Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Rhode Island's Large Deer Population More Immediate Threat to State's Forests Than Climate Change

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

While climate change gets most of the media attention these days for the dramatic effects it is predicted to have — and, in some cases, is already having — on coastal communities, it has yet to have serious effects on eastern forests.
Eventually, say local experts, climate change will likely cause a shift in the composition of tree species in the region, due in part to southern species moving into the area and the arrival of new pests and pathogens, which may reduce the abundance of currently common species. The predicted drier weather conditions will also likely play a role in altering woodlands.
But Rhode Island’s forests are already facing what some say is an even greater threat than climate change: an overabundance of deer. That’s the warning from foresters, biologists and ecologists from throughout the Northeast, who say that even without climate change, Rhode Island’s forests are in trouble unless the state’s deer herd can be reduced and managed more effectively.
According to forester Marc Tremblay, outreach coordinator for the Rhode Island Forest Conservators Organization, deer have had a dramatic impact on forest understory by feeding on young trees, shrubs and plants.
“They’ve browsed all of the favorable species like oaks and maples, they’ve destroyed our wildflowers, and a lot of the understory plants they like to eat are the ones we rely on for the future stocking of the forest,” Tremblay said. “What’s worse, they don’t like invasive species, so barberry and buckthorn and other invasives are growing like crazy. The end result is a complete alteration of the forest, where the invasives have a leg up.”
The Rhode Island chapter of the Society of American Foresters has issued a position statement noting that the long-term health of the state’s forests are dependent on sufficient tree regeneration to re-occupy openings in the canopy created by timber harvesting, development and natural disturbances.
But “deer herbivory at high population levels limits the amount of regeneration and is a serious problem in many parts of the state that, if not addressed, will continue to impact the forest ecosystem and the ability of the forest to regenerate itself,” according to the Rhode Island chapter.
It’s not just the trees that are suffering, though. The Nature Conservancy has reported that populations of songbirds and other species that live in the forest understory are declining because deer have consumed their habitat.
“Think about all the species you know that utilize the understory — rabbits and other small mammals, hermit thrushes and other birds, lots of things,” biologist Numi Mitchell said. “They’re very vulnerable if you take away that understory. Think what it’s doing to our biodiversity.”
The Rhode Island Natural History Survey conducted a two-year study of deer herbivory at the University of Rhode Island’s W. Alton Jones Campus that illustrated the dramatic impact of too many deer. Fencing out deer from two half-acre, forested parcels clearly showed how deer had reduced the density and diversity of native plants and exacerbated the expansion of invasive species.
Inside the fence, where deer couldn’t gain access, seedlings of oak, sugar maple, hickory and tuliptrees were abundant, while outside the fence few could be found. Jack-in-the-pulpit plants inside the fence were knee high while those outside were browsed to stubble by deer. Native trillium planted decades ago were blooming inside the fence, while none had been seen elsewhere in a decade.
“Deer look for every plant they can eat and they eat it,” Natural History Survey botanist Hope Leeson said at the conclusion of the project. “We have continuous still images showing them looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack — heads down searching for any little tidbit of a native plant they can find. Due to taste or texture, they tend not to eat invasive plants.
“Deer promote the growth of invasive species, which decreases the biodiversity of native vegetation and sets into motion a cascade of effects on the health of the ecosystem.”
Deer overpopulation isn’t just a problem in Rhode Island, however. The scientific community says that forests throughout the Northeast are in a seriously degraded ecological condition as a result of high deer densities. But deer management is the responsibility of each state, so it can’t be addressed by uniform federal regulations.
Brian Tefft, state wildlife biologist responsible for tracking deer statistics for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, said the state is home to about 16,000 deer, some 15 per square mile, far more than the habitat can support. About 1,000 deer are killed annually in collisions with vehicles, and another 2,000 or so are harvested by hunters.
Using hunting as the primary means of managing the herd isn’t particularly effective when most hunters want to shoot a buck rather than a doe that is likely to give birth to twins the following spring. For the sake of Rhode Island’s forests, most foresters and biologists suggest altering hunting regulations to encourage the harvesting of more does.
Mitchell said the first step is for sport hunters “to not be so sportsmanlike any more. We need to kill as many does as possible. We’ve gotten rid of our predators, so we need to bring the population down with an increased emphasis by humans.”
She also noted that coyotes might be able to help the situation. Mitchell has studied the Aquidneck Island coyote population for more than a decade, and she said that eastern coyotes have about 20 percent wolf genes, which has helped to make them excellent cooperative hunters.
“Coyotes are a piece of the puzzle,” she said. “They can get deer in the suburbs where people aren’t legally able to shoot. I get calls all the time from people saying they have a dead deer in their yard, and I tell them to wait a day or two and the coyotes will eat them.”
The next phase of her research will be to see how coyotes can be used to help manage the state’s deer population.
David Gregg, executive director of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, said deer are the greater immediate threat to Rhode Island’s forests than climate change, but he also noted that climate change could be even more damaging if the deer problem isn’t addressed first.
“I don’t want to downplay climate change, but certainly one plus one equals three, that’s for sure,” he said.
He pointed to a project his organization is currently undertaking to build resilience into the habitat at Norman Bird Sanctuary and Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, both in Middletown. The plan was to install a variety of native plants, thinking that a diverse ecosystem will be one that can better withstand the coming climatic changes.
“But what we’re finding is that there is so much deer browse there that we'll be hard pressed to do anything unless it is inside a fence,” Gregg said. “We’re going to need to adapt our strategy a bit.”
Mitchell agreed that the cumulative effect of deer and climate could be catastrophic for Rhode Island’s forests.
“I think climate change is a bigger long-term crisis,” she said, “but deer are our immediate crisis.”

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Maryland Deer Hunters Have Successful Opening Weekend

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

24 Percent Harvest Increase Aided by Good Weather Sunday

Hunters reported harvesting 13,488 deer on the opening weekend of the 2016 Maryland firearm season, the state's most popular hunting season. The harvest represents a 24 percent increase over last year's estimate of 10,859 for the same period. The total includes 6,159 antlered and 7,329 antlerless deer with sika deer comprising 224 of the antlered and 232 of the antlerless totals. The two-week deer firearm season runs through Dec. 10.

"Windy conditions Saturday may have slowed the harvest slightly, but hunters took advantage of better weather conditions Sunday to post a strong overall harvest for the opening weekend," said Wildlife and Heritage Service Director Paul Peditto.

Hunters in Region A – mainly western Maryland – reported harvesting 1,110 deer for the weekend, nearly identical to the 1,147 reported last year. In Region B, the antlered deer harvest increased from 3,878 last year to 5,049 this year and the antlerless harvest increased from 5,834 to 7,329 in 2016.

Deer hunters harvested 3,560 deer (1,455 antlered, 2,105 antlerless) Sunday, an increase of 1,146 from last year. Hunting is permitted on select Sundays in 20 counties and has become increasingly popular with hunters across the state. Frederick County led the Sunday harvest with 390 deer taken.

"Sunday hunting continues to afford hunters with more opportunities to share time with family and friends out in the fields and woods," Peditto said. "This additional harvest day clearly provides a valuable tool in managing our statewide deer population for the benefit of all."

Those hunters who use tree stands are strongly advised to wear a full-body safety harness, which should be secured at all times, including while climbing up or down the stand. Using a sliding knot, commonly known as a prussic knot, attached to a line that is tied above the stand allows hunters to be secure from when they leave the ground to their return. For more information on tree-stand safety, please click here.

Maryland Unofficial Opening Weekend Firearm Deer Harvest 11/26-27/16 Saturday 11/26 Sunday 11/27 County Antlered Antlerless Total Antlered Antlerless Total Grand Total Allegany 317 0 317 85 0 85 402 Anne Arundel 85 148 233 26 53 79 312 Baltimore 180 341 521 * * * 521 Calvert 69 106 175 29 35 64 239 Caroline whitetail 169 227 396 58 126 184 580 sika 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 Carroll 397 429 826 125 176 301 1,127 Cecil 139 197 336 51 95 146 482 Charles 144 166 310 44 81 125 435 Dorchester whitetail 172 235 407 61 121 182 589 sika 136 135 271 73 78 151 422 Frederick 548 619 1,167 162 228 390 1,557 Garrett 370 0 370 130 0 130 500 Harford 132 230 362 28 74 102 464 Howard 76 133 209 * * * 209 Kent 194 274 468 86 133 219 687 Montgomery 197 239 436 43 72 115 551 Prince George's 107 151 258 * * * 258 Queen Anne's 174 279 453 52 156 208 661 Somerset whitetail 133 177 310 49 112 161 471 sika 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 St. Mary's 75 151 226 28 58 86 312 Talbot 130 215 345 46 129 175 520 Washington 396 184 580 118 84 202 782 Wicomico whitetail 177 267 444 63 105 168 612 sika 11 13 24 2 4 6 30 Worcester whitetail 174 307 481 96 184 280 761 sika 1 1 2 0 0 0 2 Total 4,704 5,224 9,928 1,455 2,105 3,560 13,488 *Sunday hunting not permitted

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Changes to Permanent Hunting/Fishing Licenses Coming in 2017

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

Changes to Permanent Hunting/Fishing Licenses Coming in 2017
Hunters and anglers aged 65 to 68 who don’t have a permanent license
should buy one before midnight on December 31
MONTPELIER, Vt. – The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is reminding hunters and anglers of changes to permanent license laws that go into effect starting on January 1, 2017. A permanent hunting and fishing license is currently available to Vermont residents aged 65 and older for a one-time fee of $50. Starting January 1, the eligible age will be raised to 70 and the license will be free. 
The department is urging hunters and anglers aged 65 to 68 who don’t yet have a permanent license to purchase one before midnight on December 31. Eligible current 2016 license holders can purchase a permanent license in person at a license agent or Fish & Wildlife Department district office. Those who have not purchased a 2016 license yet can either purchase a permanent license in person at a license agent or district office or go online at www.vtfishandwildlife.com. Hunters and anglers who already have a permanent license do not need to purchase another but should renew theirs in 2017.

Those without a permanent license who will turn 70 before the next hunting or fishing season should wait until their 70th birthday to pick up a 2017 permanent license, at which time it will be available to them for free.
The change in eligibility was made to bring Vermont’s permanent license structures in line with neighboring states. In New York and Massachusetts, hunters and anglers are eligible for a permanent license at age 70. New Hampshire does not offer a permanent license, but instead offers a discount on annual licenses starting at age 68. 
A permanent license allows the holder to hunt and fish without purchasing additional licenses for the rest of their lifetime. Vermont’s permanent license includes all regular season tags, including archery, muzzleloader, and turkey tags. An additional tag for second archery, moose and antlerless lotteries, and waterfowl stamps must be purchased separately. Permanent licenses must be renewed every year, which is free of charge online or at any district office.
Permanent licenses are different from lifetime licenses, which can be purchased at any age and are generally purchased for young children.   
Anyone with questions about the change should see the department website (www.vtfishandwildlife.com) or call the licensing office at 802-828-1190.

Colchester (Vt.) Man Charged After Shooting from the Road

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

CAMBRIDGE, Vt. – A Colchester man faces serious penalties after being caught shooting from the road on the last day of Vermont's November deer hunting season.

After receiving complaints of people shooting at deer from a road, Vermont State Game Wardens deployed an antlered deer facsimile in Cambridge on Sunday, November 27. At approximately 2:15 p.m. the wardens observed a truck stop near the deer facsimile and saw the driver shoot at it from the driver's seat of the truck.

When the wardens announced their presence, the operator left the scene at a high rate of speed. The wardens pursued the truck for several miles on back roads before they observed the truck drive behind a building in Cambridge.

The violator, 22-year-old Justin Andrews of Colchester, was taken into custody for having a loaded long gun in a motor vehicle, shooting from a motor vehicle and failure to stop for a game warden.

Andrews must appear in Lamoille Superior Court, Criminal Division, in January 2017 to answer the charges. If convicted, Andrews will be fined up to $1000 for each offense and lose his privilege to hunt, fish and trap in Vermont for three years. The rifle used to commit the offense would also be forfeited to the state.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Phenology Calendar for the first week of December

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

First Week of December
Chipping sparrows have big appetites: each one will eat 160 times its weight in seeds over the course of a winter.

The delicate fronds of the small fern called maidenhair spleenwort are still green and still clinging to rocks.

Once they find suet hanging by the birdfeeder, hairy and downy woodpeckers will come back to it again and again.

Snowy owls occasionally visit this region. These beautiful daytime hunters often perch on fence posts and low branches.

White Tail Deer are in full Rut and this is the best time for Beaver Pelts .

The mighty Black Bears will be reserving their denning sites now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Connecticut Pheashant Stocking Up- Date

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

ATTENTION PHEASANT HUNTERS: One more stocking update!
A small allotment of birds has been released at Robbins Swamp WMA and Housatonic WMA. Due to the snow storm, no additional birds will be released this week at Goshen WMA, Skiff Mnt, Housatonic WMA or Robbins Swamp. All four areas will be stocked with birds next week on two separate days.

New Hampshire: Hearing for Free Fishing Day, Other Rules

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire would have an additional free fishing day on the third Saturday in January, under rules proposed by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department that will be the topic of a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. on December 6 at the N.H. Fish and Game Department, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH.

The State Legislature authorized the addition of a second free fishing day earlier this year in order to provide an opportunity for those interested in trying ice-fishing. On free fishing days, people can fish without a license. All other regulations must be followed, and anyone participating in a fishing tournament must hold a license. Currently, there is a single free fishing day each year in New Hampshire, occurring on the first Saturday in June.

Another proposal to be discussed at the hearing would make it illegal to mutilate (tag, brand, fin clip or otherwise mark) freshwater fish that are caught and then released back into the waters of the state.

The complete rulemaking notice, with original and proposed rule language, can be viewed at www.wildnh.com/legislative/proposed-rules.html (select "Free Fishing Days and Marking of Freshwater Fish Prohibited").

Written comments must be received by December 15, 2016. Send to: comments@wildlife.nh.gov (use the rule name in your subject line); write to Executive Director, N.H. Fish and Game Department, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301; or fax to (603) 271-5829.