Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

‘Outdoor classroom’ to open soon in W.Va.

Getting kids interested in the outdoors isn’t easy nowadays. Video games, texting and the Internet are difficult to compete with, but a new “outdoor classroom” being built in Shepherdstown, W.Va., might just have enough pizazz to do the trick.

From the Associated Press:

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A special kind of outdoor classroom opening soon in West Virginia is intended to be a national model for nature-based learning.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will celebrate the opening of the Nature Explore Classroom and Children’s Tree House Learning Center in Shepherdstown on June 16.
Both are at the National Conservation Training Center. It was selected for the project along with the Creston National Fish Hatchery in Montana.
The outdoor classrooms are designed to let children climb, crawl, think and create using their five senses in a natural setting.
The project also created jobs for young people. Students from the Harpers Ferry Job Corps installed materials, built walkways and created unique features for the children.

Elephants being found poisoned in Indonesia

The poisoned elephant (AP photo)

It’s happened again — a second rare Sumatran elephant was recently found dead in Indonesia, apparently poisoned by villagers attempting to protect their crops.

From the Associated Press:

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) — An official says a second endangered Sumatran elephant has been poisoned in western Indonesia, apparently by villagers trying to protect their crops.
Forestry Ministry official Harmidi says the carcass of the 20-year-old male elephant was discovered Wednesday near a plantation in Aceh province.
Harmidi, who uses only one name, says a group of elephants had been wandering in the area in recent days, roaring and destroying crops.
An 18-year-old female died in Aceh after being poisoned in late April.
As forests disappear, elephants stray into inhabited areas in search of food.
Fewer than 3,000 Sumatran elephants are left in the wild and environmentalists warn that they could be extinct within three decades unless steps are taken to protect them.

Viewed through the lens of Western values, killing an elephant like this seems tragic and wasteful. While I don’t by any means condone the poisoning of elephants, I understand why people who lead hand-to-mouth existences feel they have no choice but to do it.

Look at the dateline on the AP piece — Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Sound familiar? Aceh province was the one most devastated by the Christmas 2004 tsunami that killed an estimated 167,000 people in Indonesia alone. Seven and a half years isn’t much time to recover from such a ruinous event, and I have no doubt that the villagers in Aceh are having a tough time of it. To them, a crop-eating elephant is a threat to their survival.

As I said before, I don’t condone the killing of elephants. In this case, though, I believe I understand it.

Game warden rescues trapped coonhound

Sometimes conservation officers are called upon to do rather … unusual things.

From the Associated Press:

PARIS, Ind. — A hunting dog that spent more than a day trapped underground after falling into a southeastern Indiana sinkhole was rescued early Sunday by a state conservation officer.
Indiana Conservation Officer Zach Walker was smeared with mud after he rescued the unharmed coonhound, MoMo, about 1 a.m. Sunday from the Jennings County cave.
Walker said he carried MoMo part of the way up a ladder he had used to reach the cave’s floor, and the dog was raised the rest of the way via rope and reunited with his owner.
“He was really excited to be back aboveground,” Walker said Sunday.
The coonhound went missing about 9 p.m. Friday during a raccoon hunt near the town of Paris about 35 miles north of Louisville, Ky. Walker said MoMo may have fallen about 20 feet into one of the cave’s numerous sinkhole openings.
The dog’s owner and two other raccoon hunters searched throughout Friday night for MoMo and returned to the area again Saturday. They finally called police after finding the trapped, barking dog late Saturday night, and realizing they wouldn’t be able to free the hound.
When Walker arrived, he lowered a ladder through a narrow opening and carefully entered the cave.
“If I weighed five more pounds, I wouldn’t have been able to fit through that hole. It was like fitting a key through a hole,” he said.
At the bottom, Walker found the excited dog in a cave room that was about 30 yards long and lined with a layer of mud.
Because the hole was too narrow to bring the dog up in a cage, Walker carried the hound up the ladder part of the way.
“His owner asked how much he owed me and I said he’d already paid for my services with his tax money,” Walker said.

The effort to fell trees killed by pine bark beetles is booming — literally.

From the Associated Press:

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Forest Service workers have exchanged axes and saws for sticks of high explosives in southwestern Montana to bring down beetle-killed pine trees that pose unique dangers.
Crew member Gordon Ash said workers brought down hundreds of trees last week in the Pioneer Mountains by blowing up the trunks. He said beetle-killed trees often rot from the inside out, making them prone to shattering and falling in unpredictable ways.
“You’d calculate the proper amount of explosive, and then fix that on the tree with shrink wrap,” Ash said. “You’d put it right where a face-cut would be, and sever it off right at the point where you put the explosive — almost like a directional fall. The idea is to link as many of those trees as possible to be efficient. In three and a half days, we did 500 trees.”
The trees were also in difficult locations — overhanging parts of the Pioneer Mountain Scenic Byway in the Wise River Ranger District.
Charlie Showers, engineering program leader at the Missoula Technology and Development Center, said the danger of cutting down rotted trees in tough locations is another reason to use explosives.
“We just don’t have a whole lot of really good sawyers,” Showers told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/J2VUkj ). “The days of going out and doing that activity are long gone in the Forest Service.”
He said crews are learning the most efficient way to bring down beetle-killed trees with explosives. Depending on how that goes, workers could use explosives to take out dead trees along highways in the Helena National Forest.
“My gut feeling is telling me when you’re looking at massive amounts of trees on steep ground that you can’t get at with a 30-pound chainsaw, where you’ve got rot and limbs hanging them up in the canopy, I think this is really going to be a very viable tool for the ranger,” Showers said. “Where we can’t go in with logging equipment, explosives are the safest way, generally.”
Robert Beckley, also of the Missoula Technology and Development Center, said he’s seen little effect from the blasting on wildlife.

Back from an extended leave…

Howdy, folks. It’s been quite a while since my last post. For the past nine days I’ve been on vacation. Usually while on vacation I check e-mail, monitor comments and update the blog. Not this time. I needed a complete break from everything, and I took it. Now I’m rested and raring to go. Let’s have fun!

Boing, boing goes the bear

The bouncy house that caught Foster (AP Photo)

A cute little story, from the Associated Press:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — When a black bear climbed a tree in a central Arkansas city and refused to come down, authorities turned to unconventional rescue tools: bouncy houses.
Foster the Bear — named for the residential street where he holed up in a tree — wouldn’t budge from his branch Monday. So, authorities turned to a local hardware store owner who rents inflatable houses and castles for children’s birthday parties.
They asked him to set up two of the bouncy contraptions beneath the tree. Then, wildlife officials shot the bear with tranquilizer darts.
“He would slide to one side, and we’re like, ‘Oh, oh, oh, he’s going to come down, he’s going to come down,’ ” Conway police spokeswoman La Tresha Woodruff said. “And then he’d balance himself again.”
Foster finally passed out, but he still didn’t come down from his perch. Eventually, firefighters turned a hose on him until he tumbled down onto the edge of the inflatables below.
The bear, about a year old, wasn’t hurt, though he did land in between a blow-up castle and the other inflatable house — kind of “like if you get something stuck between the wall and the bed,” as Woodruff put it.
Spectators who had been watching the bear in the tree for hours cheered and clapped, Woodruff said.
“Foster was fine, just knocked out,” she said.
Wildlife officials plan to release the bear somewhere in the Ozark Mountains.
Police said the bear’s big-city adventure in Conway, about 30 miles north of Little Rock, started before he moseyed up the tree on Foster Drive. Someone had spotted the bear in a different tree on a nearby street before dawn Monday.
“Somehow, he crawled down out of the tree without them seeing him and got away,” Woodruff said.
Then, he managed to climb into another tree and inspire a Twitter feed, where someone posted updates — from the bear’s perspective — into the night.
“You ever have that dream where you’re falling and then you wake up with a dart in your butt?” one post read.
Another tweet summed up the bear’s day out.
“The cops want to shoot me,” one post read. “Fire dept says I’m too big for their cat getter-downer and 75 townies are below cheering my name.”

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.


A little perspective on Nugent’s conviction

The gavel drops

As expected, Ted Nugent pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor federal charge earlier this week.

What’s interesting is that the judge — who lives in the same part of Alaska where Nugent broke the law — said he had never before heard of the law Nugent broke.

The law, in effect only in southeastern Alaska, states that if a hunter wounds an animal and loses it, the hunter’s tag is considered filled. Nugent wounded and lost a bear while hunting on an island off the Alaska coast. He then hunted and killed a second bear.

It’s also interesting that Alaska wildlife officials never charged Nugent with any crime. The charges came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who charged the 62-year-old rocker with a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act because he transported an illegally killed animal across state lines.

The Associated Press has the full story:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Rocker and gun rights advocate Ted Nugent pleaded guilty Tuesday to transporting a black bear he illegally killed in Alaska, saying he was sorry for unwittingly violating the law.
“I would never knowingly break any game laws,” Nugent told the court. “I’m afraid I was blindsided by this, and I sincerely apologize to everyone for this.”
With his plea, the singer and avid hunter followed through with a signed agreement he made with federal prosecutors earlier this month.
Magistrate Judge Michael Thompson accepted the deal at a U.S. District Court hearing in Ketchikan. Nugent and his attorney participated by telephone.
Asked by Thompson if the agreement was clear, Nugent responded: “It is with me, your honor.”
According to the document, Nugent illegally shot and killed the bear in May 2009 on Sukkwan Island in southeast Alaska after wounding another bear in a bow hunt. The bow incident counted toward a seasonal limit of one bear in that location. Nugent and his lawyer, Wayne Anthony Ross, said neither of them knew about that law.
The judge said he wasn’t aware of the “sort of one-strike policy” either.
“It probably is not widely known, and if there is a side benefit to the agreement reached here today — since apparently newspapers are interested in Mr. Nugent and his doings — this probably will serve to alert a great many hunters to that very issue and may, in fact, prevent violations in the future and court activity for a whole slew of folks.”
The plea agreement says Nugent knowingly possessed and transported the bear in misdemeanor violation of the federal Lacey Act.
Ross said after the hearing that he was unaware of any state charges pending. A database search found no state charges against Nugent.
“It seems to me that would be double dipping,” Ross said.
The hunt was filmed for Nugent’s Outdoor Channel television show “Spirit of the Wild,” according to the plea deal.
Under the agreement, Nugent must pay a $10,000 fine and serve two years of probation, including a special condition that he not hunt or fish in Alaska or on U.S. Forest Service properties for a year. Nugent used a number of bear-baiting sites on Forest Service land during the Alaska hunt, the document said.
He also must create a public service announcement that will be broadcast on his show every second week for a year after approval by a representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Nugent told the court he wanted to make numerous PSAs to keep the interest level up, “so it’s not just the same statement.” Thompson said that would be fine, as long as the PSAs were approved before airing.
The musician famed for his 1977 hit “Cat Scratch Fever” also must pay the state $600 for the bear that was taken illegally.
Nugent briefly drew the attention of the Secret Service last week after he rallied support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and said of the Obama administration: “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.”
His comments were made during a National Rifle Association meeting in St. Louis.
As a hunter, Nugent has run afoul of the law before.
In August 2010, California revoked Nugent’s deer hunting license after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of deer-baiting and not having a properly signed tag.
Nugent’s loss of that deer hunting license through June allows 34 other states to revoke the same privilege under the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. Each state, however, can interpret and enforce the agreement differently.

W.Va.’s cutest turkey slayer

Raegan and her gobbler

Nine-year-old Raegan Brooke Good joined the band of successful turkey hunters last Saturday during the Mountain State’s one-day youth turkey season. Hunting with her father, Joe Good, Raegan killed her first turkey — a 19 1/2-pound gobbler taken at 20 yards with a 28-gauge shotgun.

Congratulations, both to the happy huntress and to the proud papa!

Another lousy turkey-season opener

Turkeys aren't dying here today

I’m beginning to believe West Virginia’s spring gobbler hunters are star-crossed.

For what seems like the umpteenth year in a row, weather is clobbering hunters’ chances of success. Opening day dawned rainy and snowy. A winter storm warning is still in effect for the the state’s mountain region, and will remain in effect until tomorrow.

The National Weather Service says up to a foot of snow is possible in parts of Grant, Mineral and Pendleton counties. Preston and Tucker counties could get up to 10 inches, and Greenbrier, Pocahontas and Randolph could get up to 8 inches.

Expect the weather to wreak havoc on the turkey kill. The season is four weeks long, but more than half the harvest occurs during the season’s first three days.

Nighttime temperatures will drop below freezing tonight in the mountains, and will hover near the freezing mark elsewhere. Hunters who choose to brave the elements tomorrow morning are going to be mighty uncomfortable.