Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

This week’s column explains how West Virginia’s trout fishermen are getting the short end of the budgetary stick:

The shoe has dropped.
West Virginia wildlife officials now know how the recent federal budget sequestration is going to affect them — and you.
It’s not pretty if you’re a trout fisherman.
Division of Natural Resources administrators said the upcoming 5.1 percent cut in federal Sport Fish Restoration funding will give the DNR $186,000 less each year to spend on fish management. Curtis Taylor, the agency’s wildlife chief, said the state’s trout-stocking program will probably take the worst hit.
“It won’t affect [stockings] this year, but in the future we’re talking about stocking fewer trout, smaller trout, and cutting streams that currently receive weekly stockings to one stocking every two weeks.”
The trout program is so vulnerable because nearly three-fourths of its $2.6 million annual budget comes from federal Sport Fish Restoration money. Sportsmen who buy fishing tackle pay an 11 percent federal excise tax, which in turn gets returned to state fish agencies based on the amount of fishable water and the number of fishing license buyers in each state.
West Virginia’s small population and lack of water make it a “minimum state,” one that receives the minimum cut of Sport Fish funding. DNR officials spend $1.8 million of that annual allocation on the trout program.
Why so much? Trout stocking is expensive.
“During our last fiscal year, we spent $478,000 on trout food and $211,000 on vehicle expenses,” Taylor said.
Personnel costs usually eat up most of any agency’s budget, but Taylor said the trout program is a notable exception.
“Most of the money associated with the trout program is in raising and stocking fish,” he explained. “To reduce staff wouldn’t be smart.”
Instead, DNR officials hope to cut costs by raising fewer fish. It currently costs about $1 to raise a trout from an egg to catchable size. Further money could be saved by cutting back on feedings, which would result in smaller trout.
That would remove at least one source of pride from the state’s hatchery workers, because on average West Virginia stocks the largest trout of any eastern state.
Cutting back on the number of stockings would create even bigger savings. Taylor said the state’s stocking list includes 33 streams that receive weekly stockings from March through the end of May.
“If we move all of those to a biweekly schedule, it would save 264 stocking runs,” he added. “With gas at $4 a gallon, that’s a considerable saving.”
The worst thing about the trout-program cuts is that they probably won’t be a one-year thing. The sequester could last as long as 10 years, and even at the end of that time there’s no guarantee  Congress will let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service release the money to the states.
Wildlife funding got cut, too, but because excise-tax receipts from guns and ammo have been running far above average the past two years, the cuts are offset by the higher receipts.
The bottom line is that Congress is doing something it has no legal authority to do — to divert money from the Sport Fish Restoration and Wildlife Restoration funds. Those monies belong to sportsmen. They paid the taxes with the promise they’d get the money back.
And now, here in West Virginia, we who bought fishing rods and reels and lures and lines will not get our full share of what we paid into that system.

 

Two sides of the elk-stocking coin

Good and bad

This week’s column takes a look at the fervor that often precedes elk-reintroduction programs, and the consequences those reintroductions can create:

Elk have become a bit of a controversial subject in West Virginia.
Some hunters are clamoring for the Division of Natural Resources to launch an elk-stocking program. Opponents are concerned that reintroducing such large animals might cause unforeseen impacts.
It’s interesting, then, that two bordering states are experiencing each side of the coin.
Maryland wildlife officials just finished a public-opinion survey that showed strong support for the stocking of elk in Garrett and Allegany counties.
The study, done by arguably the most respected outdoors-related opinion research firm in the country, revealed that 72 percent of Marylanders would like to see elk reintroduced to the Old Line State.
Interestingly, only 68 percent of the people who live in Garrett and Allegany counties want the reintroduction to happen.
The survey suggested that elk-based tourism would generate close to $3.1 million a year.
My friend Mike Sawyers, who writes for the Cumberland Times-News, reported that wildlife officials haven’t yet determined whether the region contains suitable habitat for such large critters.
As a whole, though, it appears folks in Maryland are getting all het up about having elk.
Not everyone is as enamored of the idea.
Just outside the opposite border of West Virginia, citizens of eastern Kentucky have quite literally taken up arms to thin out an elk herd that’s making their lives miserable.
For the past three years, Kentucky wildlife officials have allowed residents in the Stoney Fork area to shoot and kill elk that come down from the mountains, trample lawns, tear up shrubbery and get hit by cars.
Elk were reintroduced into eastern Kentucky in 1997. In just 15 years, the state’s herd has grown to more than 10,000, all confined into roughly a 15-county area.
The animals’ presence has been a boon to tourism, and carefully managed elk hunts have attracted sportsmen from throughout the country. In at least a few areas, though, the 500- to 700-pound creatures have become overpopulated.
Stoney Fork is sort of the poster child for elk problems. Residents grew so upset that state wildlife officials began issuing depredation permits, much the same as West Virginia issues deer-damage permits.
People are particularly worried about elk-vehicle collisions. Hitting a 110-pound deer with a car can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of vehicle damage. Hitting a 600-pound elk can total a car in no time.
According to an Associated Press report, more than 100 Kentucky elk have been killed in deer-vehicle collisions since 2005. Pickup trucks have been flipped upside-down from the impacts. The AP report contained an account of a bull elk crashing through the windshield of a Geo Metro.
There is no doubt that a thriving elk herd in West Virginia would help the state’s coalfield counties to attract more tourists and hunters.
There is also no doubt that if elk become abundant enough, problems similar to those in Stoney Fork would eventually arise. A magnificent 7-by-7 bull elk in the wild is a stirring sight; the same critter frozen in the headlights of your car is downright terrifying.
DNR officials want to allow the state’s elk herd to build naturally, with animals that migrate across the border from Kentucky and Virginia. Would-be elk hunters want a stocking program.
Whatever happens, the ultimate result will likely be a combination of good and bad. But isn’t that the way it goes with just about everything?

Trout stockings begin today!

 

Coming soon to 55 West Virginia trout waters.

Heads up, everyone! West Virginia’s trout stocking season begins today. Trucks were scheduled to begin rolling early this morning from the state’s seven trout hatcheries. Before the month ends, 55 waters — 28 streams and 27 lakes or ponds — will receive a total of 35,000 pounds of trout.

Division of Natural Resources officials don’t divulge which streams were stocked until after the trucks have run. The list of streams stocked each day gets posted here on the DNR’s website every day between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m.

W.Va. DNR issues mast survey results

White oak acorns (Ohio DNR photo)

From the Associated Press:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — For every serious hunter it’s a must have: the annual mast survey.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has issued the 2012 edition of the survey of fall foods available to deer, bear and turkey. Game management services supervisor Chris Ryan says for hunters, the survey is a critical tool to know the availability of food for the animal they’re stalking.
The division’s wildlife section partners with other agencies to conduct the fall survey of mast produced by 18 species of trees and shrubs. They found, for instance, that the production of acorns is well above the 42-year average, while beechnuts and walnuts are below their long-term average.
The survey is as available at DNR offices or on its website.

I highlighted the mast survey’s findings in one of my recent columns. You can read it here.

With one shot, a hunter is born

Sabrina Gravely with her first squirrel (Charlotte Slagle photo)

Congratulations to 12-year-old Sabrina Gravely of Marlinton, who killed her first squirrel recently with a single shot from her trusty .22 rifle.

This is just the sort of action West Virginia wildlife officials hoped would happen when they started opening the squirrel season in early September instead of early October. Knowing that many kids get their first hunting experience with squirrels, they figured a lengthened season would help attract more young people to the pastime.

Sabrina bagged the bushytail while hunting in Pocahontas County with her dad, Jim Gravely. You go, girl!

 

There’s probably no better time than right now to wet a line at park ponds throughout West Virginia. Division of Natural Resources workers have just finished stocking adult channel catfish in a slew of those ponds.

For details, here’s the DNR news release:

           SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) has stocked more than 8,000 catchable-size channel catfish during the week of May 14, according to WVDNR Director Frank Jezioro.  This popular stocking program provides fishing opportunities at popular and accessible lakes across the state.
            Lakes stocked are: Anawalt Lake (McDowell Co.), Barboursville Lake (Cabell Co.), Berwind Lake (McDowell  Co.), Cacapon State Park Lake (Morgan Co.), Cedar Creek State Park Lake (Gilmer Co.), Chief Logan State Park Lake (Logan Co.),  Conaway Run Lake (Tyler Co.), Coopers Rock Lake (Monongalia Co.), Edwards Run Pond (Hampshire Co.), French Creek Pond (Upshur Co.),  Handley Pond (Pocahontas Co.), Hurricane Lake (Putnam Co.), Indian Rock Lake (Nicholas Co.), Krodel Lake (Mason Co.), Laurel Lake (Mingo Co.), Little Beaver State Park Lake (Raleigh Co.), Mason Lake (Monongalia Co.), Mountwood Lake (Wood Co.), North Bend State Park Pond (Ritchie Co.), Pendleton Lake (Tucker Co.), Pipestem State Park Lake (Summers Co.), Tomlinson Run State Park Lake (Hancock Co.), Wallback Lake (Clay Co.), and Wirt County Farm Pond (Wirt Co.).
            As part of a cooperative effort with West Virginia State Parks, a total of 400 tagged channel catfish have been stocked into eight state park lakes, including: Cacapon State Park Lake; Cedar Creek State Park Lake; Chief Logan State Park Lake; Little Beaver State Park Lake; North Bend State Park Pond; Pipestem State Park Lake; Tomlinson Run State Park Lake; and Pendleton Lake at Blackwater Falls State Park.
            Anglers catching a tagged catfish and following the tag instructions for reporting the catch will receive a “tagged fish reward.”  The reward is a choice of a ride to Whittaker Station at Cass Scenic Railroad or a ride to Blennerhassett Island on the sternwheeler, The Island Belle.
            Anglers who catch a tagged fish are asked to return the tag or tag number along with information on the date of capture, if the fish was kept or released, and the name and address of the angler to WVDNR, 2311 Ohio Ave, Parkersburg, WV 26101.  Anglers also can call in the information (304-420-4550) or provide the information via e-mail dnrfishtags@wv.gov.

Big changes for hunters of antlerless deer

Since some blog readers don’t read the rest of the Gazette website, I’ll post here today’s news story about West Virginia’s new antlerless-deer regulations:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The people who set West Virginia’s hunting seasons have finalized a set of regulations designed to have hunters kill many more female deer.
Members of the state Natural Resources Commission on Sunday approved regulations for the state’s 2012 big-game seasons, including those for deer. The new regulations seek to reduce deer populations in most counties by increasing bag limits for antlerless deer and creating incentives for hunters to kill antlerless deer instead of bucks.
One of the new regulations’ most salient features include a requirement that hunters in counties with very high deer populations must kill an antlerless deer before they’re allowed to kill a second antlered buck. The change will be in effect during both the archery and firearm seasons.
Another significant change — which will go into effect in 2013 — will allow hunters to take up to two deer a day, provided at least one is antlerless. This year, however, hunters will be allowed to kill just one deer a day.
The approved regulations also include a significant change to the antlerless-deer bag limits. In counties that had two- or four-deer limits in 2011, the 2012 bag limit will change to three. Wildlife officials sought the change in an attempt to simplify the regulations.
For towns and cities that hold urban deer seasons, the commission approved dramatically more liberal regulations. In place of bag limits that varied from town to town, a statewide bag limit of seven deer will go into effect this fall. Of the seven, two can be antlered bucks and the remainder must be antlerless. Municipalities will be able to open their special seasons as early as the second Saturday in September.
To increase the take of female deer before the “rut,” or deer-mating season, commissioners approved a new three-day, late-October firearm season for antlerless deer. This year’s season will be held Oct. 25-27.
The new October season forced wildlife officials to split the state’s fall turkey season.
The original Division of Natural Resources proposal called for three weeks of turkey hunting that would have begun on a Monday, followed by another week in December. The proposal proved unpopular with hunters, who argued that the Monday opener would cause them to lose one full Saturday of turkey hunting.
DNR officials acquiesced, instead proposing a Saturday opener followed by a full week of turkey hunting; a break to accommodate the new antlerless-deer season; and an unbroken three-week resumption of the turkey season. This year’s fall turkey season dates will run Oct. 13-20 and Oct. 29-Nov. 17.
Complaints from hunters also forced a change in the DNR’s proposal to open the deer archery season on the Monday closest to Oct. 1. Bowhunters didn’t like the idea of a Monday opener, so DNR officials changed it to the Saturday that falls closest to Oct. 1. This year’s archery season will open Sept. 29.
Commission members approved a DNR recommendation to close the September antlerless-deer archery season, which had been less than popular with sportsmen. DNR officials had also proposed to shorten to three days the six-day September antlerless-deer muzzleloader season, but commission members instead chose to eliminate it altogether.
Other significant changes approved by the commission include:
* Moving the traditional December muzzleloader season ahead one week;
* Moving the traditional December antlerless-deer season back one week and reducing it from six days to three; and
* Allowing nonresident hunters to apply for antlerless-deer permits in counties and on public areas where the state offers limited permits. Before the change, applications for those permits were restricted to state residents only.
Agency officials were “extremely pleased overall with the meeting,” said Paul Johansen, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief.
“We took very seriously the comments the public had made regarding our initial proposals. We came back with some modified proposals, and the commission adopted the vast majority of those we had revised.”
Members of the commission include Jeff Bowers, from Pendleton County; Byron Chambers, Hampshire County; Pete Cuffaro, Ohio County; Dr. Tom Dotson, Greenbrier County; Dave Milne, Preston County; Dave Truban, Monongalia County; and Kenny Wilson, Logan County.

 

W.Va. hunters get a new place to play

My colleague Rick Steelhammer has a story guaranteed to appeal to West Virginia’s hunters.

The state Division of Natural Resources is acquiring 3,070 acres of land in the northern end of Tucker County’s Canaan Valley, and will manage the tract for public hunting, fishing, hiking and mountain biking.

Want to know more? Read Rick’s article.

Ohio River anglers are being surveyed

You hear it all the time when you’re fishing: “Catchin’ anything?”

At least now your answers will be official. From the Associated Press:

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Starting Sunday, wildlife officials in three states began  surveying anglers about what they’re catching in the Ohio River.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will continue that survey through Oct. 20.
Anglers will be asked to take five minutes to fill out the form, which will ask about the types and numbers of fish they’ve caught.
It will also ask about their residency, and about overall fishing habits and experiences.
The survey will provide information to help the states better manage the fishery and improve fishing opportunities.

More on this after I’ve had a chance to talk with DNR fisheries officials.

Bass virus shows up in W.Va.

Uh-oh.

From the Associated Press:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The Division of Natural Resources say recent samples of fish have revealed the presence of largemouth bass virus in four West Virginia lakes.
Assistant wildlife resources chief Bret Preston says the virus was found at East Lynn Lake in Wayne County, North Bend Lake in Ritchie County, Stonewall Jackson Lake in Lewis County, and Sutton Lake in Braxton County.
Preston says the virus hasn’t been linked to human health issues.
The DNR says bass populations infected with the virus have experienced summer die-offs, depressed growth and less than optimal health conditions.
To minimize the spread of the virus, the DNR encourages fishermen to avoid transferring live fish or water between water bodies, and properly clean and maintain all boats, live wells and tackle.