Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Woodlands Give Shelter To Local Wildlife

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Susanne Norgard
MENDOCINO, CA–Each person finds their own way to “give back” by doing something that is most meaningful to them.

Ronnie James found her calling when she received a phone call from veterinarian Jan Dietrich. Dr. Dietrich knew Ronnie had volunteered at the Raptor Center in Davis, CA and wanted to know if she could provide a home for a Great Horned Owl that he had saved.

Giving shelter to wildlife is not as easy as it would seem. An ordinary citizen is not allowed to keep wildlife unless he or she has federal and state licenses. And the only way to keep wildlife that cannot be returned to the wild is to have additional federal and state licenses as a wildlife educator. Ronnie pursued all of these licenses, and Woodlands Wildlife was born.

Ronnie and three other volunteers do most of the work at Woodlands Wildlife. “Everybody wants to volunteer until they discover that it means scrubbing poop out of cages every day, and there is little contact with the animals,” Ronnie explains. “For animals to heal, they need a stress free environment, and that means as little human contact as possible.” Ronnie admits that she has only had two vacations in the last 15 years, but does not complain. Instead she finds working with animals to be a “special privilege.”

The work is clearly the reward. Ronnie remembers a Spotted Owl that was brought to her after being hit by a car on Highway 20. “The owl was unconscious for two weeks,” she relates. “And then it took three months to heal the bird. We ultimately released him where he was found and both his territory and mate were waiting for him.” Ronnie explains that she worked with Mendocino Redwood Company foresters to call for other owls in the area to make sure that a new male had not claimed the territory while the injured owl was recuperating.

Ninety percent of the animals cared for are orphaned. But Ronnie warns against one of the most common mistakes. “People pick up fawns not realizing the mother leaves the fawn alone while she forages. It is normal for a baby to be alone. If we can return it within 72 hours, the mother will take the baby back.” She also warns against placing an unconscious animal in the car, describing how one man put an unconscious bobcat in his back seat after he had hit the animal in the road. Imagine the man’s fright when the unconscious animal awoke and was suddenly in the front seat of the car, snarling.

Although wildlife rehabilitation is an important part of her work, equally important is education. Ronnie leads over 24 educational programs each year. This year, with a grant from the Community Foundation, she is presenting a Mountain Lion safety program in school classrooms and to the general public. She is careful not to scare children, but to help them understand how humans and mountain lions can co-exist. The adult program covers legal issues, protecting pets and livestock, and safe behavior for adults and children.

The Community Foundation also funded the Owl Box Project, a Woodlands Wildlife project a few years ago that involved educating children about owls and building owl boxes for rodent control around schools in the Mendocino School District. Although only about half of the boxes have attracted owls, Ronnie says that they continue to be very successful as educational tools.

Woodlands Wildlife is a part of an animal rehabilitation referral network that is used by veterinarians and people who work in the woods. The Willits Wildlife Team serves the Willits and Ukiah area. Animals are also sent to the Marine Mammal Center, Santa Rosa Bird Rescue, Sonoma Wildlife, and Clearlake Fawn Rescue.

Some of these organizations have paid staff. Others, like Woodlands Wildlife, are supported entirely by volunteer efforts. In the case of Woodlands Wildlife, one of the primary expenses is food, which must be USDA approved (wild rodents might carry disease). It is purchased, dead and frozen, from a zoo supplier. — Mendocino Beacon

Woman Brings Illegal Lynx to Veterinarian

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

OGDEN, UT–The cat Karen Goeckect brought to a veterinarian to be spayed and declawed was actually a Lynx–a threatened species that wildlife officials say is illegal to own in Utah.

Veterinarian Greg Johnston said 16-week-old Sasa was the size of a large house cat, but had black-tufted ears, thick, lanky legs and oversized feet tipped with half-inch claws.“After working for Fish and Game and spending 40 years as a veterinarian, I knew what I was dealing with” –a Lynx, Johnston said.

Johnston said Goeckect, who listed a Garden City address, told a receptionist Sasa was a domestic cat when she left the animal to be spayed and declawed at the Johnston Animal Hospital.

Goeckect said recently that she bought Sasa for $2,000 from a breeder in Minnesota. She said she planned to raise the animal at her home in Idaho, where Lynx can be kept as pets if owners have a health certificate and an Idaho import license. In Utah, Lynx can be kept only by zoos or pelt farms, Division of Wildlife Resources Conservation Officer Kip King said.

Sasa is good-natured, people-friendly, and has never seriously bitten or scratched anyone, Goeckect said. “She’s not afraid of humans,” Goeckect said. “She’ll come right up and sit on your lap. If she was declawed, she’d be no different from a house cat.”

Johnston said Goeckect may be able to control Sasa now, but when she reaches her full size of 30 to 40 pounds she will pose a danger to people and pets. “This cat would have always been in charge,” Johnston said. “The family would have been pretty much hostages to it.”

The Division of Wildlife Resources allowed Goeckect to take Sasa home temporarily, but said the Lynx eventually will have to be placed in a zoo or a rescue facility.

Sasa bit and scratched Johnston, so she will have to be quarantined at Goeckect’s house for at least 10 days to check for rabies. King said Goeckect could be subject to wildlife charges. –AP
Shortage of winter food could drive wildlife to residential areas. –AP

Wolves Make Mark On Yellowstone

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Kinna Ohman
SCIENTISTS are surprised by the changes one animal can make in America’s first national park. Since the wolf returned to Yellowstone, the predator’s had wide-ranging and unexpected effects on the ecosystem of the park.

As Kinna Ohman reports, top predators such as wolves might be more necessary than previously realized:Yellowstone National Park holds many wonders, but few things capture a visitor’s imagination like the wolf:

“Whoa, I can see their eyes.”

Marlene Foard lets me peek through her scope and see members of the Slough Creek wolf pack tearing into a recent kill. As we watch, we hear another group of wolves howling in the distance:

“Did you hear ’em? Yeah, did you hear that? Oh my God…”

Visitors are not the only ones fascinated by the wolves. Lately, scientists have been caught up in the excitement too. Not just by the wolves, but how the wolves are changing Yellowstone.

It’s a cold yet sunny day in the park. I’ve met up with Doug Smith, the project leader of the park’s wolf recovery program. But we’re not going to look for wolves today. We’re about to see how wolves are changing the landscape:

“This is Blacktail Deer Creek that we’re walking up on. And it’s surrounded by willows. And these willows about ten years ago were not growing as luxuriantly as they are right now.”

This new willow growth happened after the wolves’ reintroduction to Yellowstone, and many scientists are making a connection. Willow can be a food for elk especially in the winter, but since the wolves have returned, elk would rather be on hillsides and open areas where they can see wolves coming. And once they leave the river valleys behind, plants like the willow are recovering.

The willow’s recovery is important because it helps other wildlife. Beaver eat willow and use it for building dams. And ponds created by beavers are great habitat for endangered birds, like the warbler. Doug Smith says the fact this could be caused by wolves caught everyone by surprise:

“Nobody thought of this. I was around at the beginning. There were many studies done looking at what the impacts of wolves would be. And I can’t remember reading about this at all.”

And it goes beyond the willow. Bill Ripple is a professor of Ecology at Oregon State University. He came to Yellowstone in 1997 to study why aspen trees were declining. Ripple wasn’t thinking wolves, but one day, when studying tree ring data, he saw the aspens’ problems began just when the last wolves were killed off in Yellowstone. He was equally surprised:

“I didn’t see anything in the record. It wasn’t on my radar to see how wolves may be affecting aspen trees. That was not even considered at all. And all of a sudden, it appears that this one animal can have this profound effect on the entire ecosystem.”

And this got Ripple thinking about the top predators a little differently. He says these effects might even extend to other animals:

“I think that this effect of predators would probably go well beyond just cougars or wolves. You know everything from black bears to grizzly bears to lynx to wolverines. They may all play important roles that we don’t even know about at this point.”

Not everyone thinks predators are needed for ecosystems to thrive. There are hunters who consider wolves unnecessary and even competition for animals such as deer and elk, but Doug Smith says it’s important to realize the contribution of wolves goes beyond what hunters can do. Willow and aspen re-growth depends on wolves changing elk behavior.

And this has to happen year round:

“Human hunters, well known this fact, and I’m a hunter and I know this, prey behavior changes during the hunting season, and before and after they go back to doing what they want. Having a carnivore on the landscape changes prey behavior year round. A totally different presence than human hunting.”

But there’s a caveat. Smith says there has to be a certain number of wolves on the landscape for these changes to occur. And the number might be more than humans are willing to tolerate:

“You know, just having wolves on the landscape does not do it. And that’s a very, very important point because some people are using wolves to argue that we’re going to get this ecosystem restoration, this ecosystem recovery. But they need to be at a certain minimum density. And that might be in some places at densities that are too high for humans to socially tolerate.”

So, ultimately, ecological recovery could depend on humans, not the wolves. Human tolerance needs to be high enough to allow top predators like the wolf to return to ecosystems, otherwise, full recovery might never happen.–Environment Report

Wolf Howls Scare Tenderfoot Foresters

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

KETCHUM, ID–Snicker if you will. But the two Forest Service employees evacuated by helicopter from a woodlands work site in the Sawtooth Wilderness last month after hearing wolves genuinely feared for their lives.

If their fright was real, their safety and well-being were never really in doubt. This is becoming a common problem in Western states where the migration of urbanites to rural and woodland areas is exposing inexperienced and uninformed newcomers to encounters with authentic wildlife, with emphasis on wild.

The obvious needs to be said: Humans in new surroundings must learn the ways of wildlife and thus understand how to avoid encounters that can be frightening and potentially dangerous.

Several things need to be understood:

First, most wildlife normally encountered in and near populated areas are instinctively fearful of humans and will avoid encounters.

Second, humans have been displacing wildlife as new housing takes over wildlife habitat. Since wildlife tends to return to familiar places, the sight of bears, fox, elk, deer, raccoons, and even moose is common.

Third, humans unwisely encourage encounters by feeding wild animals, which lessens their fear of humans and is likely to lead them to remain close to human food sources. Feeding small predators, such as foxes, can lure larger predators. And, putting garbage cans out the night before pick-up is an invitation to bears to rummage for pre-hibernation vittles.

Among the true anecdotes about local bears is the one that learned how to open house doors and refrigerators and helped himself to cheese and ice cream.

The experience of the two frightened Forest Service workers illustrates just how an understanding of wolves would’ve helped relieve their fears. Several experts pointed out that the sound of wolf howls in mountain areas can sound like they’re coming from all directions because of echoes, not because of a huge pack of animals. Wolves also are fixated on prey when hunting wildlife, such as elk, and will ignore humans.

With this somewhat embarrassing episode behind it, the Forest Service says it plans a review of training out-of-area personnel on what to expect in the backcountry and how to act. This type of orientation would be beneficial for every resident and visitor.

The Forest Service and outdoors groups should devise and make available an inexpensive brochure outlining habits and habitat of various wildlife and do’s and don’ts when they’re encountered.

The outdoors is a lot more enjoyable when there’s no fear attached to a stroll in the mountains.–Idaho Mountain Express

Without Cougar Predators, Deer Kill Cottonwoods

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

CORVALLIS, OR–The disappearance of Cougars from part of Zion National Park over the past 70 years has allowed deer populations to increase, resulting in ecological damage, loss of cottonwood trees, eroding streambanks, and declining biodiversity, finds a new study from Oregon State University (OSU).

The research just published in the journal “Biological Conservation” confirms predictions made more 50 years ago by naturalist Aldo Leopold, considered the father of wildlife ecology.

“When park development caused Cougars to begin leaving Zion Canyon in the 1930s, it allowed much higher levels of deer browsing,” said Robert Beschta, an OSU professor emeritus of forest hydrology. “That set in motion a long cascade of changes that resulted in the loss of most cottonwoods along the streambanks and heavy bank erosion.”

“But the end result isn’t just loss of trees,” he said. “It’s the decline or disappearance of shrubs, wetland plants, amphibians, lizards, wildflowers, and even butterflies.”

In Zion Canyon, a popular tourist attraction for over a century, Cougars are absent, scared off by the influx of human visitors. With their natural enemy gone, growing deer populations ate young cottonwood trees, robbing streambanks of shade and erosion protection.  As a result, floodplains began to erode away.

By contrast, a nearby roadless watershed has similar native ecology but is remote, with an intact Cougar population and fewer Mule Deer. Streambanks in this watershed have nearly 50 times more young cottonwood trees as well as thriving populations of flowers, lizards, butterflies, and species of plants that help stabilize stream banks, provide food-web support, and protect floodplains.

“The documentation of species abundance that we have in this study is very compelling,” said William Ripple, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Resources and lead author on the study.

“These two canyons, almost side by side, have a similar climate and their ecosystems should be quite similar,” Ripple said. “But instead they are very different, and we hypothesize that the long-term lack of cottonwood recruitment associated with stream-side areas in Zion Canyon indicates the effects of low Cougar and high deer densities over many decades.

The findings of this study may be relevant to other ecosystems elsewhere when key predators are gone, the researchers said, and high populations of native herbivores such as deer or elk, or domestic grazers such as cattle or sheep, affect native biodiversity.–ENS

With Help From Humans, Bears Are Holding Their Own

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Ed Wall

NEW BERN, NC–I witnessed an interesting thing a couple of weeks ago.

While sitting at a stop light on a major highway at about 10 a.m., I noticed what appeared to be a large black dog on the side of the road a short distance ahead. As I watched, he very casually loped across the highway and into some woods, heading toward a housing development and an elementary school.

The “dog” was a Black Bear–about 150 pounds by my estimation– and he didn’t appear to be in any particular hurry to get wherever he was going. None of the other motorists who saw the bear pulled over or, in any way, seemed to be alarmed. A few heads swiveled and then everyone, including the bear, went on about their business. And, since nothing showed up on the six-o’clock news about the incident, I assume he avoided any run-ins with little school kids or soccer moms.

The real significance of the incident wasn’t that a Black Bear was cavorting on the edge of an urban area, within sight of the town’s city limit sign, but that his presence was accepted as part of the natural landscape. That, in the opinion of a lot of folks, is a really good thing. It’s evidence of one of the greatest success stories in modern wildlife management.

When European settlers first made their way across what is now North Carolina, they encountered Black Bears everywhere. Perceived as a threat to livestock and possibly humans, they were wiped out in the piedmont by the late 1800s. Populations were able to hold on in the dense forests at either end of the state, but uncontrolled hunting and increasing urbanization continued to assail the state’s largest wild animal and by the 1950s their numbers had dropped to an estimated 750 in the mountains and about 3,000 in the coastal counties.

At that point it was obvious that, if something wasn’t done, bears might eventually disappear from our landscape. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) closed the hunting season temporarily in many areas and established bear sanctuaries in others.

In addition, they enlisted the assistance of the Weyerhaeuser Company which, by the early 1960s, had acquired massive expanses of timberland–prime bear habitat– in the state’s coastal counties. Weyerhaeuser, enacted restrictive bear hunting policies on the lands they leased to hunting clubs or had open to the public. Other timber companies followed suit.

Perhaps most important, the NCWRC established policies and programs to encourage research on Black Bear management and habitat. Much of the actual field work was done by scientists and graduate students from institutions such as NC State University, the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech.

One of those former grad students, Mark Jones, is now the NCWRC’s Black Bear Project Leader. He says that what has been learned about bear physiology, population dynamics and habitat as a result of the research done under the Wildlife Commission’s guidance over the past three decades has been instrumental in the rebound of bear numbers in the state. He also points out that the assistance of hunters has been integral to the biologists’ efforts.

“Without hunters, it would be impossible to do what we do,” he said recently. Jones was referring to data that hunters voluntarily provide about the age, sex, weight and other characteristics of bears they harvest during the open season. That bank of information has been of tremendous value to the scientists and wildlife managers.

“We probably have one of the best data bases in the country of hunter-killed bears,” Jones noted.

As a result of hunting restrictions and the availability of high-quality habitat, the Black Bear population in the state’s 28 coastal plain counties has grown to approximately 7,000. Another 2,000 live in the smaller mountain region. According to Jones, those numbers are expected to remain relatively stable for the foreseeable future.

“We will probably never see bears reach their biological carrying capacity in the eastern U.S. because the (human) population is just growing too much,” he explained. “We’re pretty close to the cultural carrying capacity.” The cultural carrying capacity is the maximum number of bears that can inhabit an area without having major conflicts with the human population.

Jones said that there are occasional problems that arise from bear-human interaction but that they are relatively few in number and manageable in nature. One area of concern is the incidence of auto accidents caused by collisions with bears.

Wildlife Commission data shows that about 60 bears are killed on North Carolina roads each year, mostly at night. Bear experts advise motorists driving in bear country to use high beam headlights and be alert for movement on the side of the road. If a bear is spotted, motorists should sound their horn, slow down and, if necessary, pull off the road and turn on emergency flashers. Drivers who collide with a bear should stay in their vehicle and phone the Highway Patrol or local law enforcement.

Since the late 1980s, bear hunting regulations and seasons have been liberalized in many parts of North Carolina’s coastal plain. As a result, the harvest totals have shown a dramatic increase. Wildlife biologists expect those numbers to remain fairly stable in the east. The number of bears taken by hunters in the mountains may vary somewhat year-by-year because of the dependence of the animals there on hardwood mast crops.

In the east, soybeans, corn, wheat and other row crops provide a steady diet for bears in most areas and help them avoid the “feast or famine” experience. The availability of agricultural foods also helps to explain the presence of the large bears that eastern North Carolina has gained a reputation for producing.

A 880-lb. boar bear, taken in Craven County in 1998 is the heaviest black bear ever killed in North America, according to Mark Jones who checked with every state and provincial wildlife agency. He noted that a number that weigh over 600 pounds are taken each season and there have been a few that took the scale past the 700 lb. mark. The heaviest bear–680 lb.–taken by a hunter in the state during the 2004-2005 season was bagged by Robert Nobles, Jr. of Vanceboro.

Mark Jones explained that, “The ratios (of large bears to others) are not really changing. There are just more bears being killed. Also, it’s more publicized.” He said that the existence of large bears here is not just a matter of perception, though. “We consistently produce bears of 600 to 700 lb. We do that at a rate that will match anybody.”

Thanks to the efforts of professional wildlife managers, landowners and sportsmen, the Black Bear seems to be in “high cotton” in eastern North Carolina. Numbers are up and holding, and their occupied range now includes nearly all counties east of I-95.

Demographers say that the state’s human population will continue to grow at a fast clip over the next ten years, but most of the growth is expected to be in the already-urbanized piedmont and, hopefully, will not seriously impact bear populations. If that holds true, we will all be better for it–not just hunters, but also those of us who just enjoy seeing a bear cross the road once in a while. –Sun Journal

Wildlife, Homeowners Often Live In Conflict

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

CONFLICTS with squirrels, skunks, raccoons, birds and other wildlife are a reality for many homeowners.

“There are many common household items that can serve homeowners well in their conflict with wildlife,” said Laura Simon, field director of urban wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States. Here are a few:

Problem: Dog sprayed by a skunk

Solution: A simple recipe. Mix together in a bowl 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide, 1/8 cup of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Apply to dog with a towel. Bathe and rinse dog and the odor will instantly disappear. Side effect: this solution may give dark fur a “highlight” effect.

Problem: Woodpeckers pecking; Woodchucks digging; geese hanging out

Solution: Shiny party store (Mylar) balloons with a “face” that features big eyes, creates a predator image for wild animals and keeps them away from areas they are not wanted. Hang from windows or downspouts, tie to garden posts.

Problem: Squirrels/Raccoons on patio or deck, a little too close to your door

Solution: Remove any potential food attractant such as cat food or birdseed. If they still remain, know that the sound of a vacuum cleaner is very frightening to a wild animal. Run one for a few minutes and they will scurry away.

Problem: Sparrows, pigeons and others are landing on balcony railings

Solution: A Slinky toy stretched with an inch between spirals, secured on the sill, will keep the birds from landing or nesting there.

Problem: Woodchucks getting in the garden

Solution: Put up a simple L-shaped chicken wire fence. The two tricks are: run the bottom part 12 inches out, parallel to the ground, secured with landscaping staples, which creates a “false bottom” that the animal cannot dig under; make sure the vertical part is not too taut. If it wobbles when the woodchuck tries to climb, he will be discouraged and stop trying.

Problem: Birds crashing into windows

Solution: Aluminum foil cut in one foot squares and secured with a piece of tape at the top can be applied to windows to prevent migrating birds from hitting them. It also works to prevent cardinals and robins from attacking them, when they mistake their own reflection for that of a competitor.

Problem: Skunks stuck in window wells

Solution: Place a chunk of strong-smelling cheese in the bottom of a rectangular kitchen garbage can. Put the can on its side to get a skunk who has fallen into a window well out. The skunk will walk in to feast on the cheese, then tip the garbage can up and raise it, elevator style, to ground level and lower it on its side again to allow the skunk to amble out. Then buy an inexpensive window well cover at a home or hardware store so it does not happen again.

Problem: Squirrels in the attic

Solution: An inexpensive strobe light can be helpful in getting squirrel families to leave an attic and find a less disconcerting place to raise their young.

Problem: Raccoons or squirrels in the chimney

Solution: Loud hard rock music and a bowl of ammonia works for raccoons. Place a radio and bowl of ammonia on a footstool in the fireplace at dusk to convince them to move to a new den. For squirrels, a long rope hung down the chimney and draped over the side of the house will allow them to climb out. To permanently solve this problem, have a chimney cap installed. — Hendersonville Times News

Wildlife Reminds Us of Winter’s Blessing

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Matt VanderVelde, DVM

DESOTO, KS–This time of year I think we all get a bit too much cabin fever and may get too melancholy or down about the constant battle of cold and ice.<p>

At times, I find myself pretty depressed about not being able to take my early morning trek down the country lane outside our farm for lack of bearable temperatures. Bearable temperatures to me are anything above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, my only exposed skin–my face–would be deadened and numbed by the bitter cold of Old Man Winter’s breath.

Then I look around me and see all these wonderful animals frolicking about as if it’s just another season’s passage.

As I turned up the lane for the homestretch to the house earlier this week, I had lunch on my mind in a warm abode near my warm and loving wife. As I turned through the bend in the gravel road, I could see a blur of black fur. It seemed to be picking up speed as I near it.

Soon I could make out the image. It was that little feral black cat I released a few years back at the edge of my property. Without a home and way too ornery to be placed with a family, I had spayed, vaccinated and dewormed it beforehand. Then, with a prayer and a push, I let the cage door open and “swoosh,” she sped for the nearby timber.

“Freedom, thank God, I’m free at last,” I could hear her purr.

I hoped that maybe it was slightly better than the end of life by mercy. This time it was survival in the wild. And yet, here she was, romping up and down the road, dashing in and out of cover, seemingly at home with her surroundings, even in these subfreezing temperatures. I was humbled by her relative enthusiasm of existence of life as I quietly complained earlier of the limitations of the winter’s cold.

As many of you have been, we have enjoyed feeding the many varieties of song birds this past month as seeds get scarce and the need for fuel to warm their precious little feathered and winged bodies increases.

As the snow fell Saturday afternoon, we looked on from our living room as various birds including cardinals, jays, sparrows and occasional bluebirds vied for position at the hanging feeder. It seems we cannot keep enough seed and suet out as our nearby throng subsides.

We have a virtual two-story feeding going as the bigger birds knock seeds to the ground, the smaller birds get the fallen feed on the ground. It is at this time all cats and dogs get confined to the garage so the dining of the aviary can go on undisturbed.

I got into trouble the other day, though, after I found the suet cage grounded by recent sustained, high winds. Thinking I would just hang the cage in the umbrella tree near our front door and windows for close view of the birds, I never thought an animal other than a bird might prey upon it. Sure enough, the next day, the cage lay open, the suet was gone and small little canine footprint impressions were left in the snow below.

The evidence was damning and conviction was evident. Minnie had done it.

“I hope her bowels suffer for it tonight,” my wife said. “I think I’ll skip feeding her tonight.”

Such fun it is, though, to have bird feeders. It takes the edge off winter’s doldrums, too. I am reminded of the pure luxury of our lives and the verse in the good book that alludes to the fact that even God provides for the sparrows of the earth.

As I headed back down Golden Road when I finished lunch, I spied a flock of Wild Turkey in a former soybean field. Their numbers exceeded 65. They seemed content in their pursuit of leftover soybeans, neither starving nor showing signs of demise. And I’m worried about putting food on the table?

Around the corner I could see row upon row of descending Canada Geese. They, too, had designs on an open former soybean field as their numbers swelled in the hundreds, not once complaining of the cold, snow or ice. Actually, it seemed almost a party scene as they flapped their wings and honked at each other. What a sight of nature.

You know, winter is not such a bad time after all; if only we compare ourselves to those animal friends we live near outside our warm and cozy abodes.

If we would all but thank our Creator for the warmth of our homes and the luxuries of our lifestyles this time of year, the joy of the past holiday season might be shared throughout the year, even in the cold of winter. –The DeSoto Explorer

Wildlife Rehab Center Overwhelmed With Animals

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Chris Robinson
FOR THE FIRST time since opening in 1995, Second Chance Wildlife Center near Gaithersburg, MD was so overburdened with animals needing care it was forced to deny new arrivals late last month.

The respite allowed the center to release about 120 animals back to the wild and reopen a week later. Second Chance Executive Director Christine Montuori is optimistic they won’t have to close again this summer.

However, she warns that the closure reflects a broader dilemma created by increased development, a particularly active spring and a decline in wildlife rehabilitators.

‘‘Whenever a rehabilitator gives it up, the slack has to be taken up some place,” Montuori said.

There are 70 licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Maryland and Second Chance is one of the largest in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, said Paul Peditto, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Second Chance, which is operated 365 days a year from a 2,600-sq.-ft. farmhouse nestled in a wooded, 10-acre plot, can care for as many as 1,000 animals a month, Montuori said. She estimated they were currently housing about 600 animals.

Peditto said that while his department handles rare and threatened animals as well as wildlife emergencies that threaten human safety, the rehabilitators offer care for general wildlife that is largely not provided by other local or state agencies. Still, Peditto said the number of licensed rehabilitators has remained stable and factors such as suburban sprawl must be considered.

‘‘At the same time, we would certainly welcome new volunteers into the apprentice program to become master rehabilitators,” Peditto said.

Montuori, who said she has been a rehabilitator for 20 years and currently is employed full time with Second Chance, encouraged anyone with the interest, time and dedication to investigate rehabilitation. Additional government funding also could lighten the financial disincentive many potential rehabilitators face, she said.

‘‘The idea is if it’s a wild animal, let nature take its course,” Montuori said. ‘‘That kind of mentality lasts until you are the one that finds that injured baby squirrel, or sees the animal hit by a car and is still struggling, then all of that ‘nature takes its course’ thing goes out the window.”

JC Crist, president and chief executive officer of the Montgomery County Humane Society, said that the situation is a wakeup call every spring.

‘‘I think we need to come up with a plan,” he said. ‘‘We, collectively as a community, with a plan so we don’t hit critical mass and God’s creatures don’t suffer.” –The Gazette

Wildlife Officials Euthanize Rocky the Moose

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Josh O’Gorman
ROCHESTER, VT—Wardens with Vermont Fish and Wildlife said it was the kindness of strangers that ultimately led to Rocky’s death.

The yearling Moose, known to locals as Rocky, died last week, and his death underscored the danger of domesticating a wild animal and highlighted a philosophical difference between veterinary care and wildlife management.

Last September, the then 5-month-old male Moose made himself at home on the property of Michael and Wendy Andrews about 4 miles east of the Brandon Notch, VT. While the Moose was first spotted just up the road, he was attracted to the Andrews’ apple trees, Wendy Andrews said.

A Moose his age would normally be with his mother until May, said Col. Robert Rooks, director of law enforcement for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Many locals speculated that a car had hit his mother and the orphaned Moose attracted the curious and the well-intentioned alike.

Andrews said that while she was not home during the day, on the weekends, when the Moose would draw a large crowd, she would go outside and ask people not to feed him.
The Moose had apparently lost his fear of people, who would park by the side of the road and hand-feed him apples, oranges, bananas and doughnuts, she said, adding as word spread of the Moose more and more people arrived bringing more and more food.

Sunday, Andrews said, was a particularly busy day, with the road lined with cars and people feeding Rocky food a Moose would not ordinarily eat. By Sunday evening, Andrews said, the Moose had come to lie down on the deck next to their kitchen and didn’t look well. Andrews said that when she came outside Monday morning Rocky was lying under the apple trees with his legs splayed out.

“I thought he had been hit by a car,” Andrews said. Andrews called friends who in turn called a veterinarian asking what could be done.

Andrews said the veterinarian advised giving the Moose Gatorade and Pepto Bismol, which she administered to Rocky using a plastic bag with a long straw called a calf feeder. Andrews said that she had used a calf feeder before on cows and when she gave Rocky the fluids he “seemed to perk up for a little bit.”

By Monday evening, however, Rocky still languished on the ground. Andrews covered him with a large piece of gray carpet for warmth and checked him periodically overnight.

By Tuesday morning, the unseasonable warmth of the previous day had receded and temperatures hovered in the low 20s. By noon Lt. Douglas Lawrence, a game warden with the Fish and Wildlife Department, and Warden Chris Connor had arrived on the scene.

Lawrence and Connor had to assess the Moose from about 50 ft. away as they stood by the side of the road. Lawrence said that Michael Andrews had told Fish and Wildlife officials to stay off his property.

As they waited, Lawrence placed the blame squarely on the people who had fed him a diet of fruit, oats and doughnuts. Lawrence said Moose are browsers and subsisted on a diet of browse.

“It would be analogous to us living on Twinkies,” Lawrence said of the food given to Rocky. “It tastes good but you can’t live on it.”

Lawrence said that Fish and Wildlife had discussed relocating Rocky in the spring, but said in the winter there was no place they could transport him that wasn’t within half a mile of a house.

At 1:10 p.m. veterinarian Dr. Keely Henderson arrived to check Rocky’s condition. Henderson looked over the Moose, took his temperature and then met with Lawrence and Connor. He looks like he’s dying, Henderson said. To live, he needs to be brought somewhere warm and he needs fluids. Lawrence told Henderson that Fish and Wildlife prohibits anyone from treating big game.

“We manage herds, not individuals,” Lawrence said. Lawrence told Henderson she could euthanize Rocky but could not treat him.

At 1:50 p.m. Henderson left for another house call. At 2:42 p.m. Andrews attempted to administer more fluids to Rocky. Later she said as she tried to roll him over she saw that one of his legs was frozen, his torso was swollen and he was having trouble breathing.
At 2:50 p.m. Andrews told Connor that she wanted him to euthanize the Moose. She then got in her truck and left.

“I don’t want to be here when he does it,” Andrews said.

Connor said he had received word from his supervisor that a wildlife biologist had to examine the moose before euthanasia. At 3:44 p.m. the biologist arrived, and after a cursory examination a game warden euthanized the Moose with a single rifle bullet at 3:50 p.m.

The Moose was dragged with a winch to the back of a truck, where Lawrence said it would be transported to Fish and Wildlife in Royalton. Lawrence said a cursory autopsy would be performed.

Andrews returned home shortly thereafter and was greeted by well-wishers Jane Chase of Stockbridge and Tom and Helen Lennon of Sudbury. The four of them went into Andrews’s home and discussed what had transpired over the past few months.

“You did everything anybody could have done,” Helen Lennon told Andrews. “Who else would have done this for a wild animal?”

Andrews spoke of Warden Connor’s kindness during the ordeal.

“His compassion today, his kindness, it made all the difference,” Andrews said.

Wildlife Moving In Next Door (Cats Beware)

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Christine McConville
MEDFORD, MA–So it’s officially winter: the ground is frozen solid, there’s ice in the streams and ponds, and animal control officers are getting lots of calls.

“They’ll usually say, ‘There’s a fox or a coyote in my backyard. What should I do?’ ” said Jerry Smith, Winchester’s longtime animal control officer. He tells them it’s just that time of year.

“It’s mating season, and they are all out there looking,” Smith said. “And if they’ve already got a mate, chances are they are looking for food.” Mating habits aside, wildlife specialists say that throughout the Boston suburbs, there are more frequent, and more varied, sightings than ever before.

“There are some wildlife sightings that people would have been surprised about 20 years ago,” said Marion Larson, information and education biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Moose sightings in Lowell and Westford, for example– “that’s something you wouldn’t have seen 20 years ago,” she said.

Some of that has been part of an effort by wildlife specialists to restore certain indigenous species, such as the Wild Turkey, which was virtually extinct in Massachusetts 20 years ago. In other cases, such as Moose, animals are going to greater lengths to keep their bellies full.

“We’ve got Phil the Turkey,” said Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn about the wild bird who frequently jams up morning commuters. McGlynn said he often hears from neighbors who see herds of deer nibbling on bushes, reports he never heard 20 or 30 years ago.

Red and Gray Foxes, Wild Turkeys, and Whitetail Deer have been in Massachusetts for centuries, while coyotes are relative newcomers. But it is only recently that humans and animals are brushing up against each other with any frequency.

Many say the change can be linked to decades of suburban sprawl.

“Every time a house goes up,” Smith said, “the animals that lived in that spot have to go someplace else to find their food,” he said. “Now, you take a five-, six-, seven-acre lot–that’s a lot of animals that have been displaced.”

Medford animal control officer Patrick Hogan said many wildlife observers believe that foxes and coyotes simply prefer the suburbs, because food is more easily available there than in the woods.

“There’s more trash, and bird seed,” he said, “and a lot of people feed their dogs and cats outside, and that’s a really good food source, too.” Animal control officers also say callers’ concerns vary from season to season.

From December to March, coyotes and foxes are out looking for mates, and they’ll cover a good distance, and show up in some unusual places, in their quest. They’ll also create a ruckus. When coyotes howl in the winter, it’s generally part of their mating ritual. Sometimes, they howl to let other coyotes know of their presence. Other times, they’ll howl to keep the competition away.

Eventually the females will get pregnant, and the animals will cover greater distances in their quest for food.

“It can get tough,” Smith said. “The mice and the moles and snakes aren’t around. The only thing they have to eat are the squirrels.”

And it is times like these when a well-fed cat can look pretty tempting to foxes and coyotes. Smith said foxes and coyotes tend to steer clear of dogs, but will wait in a yard where a cat lives, and when the cat takes a nap, the predator might pounce.

Coyote pups and fox kits arrive in April, and soon after that, animal control officers receive a different kind of call.

“Some people get alarmed when they see these animals out in the middle of the day,” Smith said. “One lady called to say there’s a fox in her yard, with three little ones. She wanted to know what to do, so I told her, ‘Get a camera.’ “

Some springtime callers will report a “sick looking” coyote or fox; Smith said it’s usually because the animal is shedding its winter coat, so its fur looks dull and mangy.

By summer, the entire coyote family will go out looking for food, and people frequently mention nighttime howling.

“A lot of times that howling happens when the mother gets a Raccoon,” Smith said. “She’ll start howling, to let her pups know, ‘I’ve got something.’ “

No matter what time of year a sighting occurs, Smith, Hogan, and others frequently remind people that coyotes and foxes are afraid of humans, and encourage people to keep it that way. To make your property less attractive to coyotes and foxes, wildlife specialists suggest securing your garbage and feeding your pets indoors. They also suggest closing off crawl spaces and trimming overgrown brush. –Boston Globe

Wildlife In Our Own Backyard

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Ken Bailey
WHEN WAS the last time you had a special day in the great outdoors?

Although every day that we can get outside and enjoy nature is special, I had an extra unique day last week when I encountered a wide variety of wildlife—all in our own Midcoast Maine backyard.

In the period of a couple of hours, I walked to within 50 ft. of a young Moose, snuck up on a sunning Snapping Turtle, watched three ducks nap on a sunny rock and paddled a boat close to a snake swimming across the lake.

If you spend any time in nature you will soon discover how fortunate we are to be living in this amazing period of abundant wildlife. As far as wildlife goes—today is much better than the so-called “good old days.”

I received a call from a local resident who was concerned about a young Moose that had camped on her property for a week. She said the Moose would paddle around in her small farm pond, lay down for hours on end near the edge of the woods, and appeared lethargic. Was the Moose sick?

Arriving at the Moose’s location, I met with the homeowner, who pointed me in the right direction. Once I knew where to look, it was easy to see the youngster as it lay in the tall grass where the field met the thick woods.

With camera and binoculars in hand, I headed across the freshly mowed field toward the resting moose. As I approached within 100 ft. she casually lifted her head and looked my way. Ears up and alert, the youngster looked me over but did not seem alarmed.

When I closed to within 50 ft., she slowly stood up, shook her head and again looked my way. She almost seemed perturbed that I had interrupted her nap. Slowly moving her gangly legs, the yearling Moose ambled along the edge of the woods, stopping briefly to strip some tender, green leaves from a young maple tree for a mid-afternoon snack.

I looked closely with the binoculars and could see no obvious injuries. She seemed in good shape, alert and her weight seemed average. She cast one more look over her shoulder as she quietly slipped into the thick underbrush, disappearing into the woods.

A biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said this was most likely a lonely yearling Moose that had be forced to leave her mother because a new calf was on the way. He also stated that Moose often prefer—especially if not harassed —to stay out in the open fields to avoid the ever-present, and often nasty, biting insects in the thick woods in the summer. The Moose appears to like her summer vacation spot and seems in no hurry to leave.

Later that day, while cruising the shores of Megunticook Lake, I was fortunate to observe other native wildlife. The young eagles that hatched just a few short weeks ago are now flying around the lake and will soon be abandoned by their parents, forcing the youngsters to survive on their own. This crucial time in a young eagle’s life is when it quickly finds out if it has learned the important lessons of life in the wild. Studies show that only 50 percent of the young eaglets survive those first challenging months on their own.

I came upon three Black Ducks taking a nap on rocks located in a shallow cove. Their necks were twisted around and their beaks were tucked into feathers on their back. I passed by without disturbing them.

I turned the boat into the sheltered cove where it is moored and came upon a large Snapping Turtle soaking up the late August sun. It followed me with its menacing head and slid into the water with a loud splash when I came too close for comfort. When I turned away from the now submerged turtle, I saw movement in the water.

As I came closer, I could see it was a Garter Snake slithering across the dark surface of the lake. The closer I managed to get, the faster the snake undulated over the water. Once it was on dry land, it quickly disappeared into the thick shoreline brush.

This was another memorable day in beautiful Midcoast, Maine. The next time you’re out for a hike, or go for a quiet cruise on one of our many beautiful waters, take time to look around. Don’t just look at the scenery. Look deep into the woods. Investigate every movement; every sound. You’ll be amazed at what you will find. –VillageSoup

Wildlife In Herds Near Highways Concern Officials

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Shaun Boyd
BROOMFIELD, CO--This winter’s heavy snow is driving wildlife into unfamiliar areas. They’ve come down to lower elevations to find food, sometimes along busy highways.

Recently in Broomfield about 35 deer grabbed lunch along Wadsworth Boulevard. Passer-by Angela Laino grabbed some pictures, calling the sight “beautiful.” At the same time, though, she said she was surprised and also a little bit nervous to see them so close to the busy road.

Traffic accidents involving wildlife are on the rise. Wildlife is the third leading cause of car crashes in Colorado behind speeding and inattentive driving. In 2004, the last year data was kept, there were 4,074 car-wildlife crashes, an increase of 300 percent in 5 years.

While an occasional deer isn’t unheard of, a whole herd is different. Broomfield police say it’s dangerous.

“We’ve had reports of anywhere from 50 to 60 head of deer (trying to) cross in a group,” Broomfield Sgt. Rick Kempsell said. “We’re concerned motorists might hit them. We’ve had three hit in the last two weeks.”

This prompted CDOT to put up message boards, and the Division of Wildlife to put out a call to motorists to slow down. Tyler Baskfield with the Division of Wildlife says message boards don’t help.

“We’ve had seven mild winters in Colorado, and what’s happening is winter has returned to Colorado, and people have forgotten deer will frequent these areas when they need to,” he said. He also says people who feed the animals aren’t doing them any favors.

“These animals evolved for thousands of years, and they’re pros at making it through a winter like this, so they’re going to be just fine on their own.”–CBS4

Wildlife Habitat Loss Biggest Threat

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Pam Owen
THE SINGLE greatest threat to our native wildlife is habitat loss.

While some native species can adapt more readily to changes in habitat, others depend on particular plants, geology, and climatic conditions to survive. With increasing development of land, habitat that is necessary to the very survival of some species is rapidly disappearing.

The good news is that a growing number of private property owners recognize the value of native habitat and are restoring and protecting it on their land. In Rappahannock County we’re fortunate to have a strong conservation ethic. Many individual property owners have taken on the challenging task of restoring land that was once used for farming to native habitat, and farmers are increasingly using sustainable practices that integrate native habitat with crops and pasture, to provide for wildlife as well as humans.

Want to go wild in your backyard but don’t own hundreds of acres?
While large properties can support larger and more diverse wildlife, you can make a difference with considerably less-and even if you rent. Planting a single native plant can provide food and shelter for many species. Put up a bird or bat house, and you’ll provide a home and help keep the local insect population in balance.

In some cases not taking action can benefit wildlife-leaving a dead tree standing can provide a wildlife hotel; leaving a field fallow can provide rich habitat for myriad species; not draining a wetland can give you a frog chorus in the spring.

One of the most endangered habitats in Virginia is forest edge-that space between field and forest that that has a mix of grasses, shrubs, and saplings. Just by not plowing or mowing up to the forest, you can provide habitat for species that are rapidly disappearing, like our native bobwhite quail. If you have a large forest tract, you can cut down a few trees along the edge and leave them where they fall, instantly providing shelter for these edge species.

Another significant threat to wildlife is habitat fragmentation, where tracts of native habitat are interrupted by farming or development. Many native animal species need large areas of native habitat to survive, or at least corridors to move from one area to the next-for food, shelter, and finding a mate.

Before herbicides and sophisticated machinery, the fences and stone walls that separated fields were often covered with native vines and shrubs, providing a link from one wild area to another. Today, it’s easier to keep these fence lines “tidy” by human standards but barren of food and cover for wildlife. By planting native shrubs or vines, or just not clearing out what will naturally grow if left alone, you can link habitat fragments for some species and provide habitat similar to forest edge for others.

If you’re more ambitious and want to really go back to the land, you may have to start from scratch by clearing land of nonnative invasive species. This may entail using a range of tools-from prescribed burns, to manual extraction, to careful application of herbicides.Habitat projects can be exciting but daunting.

Where can you get help? Many government and nongovernmental organizations offer information, onsite expertise, plants, and even funding for habitat management. –Rappahannock News

Wildlife Grows Bolder In Urban Habitat

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Claire Trageser

TIM QUINN had been tracking a coyote through Seattle, WA for a year when it began behaving suspiciously.

The coyote always stayed near its den. But one night, radio signals from a collar around the animal’s neck showed it heading in a new direction. For the next five nights, the coyote made the same trip. Finally, Quinn, who was tracking coyotes for his University of Washington doctorate, was able to follow it.

Watching from a distance, Quinn saw the coyote approach a security guard stationed outside a building. The guard tossed the coyote a sandwich, and the coyote ate it up.

“The coyote was traveling all that way for a corned beef on rye,” said Quinn, who is now the Habitat Program chief scientist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “He was making that trip daily for a food source because he had learned quickly that’s what would happen.”

That was 20 years ago.

Now stories of coyotes attacking pets and small children, crows dive-bombing pedestrians, bears walking into homes and, in one case in Florida, a bobcat making off with a small dog while he was on a walk with his owner seem all too frequent. For many, it seems that wild animals have ditched their traditionally submissive roles and have gone on the offensive.

To some degree, Quinn agrees.

“There’s a lot of speculation about whether or not coyotes are adapting their behaviors to be more tolerant and less afraid of humans, and evidence suggests they are,” he said.

Since Jan. 1, the Mill Creek branch of the wildlife department has received about 440 reports of coyote sightings in King County, compared with 93 in 2006. While these calls come from every part of the Seattle area, Quinn said that his study, which also used a hotline to report sightings, found coyotes mostly in a few concentrated areas in North Seattle.

Quinn said that as urban areas expand, coyotes must either move farther away from humans or learn to live with them. The growing number of coyote sightings suggests that they have chosen the latter and have become bolder, hunting and traveling in daylight. This means animals may not just be learning to survive in urban areas, they may be thriving on them.

Smaller urban animals, including raccoons, squirrels, rats and crows, have been less wary of humans for a long time.

But the Seattle Animal Shelter received about five calls in the past two weeks from people who were hit by swooping crows, said Ann Graves, an enforcement supervisor there. The divebombing birds are probably protecting a young crow resting on the ground while it learns to fly, but “it gets a little scary when a large crow is coming at you,” Graves said.

Just as the sandwich-loving coyote learned where to find its midnight snack, urban animals learn that with humans comes food, even if people are only feeding them accidentally through left-out garbage or pets. One of Quinn’s studies found that the items that appeared most often in urban coyotes’ diets were apples and house cats.

And it’s not just coyotes. In 2007, 578 King County bear sightings were reported to the Mill Creek wildlife office, up from 110 in 2003. Cougar sightings went from 76 to 148.

Stuart Breck, a research biologist for the Department of Agriculture said that bears are also becoming much more comfortable with people.

“They’re incorporating urban environments into their home range so that they’re regular visitors, and it’s not some anomaly that they come in,” he said. “Evidence suggests that some urban environments may provide them with food during bad food years, which then supports the bear population.”

As animals learn these lessons, they become bolder, which Quinn thinks could explain attacks.

“When you feed coyotes, you’re asking for trouble because then they associate humans with an eating opportunity,” he said. “Then all bets are off. Since small humans are not predators, they might as well be food.”

But Quinn points out that cases where coyotes attacked humans are rare. The only documented time that a coyote attacked people in Washington was in 2006, when two young children were bitten in Bellevue.

Bob Everitt, the regional director of the Mill Creek wildlife office, said the coyote responsible for these incidents seemed to be sick and was killed by wildlife officers.

Coyotes’ recent bad press may mean people blame them more for missing pets, when raccoons, owls or cars could also be responsible. Everitt also said that more attacks always happen at this time of year because animals are trying to feed their young.

But it does seem that wild animals, especially coyotes, are becoming more aggressive, which some see as reason for controlling their populations. They blame a 2000 ballot measure that banned trapping wildlife for fueling the coyote population, but Everitt disagreed.

“In the city, the trapping ban would have no effect,” he said. “There’s no effective way of trapping coyotes without endangering other pets.”

Killing coyotes will also not lower the overall population, said John Shivik, a researcher for the Department of Agriculture.

“It’s not possible to get rid of them altogether because they are really resilient,” he said. “They produce more pups than could ever survive, so if conditions are created that make more space, more pups will survive and fill that space. It’s like digging a hole in the ocean.”

All the experts interviewed agreed that the best way to handle problem wildlife is for people to change their behavior. Garbage and compost should be secured, and pets should be fed inside and kept indoors, especially from dusk to dawn. If food becomes less available, animals will move away.

But no matter where they go, it seems likely that urban wildlife, especially coyotes, will continue to thrive.

“Coyotes are very much the wily coyote that you hear about,” said Gary Koehler, a researcher with the wildlife department. “They may not be able to catch a roadrunner, but they do catch anything else.” –Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Wildlife Group Goes Hi-Tech To Track Deer

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

PAHRUMP, NV—Mule Deer herds may start developing paranoia, believing that someone is watching and tracking their every move. In this case, they would be right.

Over the winter, the Nevada Department of Wildlife began monitoring a new radio collar that contains a small GPS unit that generates coordinates of the animal every four hours and a transmitter to transmit the data via satellites to the department’s computers each day.

“Concern for the western Elko County deer herd’s critical wintering areas, especially after the 2006 catastrophic wildfires, prompted an effort to intensively monitor Mule Deer movements and their survival using satellite telemetry in real time,” said Wildlife Staff Specialist Mike Cox.

Department big game biologists captured 10 Mule Deer in December 2006 from specific subherds in the mountain ranges where the deer spend the summer. Cox reports that each subherd has a history of complex migration routes that they take from summer habitats to critical winter ranges, including suspected movements to Idaho.

Department biologist Ken Gray said the new satellite collars have been in the plans for quite some time. “For several years we have wanted to conduct seasonal habitat delineation projects to determine how far into Idaho Nevada’s deer are going to winter. We wanted to know where deer are wintering so that we could provide input on habitat related issues,” said Gray.

Cox reports the objective of the project is to better understand specific staging areas and routes the deer use to migrate across the landscape. The collars proved even more valuable after last year’s devastating fires which destroyed large chunks of their historic winter range.

The department was able to evaluate how deer would maneuver through the various burns and survive the loss of habitat. This information has helped department and land management agencies better focus limited habitat restoration and conservation funds on specific areas the deer prefer based on the GPS coordinates collected each day.

“The real benefit is having continuous data recorded every four hours. We can track exactly how the deer move from point A to point B, and discover what obstacles they might have encountered, everything from mining activity to highways. With a conventional VHF collar, we could only track by the air or on foot every one to two months and get a far less detailed idea of how there were moving,” said Gray.

“One of the real tragedies of this past winter was that we lost around 50 percent of the fawns, and this was not a particularly difficult winter. With the satellite collars, we could see exactly what route does led their fawns.

“Some traveled through as much as 50 miles of burnt habitat to reach their winter range, and while the adults had sufficient energy reserves to cross, the fawns did not.”

Gray points to several benefits of the new collars. He states that although it has not happened yet, when one of the tagged deer dies, the department will know much sooner than in the past, allowing for biologists to go out into the field and discover the reason. When the deer begin to fawn, their movement becomes very limited and biologists will see this and be able to research what the real attributes for this selected habitat are. Biologists have found that with every question answered with these new satellite collars, new questions seem to arise.

“We have learned a great deal over this past year. The difference in some of the paths these deer take is remarkable,” said Gray. “We’ve had a couple of deer that have moved no more than five miles, and one that has traveled from Interstate 80 all the way to the Nevada-Idaho line, about 90 miles away. One deer went approximately 30 miles to her winter range, when there was good winter range only five miles in another direction. It’s our job to try and figure out why she bypassed a suitable range to go to one much farther away.” –Pahrump Valley Times

Wildlife Experts Say Cub Rescue Isn’t Good Science

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Ryan Woodard
RAPID CITY, SD--The image of a Mountain Lion kitten dying of starvation in the wild because its mother has been killed disturbs many people.

That image is the main reason that some states, including South Dakota, have elected to bring in those kittens that can’t survive on their own–even though wildlife experts say the practice goes against fundamental wildlife-management philosophies.

Gov. Mike Rounds said he decided in 2005 that South Dakota’s Department of Game, Fish & Parks should retrieve dependent kittens whose mothers are killed in the lion hunting season. He made the decision that year when a lion kill orphaned three kittens.

“I think it was common sense more than anything else,” Rounds said. “Most people in South Dakota don’t want to see a Mountain Lion kitten die in the wild because its mother’s been shot.”

Rounds continues to stand behind the policy more than two years after he put it into place, and he says it is here to stay.

“We’ll place them as long as we can,” he said. “If we get to the stage where we don’t have any place to go with them, we’ll have to rethink the policy.”

He said he believes there is plenty of public support behind the policy.

“I think it’s the best alternative when you do have a loss like that occurring,” Rounds said.

Wildlife division director Tony Leif said the policy applies to any animal whose young is orphaned in the wild, although he said it hasn’t been deemed appropriate for any situation except for a lion kill.

The rules of South Dakota’s lion hunting season state that hunters may not shoot lions traveling with other lions in order to protect kittens. The current policy is to rescue kittens if they are deemed unable to survive in the wild if it is reasonable to do so.

Three kittens were rescued during the 2005 season and rescued seven from this year’s hunt. Those cubs were shipped to South Dakota State University, and a broker is helping to find homes for the orphans from this year’s hunt.

The three kittens from 2005 have been living in the Philadelphia Zoo since shortly after their rescue as 3-month-old kittens. One male, Dakota, and two females, Cinnabar and Sage, are living in that zoo in a special exhibit called “Big Cat Falls.”

Wildlife experts say rescuing the kittens and relegating them to life in a zoo is not a sound wildlife-management decision but is required because of public sentiment.

John Wrede, a 30-year South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GF&P) employee who retired last February as the agency’s regional wildlife manager in Rapid City, said the policy of rescuing kittens is based on social concerns rather than biological principles. Because of the random killing of lions allowed by the lion hunting season as designed, the kitten “problem” was inevitable, Wrede said.

“From a biological and managerial perspective, I can’t agree with it. But from a sociological perspective, I can understand it,” Wrede said about the practice of rescuing lion kittens. “Socially, I can see no alternative. But we could have avoided the kitten-rescue thing very easily.”

The lion season should have been tightly controlled, possibly by creating a pool of hunters willing and ready to respond quickly when GF&P decided to remove a problem lion or reduce lion numbers in a certain area, Wrede said. GF&P could call the hunter or hunters, who would meet and accompany an agency trapper and dog pack to track, tree and kill the lion or lions being targeted. That would have provided a more specific and controlled lion harvest and also reduce the chance of killing a female lion with dependent kittens, Wrede said.

“It would have been a very careful, measured approach to make sure we gained public acceptance and didn’t orphan kittens,” Wrede said. “We didn’t go there. And now, it’s going to be extremely difficult to go there.”

South Dakota isn’t the only state with a policy in place to rescue kittens orphaned in lion hunts. Montana and Colorado have similar policies in place. Jerry Apker, a carnivore biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said the decision to rescue kittens in Colorado is also based on emotion, not sound biology.

“From a biological standpoint, whether those kittens survive or not is probably meaningless to the population,” Apker said. “From a human compassion standpoint, we don’t find that acceptable to let them starve to death.”

Apker said kittens that are found in Colorado will either be sent to a zoo or nursed back to health and released into the wild, depending on how accustomed they have become to human contact.

But Apker and Colorado Division of Wildlife carnivore researcher Ken Logan emphasize that they take many preventive measures to minimize killing mothers with kittens. Dogs are a major factor in those efforts.

Colorado encourages hunters to avoid shooting females–especially not lactating females –and this year, created a mandatory education course for hunters to pass before getting a license. They said dogs make it easier for hunters to identify females and decide whether or not to shoot them.

“I think we have a different situation here in Colorado,” Logan said. “Mountain Lion hunters can use dogs to tree lions. It is not the same situation you have in South Dakota, where hunters kill Mountain Lions by chance, and therefore, the chance that they kill a Mountain Lion that is raising cubs might be greater.”

Rich DeSimone, a research biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, said his department also tries to educate hunters to avoid shooting lactating females, which is illegal there.

The South Dakota GF&P tries to limit the loss of kittens through its rule prohibiting killing lions traveling with other lions. Spotted kittens must not be killed, either. GF&P regional wildlife manager John Kanta said that orphaning kittens is an unfortunate inevitability that comes with a lion hunting season.

The negative reaction to the number of kittens apparently orphaned this season hurts the image of lion hunting specifically–and hunting in general–Wrede said.

“This season, the way that it has been designed and the events that have transpired have seriously damaged the image of hunting and hunters in the Black Hills region,” he said. “And maybe it’s even seriously damaged the image of the agency. I don’t know that. But it may have.”–Rapid City Journal

Wildlife Don’t Make Good Pets

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Stuart Tomlinson
THEY’RE CUTE and often look cuddly, but capturing and keeping a baby bear, deer, bird or other wild creature usually ends badly for the animal — and sometimes for the people involved.

Take the case of 28-year-old Gabriel Maranov, 28, of Wolf Creek and an itinerant Black Bear cub. Maranov faces as long as a year in jail and a $6,250 fine for capturing and keeping the cub for two weeks on his parents’ rural property in southern Oregon.

He was trying to do the right thing but went about it in the wrong way.The situation illustrates a common problem in Oregon each year and one that officials are trying hard to educate the public about.

“It’s the No. 1 phone call this time of year,” says Karen Munday of the Audubon Society of Portland. “People find healthy young birds and mammals and mistakenly think they need help.”

As well-intentioned as people’s motives may be, the end result is an animal, Munday said, “that will never be free.”

Maranov’s situation began to come to light about a month ago. According to Oregon State Police officials, that’s when a man called Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials to report that a bear cub had wandered into his yard. Officials told the man to try to protect it from neighborhood dogs; they would send someone to get it the next day.

The man turned a garbage can on its side as a shelter and surrounded it with orange construction fencing. The next morning, the fence had been knocked down and the bear–which had a wound on its back–wasgone.

In the meantime, said Lt. Dave Gifford of the Oregon State Police, Maranov had made several inquires to fish and wildlife officials, asking how to care for a bear and how he could get a wildlife rehabilitation permit.

Gifford said wildlife officials and troopers put two and two together and contacted Maranov, who lives with his mom and dad north of Grants Pass.

Cub’s Wounds Infected
Maranov said he first saw the bear at a scrap yard where he had taken his truck for repairs. The cub was clearly dying, he said, from infected wounds.

“It just needed love–I was stepping up so the bear could live,” Maranov said. “I did everything I could to do the right thing; I was going to make sure he was OK.”

Maranov said he spent the next two weeks, night and day, nursing the bear back to health, feeding it baby food and caring for its wounds. He named it Bearly, he said, “because he was barely a bear.”

He hoped to send the bear to a rehab center in Idaho, but there were many hurdles to overcome. And the dozen or so calls he made to officials made it easy for troopers to find him. The bear would have been put down if I didn’t save it, Maranov said.

But Michelle Dennehy, a wildlife department spokeswoman, said that’s just one of the mistakes people make.

“If we can get to it immediately, it’s turned over to a rehabilitator who can care for the animal without imprinting it,” she said. Imprinted animals lose their fear of people and often must be euthanized to protect the public. Dennehy said that several years ago near Sisters, an unlawfully kept buck attacked a man.

Permit Required
Under state law, it is illegal to keep wildlife captive without a permit.

“Our goal is to always get the animal back into the wild,” Dennehy said.

Oregon has 92 licensed wildlife rehabilitators: people who have the training and equipment to keep wildlife from becoming habituated to people.

Spring is the time of year wildlife give birth, and it’s common for animals to temporarily leave their offspring as they go off to feed elsewhere. Some are abandoned because of disease. Messing with a bear’s cub is also a quick way to get attacked by the mother if she is nearby.

Considering all that’s happened, the cub is doing OK.

On May 9, he was turned over to keepers at Wildlife Safari, a nonprofit wildlife park in Winston. Curator Dan Brands said he’s been taught to nurse from a bottle and is getting treatment for a skin rash.

“He is doing great — very active and he loves to climb,” Brands said.

Officials at the wildlife park will sponsor a contest to rename Bearly, who will remain isolated from other bears at the park for at least a year–though he will be able to see them through a fence. Brands said part of the naming contest will include an awareness program telling visitors why it’s important that animals in the wild are left there.

For now, they’re just calling him “baby bear.” –The Oregonian

Wildlife Detective Stars In A Real-Life Drama

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Tom Stienstra
THE CASE of the worst mass killing of elk in the past 100 years– 15 Roosevelt elk slaughtered by poachers in Northern California– was solved by wildlife detective Jim Banks using DNA analysis at the Department of Fish and Game’s forensic lab.

This was the most dramatic crime among thousands of wildlife violations in which Banks’ lab work has led to convictions. As the godfather of wildlife DNA lab work, Banks was named the top game warden in America this week, the International Conservation Officer of the Year, by the Shikar-Safari Club.

Game Warden John Dawson said many suspects confess when they are told what they are up against. “I tell them we have the best forensic scientist in the nation who will be able to tell me the exact sex and the number of animals represented by a blood smear or meat sample,” Dawson said.

Facing the combination of Banks and DNA science, they often give up.

Banks first developed using DNA evidence in 1993 to catch deer poachers. It was a revolution in wildlife crime enforcement in America. With small tissue, blood or hair samples, Banks could match up evidence found in the field with meat in a suspect’s freezer. In a significant breakthrough, Banks could test deer meat and testify if the animal was a doe. That discovery alone could lead to a conviction; shooting does is banned throughout California.

In addition, Banks was able to reduce the cost of DNA analysis to only $7 per sample, making the work practical for high-volume operation anywhere in America. The DFG has accused poachers of illegally killing up to 50,000 deer per year in California, crimes that undermine deer populations and attempts at herd management. By comparison, about 25,000 to 30,000 are taken by legal hunters in the state.

“Poaching can have a profound impact on the overall health of wildlife populations,” Banks said. “We are a society of laws, not only designed to protect people but to regulate and protect wildlife. If we don’t respect and uphold these laws, then we revert back to the days of the Wild West, and that’s when the very survival of wild species came into question.”

Wildlife law enforcement, paid for by anglers and hunters, has helped many species rebound to 100-year population highs.

The DFG estimates that commercial poaching is a $100 million-a-year business in California. An illegal elk head with impressive antlers can be sold for $20,000 and bear gall bladders for $5,000. In one DFG undercover operation, an estimated 10,000 illegal abalone were involved, worth $350,000 for the poachers and $1 million in restaurants.

Banks’ work has helped bust open many landmark cases:

Elk slaughter: In a grisly kill scene, game wardens found the carcasses of 15 elk in national forest near Burney in Shasta County. They represented nearly the entire herd in the area. Four game wardens collected the evidence and handed it over to Banks, who was also on the scene.

A phone tip reported that elk meat had been bagged and hidden underwater in a tributary of Fall River. State divers found the meat. “We were able to match the bagged meat with the evidence from the kill site,” Banks said.

Game wardens conducted a search of the suspects’ homes and found traces of blood and meat. “We compared the blood at the suspects’ home with that from the kill site and meat found in the water,” Banks said. “It was from the same animals.”

Six poachers were arrested and convicted.

Gall bladder crackdown: In an undercover operation, game warden John Dawson infiltrated an extensive wildlife crime ring. Poachers in Northern California were illegally killing bears, taking the gall bladder and paws, and selling the parts on the black market in Los Angeles. They were then sold in Korea, where they are dried, ground into powder and sprinkled on food as a medical cure-all.

Banks became involved when Dawson wanted proof that the same bear gall bladders were being sold in the chain of illegal activity. In an elaborate scam, some of the gall bladders being sold were not from bears but from pigs and steers. The case went to trial and the kingpins of the operation, based in Los Angeles, were convicted, fined and jailed.

Chinatown fraud: In San Francisco’s Chinatown, game wardens busted markets that advertised selling sea lion penises as sexual-enhancement food additive. Banks shocked the sellers, buyers and game wardens by determining the penises were actually from cows.

Elk and deer surprise: In the town of Klamath in Humboldt County, game warden Rick Banko spotted two men cleaning elk and deer. When confronted, the men claimed they were Hoopa Indians and that they had shot the elk and deer on the Hoopa Reservation. The next day, a ranger from Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Orick found three elk heads and other animal parts stashed in brush at the park. At the same time, a tip told of another kill site, where two gut piles were discovered. Banks rushed to scene and collected the evidence.

In the meantime, Banko returned to Klamath, confronted the suspects and found the elk and deer still hanging (cooling) prior to butchering. Banko cut meat from each of the animals, and immediately drove it to the lab in Rancho Cordova. It took a week for Banks to make an irrefutable match. The poachers were arrested and convicted.

Abalone scam: For very high prices, restaurants and markets in Los Angeles were selling abalone. That’s illegal unless the abalone is grown at a mariculture farm. The lack of paperwork and the large quantity involved indicated to investigators this was an illegal operation.

Banks analyzed meat samples that were being sold as abalone and determined the “abalone” was actually — common squid.

Dead deer can talk: In the Sierra foothills east of Fresno last year, game warden Lorraine Doyle received a tip that several deer, including a juvenile buck, were being killed in the area. Doyle found the kill site; there were hides, a head and other remains.

Meanwhile, a butcher in Fresno reported to the DFG that an individual brought meat to him for boning, butchering and packing. When Doyle confronted the suspect, he said the deer were legally taken. Doyle tracked down four other suspects and, with a search warrant, collected meat samples from their freezers.

At the lab, Banks matched up the parts from the kill site, including the juvenile buck, to the meat in their freezers. It turned out that six bucks were illegally taken. The five suspects were convicted and fined. –San Francisco Chronicle

Wildlife Depend On Open Space

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Jeff Gearino

CASPER, WY–Animals generally don’t respond to those pesky boundaries placed by human society–they pretty much move among private, state, federal and tribal lands across Wyoming.

But ask a wildlife biologist, rancher or farmer, and they’ll all say the same thing: Private lands play a hugely important role to Wyoming’s wildlife, mostly by providing seasonal range for big game.

A recent University of Wyoming-sponsored “Open Spaces Initiative” report showed private lands are critically important to herd size and viability for Wyoming’s six major big game species–Elk, Moose, Antelope, Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer.

“Clearly, something in the neighborhood of 70 percent of the wildlife in this state spend part or all of their time on private lands,” said Bob Budd, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust board. “Development tends to break that landscape up, and when you do, that has an impact on a lot of species.”

Budd pointed out that residential development can have a more lasting impact than oil and gas production or mining. While the disturbance from energy development can be significant, those lands eventually are reclaimed.

“Housing and land conversion for those purposes tends to be pretty permanent,” Budd said. “You have a certain amount of space, and as it gets taken up by a use that’s a little less friendly to wildlife, that’s a problem.”

Maintenance of open spaces on private land is important to the state’s hunting economy as well. Private lands have supported more than $58 million in hunter expenditures each year for Wyoming’s six big game species since 2000, according to the report. That’s just under 50 percent of the $120 million total spent by resident and nonresident hunters annually in Wyoming.

The UW report said big game animals in Wyoming that traditionally spend the summer on public lands in the higher elevations can also often be found on private lands at lower elevations, particularly during winter. Budd said more than a century of ranching has altered the landscape in many ways, and some of those ways are beneficial to certain species–for example, alfalfa fields provide forage for Mule Deer.

The overall importance of private land is greater for some big game species than others. For example, White-tailed Deer habitat generally occurs in bottom land along rivers, areas mostly privately owned. The study said about 80 percent of White-tailed Deer seasonally range on private lands. Bighorn Sheep, on the other hand, have the least amount of seasonal range on private lands, about 7 percent.

And it’s not just big game that depend upon open spaces. Budd said that while residential development benefits birds, including robins and sparrows, that adapt well to human presence, other bird species tend to diminish. And Prairie Dogs–which live in “towns” that can cover well over 40 acres–are harmed by development. –Casper Star Tribune