncertain which insect was carrying the virus.
CDC scientists traveled to northwest Missouri to collect ticks and mosquitoes in an effort to trace the virus. Samples taken last year from the patients’ farms and the Honey Creek Conservation Area tested positive for the Heartland virus. About one in 500 nymph, or adolescent, ticks collected near one of the patient’s homes contained the virus.
Savage said the Heartland virus is probably spread elsewhere in Missouri too, though there haven’t been any other reports of Heartland illnesses. It’s likely patients have caught the virus and been misdiagnosed, because there is no quick, reliable test.
Dr. Ericka Hayes, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University, said it’s not surprising that the Heartland virus was discovered in Missouri because Missouri leads the nation in tick-related diseases. Preventive measures to avoid tick bites include tucking pants into socks, wearing long sleeves and using bug repellent with DEET.
“If you’ve been outside in Missouri, you should be going over yourself head to toe,” Hayes said. She said it takes 24 hours or more for a tick to transmit a disease to a person. “If you can prevent the tick (from attaching), it doesn’t matter what disease they’re carrying.”

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


NOAA photo

A new report from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reveals that fishermen suffer more deaths from lightning than any other group.

Since 2006, 26 people anglers have died after being struck. Campers came in second on the list with 15 deaths, closely followed by boaters with 14.

Interestingly enough, 82 percent of those who died were male.

NOAA released the study to mark the kickoff of National Lightning Safety Awareness Week.


Dog’s rescue could lead to charges

Valley Falls (WVencyclopedia.com)

From the Associated Press:

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — The superintendent of Valley Falls State Park will decide over the next few days whether to file charges against a couple whose dog was swept over the waterfalls and two fishermen who violated a swimming ban when they jumped in to rescue it.
Superintendent Ron Fawcett has pulled eight bodies out of the frigid, swift-moving Tygart Valley River in the 18 years he’s run the Fairmont park. He said Monday that the body count nearly rose when a couple went wading with two dogs and a little girl.
One dog jumped off a 2.5-foot ledge, was swept over the first set of falls and became stranded on the rocks Saturday, Fawcett said. Two fishermen jumped in to rescue it, and one of them was nearly swept over the second set of falls.
Fawcett said he screamed and gestured at the fishermen to stop, but they couldn’t hear him over the roar of the water. Now he’s consulting with the Marion County prosecutor’s office on whether to charge them.
Swimming, wading and the consumption of alcohol are banned at the park, and signs warn of the dangers and fines. Though fines can be as little as $20, Fawcett said court costs are about $168.
Fawcett said media reports about the possibility of charges have made some people angry, but he doesn’t care.
“I’d rather have people getting ticked at me than pull them out dead,” he said Monday. “This place is beautiful, but it will kill you in a heartbeat.”
Two brothers died in September 2008, and the wife of one nearly died trying to rescue them, Fawcett said.
More than 150 drownings have been documented, he said, most in the past 60-70 years.
Fawcett, a trained diver, said the river is the most dangerous place he’s dived in 30 years. Water travels downstream about 10 miles from a 140-foot dam, he said, and it remains “ice cold” when it hits the park.
“If you don’t get the bodies out within 10 minutes, they’re so gelled up you can’t revive them,” he said. “I’ve taken eight bodies out of here, so I know how fast it can happen.”
The current sucks back up under the falls, “and that’s a big, giant whirlpool,” Fawcett said. Hidden below is another hazard — twisted railroad steel washed into the river after an 1888 flood.
“I had it under control. I had a boat and firemen on the way, and it just escalated,” he said of Saturday’s incident. “We could have wound up with two dead people and a dead dog.”
Authorities in Barbour County are also worried about drownings in the river.
They say a swimming ban at the Pleasant Creek Wildlife Management Area could drive more swimmers to a popular hangout near Arden called Party Rock.
Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins said the strong current can sweep and hold swimmers under water. Alcohol and drugs are often involved in the accidents and drownings.
Authorities have already rescued three teenagers and a dog this season.
Hawkins said his deputies have increased patrols, and they’ll enforce a state law that bans parking within 10 feet of the roadway.
County Commissioner Phil Hart said officials are considering new signs to warn people of the dangers.