Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Drones cause stress to wildlife, study says

A study performed on black bears shows that their heart rates increase when drones fly nearby. Maybe when Amazon starts delivering via drone, they'll change their minds.
A study performed on black bears shows that their heart rates increase when drones fly nearby. Maybe when Amazon starts delivering via drone, they’ll change their minds.

A new study in the journal Current Biology says that people who buzz wildlife with drones might very well cause stress to the animals, even though the critters being buzzed might not show overt signs of being agitated.

Scientists who conducted the study monitored the heart rates of black bears as a drone flew near the bears. Though the animals appeared impassive, their heart rates spiked whenever the drones approached.

On a related note, not all animals are content to sit (or fly) idly by when a drone approaches. In Australia, a wedge-tailed eagle became a You Tube sensation when it attacked a flying drone and knocked the contraption plumb out of the sky.

Apparently drones irk wildlife as much as they do some people.

A new beginning…

Hi, Folks!

Just a quick note to announce the re-launch of the Gazette-Mail’s Woods & Waters Blog! Tune in regularly to catch my posts on hunting-, fishing- and nature-related stories here in West Virginia and beyond!

The blog is just one of the ways we folks here at the Gazette-Mail are planning to enhance your enjoyment of our outdoors coverage. Look for my tweets on Twitter, too, and don’t be surprised if you see some outdoors video pop up from time to time on the Gazette-Mail website!

All the best,

Bear gets zapped, starts wildfire

Imagine that — a black bear nominee for a Darwin Award. Gotta watch how you climb those power poles…

From the Associated Press:

BRADFORD, Pa. (AP) — Investigators say a black bear caused a small wildfire in the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania by climbing a utility pole and knocking down some power lines.
Firefighters from Lafayette and Corydon townships responded to the fire about 130 miles northeast of Pittsburgh about 3:30 p.m. Monday.
Penelec officials determined the bear was electrocuted when they responded. Lafayette Township Fire Chief Don Fowler tells the Bradford Era that investigators believe the bear might have detected a buzzing noise from the wires and climbed the pole thinking there was a beehive.
The wildlife damaged less than a quarter of an acre.
Firefighters were on the scene about 45 minutes.

Moose moms rough up humans to protect young

AP Photo

When it comes to protecting offspring, mama grizzlies apparently have nothing on moose mamas — as Alaskans are finding out.

From the Associated Press:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska wildlife biologists are warning about the dangers of moose calving season after several people were injured in the past week by protective cows, including a 6-year-old girl who was stomped by one in her backyard until her father scared it off with a log and a baseball bat.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Jessy Coltrane said cow moose are giving birth now, and people need to be extra careful in and near the woods.
“Cows are dropping calves all over town right now,” Coltrane said. “Those cows are so defensive of their little babies. They will literally stand there on the edge of the woods watching you, and if you take one step into their personal bubble, they’ll come out hooves flying.”
The warning comes after 6-year-old Chloe Metzger was stomped by a moose Monday in her Eagle River backyard. She suffered a broken clavicle and injuries to her back, according to Wednesday’s Anchorage Daily News.
The same day, a moose struck a man outside an Anchorage elementary school, but he was uninjured, police said. Over the weekend, a moose charged and injured at least two mountain bikers on trails at a south Anchorage park.
Chloe Metzger’s mother, Julie, said her daughter and an 11-year-old friend were jumping on a trampoline when they decided to venture toward the woods into some nearby bushes.
They encountered the moose, which chased them back into the yard. The older girl ran and hid in a playhouse with an attached swing set, Julie Metzger said.
“My daughter didn’t make it. I looked out, and she was curled in a ball protecting her head,” she said. “Everybody was screaming.”
The moose stomped on Chloe’s back with its two front hooves until Julie’s husband, Wade, threw a log at it, she said. It stunned the moose long enough that Chloe was also able to run to the playhouse, and Wade Metzger threw a baseball bat at it, Julie Metzger said.
Unfortunately for the girls, the moose ran into the swing set, became tangled and injured the older girl as well, Julie Metzger said. Eventually they were able to scare away the animal and rush Chloe to a hospital, where she had surgery.
The moose was calm when Coltrane and another biologist went to see it Monday after the attack.
Coltrane said moose can be unpredictable this time of year.
Several groups of mountain bikers learned that over the weekend on the trails at Kincaid Park. A couple of them were injured when a moose either attacked or drove the bikers off the trail, she said.
“It was all fast-moving, blind corners and basically running smack into the moose,” Coltrane said. “I would definitely recommend to people to get a new hobby for the next couple weeks.”

96-year-old hunter limits out on turkeys

I absolutely love stories like this. From the Associated Press:

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Ninety-six-year-old Bill Tanner can’t hunt turkeys any more this season. He’s bagged his limit.
The spring season ends May 1. But Tanner, of Jackson, got his third gobbler Thursday, about a week after his birthday.
He started hunting at the age of 8, he told The Clarion-Ledger. “My dad let me take a .410 shotgun and hunt squirrel in a small swamp in Smith County about a mile wide and a few miles long.”
He hunted turkey before there was a state wildlife department, let alone a turkey season.
“Get the limit every year,” he said. “Well, back in the days when I started turkey hunting I may not have gotten the limit. That’s because we didn’t have many turkey. There were years I didn’t see or hear a turkey. It’s not like it is now.”
Tanner estimates he was 21 or 22 when he got his first turkey. Squirrel hunting helped him pay for his first gun — a single-shot Southern Arms 12 gauge shotgun with a 32-inch barrel. He says he sold dressed squirrels for 15 cents each to raise $4 for the gun.
Tanner has taken good of care of that gun, just as he has himself.
“He’s very active,” said his wife, Kathryn Tanner. “He rides his 4-wheelers, gardens and all. I don’t worry about him going hunting and doing all that stuff, but I don’t like him out in bad weather because of pneumonia.
“But he’s tough. He came from Smith County and that makes him tough.”
Tanner says the secret to his longevity is “good dirt and good genes” — Smith County roots and a father who lived to be “98 years and one day.”
Photo by Maslowski/NWTF

In anticipation of tomorrow’s gobbler-season opener, here’s this week’s column:

It’s dark, and you’re breathing hard. The climb to your favorite turkey-hunting spot seemed a little steeper than you remembered. You sit at the base of a large oak and try to catch your breath.
The woods are quiet. The gray half-light of dawn won’t appear a while yet, so you use the time to put out a decoy, load your shotgun, don your head net and gloves, set a box call on your thigh and pop a diaphragm call into your mouth.
A loud blowing sound shatters the silence. You startle, and then smile, realizing that a deer caught your scent and snorted. The deer’s hoofbeats recede, and silence reclaims the hilltop.
The silhouettes of surrounding trees take form as the sky brightens from inky black to dove gray. Your ears perk up as you listen for …
There! From an adjoining ridge, a turkey greets the dawn with a throaty gobble. To your right, no more than 100 yards away, a long-tongued longbeard thunders its response.
Cautiously, you slip a slate call from your vest. You touch the wooden striker to the slate and scratch out a soft yelp.
The gobbler to your right booms an answer. You want to call again, but experience has shown you’d better play hard-to-get. The gobbler rattles the treetops again. You stay quiet.
Wingbeats! He must have flown down. You know that if you play your cards right, he’ll come looking for that hen he thought he heard. Nervously, you face his direction. You shoulder the shotgun and rest its barrel on your right knee.
Your ears reach out for any telltale sound, any sign at all that the gobbler might be headed your way. An ovenbird’s song — teacher, teacher, teacher! — is all you hear.
Senses shift into overdrive. Your eyes sweep the ridgeline, searching for movement. Nothing.
You yelp again. Six notes this time, and a little louder. No response. Your brow wrinkles. Could that old bird have found a hen already?
Somewhere over your right shoulder, you hear the geese. It’s a flock of Canadas, headed for a nearby lake. You listen as the ha-ronks build to a crescendo, and, after the big black-necked birds pass overhead, you watch the chevron until it fades into the distance.
“Funny,” you think. “All that noise should have caused a gobble or two. Wonder why it didn’t? Is that gobbler gone, or has he just gone silent?”
Serendipity. A woodpecker hammers away at a tree down the hill, and the gobbler breaks his silence. He sounds closer – maybe just over the brow of the ridge – so you firm up your grip on the gunstock.
As quietly as you can, you cluck. Once. Twice. Pause. Thrice.
He gobbles! Seconds later, you hear a spitting sound, followed by a low, resonant boom more easily felt than heard. He’s strutting! Somewhere over the hill, he’s strutting!
Another cluck. This time, silence.
There! A speck of red appears from behind a tree, barely 30 yards away. Heart pounding, you thumb the shotgun’s safety.
Dawn’s curtain has lifted. Opening morning’s overture has played. It’s show time …

Reporting poachers, cyber style

Since it’s now possible to buy hunting or fishing licenses online, it seems only fitting that sportsmen should be able to go online to report poachers as well. Check this out, from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources:

Reporting poaching activities just became easier. Last week DNR Law Enforcement added a Web page to the WVDNR.gov domain letting sportsman report illegal poaching statewide. When a sportsman reports a violation the information will be e-mailed to the proper supervisor responsible for the area.  To view the site click here: http://www.wvdnr.gov/LEnforce/Poachers.shtm

Hunters who carry smart phones should be able to report suspicious activity from the field, quickly and quietly.

Cool stuff, if you ask me…

Wolf hunting ‘settlement’ gets unsettled

As the court ruling turns…

Remember that settlement between wolf conservation groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? A federal judge has thrown it out. From the Associated Press:

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has denied a proposed settlement agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 10 conservation groups that would have lifted endangered species protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula on Saturday rejected the agreement that could have led to public hunting of some 1,300 wolves in the two states.
In the 24-page decision, Molloy cited the court’s lack of authority to put part of an endangered species population under state management and expose that population to hunting, noting “Congress has clearly determined that animals on the ESA must be protected as such,” and the court couldn’t “exercise its discretion to allow what Congress forbids.”
He also said he couldn’t approve the settlement proposed in March because not all the parties involved in the case agreed with it. Part of the argument for the settlement was that it could end litigation, but Molloy noted that was unlikely given the opposition by some to the proposed settlement.
Saturday amounted to a one-two punch for the 10 conservation groups as Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson on the same day announced wolves in Montana and Idaho would be taken off the endangered list under the budget bill pending before Congress.
One of the reasons the 10 conservation groups entered into the settlement was because of growing political pressure and potential Congressional action to reduce wolf numbers in Montana and other states due a gradual increase of wolf attacks on livestock and some big-game herds suffering declines. The groups hoped a favorable court decision would provide greater protection for wolves than lawmakers might provide.
So the groups not only lost in court on Saturday, their fears concerning lawmakers removing federal protections for wolves also became more real.
“The congressional threat was very much on people’s minds when we negotiated the settlement,” said Andrew Wetzler of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “In light of the court ruling, it’s going to make it more difficult to derail the rider that may well be attached to the budget deal that will provide much fewer protections for wolves than the settlement would have.”
The proposed settlement effectively asked Molloy to reverse his previous rulings on the matter. Last August he faulted the Fish and Wildlife Service for a 2009 decision that took wolves off the endangered list in Montana and Idaho but not neighboring Wyoming. He said decisions on the Endangered Species Act should be based on science and not on political boundaries, such as state lines.
The federal government appealed that decision, leading to the proposed settlement agreement that has now been rejected.
“I can’t blame Molloy for the ruling,” said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the 10 conservation groups favoring the settlement. “It’s a very tortuous situation. We entered into a settlement agreement we didn’t love but thought it was the lesser of two evils.”
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, one of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit that did not agree to the settlement, said Molloy’s rulings have consistently followed federal law, and his rejection of the settlement followed those same principles. Just because some of the plaintiffs agreed to the settlement doesn’t make the deal any more legal, said Michael Garrity, the group’s executive director.
“We think the fastest way to remove (wolves) is for everybody to work together so they can be legally removed from the endangered species list,” Garrity said.
Suckling said the center wouldn’t appeal Molloy’s decision, but planned to work to stop the wolf rider on the in the budget bill pending before Congress. Wetzler said his group would do the same, but was reserved about the possibility of success.
“Idaho and Montana have long maintained that they can responsibly manage wolf populations,” he said. “They may get the chance to prove that. And we’ll be watching.”
Garrity called the rider “bad news for wolves.”
“We don’t think congress should gerrymander the Endangered Species Act,” he said.
An official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Saturday.

Want to read a genuine success story? Here’s one, courtesy the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources:

CHARLESTON, W.Va.— Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin today announced the Governor’s One Shot Whitetail Deer Hunt raised a record $75,000 in donations for the Hunters Helping the Hungry (HHH) program. The event, held Dec. 5 and 6 at Stonewall Jackson Resort State Park in Lewis County, has been held the past four years to raise money for HHH, which is administered by the Division of Natural Resources.
“The Governor’s One Shot Committee set a very ambitious monetary goal for last year’s event and I congratulate them on their success,” Gov. Tomblin said during a check presentation at the Capitol on March 2. “I also want to thank all those who participated, from the hunters to the business sponsors, because they put food on the table for many West Virginia families. While I look forward to this year’s hunt, which will be the event’s fifth anniversary, I’d like to encourage West Virginians to make year round donations to our food pantries.”
The first event, held in 2007, raised $17,000, the second in 2008 raised $35,000, and the third in 2009 raised $50,000.
The HHH program allows hunters to donate legally-harvested deer to certified processors so the meat can be distributed to soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, senior centers, missions, churches and community centers around the state. The HHH program has been highly successful since it began in 1992, providing more than 100,000 meals to the neediest of West Virginians. However, the program also requires cash donations to pay for processing and distribution costs to benefit these needy individuals.
The One Shot event is sponsored by DNR and the One Shot Committee. Private individuals and businesses donate money for the opportunity to participate in guided antlerless deer hunts on private property near Stonewall Jackson Resort State Park and end the event with an auction and an award banquet. All venison from the hunt, along with profits from the sponsorships, goes to HHH.
“While we want to thank all our dedicated volunteers for their hard work and time, it simply couldn’t have happened without the generous support of the many corporations and individuals who are willing to put their money where their mouths are,” said DNR Director Frank Jezioro. “They stepped up again this year and were overly generous in bidding on the many articles donated for auction at our event and purchasing the corporate tables for the banquet. Having different organizations underwrite most of the cost of the event enables us to give the major portion of the money raised directly to the HHH program.”
Gov. Tomblin and Director Jezioro also commended the landowners who allowed the participants to hunt on their property, providing not only a place to hunt, but also an opportunity to remove antlerless deer from overpopulated areas. Special thanks went to the many guides, who gave of their time to help the participants find the deer and assist with the harvest.
“We are already planning for this year’s event,” Jezioro said. “We have been contacted by new people and corporations that want to be part of next year’s Governor’s One Shot event for Hunters Helping the Hungry. At this time of giving there can be no greater gift than helping to feed less fortunate West Virginians.”
More information about the HHH program can be found at www.wvdnr.gov/Hunting/HHH.shtm or by calling 304-558-2771.

Budget cuts could include hunting lands

I suppose they’re a grim and unfortunate sign of the times, but budget cuts can really stink.

Just ask Georgia’s widlife officials. The budget they’re submitting for the upcoming fiscal year calls for a cut of up to 15 percent in the amount of land the state Department of Natural Resources leases for public hunting.

If the cuts occur, hunters would lose access to about 25,000 acres.

The full story is here, in the Rome News-Tribune.

West Virginia has so far avoided the same fate, largely because our Division of Natural Resources officials had the vision to set up a steady, dedicated source of revenue to fund land leases and acqusitions. Each “Conservation Stamp,” which must be purchased with every hunting or fishing license, puts $3 into a DNR fund that pays for land acquisition and capital improvements.