Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Deer-regulation changes will be a tough sell

This week’s column looks into the difficulty of managing wildlife, and of managing the people who hunt wildlife:

There are a lot of things I’d like to be, at least for a while.
Montana fishing guide comes immediately to mind. Professional golfer. In my crazier moments, maybe even a bobsledder.
Under no circumstances, though, would I want to be a Division of Natural Resources official this year.
As you can read on the Gazette-Mail’s Woods & Waters page this week, DNR biologists want to pretty dramatically change the state’s antlerless-deer seasons, and the changes are mostly designed to reduce whitetail populations.
I don’t think hunters want populations reduced, and that’s why I wouldn’t want to be a DNR official. From now until the Natural Resources Commission votes on the DNR’s proposed changes later this year, agency administrators are going to field a lot of complaints.
They’re used to it, of course, but that doesn’t make it fun.
And that brings me to the point of this column: I’d like to dispel the myth that the DNR’s main job is to manage wildlife.
It isn’t.
DNR officials manage people. You. Me. Everyone who picks up a gun or a bow. We, in turn, help them to manage wildlife populations by killing more or fewer of the animals we choose to hunt.
Think about it. When deer or bear populations exceed the DNR’s prescribed numbers, agency officials don’t go out and kill of the excess. They manipulate the state’s hunting regulations in a way that encourages, nudges, shoves or bludgeons the sportsmen of the state into killing enough animals to bring the population back under control.
Conversely, when game populations drop below desired levels, DNR officials don’t use artificial insemination to ensure that enough new animals get born. They manipulate the regulations so that hunters kill fewer.
It’s a balancing act, one that alternately makes sportsmen happy or aggravates the daylights out of them.
My guess is that the DNR’s latest regulation proposals are going to aggravate more people than they please.
Savvy sportsmen probably anticipated at least slightly more liberal antlerless-deer regulations for the upcoming season. Dramatic rises and falls in the buck harvest always lead to changes, and last fall’s 32 percent rise was a sure-fire cure that more liberal regulations would be proposed.
In past years, that wouldn’t have been much of an issue. Sportsmen have grown accustomed to small year-to-year fluctuations in antlerless-deer regulations.
This year, though, just happened to be the year when DNR biologists drew up a spanking-new five-year Deer Operational Plan, one that is significantly different from all the others that were written between 1979 and the present.
The new plan took into account habitat data that hadn’t previously been available. It also took into account some of the sociological factors involved in deer management, such as landowners’ attitudes toward deer, effects on the forest products industry, effects on farmers and effects on vehicle owners. The plan’s bottom line is that DNR officials want to further reduce deer populations throughout most of the state.
The engineer-slash-scientist in me understands why the DNR wants to do what the plan proposes. The writer-slash-public relations side of me wonders why they chose to initiate the plan this year, just two years removed from one of the most catastrophically wretched deer seasons in state history.
Managing people is difficult enough; managing irate people is quite another.

Birder arrested after moving hawk’s body

Sometimes it’s possible to get in trouble for trying to do the right thing. From the Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — A longtime observer of celebrated New York City red-tailed hawk Pale Male was arrested after finding the body of the bird’s yearlong mate, authorities said Tuesday.
State Department of Environmental Conservation said Lincoln Karim, a broadcast engineer for Associated Press Television News, was arrested on charges including illegal possession of a raptor. He was later released.
Karim said he had taken the body of Pale Male’s mate, Lima, after finding it dead in Central Park over the weekend and taking photographs of it.
Concerned that an animal would eat it or a maintenance worker would toss it away, he said he put the body in a grocery bag and took it to his apartment, where he stowed away the carcass on his fire escape.
He said he intended to have the bird’s body examined to determine a cause of death by taking it to the State Wildlife Pathology laboratory in Delmar, N.Y.
“I did the right thing,” he said. “If I had photographed the hawk and walked away — I couldn’t do that.”
DEC police contacted him Monday and requested he turn the bird over to them.
He initially refused, saying he feared the DEC would not investigate Lima’s death properly.
He said he was arrested when he returned the bird to the park.
Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the DEC, said that before his arrest he had agreed to meet with a DEC conservation officer to turn over Lima’s body. “Karim did not cooperate and caused the officer to go to multiple locations over several hours,” she said in a statement.
Pale Male took up with Lima after his longtime mate, Lola, disappeared in December 2010.
Pale Mate and Lola famously built a nest on a Fifth Avenue high-rise ledge before they were evicted by the co-op. They were allowed to rebuild their nest after an outcry from bird lovers.

A fishing ban with no teeth

If you’re going to ban something, wouldn’t it seem like a good idea to tell people what the penalties would be for defying the ban?

Apparently the  U.S. government doesn’t grasp that concept. Three years ago the feds outlawed fishing in three U.S.-controlled areas of the Pacific Ocean, but have never put penalties in place to enforce the ban.

The story, from the Associated Press:

HONOLULU (AP) — An environmental group has petitioned the federal government to outline what fines or other penalties it will impose on companies that fish within three marine national monuments in the Pacific.
All commercial fishing was banned in the areas — which lie around Rose Atoll near American Samoa, the Marianas Trench near Saipan, and remote Pacific islands including Palmyra Atoll — when President George W. Bush created the monuments more than three years ago.
The Marine Conservation Institute, a Bellevue, Wash.-based group, said the government’s failure to draft rules explaining what kind of penalty it will impose for a violation is holding up its ability to enforce the ban.
The organization last week petitioned the two co-managers of the monuments, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to create such rules.
Fishermen or their boats could harm unique ecosystems, the petition said, such as when a fishing vessel sank and damaged coral at Kingman Reef near Palmyra in 2007, or when fishing boat ran aground and spilled 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel at Rose Atoll in 1993.
Nesting sea turtles and the world’s largest population of giant clams are at risk, the petition said.
William Chandler, the institute’s vice president for government affairs, said the group has been advocating for the regulations for years but were told they were under consideration and in the works.
“This is not supposed to be a three-year or four-year process. In one more year we’ll hit the four-year mark,” Chandler said. “People need to know these places don’t have the full panoply of legal protections that they could and that they’re supposed to.”
Wende Goo, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the agency is reviewing the petition.
Barry Stieglitz, refuge supervisor at the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuges, said he shares the institute’s “frustration.” But he said his agency has gained responsibilities without winning more funds to help fulfill them.
“The federal fiscal situation is such that we haven’t received any additional resources with which to work on implementing the marine national monument,” he said.
The agency would need to assign someone full-time to develop the rules, but people who could be given the job are focused on existing projects like getting rid of rats at Palmyra Atoll, he said.
Lesli Bales-Sherrod, a spokeswoman for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, said there have been cases of commercial fishing in the monuments since 2009 when they were created and commercial fishing was banned.
NOAA enforces the prohibition with outreach, education and verbal warnings, as is the case with NOAA’s enforcement of many new regulations, she said.
Lt. Gene Maestas, 14th Coast Guard District spokesman, said the Coast Guard monitors ships in the monument and patrols the area with planes and ships.
The Coast Guard can cite U.S. flagged commercial vessels for fishing in the monuments, but it’s up to NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement to prosecute the citations.
Regulations banning commercial fishing went into effect quickly at the first marine monument Bush established, the Papahanaumokuakea monument northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands.
Stieglitz said that’s because officials had been working on the regulations already in anticipation the government would create a national marine sanctuary there. The rules were already drafted and only needed to be published when Bush issued a proclamation establishing a marine monument there in 2006.
Commercial fishing regulations must be created from scratch for the three monuments Bush established in 2009.

Gut shot — by a raccoon?!

Here’s one that makes you laugh and wince at the same time. From the Associated Press:

REDFIELD, Iowa (AP) — A rural Redfield man is being treated for two gunshot wounds after an attempt to shoot a raccoon caught in a live trap backfired.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says 68-year-old Larry Godwin was using a .22-caliber handgun to shoot the caged raccoon at around 11 a.m. Saturday when the bullet ricocheted off the cage and struck him in the lower abdomen on the right side. He dropped the gun and it fired again, shooting him again in about the same spot.
He was taken to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines by private vehicle.
The DNR says the injuries are not believed to be life threatening.

One solution to the feral hog problem


Texans have found a unique way to get rid of the feral swine that root up their crops — hold a contest to see who could kill the most. From the Associated Press:

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — A competition aimed at curbing the feral hog problem in Texas has resulted in the demise of 12,632 of the animals that damage or destroy hundreds of millions of dollars in crops and ranchland every year, the Texas Department of Agriculture said Thursday.
Hardeman County on the Oklahoma border bagged the most — 2,047 hogs — in the Hog Out Challenge to win $20,000 to help with further abatement. Four other counties will share the remainder of the $60,000 in awards.
The department’s commissioner and candidate for Texas lieutenant governor, Todd Staples, said he’s put feral hogs on the state’s most-wanted list.
“We need to track down these destructive pests and eliminate them. Not only are feral hogs a costly nuisance to agricultural operations and wildlife habitats, but they are a serious threat to the traveling public and are increasingly finding their way into urban areas and destroying residents’ yards, public parks, golf courses and more.”
Last year’s contest ran two months longer than the inaugural one-month program and resulted in the elimination of 8,773 more hogs. There were 3,859 kills in 2010.
Clay County will receive $15,000, Lavaca County will get $10,000, and Callahan and Goliad counties each will receive $7,500. The formula for the awards was based on the number of animals killed and the number of people who attended educational forums on hog abatement.
Steven Sparkman, the Texas AgriLife extension agent in Hardeman County, said 44 counties participated last year, down from 60 the year before.
Funds from winning the contest could be used to pay for construction of more hog traps to either give away or sell at a discounted price.
“We’ve been dealing with hogs here the last 20 years or so,” he said. “And they’ve just progressively gotten worse.”
An estimated 2.6 million hogs cause $550 million in damage annually, including $52 million in agricultural destruction.
Armed with razor-sharp tusks, the hogs shred fields and pastures and wreck ecosystems by wallowing in riverbeds and streams. Even perennials planted at graves aren’t safe. In recent years, the hogs are increasingly showing up in urban neighborhoods around the state.
Feral hogs, which can stand 3 feet tall and weigh up to 400 pounds, make meals of lambs, kid goats, baby calves, newborn fawns and ground-nesting birds. They compete for food and room with many native species of wildlife.
The animals commonly destroy urban yards, parks and golf courses, as well as rangeland, pastures, crops, fencing, wildlife feeders and other property. Additionally, they contribute to E. coli and other diseases in Texas streams, ponds and watersheds.
The hogs are also a road hazard. Motorists sustain an estimated $1,200 in damage per collision.

Feds bust alleged rhino-horn traffickers

Too valuable for their own good

Ever wonder why rhinos are so rare? Here’s a major reason:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Federal wildlife investigators have broken up an international smuggling ring that trafficked in sawed-off rhinoceros horns for buyers in Vietnam and China who believe they cure cancer, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
More than 150 federal agents led raids into homes and businesses in several states over the weekend, according to the Times.
Three of the alleged traffickers caught in Southern California were 49-year-old Jimmy Kha, his 41-year-old girlfriend Mai Nguyen and Kha’s 26-year-old son Felix. Each faces four counts of rhino horn trafficking in violation of federal laws protecting rare and endangered species.
“By taking out this ring of rhino horn traffickers, we have shut down a major source of black market horn and dealt a serious blow to rhino horn smuggling both in the U.S. and globally,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe told the Times.
More than $1 million in cash, $1 million in gold bars, diamonds and Rolex watches, along with 20 rhino horns, were seized in the raids.
Most of the horns end up in Vietnam, or sometimes China, where there’s a misconception that they can cure cancer, said Crawford Allan, North American director of TRAFFIC, a World Wildlife Fund program that monitors wildlife trade.
The wildlife service did not immediately respond to an email request for comment sent late Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The arrests and seizures resulted from an 18-month investigation, said Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement for the wildlife service.
The undercover operation was forced into the open when accused trafficker Wade Steffen of Hico, Texas, and his wife and mother were found with $337,000 in their luggage at a Long Beach airport, authorities said.
During their investigation, wildlife officials said they intercepted at least 18 shipments of rhino horns from the Steffen family and the owner of a Missouri auction house that trades in live and stuffed exotic animals, according to court records. Steffen was jailed in Texas; his wife and mother weren’t arrested.

Deer harvest stats: Point of view matters

John McCoy photo

Most West Virginians think of Iowa as a deer hunter’s paradise, but recent statistics show that hunters in the Hawkeye State might not have it as good as we Mountaineers believe.

Last year, while West Virginia’s deer kill increased 24 percent, Iowa’s fell 4.5 percent.

A story about Iowa’s falloff, from the Associated Press:

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Hunters in Iowa killed about 4.5 percent fewer deer during the recent hunting seasons.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says hunters killed about 121,400 deer during the 2011-2012 seasons. Officials say Iowa’s deer population has been reduced by about 30 percent from its peak in 2006.
Spokesman Dale Garner says deer numbers in many areas are near or below the DNR’s objective. The department will review the harvest and population surveys this spring and make proposals to reduce the kill and stabilize deer where the numbers are at or below the goal.
The agency says in areas were numbers haven’t reached the goal, hunters will have the option to kill extra does. Many of these areas are near cities and towns where hunting is restricted.

Granted, Iowa is arguably a better place to hunt trophy bucks. But for numbers? West  Virginia sportsmen killed more than 132,000 whitetails last season, and Iowa sportsmen killed 121,000. And West Virginia is less than half the size of Iowa.

Students take aim at feral swine problem

Apparently some citizens in Arkansas believe their state’s natural resource agency isn’t paying enough attention to an increasingly destructive feral hog population. So they’re taking matters into their own hands.

From the Associated Press:

ASHDOWN, Ark. (AP) — In the remote Pond Creek Bottoms near the Little River, Ashdown students faced reality smelling and watching two angry feral hogs ram a portable pen.
The hogs, who walked into the pen and were unable to escape, showed their anger by ramming the fence.
They were going to be euthanized and the blood tested as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture program documenting the growth of the feral hogs in the region.
Nature and the USDA provided the classroom last June for the Ashdown High School Environmental and Spatial Technologies department.
Students and instructor Nancy Stuart have been documenting feral hogs in Southwest Arkansas.
The Texarkana Gazette reports the result of the research this spring will be a documentary film to be distributed to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission regarding the hogs.
The EAST lab students learned when the classroom moves outdoors, it opens up new paths.
These paths were a physical drain when the temperature reached nearly 100 degrees and the humidity was nearly the same. It almost made Stuart faint. She said there was no breeze and the heat was stifling.
The teacher and students joined Clint Turnage, a wildlife disease biologist with the USDA who was testing feral hogs in the Pond Creek Bottoms. The biologist created lessons about the cycle of life.
The Pond Creek Bottoms in southern Sevier County, Ark., have an abundance of feral hogs, and blood samples show the hogs are healthy.
“During the last four years we have sampled 103 feral swine from Pond Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Of those, one single sample tested positive for pseudorabies. That is very good in my opinion,” Turnage said.
“Although the hogs we have tested at Pond Creek appear to have a very low prevalence of swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, I think that it’s imperative to emphasize that hunters take precautions when handling feral hogs,” Turnage said.
The project will complete a statewide map and documentary on invasive species of plants and animals, a project especially important to the natural resources of Little River and surrounding counties.
The project has been labeled K.A.N. (Keep Arkansas Natural) and is a coalition of EAST labs from Hot Springs, Fountain Lake, Valley View and Ashdown high schools.
The AHS EAST students who have been working since early last summer on the research for the map and documentary are Bradley Kilgore, Cameron Imler, Matthew Nolen and Raine Dowling.
Ashdown students are also researching the invasion of alligator weed, musk thistle and American lotus.
“Its fourth focus is on the feral hog, whose invasion of forest and farmlands in Southeast Arkansas has cost tens of thousands of dollars in damage and loss,” Stuart said.
Students helped Turnage collect blood samples from feral hogs. The students also filmed the work of Turnage and Paul Gideon, Pond Creek wildlife manager.
“The research project for the K.A.N. coalition will be to build on the evidence and compile their findings into a narrative to be presented to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission in hopes of bringing about the eradication of invasive species that threaten the health and beauty of the ‘Natural State,'” Stuart said.

Cabela’s eyes further expansion

The new Cabela’s store, scheduled to open near Charleston late this summer, is only part of the company’s expansion into the Appalachian foothills.

Two other stores — one in Columbus, Ohio, and the other in Louisville, Ky., are scheduled for completion in 2013. According to this article on the NASDAQ website, the company has been doing a booming business at its retail outlets and plans to accelerate its retail expansion.

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

Man pleads guilty to eagle killings

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

A recent post told how a Maine man had been sentenced to a year in jail for killing a single bald eagle. Imagine, then, what a Montana man might get for killing several bald and golden eagles. From the Associated Press:

HARDIN, Mont. (AP) — A 71-year-old Hardin man has acknowledged killing bald and golden eagles and selling their parts.
The Billings Gazette reports William Esley Hugs pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to traffic in eagles and migratory birds. A plea agreement calls for five other charges to be dismissed when he is sentenced on May 17.
Hugs and at least five others, including his son and his brother, were charged last summer after a tip led to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Steger Smith says FWS worked with an informant to buy eagle feathers, bird parts and whole eagle carcasses from Hugs from about December 2010 until February 2011.
Bald and golden eagles are protected by federal law.

Come to think of it, Hugs probably won’t get a severe sentence. He’s 71 years old, and courts tend to take it easy on old-timers.