Monday, October 31, 2011

Deer hunters need to be bear aware

Louisiana Black BearImage via Wikipedia
Cover scents used by deer hunters and other intriguing smells can
overcome bears’ natural shyness and bring them too close for comfort.

SEYMOUR, Mo.—Daron Wilkins wasn’t looking for a close encounter with a black bear when he climbed into a tree stand on Nov. 2, 2010, but he got one. Good luck allowed him and the bear to escape unharmed, but the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) says hunters don’t have to rely on fate to determine the outcome of bear encounters.

Wilkins was hunting on private land, sitting in a 20-foot ladder stand near the edge of a field. The oak flats surrounding the field had patches of dense underbrush and blackberry thickets. He first spied the bear around 5 p.m.

“She came out of the woods about 75 yards to my right,” Wilkins recalls. “She went back in the woods after a minute or so, and I kind of assumed she had winded me and had gone away. Probably 20 minutes later she came back out in the field.”

Wilkins, who hosts the Wild Idea Outdoors show on 98.7 FM, a sports talk-radio station in Springfield, carries a hand-held video camera when he hunts, so he started filming the bear.

“She was just browsing around in front of me. Every once in a while she would stop and dig around and then move on. Over the next few minutes she browsed her way to within 30 yards of my tree stand. All of a sudden she paused and stuck her nose in the air and turned right toward me.”

Following an intriguing scent, the bear moved without hesitation to the base of the tree where Wilkins sat.

“I had no idea how fast a bear can climb. Before I knew it, she was at my feet. I don’t think she had any idea I was in the tree. She got to the foot part of my stand, where she couldn’t go any further. Then she went around to the back side of the tree and continued coming up.”

Up until that moment, Wilkins had felt nothing but excitement at seeing a bear close-up. When he found himself within an arm’s length of the animal, another emotion washed over him.

“I was actually still trying to film her at the time. I leaned over the back side of the tree, and about then a light bulb went off in my head. ‘Are you going to let this thing climb up in the tree stand with you? You better get rid of it.’”

What Wilkins did next probably wasn’t the best thing, but it worked.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I just leaned over at her and went “Naaaah!” like a doe bleating. She stopped and looked at me. At this point, she was about two feet below me. We were looking eye-to-eye at one another. I figured it was going to be flight or fight. I’m either going to startle her to the point where she takes a swipe at me, or she’s going to leave. Thankfully, she decided to leave.”

The bear backed down the tree and departed, leaving Wilkins shaken.

“I realized the danger I had been in. My hands were shaking from sheer adrenalin. It was probably 15 or 20 minutes before I calmed down enough to hold my video camera steady and speak clearly enough to describe what had just happened.”

Video of the bear’s approach and Wilkins’ reaction is available atyoutube.com/watch?v=Q0KI8dhLd8w. After viewing the video and discussing the incident with Wilkins, MDC Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer identified several themes that reoccur in many hunter-bear encounters throughout the eastern United States.

One is the fact that Wilkins was using a deer attractant scent based on doe urine. Another is that he was wearing camouflage clothing. And the bear was young, probably two years old. In spite of its keen sense of smell, it didn’t seem to notice Wilkins’ scent. It retreated as soon as it became aware of Wilkins’ presence.

“Encounters like this one aren’t what I would call common in Missouri yet,” said Beringer, “but they are going to become more common as our bear population grows. We had another, very similar event in the past week over by Ellington. Biologists in states where they have well-established bear populations tell me this sort of thing is not uncommon there.”

Beringer said black bears rely primarily on their sense of smell to find food. They are totally focused on food at this time of year and forage practically nonstop. Although acorns make up the bulk of their autumn diet, they will investigate anything that smells interesting.

Other factors likely were at work in the recent encounters as well. Bears are at the top of the food chain and don’t expect to encounter danger in the woods. Hunters begin visiting areas that bears have had to themselves throughout the summer. Young bears that have little or no experience with humans don’t always flee at the first hint of human presence as older bears generally do.

“You’ve got a hunter who is basically invisible and smells like a deer,” said Beringer. “All a young bear is thinking about is food, unless something flips the switch in its brain that says, ‘Danger!’ It’s up to hunters to flip that switch before things get out of hand.”

Looking back on his brush with the bear, Wilkins says he would do things differently the second time around.

“That bear moved so fast, the only chance I had to stop her was when she was in the field foraging. When she smelled something, her behavior went from one thing to something completely different. In a matter of seconds, I went from ‘Hey, this is cool’ to ‘She’s in the tree with me!” If I had it to do over, I would yell at her when she was still way out in the field.”

Shouting is a good idea, according to Beringer. So is waving your arms, banging on the metal of your tree stand or making other loud noises. He advises hunters to remain standing during a bear encounter so they look as large as possible, and make and maintain eye contact with the bear.

“Staring at another animal is aggressive, predatory behavior,” said Beringer. “You want a bear to know you are there, and you want it to see you as a threat.”

Beringer said advice about how to act during a bear encounter is different if you surprise a bear at close range. Hunters or hikers who suddenly come upon a bear with food or cubs or where the bear has no place to run should speak in a calm voice and back away slowly. Never run from a bear, he says. That is prey behavior.

The great majority of Missouri’s bears live south of Interstate 44. MDC studies have identified hubs of bear activity around Webster, Howell and Shannon counties. Bear numbers drop off sharply where the typical, wooded Ozarks landscape gives way to prairie in southwestern Missouri and to the intensively farmed landscape of extreme southeastern Missouri.

Availability of seasonal foods, such as berries and nuts can draw bears to those food sources, making their behavior somewhat predictable. Persimmon trees, crop fields and food plots also can be bear attractors. In years when acorns are abundant, however, bears can be almost anywhere.

Beringer said bears have good memories, and they return periodically to places where they have found food in the past. He said hunters who use corn feeders to attract deer to their property have a better chance of encountering a bear, even if they stop feeding before the hunting season, as required by Missouri’s Wildlife Code.

Beringer said bears leave ample evidence of their presence in an area, especially this time of year. Consuming large amounts of acorns results in large piles of droppings – too large to be from anything smaller than a bear. If you find a large pile of dung that contains partially digested acorns, berries and other plant material, you can be fairly sure a bear has been there.

One thing hunters can do to minimize the likelihood of a bear approaching them is to keep any food they bring to the field in sealable plastic bags. Put left-over fruit peelings, apple cores, candy bar wrappers and other refuse back in the plastic bag to reduce enticing smells.

Beringer emphasized that bear encounters don’t have to be a bad thing.

“It’s kind of cool to see a bear,” he said, “and if you’re hunting, you don’t want to ruin your hunt by yelling. I can see where a person might be reluctant to make a bunch of commotion. But when a bear gets within 30 yards, that’s time to scare it off. Stand up and wave your arms. If the bear doesn’t see you and leave, you should shout and maybe throw things at it. If a bear gets uncomfortably close, it’s OK to shoot over it.”

One scenario that has occurred in other states, but not in Missouri as far as Beringer knows, is when a bear finds and claims a hunter-killed deer. Black bears can be very protective of a food bonanza the size of a deer carcass. Beringer said a hunter should not try to force the issue if a bear doesn’t immediately flee when approached.

“Bears are protected under the Wildlife Code,” he said. “It is not OK to shoot a bear that isn’t attacking you, and it isn’t smart to pressure a defensive bear. It’s better just to leave and come back later for the antlers, if it’s a buck.”

He said hunters who are concerned about bear encounters can carry pepper spray made especially for this purpose. He said however, that black bears – unlike grizzly bears–almost never attack people. Just because a bear moves toward you doesn’t mean it is aggressive. In most cases, it is merely curious and not aware that it is approaching a human.

Myron Means is the bear program coordinator for the Game and Fish Commission in Arkansas, which has had black bears since the 1950s. He said Arkansas has never recorded a bear attack on a hunter.

“Black bears that are involved in human attacks almost always are starving or in bad health,” said Beringer. “Our bears are healthy.”

In the extremely unlikely event that a bear does attack, Beringer says a hunter should shoot it. “We’re not trying to protect those kinds of animals,” he said.

If shooting isn’t an option, Beringer said you should always fight back, kicking or clubbing with a bow, a stick or any object at hand. He said learning to live with bears is mostly a question of raising outdoors people’s awareness.

“Folks in states that have had black bears for many years don’t think much about it,” he said. “They aren’t scared of bears, because problems are so rare. People know bears are out there, and they know what to do if they see one.”

For more about black bears in Missouri, seemdc.mo.gov/node/3506.

-Jim Low-

Learn campfire cooking Nov. 5 at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park

Small type of campfire, good for cookingImage via Wikipedia
JEFFERSON CITYMo., OCT. 21, 2011 -- Campfire cooking can be one of the joys of being outdoors and you can learn this skill at a special program Nov. 5 at Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park in Wildwood. The free program will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. in the campground amphitheater and the public is invited to attend.
            Campfire cooking doesn’t have to mean just hotdogs on sticks and s'mores. Learn the skill of Dutch oven cooking to make stews and other treats.
            For food preparation purposes, this program will require advance registration.  Contact the park's visitor center at 636-458-3813 to reserve your spot.
Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park is located 20 miles west of St. Louis on Highway BA, between U.S. 40 and Highway 100. For more information, call the park or call the Missouri Department of Natural Resources toll free at 800-334-6946 (voice) or 800 379-2419(Telecommunications Device for the Deaf). For more information about state parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Enjoy hunting? Then share the fun with someone new

Ray Schoenke hunting pictureImage via Wikipedia
When Minnesota’s firearms deer hunting season opens Saturday, Nov. 5, many people who would like to hunt won’t.
Why?

No one invited them.

“A lot of men, women and children will be sitting on a couch instead of a stand because no one has offered to take them hunting,” said Jenifer Wical, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) customer relations manager. “This year, we’re encouraging hunters to invite a buddy to camp because it is not always about the buck, it’s about friends, family and making memories that last a lifetime.”

Years ago, it was more difficult to introduce someone new to hunting because of certain firearms safety requirements. Today, firearms safety is still required for those born after Dec. 31, 1979, but Minnesota offers a two-year exemption when certain safety precautions are followed. As a result, it’s easier to introduce someone new to hunting, even on the spur of the moment.

“Many deer camps are changing,” said Wical. “Older hunters are dropping out. Younger hunters aren’t filling the void. That means there’s an opportunity to pass the hunting tradition onto someone new, someone who has been sitting on the sidelines but would have been a player if only they had been asked.”

People who want to hunt but have not completed a firearms safety course can use the Apprentice Hunter Validation Program. Under this program, adults and youth age 12 or older purchase a $3.50 validation and the appropriate hunting license. Together, these purchases enable the person to hunt when accompanied by a licensed adult hunter who is within unaided sight and speaking distance at all times.

Since this program began in 2007, roughly 14,000 people have purchased the apprentice hunter validation, according to Wical. Nearly 40 percent of these people went on to complete firearms safety courses and 30 percent are still hunting today. Those statistics, she said, suggest that many people “buddied-up to hunt” and are still doing it, which is good for both hunting and social traditions.

The apprentice hunter validation is available anywhere DNR licenses are sold, which includes by phone at 888-665-4236 or online.

MDC needs hunter help with CWD sampling of harvested deer

Distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease in the...Image via Wikipedia
Conservation Department asks deer hunters to allow MDC to collect tissue samples from deer harvested in north-central Missouri area for chronic-wasting-disease testing.



JEFFERSON CITY Mo – As part of its ongoing efforts to monitor Missouri’s free-ranging deer for chronic wasting disease (CWD), the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is asking hunters for help.

MDC encourages hunters who harvest adult deer in Linn, Macon and parts of Adair, Chariton, Randolph and Sullivan counties during the early youth portion (Nov. 5-6) and first two weekends of the November firearms portion (Nov. 12-13 and Nov. 19-20) to take their deer to the following processors and roadside collection sites for tissue sampling during the following dates.

CHARITON COUNTY
  • · Salisbury Meat Market & Processing, 29047 Market Lane in Salisbury (Nov. 12-13)

LINN COUNTY
  • King’s Processing & Catering, 33181 Hwy WW in Marceline(Nov. 5-6, 12-13 and 19-20) 
  • Purdin Processing, 100 C St. in Purdin (Nov. 12-13 and 19-20)
  • Sprague’s Locker, 700 Brookfield Ave. in Brookfield (Nov 12-13)
  • Roadside Collection: Junction of Hwy 129 and Hwy 36 in Bucklin(8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Nov. 12-13 and 19-20)
  • Roadside Collection: Junction of Hwy 11 and Hwy 129 in New Boston (8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Nov. 12-13 and 19-20)
MACON COUNTY
  • Special D Meats, 30637 Lake St. in Macon (Nov. 5-6, 12-13 and 19-20) 
  • Buck Ridge Butcher Shop, 11245 Grouse Ave. in La Plata(Nov. 12 and 19)
  • Roadside Collection: Junction of Hwy 149 and Hwy Z in New Cambria (8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Nov. 12-13 and 19-20)
  • Roadside Collection: Junction of Hwy 149 and Hwy J in Goldsberry (8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Nov. 12-13 and 19-20)
SULLIVAN COUNTY

  • · Tucker’s Grocers & Processing, 355 W. Front St. in Green Castle (Nov 12-13)
“The process of collecting tissue samples will take only a few minutes and involves removing lymph nodes from the head,” said MDC Deer Biologist Jason Sumners. “The tissue sampling will not reduce the food value of deer. For those who harvest adult bucks and are worried about the taxidermy value of their mount, we are also working with many area taxidermists to collect tissue samples from adult bucks for CWD testing.”
Sumners added that hunters throughout the state who encounter or harvest deer in poor condition with no obvious injuries should contact their local conservation agent or MDC office. If appropriate, the deer will be tested for CWD.

He noted that the more than 500,000 Missouri deer hunters are vital partners in keeping the state’s deer herd healthy, along with the supporting the state economy.

“Adult deer have no widespread natural predators in Missouri so hunting is the primary way to control the population,” Sumners said. “Deer hunters spend more than $750 million directly related to deer hunting each year. This adds up to over $1 billion in overall business activity and supports more than 11,000 jobs.”

The voluntary hunter-harvested deer sampling effort is part of MDC’s response to a recent case of CWD found in a captive white-tailed deer. It is the second of only two confirmed cases of CWD with both found in captive white-tailed deer at two separate private, captive hunting preserves in Linn and Macon counties. The facility where the first case was reported in February 2010 has been depopulated.
The second case was identified by the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) in October 2011 as a result of increased surveillance required by the management plan implemented from the previous CWD incident. The Missouri Departments of Agriculture and Conservation, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), continue their investigation of the incident.

CWD is a neurological disease that attacks the nervous systems of cervids, such as deer and elk, along with non-native cervids such as moose, red deer, fallow deer and sika deer. Cervids with clinical signs of CWD show changes in natural behavior and can exhibit extreme weight loss, excessive salivation, stumbling and tremors. CWD is thought to always be fatal to the infected animal, but it can take months or years before the symptoms of infection appear. CWD can spread through the natural movements of infected free-roaming cervids, the transportation of live captive cervids with CWD or the transportation of infected carcasses. CWD in deer can only be confirmed by laboratory examination of the brain stem or lymph tissue.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS) stated there is no evidence CWD can infect people. The MDA stated that current research shows there is no evidence CWD can spread to domestic livestock, such as sheep or cattle.

While CWD is new to Missouri, the MDC and MDA have been testing for it for years. The agencies formed a state Cervid Health Committee in 2002 to address the threat of CWD to Missouri. This task force is composed of conservation agents, veterinarians and animal health officers from MDC, MDA, MDHSS and the USDA.

With the help of hunters, the MDC has tested more than 31,000 free-ranging deer for CWD from all parts of the state since 2002 with no cases found.

Sumners noted that Missouri residents who hunt deer, elk or moose in other states should be aware of regulations regarding chronic wasting disease. The Missouri Wildlife Code requires that hunters who bring deer, elk or moose into Missouri with heads or spinal columns attached to report the carcasses’ entry by calling 1-877-853-5665 within 24 hours of entering the state. If heads or spinal cords are intact on the animals, hunters cannot process the meat or trophy mounts themselves and must take the carcasses to a licensed meat processor or taxidermist within 72 hours of entry. Meat processors and taxidermists are required to dispose of spinal cords and other parts in a properly permitted landfill. Hunters do not need to report if they simply bring back meat, hides, antlers, teeth, skulls or skull plates with no brain tissue attached.

For more information, refer to page 9 of the “2011 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” booklet. The booklet is available where permits are sold, including MDC offices, and online at www.mdc.mo.gov.

Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Blueprint for the National Wildlife Refuge System

Ideas for the National Wildlife Refuge System ...Image via Wikipedia

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today made public a renewed vision for
the growth and management of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The
document, initially drafted by the Service and the National Wildlife
Refuge Association, articulates a 10-year blueprint for the Refuge System.


Entitled Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation,
the Service’s vision was developed with extensive input from stakeholders
through a transparent public process during the last 18 months. The final
version of the document is now available online at
www.americaswildlife.org.

“For more than 100 years, the National Wildlife Refuge System has
conserved America’s great wildlife heritage and working lands for current
and future generations, and this blueprint will ensure that a new era of
conservation – one rooted in strong partnerships with the community –
remains vibrant for the next 100 years,” said Secretary of the Interior
Ken Salazar. “I applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service for their commitment
to increasing the public’s access to open spaces and to inspiring a new
generation to enjoy America’s great outdoors and get involved in
conserving our nation’s wild things and wild places.”

Conserving the Future underscores the importance of building and expanding
partnerships – working together with other federal agencies, states,
tribes, conservation organizations and citizens.

“The conservation challenges of the 21st century demand that the Service
renews its commitment to our important relationship with state fish and
wildlife agencies and with traditional partners such as anglers and
hunters,” said Dan Ashe, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “At
the same time, we need to be creative and bold in forging new
partnerships.”

Among the vision’s recommendations, the Refuge System will:
launch an urban refuge initiative to increase the American
people’s connection with their natural heritage, including wildlife
refuges;
work with state fish and wildlife agencies to prepare a strategy
for increasing quality hunting and fishing opportunities – especially for
youth and people with disabilities – on wildlife refuges;
collaborate more with private and regional groups to conserve
wildlife habitat;
undertake an inventory and monitoring of the Refuge System’s land
and water resources to better protect them against future threats;
develop a plan to guide refuges in assessing potential climate
change impacts to refuge habitats and species; and
plan for strategic growth by prioritizing potential acquisition
sites and assessing the status of current habitat protection efforts.

To date, three implementation teams are focusing on 1) strategic growth of
the Refuge System; 2) an urban wildlife refuge initiative; and 3)
leadership development, and six more teams are being formed to focus on
aspects of the vision.

In describing the Refuge System’s role in addressing America’s
conservation challenges, the vision document states: “Human demands on the
environment combined with environmental stressors are creating an urgent
need for conservation choices. The scale of issues and challenges we face
is unprecedented and impacts us all; no single entity has the resources
necessary to address these challenges on its own. Conserving the Future
acknowledges that strategic, collaborative, science-based landscape
conservation -- along with effective public outreach, education and
environmental awareness -- is the only path forward to conserve America's
wildlife and wild places.”

Saturday, October 29, 2011

MDC to seek elusive answers about ruffed grouse

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)Image via WikipediaFAMILY-OUTDOORS

A public-private partnership will determine the practicality of once again restocking grouse.

JEFFERSON CITY–Jason Isabelle wants to know if the ruffed grouse has a future in Missouri. The Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation (QUWF) wants to help Isabelle answer that question, and other states are watching.

Isabelle’s duties as a resource scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) include studying ruffed grouse, handsome, forest-dwelling birds three or four times the size of a bobwhite quail. He inherited the duty from a line of biologists going back to the early 1940s, when MDC launched its first grouse-restoration effort.

Those efforts, which ended in the mid-1990s, transplanted more than 4,000 grouse from other Midwestern states to the best available habitat in Missouri. Most of the birds went to the central Ozarks, north-central and east-central Missouri.

Ruffed grouse persist in very small numbers in a few of the original restoration areas, including an area known as the River Hills Conservation Opportunity Area in Callaway, Montgomery and Warren counties. However, grouse numbers have dwindled to the point where the Conservation Commission closed the ruffed-grouse hunting season last year based on a recommendation from MDC biologists. The most likely cause of their decline is inadequate habitat.

“Ruffed grouse need a mosaic of old and young forests to prosper,” said Isabelle. “They need areas where timber harvests or storms have removed or killed all the trees, creating early-successional forest habitat. They just can’t survive without scattered areas of disturbance in a larger forest setting. Over the course of the last several decades, the amount of young forest habitat has declined substantially throughout the southern portion of the ruffed grouse’s range.”

That accounts for the relative abundance of grouse that existed in Missouri in the early 1800s. Although Missouri is at the southwestern edge of the species’ natural range, early settlers cut down trees for fuel and building material, creating a patchwork of clear cuts, young forest and mature timber that was made to order for ruffed grouse. Missouri’s grouse boom was short-lived, however. It went bust from a one-two punch of relentless market hunting and large-scale logging that denuded vast areas of Missouri’s timberlands.

Conservationists are optimists by nature, so when QUWF approached MDC about giving ruffed-grouse restoration another try, Isabelle set aside earlier discouragements and considered the possibilities.

“Over the past decade, there has been an ongoing effort to increase the amount of early-successional forest habitat in the River Hills region of east-central Missouri,” said Isabelle. “This effort has involved a number of partners conducting habitat work on both public and private lands.”

Working cooperatively with the Missouri Resource Assessment Partnership and the USDA Forest Service, MDC plans to conduct a systematic evaluation of potential grouse habitat within the River Hills Conservation Opportunity Area. With that information, said Isabelle, MDC will be in a position to decide whether another attempt at grouse restoration makes sense.

Missouri is not the only state examining its ruffed-grouse management options. Other states on the southern edge of the ruffed grouse’s range have documented declines similar to the one seen here. Isabelle said other states in the southern portion of grouse range will be watching closely to see what comes of studies in the Show-Me State.

Goals of Missouri’s ruffed-grouse studies will include determining:

· The quality and quantity of available habitat in the River Hills Conservation Opportunity Area.

· The likelihood of establishing a self-sustaining grouse population.

· What it will take to manage for and sustain a grouse population in the future.

“We need answers to these questions to make wise choices about grouse management in Missouri,” said Isabelle. “Once we have answers, we will work with QUWF to explore ways that we might be able to help grouse rebound, including the possibility of restocking grouse in an area where they once seemed to thrive.”

MDC Director Bob Ziehmer said he views cooperation with QUWF as the first step in what could be a significant restoration effort in the future.

“Grouse are a special, unique part of Missouri’s natural heritage,” said Ziehmer. “We don’t want to lose them if we can help it, but we face some big challenges. Missouri’s landscape has changed dramatically over the course of the last several decades, and grouse population declines elsewhere show this is a widespread and complicated issue with lots of uncertainty.”

QUWF Director Craig Alderman said Missouri’s grouse population is near a tipping point.

“Without continued cooperation between MDC and QUWF members to scientifically evaluate and restore these wonderful birds, our grandchildren may never have the opportunity see a ruffed grouse in Missouri,” said Alderman, “and that would be tragic.”

-Jim Low-

Friday, October 28, 2011

Waterfowl Hunting Forecast

Anas crecca carolinensis (Green winged Teal) -...Image by Arthur Chapman via Flickr
Duck numbers burgeon, but weather, habitat will determine hunter success
With duck numbers at an all-time high, Missouri
needs only a little luck for a memorable hunting season
JEFFERSON CITY–The number of breeding ducks surpassed all previous records this year, setting the stage for a bountiful harvest. All Missouri hunters need now is the right weather to push ducks into the Show-Me State and keep them here.
This year’s North American breeding-duck population was estimated at 45.6 million. That is 35 percent above the long-term average. This was only the fifth time in the survey’s history that the total duck population exceeded 40 million. In fact, this year’s breeding-duck population was the largest ever recorded since federal officials began counting waterfowl in 1955.
Missouri’s most popular waterfowl species, the mallard, went to the nesting grounds with 9.2 million individual ducks last spring. Nearly as numerous were blue-winged teal, which entered the breeding season with 8.9 million ducks, up 91 percent from the long-term average.
The northern shoveler was the next-most-numerous duck species, with 4.4 million individuals. That was an impressive 98-percent increase from the long-term average. However, redhead ducks take the prize for most-improved numbers this year. Their population estimate of 1.4 million is 106 percent above the long-term average.
Other duck species above long-term averages include:
n  Gadwalls, 3.3 million, up 80 percent
n  Green-winged teal, 2.9 million, up 47 percent
n  Canvasbacks, 700,000, up 21 percent
Numbers of northern pintails – 4.4 million – were up 26 percent from last year, but the progress they have made over the past few years only brings them even with the long-term average.
Only two of the top 10 hunted duck species were below their long-term averages this year. The combined total of 4.3 million lesser and greater scaup was about the same as last year but down 15 percent long-term. And while American wigeon remained fairly numerous at 2.1 million, their numbers were down 20 percent long-term.
Missouri’s waterfowl season begins Oct. 29 in the North Zone, Nov. 5 in the Middle Zone and Nov. 24 in the South zone. Season lengths, bag limits and other details are available in the Waterfowl Hunting Digest 2011-2012, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold or at mdc.mo.gov/node/5646/.
While hunters are sure to be thrilled by the prospect of a possible record fall flight of ducks, old hands know that two other factors – weather and habitat – play critical roles in making a good hunting season.
Weather is an imponderable this early in the season. No one can say when the onset of winter in the upper Midwest and central Canada will send large numbers of ducks south toward Missouri. Just as unpredictable is the onset of wintery conditions that will chase the birds into Arkansas. A long interval between those two events means plenty of opportunity to hunt. A fast transition from autumn to winter shortens hunters’ window of opportunity.
That leaves habitat for hunters to ponder. Migrating ducks need high-energy food to replenish reserves for the next leg of their arduous journeys. They also need water where they can rest. In years when these requirements are scarce, ducks are less inclined to linger in Missouri. This year, highly variable wetland conditions across the Show-Me State creates some uncertainty when predicting the outlook for the upcoming season. Weather patterns, migration timing, and food availability ultimately will shape the 2011-2012 waterfowl season.
“Scouting is going to be very important to hunters’ success this year,” said Resource Scientist Doreen Mengel, with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “We had a wet spring followed by hot, dry weather late in the summer and into fall. That made creating the growing conditions that result in good food resources for ducks a special challenge. As a result, the availability of crops and seed-producing native plants is spotty, too. You can’t count on areas that have provided food for ducks in the past to be productive this year.”
Mengel said the distribution of water also will be different than normal this year. Flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers created pools and left standing water in some normally dry areas. The availability of so much additional wetland acreage will give ducks more room to spread out, making them harder to find.
On the other hand, portions of southwest Missouri have been particularly hard-hit by drought. As a result, some low-lying land that usually fills up with autumn rainfall is completely dry this year. Many of these areas have an abundance of food plants, but without standing water, they will not attract ducks as they usually do, unless heavy rains arrive in the coming weeks.
“If you find a spot with both food and water this year, you probably will do well,” said Mengel. “Hunters who rely on past experience to plan their hunts could be in for an unwelcome surprise. I recommend taking your dog out for some conditioning runs in areas you like to hunt, so you can figure out where the water and the food are before the season opens.”
MDC’s managed wetland areas provide the most reliable waterfowl hunting on public land. Most have fair to excellent food to attract migrating ducks this year.  These areas are equipped to pump water into wetland pools even in dry years. However, if river levels are too low, it may preclude pumping on some areas.
One notable exception to generally good conditions on MDC wetlands is Bob Brown Conservation Area (CA) in Holt County. It is open to hunting this fall, but prolonged flooding left it with virtually no food or cover.
At the other end of the spectrum is Grand Pass CA, one of the state’s most productive duck-hunting destinations. This 5,000-acre area on the Missouri River in Saline County experienced crop failure in its west-refuge area, and crop yield was reduced in other pools. However, crops in other pools did well, and natural vegetation in Pools 5, 6, 8 and 9 is in good to excellent condition.
Flooding also caused losses of crops and native food plants at other MDC wetland along Missouri’s two big rivers. You can call ahead to learn about conditions on specific areas, using the information on pages 18 and 19 of the Waterfowl Hunting Digest. For twice-weekly reports on conditions at MDC wetland areas during the hunting season, visit http://bit.ly/qQM1YH.
This year’s superabundance of ducks is partly due to a run of good luck with weather the past several years, resulting in abundant moisture across the prairie pothole region of north-central United States and central Canada. However, good luck with the weather would not have produced so many ducks – and millions of nongame birds that nest in the same areas – without sustained habitat restoration efforts by government and private conservation organizations.
MDC, along with Ducks Unlimited and other groups, has invested millions of dollars over the past 50 years to provide places for migrating ducks to rest and feed. MDC currently is restoring some of its oldest managed wetland areas through the Golden Anniversary Wetland Initiative.In addition to providing superb hunting opportunities, wetland conservation in Missouri improves ducks’ physical condition and nesting success.
Similar efforts have helped protect and restore waterfowl nesting habitat. In the past five years alone, MDC has helped enhance and restore nearly a quarter of a million acres of prime breeding habitat in Canada and positively influenced an additional 1.2 million acres.
-Jim Low-

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Motorists should be alert for deer near roadways

Young White-tailed deer with spotting.Image via Wikipedia
Fall landscape changes and the rutting season prompt increased deer activity.

By Bill Graham, MDC

KANSAS CITY, Mo -- White-tailed deer are on the move as autumn progresses, and that includes crossing highways. Drivers can take steps to reduce the chances of deer-vehicle accidents.

Deer encounters near roads increase in late October because the cooler weather makes them more active and there is disturbance in their regular haunts as farmers harvest crops, said Joe DeBold, urban wildlife biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). He added that as autumn foliage falls to the ground, deer are prompted to look for new hiding places.

“Then the peak season for deer movement usually occurs around the first three weeks of November during the rut, or breeding season,” DeBold said. “These changes increase the chances that deer may dart in front of moving vehicles.”

He noted that deer are most active during evening, dusk and dawn hours.

“Drivers should be alert, slow down and drive cautiously,” DeBold said, “especially when driving through wooded or rural areas. Keep an eye on the shoulders, ditches and field edges. Often deer can be seen feeding or waiting to cross a road. Sometimes they try to dart across a road as a vehicle approaches. Be especially alert on roadways posted with deer crossing signs.”

Motorists should use high-beam headlights at night when possible for a wider field of vision. “Watch for deer silhouettes or eyes glowing in the headlights,” he advised. “When one deer is spotted, more are often close behind.”

Slowing down is the best defense. If a deer does dart into the road, avoid panic braking or swerving, which can cause accidents.

Rural areas are not the only place where deer-vehicle strikes occur. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, in 2010, almost one-third of the traffic crashes involving deer happened in urban areas.

“If a vehicle does strike a deer, the motorist should immediately call 911 and report any injuries and the location of the accident,” DeBold said. “If the deer is still alive, the driver should wait for law enforcement personnel to arrive at the scene.”

He added that any motorist wanting to keep the meat, hide or antlers from a deer killed on the highway must contact a conservation agent in the county where the accident occurred and request a disposition form before taking the deer into possession.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Open house planned Oct. 29 at Castlewood State Park

The Meramec River flowing through Castlewood S...Image via Wikipedia
JEFFERSON CITYMo., OCT. 17, 2011 -- The public is invited to bring their ideas to an open house on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Castlewood State Park near Ballwin. The open house will be held from noon to 3 p.m. just east of the park office.
Recent accomplishments at the park and future plans will be highlighted during the open house. Visitors are invited to share comments on the park’s services and operations. Recent accomplishments includepainting two picnic shelters and the interior of shelter restrooms. Staff also continued the ongoing project of removal of an exotic species (bush honeysuckle) from the park. 
The open house is part of an ongoing effort by Missouri State Parks to ensure citizens have input on facilities and services offered in state parks and historic sites.
Castlewood State Park is located off of Highway 141, west on Big Bend Road to Ries Road and then left on Ries Road. The park entrance is at the intersection of Kiefer Creek and Ries roads. People requiring special services or accommodations to attend the meeting can make arrangements by calling Castlewood State Park directly at 636-227-4433or by calling the Missouri Department of Natural Resources toll free at 800-334-6946 (voice) or 800-379-2419 (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf). For information about state parks and historic sites, visitmostateparks.com.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Conservation Action October 2011

Lands (owned and leased) that were managed by ...Image via Wikipedia
The Conservation Commission met Oct. 13 and 14 at Conservation Department Headquarters in Jefferson City.  Commissioners present were:
Don R. Johnson, Festus, Chair
Don C. Bedell, Sikeston, Vice Chair
Becky L. Plattner, Grand Pass, Secretary

The Commission:
  • Received presentations from:
Ø  Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation Executive Vice President Rick Thom concerning Foundation activities.
Ø  Outreach and Education Division Chief Mike Huffman about plans to celebrate the Conservation Department’s 75th anniversary.
Ø  Fisheries Division Chief Chris Vitello regarding Fisheries Division activities.
Ø  Fisheries Management Biologist Shane Bush regarding the Table Rock Lake National Fish Habitat Initiative Project.
  • Approved entering into a contract with SMI-CO Construction, Inc., Odessa, for the construction of the Bennett Spring Fish Hatchery Raceway Renovations Project in Laclede County at a total estimated cost of $920,238.
·       Approved the designation of a new 1,280-acre natural area, Western Star Flatwoods Natural Area, on the Mark Twain National Forest in Phelps County.
·       Approved removing two areas from the Missouri Natural Area System located on the Mark Twain National Forest:
Ø  Hayden Bald Natural Area, a 40-acre area in Ozark County designated in 1984.
Ø  Overcup Oak Sink Natural Area, a 5-acre natural area in Shannon County designated in 1983.
  • Approved the purchase of 300 acres in Jefferson County as an addition to LaBarque Creek Conservation Area. The majority of the purchase to be funded by private donation.
  • Suspended hunting and/or fishing privileges of one Missouri resident for Wildlife Code violations and affirmed actions taken by Missouri courts suspending privileges of one Missouri resident. Those whose privileges were suspended are: Logan D. Byrn, Downing, hunting privileges, until 8/9/2012; and Scott W. Probasco,Unionville, all sport privileges, one year.
  • Approved the suspension or revocation of all hunting and fishing privileges of 287 people who are not in compliance with applicable child support laws. Privileges suspended for noncompliance are reinstated once the Division of Child Support Enforcement notifies MDC that suspendees have come into compliance with the required laws.
  • Suspended privileges of 188 nonresidents under the provisions of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
  • Set its next regular meeting for Dec. 14 and 15 in Jefferson City.


This document is provided for public information only and is not an official record of the Missouri Department of Conservation or Missouri Conservation Commission.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween event planned Oct. 29 at Onondaga Cave State Park

The "lily pad room" in Onondaga Cave...Image via Wikipedia
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., OCT. 17, 2011 – If you enjoy decorating your campsite, join the annual tradition at Onondaga Cave State Park near Leasburg and be recognized at  the campsite decorating contest Oct. 29.
            Campers are invited to decorate their campsite and participate in a costume contest for all ages. A trick-or-treat event is traditionally organized by campers in the afternoon. In the evening, campers are invited to sit around a campfire making s'mores and listening to spooky stories. Everyone is invited to bring their own stories, including ones suitable for young children. Winners of the campsite decorating contest will be announced at the storytelling.
            Campsites are still available for the weekend of this event, but are expected to go quickly so reservations are recommended.  
            Onondaga Cave State Park is located seven miles south of the Leasburg exit off of Interstate 44 on Highway H.  For more information about these events, contact the park at 573-245-6576 or the Missouri Department of Natural Resources toll free at 800-334-6946 (voice) or800-379-2419 (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf).  For more information about Missouristate parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween storytelling event planned Oct. 28 at Bollinger Mill State Historic Site

The Burfordville covered bridge is adjacent to...Image via Wikipedia
JEFFERSON CITYMo., OCT. 14, 2011 – Get in the spirit of Halloween by attending the annual Halloween storytelling event at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 at Bollinger Mill State Historic Site near Burfordville. Storyteller Marilyn Kinsella will weave her stories from personal experience as well as perform folk and historical tales and literary stories. The storytelling will be held around a bonfire and visitors are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket for seating. Apple cider and popcorn will be provided.
Kinsella began her storytelling career in 1981 while teaching in the St. Louis metro area. She has been a full-time freelance professional storyteller since 2002 and can often be found performing in the St. Louis and southern Illinois areas.
Bollinger Mill State Historic Site is the site of a Civil War-era mill where visitors can learn how corn and wheat were ground into meal and flour by water power, just as it was done long ago. Burfordville Covered Bridge, the oldest of the four remaining covered bridges in the state, was built in 1858 and stretches 140 feet across the White River, which powers the mill. To get to the historic site at113 Bollinger Mill Road, take Highway 34 to Highway HH in Cape GirardeauCounty.
For more information on the event, contact the site at 573-243-4591 or the Missouri Department of Natural Resources toll free at 800-334-6946 (voice) or800-379-2419 (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf). For information on state parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com.