Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Gypsy moths

At first glance, 40,000 acres sounds like a lot of territory to be treating for gypsy moths. It is and it isn’t. The treatments will focus on Mercer and McDowell counties, which between them encompass 618,240 acres. The treatments will cover just 6.5 percent of the counties.

And the treatments don’t involve poison. They instead involve pheromone flakes, which are tiny pieces of plastic that give off the same mating odor as a female gypsy moth. The idea is to make the male moths focus on the chips instead of real females. It sounds crazy, but it works.

From the Associated Press:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia and federal officials are recommending aerial treatment of more than 40,000 forested acres this year to slow the spread of gypsy moths.
The state Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s forest service say trapping results determined that treatment is needed in McDowell and Mercer counties.
The treatment involves pheromone flakes, which confuse the male moths during the mating process.
Officials say wildlife experts have assured them no rare, threatened or endangered species would be harmed by the treatments.
The gypsy moth treatments will be applied in mid- to late-June, depending on weather conditions and the stage of development of gypsy moths.

$2,000 a pound — for baby eels?!

A handful of elvers, or baby eels. AP Photo.

From the Associated Press:

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Tiny translucent elvers — alien-looking baby eels the size of toothpicks, with big black eyes and spines — are mysterious creatures, floating thousands of miles from their birthplace in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean before ending up each spring in Maine’s rivers and streams.
But there’s no mystery about what’s drawing hundreds of fishermen to riverbanks to catch the creatures during the two-month fishing season. The price of the eels has skyrocketed to unparalleled levels, with catches bringing up to $2,000 a pound.
A worldwide shortage of the prized dinner fare, imported in infancy from Maine to Asia to be raised in farm ponds, has buyers paying top dollar for the baby American eels. A pound of eels should be worth around $30,000 on the open market once grown to market size, according to one dealer.
Elver prices go up and down all the time, but nobody’s seen them shoot up the way they have over the past two seasons. Last year, at $891 per pound, elvers became Maine’s fourth most-valuable wild fishery, worth more than well-known traditional fisheries such as groundfish, shrimp and scallops.
With this year’s astronomical prices, fishermen and dealers are on edge about poachers, fishermen’s safety, the secrecy of fishing spots and unwanted publicity. On top of all that, there’s a move to have the eels protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Pre-season rumors had the price starting at $2,000 a pound, said longtime fisherman Bruce Steeves of Raymond, as he prepared his nets on a southern Maine river for a night of eel fishing on the season’s opening day, March 22.
“And there’s a prediction it’ll go up from that. At $2,500 a pound, that’s almost $1 per elver,” Steeves said. “This is almost like liquid gold.”
Steeves, like most elver fishermen, swings his hand-held “dip net” — something like a butterfly net with fine mesh — through the water for hours, standing on the riverbank as the tide comes in to capture the eels as they swim upstream. He also works another fine-mesh net shaped like a big funnel and set in the river, catching more of the eels as they ride in with the tide.
Steeves works when the tides are coming in, meaning he’s as likely to be working at 3 in the morning as 3 in the afternoon. He says fishermen typically might harvest a half pound to 2 pounds a day.
There are records of a commercial elver fishery in the U.S. dating back to at least the 1880s, but nowadays only two states allow it.
South Carolina allows fishing on just the Cooper River, and issues only 10 permits annually, seven of which are held by Mainers this year, said Allan Hazel of the state Division of Natural Resources. Hazel’s getting calls this year from people in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere, seeking to get in touch with fishermen and elver dealers.
But Maine is the elver breadbasket, so to speak, with 407 license holders who fish 525 nets in streams and rivers along the state’s long ragged coast, working with the tides night and day.
Steeves, 56, catches lobsters from June until October, fishes for bait fish from October through the winter, and catches elvers this time of year.
He remembers the late 1990s, when the price shot up to more $200 a pound, creating a gold rush mentality that had fishermen competing for and even duking it out over prime fishing spots. In the peak year, more than 2,300 people held licenses, fishing nearly 6,000 nets.
But the price tumbled to under $30 a pound in the early 2000s, making it hardly worth fishing for them. In 2001, the fishery was worth a piddling $40,000.
Prices yo-yoed in recent years before soaring to last year’s eye-popping levels because of an elver shortage in Europe and Japan, said Mitchell Feigenbaum, owner of South Shore Trading Co., which has an elver buying station in Portland. Fishermen last year harvested about 8,500 pounds at an average of $891 a pound — for a total value of $7.6 million.
With this year’s catch bringing even higher prices, some fishermen staked out key fishing spots weeks ahead of time. Asian buyers have been showing up at some rivers in the dead of night, paying cash for elvers on the spot.
Not surprisingly, law enforcement officers have seen a dramatic increase in illegal activity and have issued summonses coast-wide for illegal fishing, even before the season started. Just last week, Maine Gov. Paul LePage signed emergency legislation that levies $2,000 fines and license suspensions for illegal elver fishing or tampering with other people’s gear.
Maine Marine Patrol Maj. Alan Talbot isn’t surprised people are taking risks for a shot at the lucrative eels.
“At that price, people are going to take the chance to do it illegally and sell them because it’s big money,” Talbot said.
After Steeves harvests the creatures, he puts them in a bucket and takes them to a buyer on the Portland waterfront who strains the writhing catch to remove debris and dead eels, squeezes out the water and weighs the catch. The eels are then dumped into a holding tank of water before they’re packed into Styrofoam boxes and put on planes destined for buyers in China and elsewhere in Asia, where they will be grown to market size in farm ponds.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is now reviewing whether to list the eels as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. A 2007 review found that federal protection wasn’t warranted.
Steeves has never eaten eel, but he’s been told they’re delicious. Once grown, the eels are sold for unagi kabayaki, a grilled eel dish.
“They must really love them over there to pay what they pay for them,” he said. “It’s funny how they’ll pay for things expensive over there and over here we laugh at this stuff.”
Paul Firminger, manager for South Shore Trading’s Portland operation, said the eels have mild and tender white meat, no bones to speak of and skin that peels off easily.
“It’s like a cross between chicken and mackerel,” he said.
Scimitar-horned oryx in Texas

Boy, that’s some gratitude for you. Texas game ranchers pulled a few African antelope species back from the brink of extinction, and the federal government rewards them 1.)  by making it impossible to profit from controlled hunting for the animals; and 2.) devaluing the animals to the point they become impossible to sell.

From the Associated Press:

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — For years, hundreds of Texas ranchers have made big money on exotic antelopes, with hunters paying up to $10,000 to bag just one dama gazelle, a rare animal with short horns curving outward.
Starting Wednesday, however, the U.S. government will stop allowing anyone to hunt the dama gazelle or two other exotic antelopes native to Africa, the addax and the scimitar-horned oryx — unless ranchers obtain a permit.
The move to give the animals full protection under the federal Endangered Species Act is being praised by animal-rights groups that abhor such hunts and has upset the ranchers whose efforts have led to a rise in the numbers of those exotic animals. The ranchers say they won’t be able to afford the upkeep for their antelopes — but they also can’t legally kill the entire herds or release them.
Texas has the largest population of the animals in the world — far more than even their native Africa. In 1979, Texas had less than three dozen scimitar-horned oryx, just two addax and nine dama gazelles, according to the Exotic Wildlife Association. But by 2010, the state had more than 11,000 scimitar-horned oryx, about 5,100 addax and nearly 900 dama gazelles, according to the association
Knowing that the new regulations were set to take effect, some ranchers have sold their exotic antelopes. But prices have dropped by up to 40 percent and will drop an additional 50 percent after Wednesday, said Charly Seale, executive director of the Texas-based Exotic Wildlife Association.
The ranchers can apply for federal permits to continue the hunts, but most are refusing because they say it’s government intrusion. Seale said just 10 percent of ranchers have sought the permits and he does not expect more to apply. Others are so irate they’ve threatened to kill the herds or just set them free, but that may not happen because both options are illegal under the federal act, Seale said.
“They are very prolific and had been valuable because a lot of people wanted to hunt them,” Seale said. “We’ve built our herds with our own money, and we increased an extinct population, one of the biggest conservation efforts in the world. And now they’re telling us we can’t do it? It’s ridiculous.”
The scimitar-horned oryx, which has horns up to 4 feet long curving toward its back, was declared extinct in the wild in 2000. The three species were listed on the Endangered Species Act, but they were exempt from the no-hunting rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Now the rule is being enforced so the animals won’t be killed in “canned hunts,” said Priscilla Feral, president of the Connecticut-based Friends of Animals that successfully challenged that exemption.
“The ranchers care about offering them in trophy hunts on property from which they cannot escape,” Feral said. “They only live so they can die. To call that conservation is ludicrous.”
Ranchers allowed just 10-15 percent of their herds to be killed each year, said Seale, who has a South Texas ranch with exotic animals. The dama gazelle is the rarest of the three, but hunters still shelled out big bucks for the others — up to $5,000 for the chance to bag a scimitar-horned oryx and $7,000 for an addax, known for its long, thin, spiral-shaped horns.
Because trophy hunters have known that the hunting restriction was approaching, they have flocked to Texas ranches in recent months, thinning the herds even more. But ranchers — even those with other exotic animals that are not affected by the rule — say they’re left with few options. The herds are too expensive to feed without the hunting revenues, and obtaining a permit means the government can make unannounced inspections.
“We’ve applied for permits, but the process is cumbersome,” said Aaron Bulkley, owner of the Texas Hunt Lodge, which has 23 ranches northwest of San Antonio. “This rule will have a major impact to our business. There is no fix to this.”
Only a few animal sanctuaries for such animals exist, and “they don’t want 100; they want two or four,” Bulkley said. The Exotic Wildlife Association plans to send about two dozen of the animals to a nature preserve in Senegal.
The rule will not only hurt the $1.3 billion exotic animal industry in Texas but will cause the scimitar-horned oryx population to be reduced to 1,000 in a decade, Seale said.
However, the animals becoming extinct in Texas is better than what’s been going on, Feral said.
“Now they’re saying they will shoot them now rather than later,” she said. “(Having the three species in Texas) is not an advantage to anyone other than those in the hunting business.”


Man faces felony charges for deer poaching

As far as poaching is concerned, it’s three strikes and a felony in Wyoming. A 19-year-old man has become the first person charged under a new state law that makes repeat poaching a felony.

Colton Lapp of Worland, Wyo., twice convicted of poaching, faces felony charges after being arrested for poaching four mule deer. If convicted, he could face more than 12 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

The Casper Tribune has the full story.

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

Bald eagle ruling boomerangs on tribe


Remember that agreement from the federal government that would have allowed a Native American tribe to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes? From all appearances, it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.  Northern Arapaho tribal officials believe their people have been gypped.

From the Associated Press:

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming tribe that received the nation’s first federal permit allowing members to kill bald eagles for religious purposes renewed a legal challenge against the government Friday, calling the permit a “sham” because of restrictions against killing the birds on the tribe’s reservation.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 9 granted the Northern Arapaho a permit allowing members to kill two eagles only outside the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Arapaho share their reservation with the Eastern Shoshone, who opposed the killing of eagles on the tribes’ shared land.
Many American Indian leaders nationwide and those in the Northern Arapaho tribe initially hailed the permit decision as a victory for native sovereignty and native religions, which the federal government actively suppressed well into the last century.
However, in an amended lawsuit filed against the government Friday, the Arapaho Tribe takes issue with the permit provision that would require tribal members to kill eagles off the Wind River Reservation. The tribe states that the state of Wyoming prohibits killing eagles off the reservation while the federal permit itself requires adherence to state law.
“Any tribal member taking an eagle pursuant to the March 9, 2012, permit is subject to arrest and prosecution by the State of Wyoming, whether the take occurs on federal, state or other lands ” tribal attorney Andy Baldwin and his associates wrote in the amended complaint.
A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver said the agency had no comment on the tribe’s amended complaint because the issue is in litigation.
In its amended complaint, the Northern Arapaho tribe argues that federal government action barring tribal members from taking bald eagles for religious purposes violates their free exercise of religion.
Baldwin said the tribe discussed the permit concern with federal officials before filing the amended complaint but declined further comment. Attempts to reach tribal officials weren’t immediately successful.
Bald eagles were removed from the federal list of threatened species in 2007. The birds remain protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Several Indian tribes have been allowed permits to kill golden eagles for religious purposes.
The Northern Arapaho first filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service last fall seeking to force the federal agency to grant an eagle permit. That court action came more than two years after the tribe first applied for a permit.
The tribe’s lawsuit filed last fall followed the contentious federal prosecution of Winslow Friday, a young tribal member who killed a bald eagle without a permit in 2005 for use in his tribe’s Sun Dance. Friday shot the eagle on his reservation.
Former U.S. District Judge William Downes dismissed the charge against Friday in 2006 saying it would have been pointless for him to apply for a permit. “Although the government professes respect and accommodation of the religious practices of Native Americans, its own actions show callous indifference to such practices,” Downes wrote.
A federal appeals court reinstated the criminal charge against Friday. After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case, he ultimately pleaded guilty in tribal court and was ordered to pay a fine.
In response to written questions from The Associated Press earlier this month, Matt Hogan, assistant regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, stated that Wyoming would not have to give its permission for Northern Arapaho members to kill eagles off the reservation.
“Permission for take of eagles would not be required by the State of Wyoming,” Hogan stated in a March 14 email. “However, one of the permit conditions is consent from the landowner from where the bird will be taken.”
In a status report to a federal judge presiding over the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s lawsuit filed March 13, federal lawyers stated that the Eastern Shoshone Tribe had informed the Fish and Wildlife Service that they opposed the killing of eagles on the Wind River Reservation because they believed it was against the tribes’ joint law and order code. Attempts to reach Eastern Shoshone officials for comment Friday weren’t immediately successful.

‘Deer czar’ criticizes agency’s policies

John McCoy photo

Want to make a political point without the risk of being held accountable for it? Hire a ‘czar’ to make that point for you! From the Associated Press:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The deer population estimates of Wisconsin’s wildlife officials are flawed, and they don’t know enough about how predators affect deer and have reduced deer in chronic wasting disease zones to pests, according to a report Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “deer czar” released Wednesday.
James Kroll’s study concludes hunters and landowners feel an “intense dissatisfaction” with the Department of Natural Resources and the agency needs a more human touch to rebuild its credibility.
“The WDNR has placed an inordinate emphasis on estimating population goals and establishing population density goals (which commonly are not met), while giving much less emphasis to habitat and people,” the report said.
DNR big-game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang downplayed the report, saying the agency welcomed it as a path to improvement.
“We expect challenges. We expect things to be pointed out. We’re not afraid of that,” Wallenfang said.
Walker’s administration hired Kroll, a Texas-based deer researcher, in October for $125,000 to review the DNR’s deer management strategies. Walker promised on the campaign trail two years ago to respond to hunters’ complaints that the DNR’s overzealous herd control programs have led to anemic hunts.
The report said Kroll and two other researchers spoke with DNR staff and deer hunting groups and took comments from the public at large about perceived problems at the DNR. Kroll’s group also reviewed previous studies looking at the DNR’s methods.
The report doesn’t go into extensive detail, but said the DNR’s credibility problems with hunters stem from population overestimates and concluded the estimates are indefensible. Some of the data that goes into the estimates is decades old, the report said, citing as an example deer ranges based on 1993 satellite imagery. It said DNR biologists spent little time in the field studying the ranges and assessing herd health.
The DNR also hasn’t conducted adequate studies on the state’s wolves and the role the play in Wisconsin’s ecosystem. The agency also lacks data on how bobcats, coyotes and bears affect deer and their habitat.
The agency’s efforts to control chronic wasting disease, a fatal brain ailment in deer, in southern Wisconsin were a failure, the report went on to say. The DNR’s main strategy — kill as many deer as possible in affected areas to prevent the disease from spreading — resulted in a “serious erosion” of public confidence in the agency and a perception that deer in disease zones are pests rather than a key game animal.
Among the reports other findings:
— The DNR uses an antiquated system to register deer at check stations using paper forms. Other states use electronic registration.
— The state lacks a buck record book, which could foster information gathering and another way for biologists and state residents to interact.
— The DNR has done little to help landowners manage deer on their property, revealing a mindset based on regulation.
— The agency needs to simply its season structure and keep seasons consistent.
The DNR is already addressing many of the points Kroll raised. In 2010 the agency launched a $2 million project to improve deer population estimates, including studying predators’ impact, expanding a database of hunter observations and improving communication with stakeholders. The agency has warned that some of the initiatives could take years to complete, however.
The agency also suspended its contentious earn-a-buck program, a herd control technique that required hunters to kill an antlerless deer before taking a buck, outside of CWD zones in 2009 and 2010 before Republican lawmakers outlawed the program last year.
“Some of things they’ve identified in there are things the department has known for a long, long time,” Wallenfang said.
Kroll is due to turn in a final report before the end of June. He plans to gather input at a series of town hall meetings around the state in April.

Authorities say that the Vermont man who put an injured bobcat into his car and drove it to a nearby rest stop is lucky the critter didn’t wake up in the car, go bonkers and claw its would-be rescuer.

From the Associated Press:

Guilford, Vt. (AP) — Vermont State Police are warning people not to handle any wild animals after a visitor who picked up an injured and unconscious bobcat from the highway drove it to the state welcome center in Guilford.
State police say the visitor brought the bobcat to the center Sunday morning, where it woke up, causing concern about how to safely remove it from the vehicle.
The bobcat had to be incapacitated with a stun gun so that a veterinarian could administer a sedative and then examine the animal. State police say the bobcat had to be euthanized because it was too seriously injured to be saved.
Authorities are urging people not to approach or handle any wild animals. Instead, they should maintain a safe distance and call for help.

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

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

Apparently grizzly bears give up more easily when pepper-sprayed than when shot. From the Associated Press:

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A bear expert says a study has found that people using bear spray during grizzly bear encounters are injured far less often than people using firearms.
University of Calgary’s Steve Herrero tells the Missoulian that 98 percent of those who used bear spray walked away unharmed, and no people or bears died.
He says 56 percent of those who used firearms were injured, and 61 percent of the bears died.
The firearms study involved 269 incidents with 444 hunters. The bear spray study had 72 incidents with 175 people, though some of those might have been less dangerous encounters.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear manager Mike Madel says the results are pretty persuasive.
The information was presented last week at the Fourth International Human-Bear Conflict Workshop in Missoula.

Wow! A 14-pound, 12-ounce largemouth!

From the Associated Press:

POTEAU, Okla. (AP) — A Poteau man is Oklahoma’s new record holder for a largemouth bass.
Angler Benny Williams Jr. was on a camping trip Friday near Cedar Lake in southeast Oklahoma when he caught the fish, which weighed 14 pounds and 12.3 ounces, and was 26 inches long. The previous state record of 14 pounds and 11.52 ounces has been held since 1999.
Gene Gilliland of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation told KJRH-TV that Cedar Lake has produced several fish that weigh in the double digits in the past five years.
Anglers who believe they may have hooked a record fish must weigh it on an Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture certified scale, and a Wildlife Department employee must verify the weight.
Temporary ruling

From the Associated Press:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday sided partly with a group of outfitters from four Western states who complained their constitutional rights to conduct business in New Mexico were being upended by changes to the state’s hunting draw.
The outfitters had asked U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo to issue an injunction and temporary restraining order to keep New Mexico’s law from taking effect.
The outfitters are challenging language that specifies 10 percent of hunting tags awarded through New Mexico’s annual big game draw would go to those hunters who hired New Mexico-based outfitters.
Before the law was changed last year, an outfitter’s location didn’t matter.
“This is brand new and that’s why we challenged it,” said Albuquerque attorney B.J. Crow, who is representing the plaintiffs. “Basically, it was excluding any out-of-state outfitter from doing business in New Mexico, which is unconstitutional.”
Armijo ruled that the plaintiffs who operate as individual outfitters or sole proprietors would be eligible for the 10 percent pool for this year’s draw. The plaintiffs include outfitters from Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Washington.
Armijo has yet to make a final determination on whether New Mexico’s statute is constitutional. Crow said the case could take up to five months, and the outcome could affect countless out-of-state outfitters as well as hunters.
Jeremy Vesbach, director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said he was relieved the judge’s order keeps intact for the next draw new quotas established by the statute.
The law spells out how many New Mexico residents, non-residents and outfitters can be awarded hunting tags through the draw system. Tens of thousands of hunting licenses are sold in the state every year, and a portion of those are doled out through the draw by the state Game and Fish Department.
The quota system was changed last year after some sportsmen fought to ensure in-state hunters received a larger portion of the hunting tags. On average, New Mexico had the lowest preference for resident hunters — less than 80 percent — of any state in the Rocky Mountain region.
“We essentially are caught in the crossfire here and the question was do we dodge a bullet or not,” Vesbach said. “I’m just relieved. The judge spent a lot of time on this and I think she came up with something that really minimized the overall disruption and kept folks like us from getting harmed.”
Hunting, guiding and outfitting are part of a big business in New Mexico, where rural communities depend on money spent by outdoor enthusiasts. Studies have shown hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation annually contribute billions of dollars to the state’s economy.
Crow said if his clients weren’t allowed to do business in New Mexico this year, it would have meant thousands of dollars of lost revenue for each one.
The deadline to apply for this year’s draw is March 28. So far, some 70,000 hunters have applied.
“It’s our lifeblood. For those of us who hunt, if we get a tag or not, it’s a huge deal,” Vesbach said.
Game Department officials said they still intend on having the draw in early May.