Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

That’s a lot of poachin’!

nrplogoWow.

Eight men from West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle are facing 77 charges of illegal bear hunting. West Virginia Natural Resources Police filed charges against the men after a months-long investigation into their alleged violations. Here are the details, from the Division of Natural Resources’ news release:

ROMNEY, W.Va. – Natural Resources Police Officers have completed an investigation that has resulted in the arrest of eight men on 77 charges of violations of West Virginia game laws involving the illegal hunting of black bears. The investigation began in September 2015 when an illegal bear baiting site near Mount Storm in Grant County was reported to the DNR District 2 office in Romney.
Lead investigators Sgt. G.M. Willenborg and Senior Natural Resources Police Officer A.D. Kuykendall, assisted by natural resources police officers from Mineral, Grant and Pendleton counties, completed the investigation and filed the charges. The alleged illegal bear hunting violations occurred between May 2015 and September 2015. Charges have been brought against the following individuals and are pending in court. The charges identified are allegations and any defendant is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Mark Allen Lampka, Jr. of Mount Storm, West Virginia, was charged with violations ranging from (2 counts) illegal trapping of bear, (4 counts) illegal killing of bear, (6 counts) illegal possession of bear, (2 counts) spotlighting bear, conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code, hunting without permission, hunting bear during closed season and other game law violations. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Daniel Boddy of New Creek, West Virginia, was charged with (2 counts) illegal killing of bear, (2 counts) illegal trapping of bear, (4 counts) illegal possession of bear, spotlighting bear, conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code and other game law violations. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Chad Fridley of Mount Storm, West Virginia, was charged with illegal killing of bear, spotlighting bear, (2 counts) illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Steve Thomas Lyons, Jr. of Elk Garden, West Virginia, was charged with illegal killing of bear, spotlighting bear, hunting bear with use of bait, illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Grant and Mineral counties.
Dustin Knaggs of New Creek, West Virginia, was charged with illegal killing of bear, spotlighting bear, illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Mineral County.
Terry Kuh of Maysville, West Virginia, was charged with spotlighting bear, hunting bear with use of bait, illegal possession of bear, illegal taking of bear during closed season and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Grant County.
James Scott Kuhn of New Creek, West Virginia, was charged with hunting bear with the use of a trap, illegal possession of bear, and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Mineral County.
Ronnie P. Bothwell of Burlington, West Virginia, was charged with hunting bear with the use of a trap, illegal possession of bear and conspiring to violate Chapter 20 of the West Virginia State Code. These charges were brought in Mineral County.

 

 

CWD infected deer (NY Dept. of Env. Conservation)By now, just about everyone familiar with deer hunting has learned at least a little bit about chronic wasting disease.

Here in West Virginia, CWD was discovered in 2005 in the state’s Eastern Panhandle, near the Hampshire County town of Slanesville. The state Division of Natural Resources set up a containment zone, placed restrictions on the transportation of animals outside the zone and began sampling the population to discover the extent of the outbreak.

West Virginia is by no means the only state dealing with CWD problems. The true extent of the disease can’t be known because the disease’s delayed onset keeps animal-health officials about half a step behind when it comes to diagnosing chronic wasting disease’s extent and spread.

The University of Georgia’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Survey probably has its finger on the national CWD pulse better than just about any other organization. SCWDS officials recently documented what they know in a newsletter devoted exclusively to the the disease. It’s a fascinating read, and it points to the increasingly obvious evidence that captive-deer breeding and high-fence hunting facilities are hotbeds for CWD’s ever-accelerating spread.

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.”

west-virginia-dnr-logo1West Virginia’s state government is in the midst of some belt-tightening, but Division of Natural Resources officials say sportsmen probably won’t notice any change in the agency’s fish- and wildlife-related programs.

“I think we’ll be able to continue with no major impacts being felt by the public,” said Paul Johansen, chief of the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Section.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered state agencies to implement an across-the-board 4 percent cut, but Johansen said the cut applies mainly to funding drawn from taxpayers.

“We receive very little of that ‘general revenue’ money,” he explained. “Most of our money comes from ‘special revenue’ sources, such as fees paid for hunting and fishing licenses.”

Only a tiny fraction of the agency’s budget comes from the state’s general-revenue fund. Johansen said the lion’s share comes from hunting- and fishing-license fees and from the federal government’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

“Certainly, we’ll abide by any of the cuts that apply to us, such as the ban on nonessential travel. We don’t engage in nonessential travel anyway, but we will certainly be watching our travel budgets,” he said.

While Johansen said the DNR’s major programs will remain unaffected, one minor one might suffer some ill affects. The Upper Mud River Wildlife Management Area gets its funding from general-revenue sources, and so is subject to Tomblin’s 4 percent cutback.

“We’ll have to adjust the budget for Upper Mud. budget cuts for upper mud…one area we have that is funded primarily through general revenue sources….admin of WMA…will be taking 4 percent cut there, will have to adjust accordingly. There might have to be some reductions in the hours that the area’s recreational facilities are open,” Johansen said.

(DNR photo) Ryan Bosserman with a 61.8-pound, 50.2-inch bighead carp from the Ohio River.
(DNR photo)
Ryan Bosserman with a 61.8-pound, 50.2-inch bighead carp from the Ohio River.

If anyone needs evidence that invasive Asian carp are making it into West Virginia waters, they need only to check out the adjacent photo.

It shows Ryan Bosserman, acting manager of the state’s Apple Grove Fish Hatchery, holding a 61.8-pound 50.2-inch bighead carp. The fish was found dead (or nearly so) recently in a lock chamber of the nearby Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. Corps of Engineers employees alerted the folks at the hatchery, and some of Bosserman’s assistants retrieved the fish.

Although two Asian carp species — bighead and silver — have taken over entire ecosystems in some of the Ohio’s lower tributaries, Division of Natural Resources biologists believe that won’t happen in West Virginia’s Ohio and Kanawha rivers because the rivers’ currents are too strong. The fish tend to favor slow-flowing waters.

One thing’s for certain, though: The Ohio seems perfectly capable of growing really large specimens, at least of the bighead species.

W.Va. man survives bear attack

(AP Photo) Apparently not all bears scurry up trees when humans approach.
(AP Photo)
Apparently not all bears scurry up trees when humans approach.

From the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources:

MOUNT NEBO, West Virginia – The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) has investigated an attack on a man by a black bear in the Mount Nebo area of Nicholas County, West Virginia, according to Colin Carpenter, black bear project leader for the DNR.
On August 26, 2015, a man was knocked down and bitten several times by a female black bear after he had unexpectedly walked up on a cub in the trail. The man fought back aggressively and was able to deter the female bear, according to Carpenter. The man escaped the attack with minor injuries. A lack of physical evidence from the bear and delayed reporting of the attack precluded any attempts to capture the offending animal.
“Bear attacks on humans are rare, but this recent incident should serve to remind people how unpredictable wild animals can be,” said Carpenter. “Although this appears to be a defensive attack by a female with young cubs, the fact that the man fought back aggressively most likely prevented more severe injuries.”
Black bears are very active during late summer and fall, and feed extensively to add body weight before winter. They will take advantage of all available food sources, including trash, pet food and bird seed. Residents are reminded to secure garbage in a bear-proof container or facility until the morning of trash pickup, remove and store bird feeders until late fall, and make sure outside pets are only fed the amount of food that they will eat each day.
Nuisance black bear activity usually subsides as natural food sources become available in the fall, but residents should stay vigilant to avoid attracting bears to their property.

The attack on the unidentified man is the second verified bear attack on a West Virginia resident in recent years. In 2004, bear hunter Philip Propst of Pocahontas County was bitten by a bear his dogs had cornered during a summertime training chase. A Morgantown woman reported that she was knocked down by a bear in 2014, but a subsequent investigation found no evidence that an attack had occurred.

 

 

(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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Bad weather is putting W.Va. deer hunters behind

Mountain State hunters are 'weathering' a poor whitetail season
Mountain State hunters are ‘weathering’ a poor whitetail season

By now, West Virginia’s deer hunters must be shaking their heads.

Weather for the state’s whitetail seasons has hovered somewhere between rotten and atrocious. Wildlife officials haven’t yet collected and counted game-check tags, but when they do, expect the tally to turn out equally rotten and atrocious.

Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the Division of Natural Resources, said heavy rains on the second day of the buck firearm season and snow on the third day has hunters playing catch-up.

“The first three days of the season are historically when the bulk of the buck and antlerless-deer harvests take place,” he said. “We had nice weather on opening day, but after that it got bad in a hurry.”

Many hunters head home after three days to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families. After that, weather on the season’s two Saturdays usually determines how many more deer get killed. This year’s weather was far from good enough to bring hunters out in droves.

And now the muzzleloader season has started with snow on the ground, rain in the air, flooding in rivers and streams, and more snow on the way.

Can’t a hunter catch a break around here?

A feel-good wildlife conservation story

Photo by Maslowski/NWTF

I had a lot of fun writing this Sunday Gazette-Mail feature, mainly because it was a chance to tell what I believe is one of West Virginia’s all-time wildlife-related success stories. It tells how, in just a couple of decades, wildlife workers managed to spread the state’s turkey population from just 16 counties to all 55:

It’s been two weeks since West Virginia’s spring turkey season got underway, and thousands of hunters have already bagged a gobbler or two.
Most of those birds wouldn’t have been there had it not been for countless hours’ worth of work on the part of the state’s wildlife biologists and game managers, who quite literally spread the state’s turkey flock statewide by trapping wild turkeys and relocating them to counties where they hadn’t been seen for decades.
Jim Pack, the Division of Natural Resources’ turkey project leader from 1970 to 2005, presided over what has become known as the state’s “trap and transplant” program.
“What we did was very effective, but we were only able to do it because [earlier DNR biologists] had laid the groundwork for it,” he said. “In the years between the 1940s and the late 1960s, they had figured out which [management techniques] worked and which ones didn’t.”
West Virginia’s first statewide turkey census, conducted in the mid-1940s, painted a bleak picture. Turkeys, which thrived statewide when the state was settled, were almost gone.
“By the 1940s, the population was down to about 4,500 birds, and those were concentrated in just 16 counties, mostly in the Monongahela National Forest and the Eastern Panhandle,” Pack said.
To reintroduce the popular game bird to its original range, wildlife officials at the time tried stocking turkeys hatched and pen-raised at the West Virginia Game Farm in French Creek. The effort failed.
“That was tried several times, from the late 1940s to as late as the early 1960s,” Pack said. “I don’t remember any of [the stockings] ever being successful.”
Biologists figured — correctly, as it turned out — that pen-raised birds simply lacked sufficient survival skills to make it in the wild. One DNR employee, the legendary Wayne Bailey, started trapping wild birds and stocking them in places where game-farm birds hadn’t yet been placed.
Bailey trapped the birds by building wire cages and setting out long bait lines that led turkeys into the traps.
In a 2001 interview, Bailey admitted that not all the transplanted turkeys came from West Virginia.
“I often trapped on Allegheny Mountain, along the Virginia-West Virginia border, and I always put the [trap] site on the West Virginia side. But I ran the bait lines way down into Bath County, Va. Virginia was transplanting turkeys and didn’t even realize it,” he said.
The first trap-and-transplant stocking took place in 1950, in Preston County near the Mason-Dixon Line.
“That was kind of an interesting stocking,” Pack recalled. “As it was told to me, the birds crossed the line into Pennsylvania, got started there, and then expanded from there and came back into West Virginia.”
The cage traps Bailey used weren’t very efficient. They seldom yielded more than four or five birds at a time, which often wasn’t enough to start a flock. Pack said those small stockings seldom had a chance to work.
“In some instances, the [hunting] season got opened on them too soon,” he recalled. “At other times, not enough birds got put out. It was a learning process. The stocking program got carried up to 1962, but was stopped because it wasn’t getting the job done.”
 It wasn’t until biologists began using “cannon nets” — nets that could be flung over entire turkey flocks by explosive charges — that trap-and-transplant became truly viable. Pack said former DNR assistant wildlife chief Jim Ruckel was the official most responsible for resuming the stockings.
“Jim deserves a lot of credit. He said we wouldn’t put out five or six birds like we had in the past. We started putting out 30 to 50 birds in every stocking. From the time we restarted the trap-and-transplant program in 1970 until we made our last stocking in 1988, not a single stocking failed.”
Though biologists get a lot of credit for the restocking effort, Pack said the true heroes were the DNR’s wildlife managers.
“For the most part, they were the ones out there doing the trapping,” he said. “They did the grunt work. Turkey trapping is a hard, seven-day-a-week job, and they were the ones out there getting it done.”
Pack and his colleagues had a simple formula for making the stockings work.
“Our policy was to put the birds in the most suitable habitat first, and to work our way down the list to the least suitable habitat,” he said.
Despite concerns that politicians would dictate where the stockings got made, DNR officials were mostly able to stick to their plan.
“In all those years, we only made one political stocking,” Pack said. “Fortunately, it was in a county with suitable habitat, and the birds did just fine.”
The last trap-and-transplant stocking, near the Logan-Mingo county line, filled in the final blank in the DNR’s map of turkey-populated counties. From the original 16 mountain and Eastern Panhandle counties, biologists had conducted stockings in 32 counties. Pack said the remaining seven counties didn’t have to be stocked because nearby populations had expanded into them.
In 1989, just one year after the Logan-Mingo stocking, hunters killed turkeys in all 55 counties for the first time in decades. Pack considers the stockings to be “one of [the DNR’s] biggest wildlife successes.”
“The stockings greatly speeded up the process of reestablishing turkeys statewide,” he said. “Their range would have expanded naturally, but with natural expansion we might not have birds in every county even today.”