Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Officials of the National Park Service believe they’re “doing the right thing” by attempting to eliminate lead ammunition and fishing tackle from all national park properties.

Problem is, an awful lot of West Virginians use lead bullets, lead shot, lead-head jigs, lead-head spinnerbaits, lead-head buzzbaits and lead sinkers when they hunt and fish in and around the New River Gorge.

State fish and wildlife officials fear that a ban might suppress hunting and fishing along southern West Virginia’s New, Gauley and Bluestone rivers — all of which fall under Park Service jurisdiction in places.

Park Service officials have promised to solicit public input before making a final decision on the subject. Those discussions should be lively indeed.

The full story can be found in this Sunday Gazette-Mail report.

Hail to the champs!

It’s been a long road back for the West Virginia University rifle team.

Despite winning 13 NCAA championships since 1980, the Mountaineers were unceremoniously cut from the school’s roster of officially sanctioned sports in 2003. The team got a new lease on life in 2004 when the state Legislature “persuaded” WVU administrators to change their minds.

The team, led by new coach Jon Hammond, fought its way back to respectability last year and rejoined the sport’s elite squads this season. On March 14, Mountaineer shooters made it back to the top. They shot a blistering air-rifle round and captured their 14th NCAA title over Jacksonville State, the University of Kentucky and Alaska-Fairbanks.

Hats off to the Mountaineers!

Note: I’ll have more on this subject in my Sunday, March 22 column.

Congress’ attempt to add more than 25,000 acres of federally designated wilderness fell just short of passage on its vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The vote, 282 in favor and 144 against, fell just two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage. Two-thirds were needed because House leaders brought the measure to a vote under suspended rules.

The $10 billion omnibus lands bill contained more than 177 separate bills, which combined would have added more than 2 million acres of additional wilderness.

Despite the narrow defeat — or maybe because of it — the bill’s champions vowed to bring the measure up for another vote sometime in the future.

“There are a lot of good bills, sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, contained in (the lands bill) that deserve passage,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “We will continue to determine the best course of action to advance these measures.”

Hunters had voiced concerns that the bill might prohibit hunting on many of the proposed areas. Just before the vote, congressional Democrats amended the measure so it wouldn’t restrict hunting, fishing or trapping.

The text of the bill, S. 22, can be found at  http://thomas.loc.gov/

W.Va.’s Shavers Fork suffers fish kill

Uh-oh.

Looks as if the popular trout fishery on Shavers Fork has suffered a serious setback. An angler on the WVAngler Web Site has reported a fish kill in the area between the Cheat Bridge put-and-take section and the beginning of the catch-and-release section.

This is bad news. Shavers routinely suffered early spring fish kills before the Division of Natural Resources began treating its upper tributaries with acid-buffering limestone sand. Since treatments began in the late 1990s, the main stream has stayed free of fish kills.

Until now. The recent kill has raised speculation that last year’s low flows might not have dissolved enoughof the limestone sand to adequately buffer the watershed against a large slug of acidic snowmelt. DNR officials have been made aware of the kill, and are working to determine its exact cause.

The popular tailwater fishery at the upper Kanawha River’s London Locks and Dam has been closed.

Ouch.

The Kanawha’s annual sauger run is starting, and London is — was — one of the best places to fish for the tasty species.

Officials at American Electric Power closed the fishing-access area because the wooden bridge that carried foot traffic across the CSX Corp. railroad tracks flunked a recent engineering study.

Bret Preston, chief of warmwater fisheries for the state Division of Natural Resources, says DNR officials have set up a teleconference with AEP officials to determine how best to proceed. Options include rebuilding the bridge or constructing a grade crossing for cars across the tracks.

The closure comes at an especially unfortunate time because one of the Kanawha’s two other tailwater fisheries is also closed. The fishing-access area at the Winfield Locks has been closed since last fall so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can pave the parking lot and improve angler access to the area downstream of the dam. The project was supposed to be finished by April, but Preston said this winter’s foul weather might have pushed the deadline back a bit.

There’s dumb and there’s dumb. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why two alleged gun-safe thieves literally drew police a map that proved their guilt.

The Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press has the full story of how the cops tracked down the two men by following scrape marks the heavy safe made as they dragged it from its owner’s house to their hideout. Oh, brother…

Hat tip: J.R. Absher at The Outdoor Pressroom.

Elk Foundation calls for wolf hunts

From Steve Wagner, who handles the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s public relations:

MISSOULA, Mont.—Gray wolf populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming need to be managed through state-regulated hunting—now.

That’s the upshot of a new Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation policy statement approved by its board of directors on March 4, 2009. The official action headlined a regular board meeting held in conjunction with the RMEF annual convention in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Wolf populations are well above recovery goals and federal protection is no longer justified. It’s clear to us that wolves now can be sustainably managed like bears, cougars and other restored predators,” said David Allen, Elk Foundation president and CEO.

Allen said wolves are an organizational concern because of their impacts to local elk herds, elk hunting success and participation, livestock and landowners, rural economies and the Elk Foundation’s own ability to facilitate collaborative conservation successes in the future.

To date, RMEF has helped protect or enhance over 5.5 million acres of habitat for elk and other wildlife.

Here’s the new policy statement in its entirety:

Official Policy Statement on Gray Wolf Restoration
March 2009

Background
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) supports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to remove gray wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). In the case of the subject of gray wolf populations, ESA protection is no longer legally required or necessary. The recovery plan biological goals for wolves in the Rocky Mountains were attained in 2002. Both population size and breeding pair estimates now exceed recovery goals by 500 percent and 333 percent, respectively. The western Great Lakes population has also exceeded its population goals for several years.

The RMEF supports sound, science-based wildlife management that maintains a sustainable balance between predator and big-game species. We encourage the use of the best available science to finalize this delisting. Biologists, hunters, land managers, private landowners, and other citizens across the nation have worked hard and made sacrifices to achieve recovery for wolves.

Policy
RMEF and its primary support base, hunters and anglers, have always supported the legal protection of fish and wildlife species that require protection to survive and flourish.

We believe the following:

When wolf populations meet scientific viability criteria for recovery, they no longer require federal protection under ESA. They should be de-listed if recovery plan goals are met and where regulatory mechanisms are in place to adequately manage the species.

After the wolf is de-listed, scientifically sound wolf management programs administered by state wildlife agencies should maintain sustainable wolf populations to preclude the need to re-list under the ESA.

Reflecting the success of other historic hunter/conservationist-led species recovery programs based on the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation, the management of wolves as game animals should occur in areas designated for wolf occupancy, and wolf seasons should be regulated by the states.

Where and when hunting is deemed appropriate under state regulations, methods used by hunters must conform to Fair Chase principles.

When classified as game animals, wolf populations should be maintained in accordance with the biological and cultural carrying capacities of the habitats they occupy.

Also, management of individual wolves and wolf populations should recognize the need to balance management objectives with respect for private property and human safety.

I suppose we knew it was coming, but learning that conservationist Jack Lorenz had died was still a stab in the gut.

Lorenz, the long-time former executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America, passed away March 3 while vacationing in California. He had been in poor health for years. He was 70.

I served with Jack on several Outdoor Writers Association of America boards and committees, and found him to be one of the good guys. He was an endless font of bad jokes and entertaining tales.

He particularly like to tell of his days as a bodyguard-slash-babysitter for Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean. Jack said Diz was as generous and trusting as a babe in the woods, so the brewing company they worked for had Jack travel with him to keep him safe and out of trouble.

I’ll miss those stories, and I’ll miss Jack.

Sure, it still feels like winter. But out there in West Virginia’s hinterlands, dedicated trout-hatchery workers are delivering truckload after truckload of springtime recreation.

The trout-stocking season moved into full swing on March 1. From now through the end of May, hatchery trucks will crisscross the state, carrying hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of trout to Mountain State creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds.

Drought-like conditions kept the state’s seven hatcheries from producing as many trout as usual. This spring’s stockings will be a little lighter than usual, and the fish will be a little smaller.

After stocking their usual scaled-back slate of streams and ponds in January and February, Division of Natural Resources officials crank up the volume in March. Streams designated for weekly stockings will be stocked once a week; bi-weekly streams will receive fish every other week.

Stocking schedules aren’t published in advance, but DNR officials do provide a trout stocking guide on pages 16 and 17 of the annual fishing regulations.

His fishing trip could have ended with a bang

Devin Sullivan, a fisherman from Jonesboro, Ark., knew he’d hooked something unusual when he felt a heavy weight at the end of his line but not much fight.

Sullivan reeled in his line and landed a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun.

He did the smart thing. He called police, as recounted in this KAIT-TV account of the incident.

Wonder what kind of lure Sullivan used? A 12-gauge shell?

 Hat tip: J.R. Absher at the Outdoor Pressroom.