Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Fla. panther death rate approaches record

Most panther deaths are roadkills

It’s both good news and bad news: The recent death of an endangered Florida panther brings the 2010 death rate to near-record levels.

It’s bad news, of course, because the panther population needs all the individual animals it can get. It’s good news because a record number of dead panthers indicates a relative abundance of individual animals.

Florida wildlife officials say radio-collared panthers are producing roughly 100 cubs a year. Not all panthers are radio-collared, so the actual reproduction rate is even higher.

The Fort Myers News-Press has the full story.

Great news from EPA: No lead sinker ban!

Here’s the story, as reported by the Associated Press:

The Environmental Protection Agency denied on Thursday a petition by several environmental groups to ban lead in fishing tackle, two months after rejecting the groups’ attempt to ban it in hunting ammunition.
The EPA said that the petition did not demonstrate that a ban on lead in fishing tackle was necessary to protect against unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act.
In a letter to the American Bird Conservancy, one of the groups that filed the petition, EPA Assistant Administrator Stephen A. Owens said that a number of steps are being taken to address the concerns of lead in fishing tackle. Among them: limitations of lead in fishing gear on some federal lands; bans or restrictions on the state level; and federal and state outreach and education efforts.
“The emergence of these programs and activities over the past decade calls into question whether the broad rulemaking requested in your petition would be the least burdensome, adequately protective approach,” Owens wrote to the conservancy’s director of conservation advocacy, Michael Fry.
In their petition, the groups had argued that lead from spent hunting ammunition and lost lead fishing gear causes the deaths of 10 million to 20 million birds and other animals a year by lead poisoning.
Fry assailed the EPA’s decision. “The EPA has apparently completely abdicated its responsibility for regulating toxic lead in circumstances where wildlife are being poisoned,” he said.
Fry suggested the reason for the decision was politics: “The political appointees have acted in this administration not like heads of agencies, but like they’re running for office.”
In a statement, the EPA said: “This decision is based solely on an analysis of the facts and the law. EPA conducted a careful review of this petition and made a determination that the petitioners did not make the case that is required under (the law) to undertake a national ban on lead in fishing gear.”
The petition, filed three months ago, stoked alarm among outdoorsmen, and members of the House and Senate introduced legislation aimed at preventing the EPA from regulating ammunition or fishing tackle.
The American Sportfishing Association praised the EPA announcement.
“It represents a solid review of the biological facts, as well as the economic and social impacts that would have resulted from such a sweeping federal action,” said group vice president Gordon Robertson. “It is a commonsense decision.” He argued that a lead ban would increase costs and price out many anglers, which in turn would decrease tax and license revenue for fisheries conservation.
In 1994, under President Bill Clinton and EPA administrator Carol Browner, now White House energy adviser, the EPA actually proposed banning lead and zinc in certain smaller-size fishing sinkers. The agency said in a statement at the time: “The ingestion of even one small fishing sinker containing lead or zinc can result in the death of a water bird.”
The proposal sparked a backlash in Congress. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced the “Common Sense in Fishing Regulations Act” in 1995 that would have blocked the EPA from implementing it. The agency eventually abandoned the proposal.
The American Bird Conservancy filed the petition in August along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Association of Avian Veterinarians, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and a hunters group called Project Gutpile, seeking a ban on lead in both hunting ammunition and fishing tackle.
The petition cited nearly 500 peer-reviewed scientific articles that the groups said document the toxic effects of lead on wildlife. These studies “conclude that the lead components of bullets, shotgun pellets, fishing weights and lures pose an unreasonable risk of injury to human and wildlife health and the environment,” the Aug. 3 petition argued.
The EPA earlier rejected the ammunition part of the petition, saying it didn’t have authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but that it would make a decision on the part pertaining to fishing tackle. In September, 60 groups wrote to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson asking her to grant the petition for both ammunition and tackle. 

Judge’s ruling could jeopardize game regs

Fair chase a thing of the past?

Hold onto your skivvies, folks, the hunting community  just might be in for a wild ride.

A judge in southeastern Missouri has ruled that the state’s regulations against deer hunting from vehicles or hunting with dogs are unconstitutional.

Two hunters sued the state, saying the regulations were overly broad and not easy to understand. The judge agreed with their arguments.

The ruling could have ramifications elsewhere, including here in West Virginia. One, it might launch a tidal wave of lawsuits from hunters who disagree with state-imposed regulations. Two, it might spook state wildlife agencies to rewriting some of their regulations — with no guarantee the amended regulations would resist future challenges.

The Associated Press story on the ruling:

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A southeast Missouri judge has ruled that state regulations prohibiting the use of dogs and vehicles in deer hunting are so vague that they are unconstitutional.
Missouri Department of Conservation spokesman Joe Jerek said Friday that department lawyers are still deciding whether to appeal the ruling handed down earlier this month by Ripley County Circuit Judge Robert Smith.
Ripley County hunters Neil Turner and Bobby “Shannon” Jones sued in February over the regulations, which prohibit such things as hunters driving through the woods or using dogs to scare deer out into the open, or shooting deer from a car. Violations are class A misdemeanors.
The regulations “are vague, overly broad, indefinite and fail to establish sufficient standards so that people of ordinary intelligence must necessarily guess at their meaning,” Smith wrote in the Aug. 5 ruling.
“In our area, hunting is not only for recreation but it is a part of our way of life and any infringement of this right must be constitutional,” Smith wrote.
At issue are Conservation Department regulations that prohibit the use of a “motor-driven air, land or water conveyances” while deer hunting. The department also has a regulation stating that deer may not be “hunted, pursued, taken or killed with the aid of dogs, in use or possession.”
“Big picture, these regulations are in place to help ensure ethical hunting and fair chase, and also, based on our scientific management, to help protect and sustain wildlife species,” Jerek said.
But Daniel Moore, an attorney for Turner and Jones, said the wording confuses both hunters and the conservation agents charged with enforcing the regulations.
“It left it up to the agent’s interpretation, and you can’t have a law applied based upon the feelings of a law officer,” Moore said. “Where it says you can’t pursue deer with the aid of a vehicle, who the hell knows what that means?”
Turner was arrested and faces federal charges after a 2008 undercover investigation into illegal hunting activities, known as “Operation Pulling Wool.” Moore said negotiations continue with federal prosecutors and he is hopeful the case will be settled before it goes to trial.
“We’re not against hunting regulations, but it’s just fair if you don’t know whether you’re in violation or not,” Moore said.
Jerek said the acts prohibited by the regulations are also covered by other laws and regulations, and “are still considered impermissible” despite the judge’s ruling.

Anglers’ litter infuriates me

A great fishing spot, trashed

This week’s column is more like a rant. It follows up on a recent blog post about litter at West Virginia’s Marmet Locks and Dam:

I went to one of the Kanawha Valley’s favorite fishing spots to get photos of people fishing.
I ended up taking photos of garbage.
The people were missing, driven off by bright sunshine, high humidity and 95-degree afternoon heat. I stood at the head of the stairways that led down to the Marmet Locks fishing pier, camera in hand, wondering if there might be fishermen on the banks downstream. To find out, I walked down the metal staircase to the fishing pier.
The farther I walked, the madder I got.
Trash littered the fishing pier from one end to the other. I stepped over Styrofoam worm tubs, balls of discarded fishing line, empty lure packages, plastic chicken-liver containers, pop cans, fast-food wrappers and chunks of broken-up Styrofoam coolers.
Plastic grocery bags filled with even more debris hung from the catwalk’s metal handrail. At least two trash bags, each stuffed with rubbish, lay on the cross-piers that supported the walkway.
The sight infuriated me so much I decided to share it with you. I started snapping photos. At the same time, I started putting together a mental outline for a column to accompany the images. This column.
At first I planned to call for the temporary closure of all Kanawha and Ohio River piers. “Let those litterbugs do without for a while, and maybe they’ll appreciate what a precious resource these fishing piers really are,” I thought. “Maybe then they’ll take clean up after themselves.”
I quickly realized, however, that such a draconian approach wouldn’t work.
For one thing, it’s not at all clear who would have the authority to order a closure. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls some of the facilities. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission controls others. The Division of Natural Resources has agreements with both entities to allow public access to the piers.
A call to Bret Preston, the DNR’s head of warm-water fisheries, revealed yet another complicating factor. Cleanup responsibilities don’t necessarily rest with the DNR, FERC or the Corps of Engineers. In some instances, a social service agency hires developmentally disabled people to clean up the piers. In Marmet’s case, the town government handles the cleanup.
I know what you’re thinking: “Why in the heck aren’t those entities doing a better job of keeping the place clean?”
My response: They shouldn’t have to. If anglers were being responsible, there wouldn’t be any trash to clean up.
“If you can carry it in, you should carry it back out,” a Boy Scout leader told me years ago.
Clearly that’s not happening at Marmet. Fishermen able-bodied enough to descend and climb the steep steps to the piers apparently don’t consider themselves able-bodied enough to carry out empty chicken-liver containers, even though they carried them in full.
Perhaps the summertime heat is making wimps of them. Maybe all that casting tires them out. Possibly — just possibly — the excitement of landing a 12-inch white bass turns their arms and legs to jelly. Or maybe they just don’t give a damn.
I vote for that last one.
Immature pangolins

Why in the world would anyone want to eat an anteater, let alone one covered in scales?

Apparently there’s quite an appetite for pangolin meat, which explains why Chinese authorities are having to guard against smugglers who traffic in pangolin carcasses.

Customs agents in the Chinese province of Guangdong recently intercepted one of the largest-ever shipments of illegally smuggled pangolins. The June 5 bust turned up 2,090 frozen pangolin carcasses and 92 cases of pangolin scales. The animals apparently had been collected  in southeast Asia by five Chinese nationals and were on a boat bound for the Xiangzhou port in Guangdong.

Pangolin meat and scales are prized in China. The meat is considered a delicacy, and the scales are believed to benefit breast-feeding mothers. Pangolins are rapidly disappearing in southeast Asia, and now we know why.

The spirit was willing but the eyes were weak

Yes, they DO catch fish!

This past weekend I traveled to the headwaters of West Virginia’s Elk River to report on fishermen who catch trout on tiny, tiny flies.

How tiny? “Standard” sized trout flies are usually tied on size-12 to size-18 hooks. These flies are tied on some of the smallest hooks available — size 28 to 32. In the photo at left, you can see (if you look closely) five of the flies arrayed around a dime.

I’m 55 years old. My close-up vision abandoned me years ago. Tying one of these itsy-bitsy pieces of fluff onto a gossamer leader now requires serious magnification. Even with a 4X magnifier, it took me half an hour just to tie a simple dry-and-dropper rig onto my leader.

And I still didn’t do it right. The first time the rig floated over a trout, the fish rose and slurped the dry. When I tightened the line, the fish surged — and the line went slack. One of my knots had slipped.

Moral of the story, at least for me? Don’t try to rig up while standing next to a stream filled with rising trout! Sometime in the near future, I’ll rig up several tippets’ worth of dry-and-dropper rigs in the comfort of my home, taking full advantage of the powerful magnifiers and intense lights I have at my disposal for fly tying.

When I was a young man, I tied size-22 flies by the dozen — without magnification and without particularly good light. Now I practically need a scanning electron microscope just to tie them to my leader, let alone create them from bits of fur and feathers. Getting old really stinks…

Ohio deer poacher gets $25,000 fine

The $25,000 buck / Ohio DNR photo

Johnny Clay of Minford, Ohio, is more than $25,000 poorer since a judge slapped him with a $1,500 fine and a $23,572 replacement fee for poaching a trophy buck.

The deer, whose 13-point rack scored 197 2/8 inches on the Boone & Crockett Club scoring scale. It was the largest buck taken last year in the United States.

D’Arcy Egan, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s long-time outdoors writer, has the full story, including Clay’s infamous history as a wildlife violator.

What a waste of a perfectly fine animal.

Travelin’…

I’m out of town on an assignment this morning and will be gone most of the day. I’ll resume posting this evening.

Fishing just got really expensive in Connecticut

ctlogoWe West Virginians sometimes complain about the price of our fishing licenses. Rather than complain, we should thank our lucky stars we don’t live in Connecticut.

Anglers there just had their license prices double in just one year. That’s right. Double. A resident license that cost $20 a year ago now costs $40.

Anglers aren’t happy. The Hartford Courant has their reaction.

dnrlawlogoOfficers from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Section have arrested three adults and two juveniles from Braxton County for what the officers call “thrill killings” of deer.

Here’s the DNR’s news release:

SUTTON, W.Va. – Three adults and two juveniles from Braxton County have been arrested and charged with multiple violations of West Virginia wildlife laws in what Division of Natural Resources (DNR) LawEnforcement officers are calling “thrill kill” deer poaching incidents.

In October 2009, DNR conservation officers began finding numbers of dead deer adjacent to several roads in Braxton County. The locations, position of the carcasses and in some cases information supplied by the local citizens led the officers to become suspicious of what might have been written off as deer struck by vehicles. However, upon closer examination of the carcasses, the officers determined that the animals had wounds consistent with being hit by a low velocity projectile that officers later learned were slugs fired from a .410 shotgun.

Officer K.W. Bingaman and Officer D. Duffield began asking questions of nearby residents and increasing patrols in the area. They developed information that a group of poachers was driving these areas, spotlighting the deer and then shooting them with some type of firearm that left a wound inconsistent with either a centerfire rifle or a .22 caliber rimfire, the most common weapons used to poach deer. Most of the killing was occurring in the early hours of darkness.

By late October, the officers got a break in the investigation. Deputy Rob Brady of the Braxton County Sheriff’s Department overheard a remark by a juvenile who then showed the deputy a large set of deer antlers and allegedly initially remarked that the deer was “shot the other night” but later changed his story, stating that another individual killed the deer with a bow on Nicholas Run. Deputy Brady passed this information on to Officer Duffield. Additional information from residents revealed that Joshua Samples, Ashley Johnson, Jack Jenkins and a second juvenile were also allegedly involved in the killing of multiple deer.

The conservation officers began a series of interviews that resulted in conflicting stories and a complex tale of many nights of spotlighting deer, shooting at some deer and missing, wounding other deer that ran off to die and killing some deer outright. Of the deer that were killed outright, a very few are alleged to have been taken to the residence of the second juvenile and processed for consumption. Conservative estimates based on the suspects’ statements and the evidence was that 30-plus deer may have been killed by this alleged poaching ring during a two month period.

The conservation officers’ investigation placed both juveniles in the company of Jack Jenkins on the night of November 8, 2009.  On that night they allegedly shot and wounded or killed at least two deer. Court records indicate that Jenkins, who was the suspected shooter, is a convicted felon allegedly prohibited by both state and federal law from possessing a firearm.

Charges have been lodged in Braxton County Court and are pending action. All of the alleged conspirators were from the Sutton and/or Gassaway areas of Braxton County. No hearing dates have been set. Defendants and the criminal charges they face are as follows:

Joshua Samples, age 19 — Three counts of spotlighting with an implement for taking; three counts of hunting from a motor vehicle; three counts of illegal taking of deer; three counts of illegal possession of wildlife; and four counts of conspiracy to violate game laws.

Ashley Johnson, age 20 — Two counts of spotlighting with an implement for taking; two counts of hunting from a motor vehicle;  two counts of illegal possession of wildlife; and two counts of conspiracy to violate game laws.
Jack Jenkins, age unknown — Two counts of spotlighting with an implement for taking; two counts of hunting from a motor vehicle; two counts of having a loaded firearm in a vehicle; two counts of shooting from a road; and two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Juvenile #1 — Three counts of spotlighting with an implement for taking; three counts of hunting from a motor vehicle; three counts of illegal taking of deer; and three counts of illegal possession of wildlife.

Juvenile #2 — Three counts of spotlighting with an implement for taking; three counts of hunting from a motor vehicle; and five counts of conspiracy to violate game laws.
“The skills and tenacity of Officers Bingaman and Duffield, along with the cooperation of concerned citizens and an alert Deputy Brady, resulted in the senseless destruction of the citizens’ natural resources being stopped,” said Capt. M.A. Waugh of the DNR District 3 office in Elkins.  “Anytime wildlife is taken illegally it robs the honest sportsman of the chance to lawfully harvest game and limits the opportunity to introduce a new generation of young people to the outdoor sports. “

All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.