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Monthly Archives: July 2016

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The big turtle still lurks in the pond out front of our house. It’s a snapping turtle (Chelydra serpintina) and she’s huge; it’s quite likely she’s also very old. It’s been in the pond, as a large adult, for several years. And like from the start of her occupation, she’s still snapping down and making off with waterfowl.

Snapping turtles eat a wide variety of things including “a surprisingly large amount of vegetation”. Sounds like an omnivore to me.  It’s no wonder snapping turtles remain rather abundant (really?) even in areas as highly populated with people and their developments as Ontario.

In Ontario, they’re classified as a ‘Game Amphibian’. If you have a valid fishing licence (either a resident or non-resident) you can catch them ‘by hand or with a box or funnel trap’, according to the hunting regulations (what?). There’s a season for Ontario residents and another for non-residents. The daily bag limit is two and as long as you’ve never caught and kept more than two in one day, you can have up to five in your possession. There are other rules and regulations (of course!) that pertain to your interactions with snapping turtles, but the point I’m making is that since you can harvest them almost everywhere in Ontario, in a season that in many Wildlife Management Units never ends (the open season is all year long), there must be a lot of them around. Right?

However, some believe the present fishing and hunting legislation and regulations don’t do a good job of managing  snapping turtles.  And, they say, at least in some places, there aren’t many snappers left. Some of these individuals and groups believe snapping turtles should be managed as a ‘Species at Risk’ (SAR); not as a ‘Game Amphibian’.

A big problem is there isn’t a lot known about Ontario’s snapping turtles and the information that’s available is limited in scope. For example, while it’s mandatory to complete a questionnaire if you actually harvest a snapping turtle, not many mandatory questionnaires are submitted. Why? Probably because:  A, I suspect not many people who live in or visit Ontario actually harvest snapping turtles (do you know anybody?); and B;  for those who do harvest a turtle, it’s unlikely they fill in the form and report it to the provincial government.

“B” is probable because the last time I looked, no one has ever been convicted of the offence of not completing and submitting a mandatory hunt report. That applies not just for snapping turtles, but all mandatory reports about ones’ hunting activities of game animals in Ontario. So even the harvest data that does exist, is suspect.

Aboriginal and Metis, with a few restictions, can harvest snappers without a license and there are no season, catch or possession limits. I suspect that harvest methods are also less restrictive than they are for others.

Still, if snapping turtle populations have declined over time, I’m certain hunting is only one of many potential factors. Because they have a relatively low reproductive rate (the survival rate of all early age classes is dismal), anything that increases the death rate among adults could spell trouble. In some places they might be getting killed because they’re viewed as as a pests and nuisance. It’s common to see them killed owing to collisions with automobiles. Developments that drain marshlands and otherwise harden the landscape don’t do turtles favors.

Probably in some places, there are lots of snapping turtles; other places, not so many. Seems logical.

But the bottom line is no one really knows how many snapping turtles there are in Ontario.  Are there a lot? Enough? Not enough? It’s an ongoing battle that has potential for serious repercussions, not only for those who harvest snapping turtles, but for all sorts of human endeavors that require permits to proceed.

It’s busy work, keeping a lot of people occupied, but I don’t think the ongoing discussions are accomplishing a whole lot. On the other hand, it is what governments do.

Meanwhile, I know where there is one really big snapping turtle that’s still up to her old tricks. Out there in the pond, sneakin’ around, snappin’ up waterfowl . . .

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The title of the blog will surely ruffle a few feathers. Wildlife management for the production of trophy animals gets a lot of negative reaction because of what is believed by many to be the intent and intention of such actions. The nub of the issue is: managing for trophies conjures up the vision of growing animals with big antlers or horns, or maybe something that’s big and relatively rare, specifically so hunters looking for such trophies can shoot them. Lots of people find that abhorrent, but most shouldn’t.

The issue, I think, revolves around the word ‘specifically’. And that may not always be the exact word used to describe the intent, but the ‘specifically’ gets across the idea that many people aren’t comfortable with hunters killing trophy animals (plus many people are outright opposed to hunting). But what bothers some people even more, are the people who would take it upon themselves; or, be directed by some agency, often the government, to manage trophy animals so that hunters can shoot them.

However, managing for trophies for hunters is very seldom, if ever, the primary objective in any wildlife management program. It may, in fact be an objective, but wildlife management professionals today use holistic, ecological principles to manage wildlife, even on land or in jurisdictions where the main focus of the wildlife management program is to foster and look after how hunters are managed.

Plus, it should be acknowledged that the consensus amongst the wildlife profession is that it’s generally a good thing for a population of herbivores such as moose, white-tails, sheep, kudus and impalas to have some males who live long lives and sport large headgear.  They also believe it’s a good thing to maintain as full a complement of animals as was or is natural for the area, which might mean managing for animals like bears, wolves, lions and rhinos.

If this is what’s happening (in terms of management), then it may well be sold to hunters (whom, as a group, are a major player, or in government speak, stakeholder, in the world of wildlife management) as ‘trophy management’. Selling ‘trophy management’ might be particularly likely to happen in areas where people view hunting, for the most part, positively.

So for me, I find it unfortunate that here in Ontario, any discussion about trying to manage for big, old animals in the population, doesn’t get much traction because at some point the spectre of ‘trophy management’ is raised and if done by government managers (who are responsible for moose management in Ontario), it’s almost assuredly brought forward in a very negative light.

In my opinion, this isn’t good, particularly with respect to moose or moose management, but for other species as well.

The most respected moose biologists in the world, people like Dr. Vince Crichton and the late Dr. Anthony (Tony) Bubenik (chapter authors in the book some call ‘the moose bible’, or “Ecology and Management of the North American Moose”), believe(d) moose populations that have a wide range of age classes, including so-called ‘prime bulls’, are healthiest. Ignoring their advice is one of the problems facing moose in Ontario today.

It’s no secret moose numbers in many parts of Ontario, particularly in the northwest, have plummeted in recent years. The annual licensed harvest by hunters is only about ½ what it was 15 years ago.

Part of the problem is too much hunting of prime bulls before and during the rut. Young bull moose are not particularly adept suitors and cows in heat may rebuff their amorous advances. With few prime bulls in the population, breeding gets drawn out over the fall (instead of a short, intense rut which is what happens when there are good numbers of prime bulls around). As a result, the calving season is also drawn out, giving lots of opportunity for wolves and bears to find and even hone their calf hunting skills which results in them killing and eating a lot more calves then they could if calving was more synchronized.

That’s why biologists like Bubenik recommended hunting not occur until the tail end of the rut, which was more or less what was going on in the 1980’s and 1990’s. And moose did well.

But since then, archery hunting has gained in popularity (some WMU’s issue more archery tags than regular gun tags) and the archery hunt takes place immediately prior to, and during, the peak of the rut. Plus, Aboriginal and Metis harvest has been growing and this hunt, which is unregulated (seasons, limits, licences or tags are not a legal requirement for those who can hunt because of their Constitutional Rights) tend to occur during the rut as well (the rut is a good time to hunt – moose can be called into range rather easily when the rut on – plus there isn’t a conflict with licensed rifle hunters because their moose season has yet to open).

Of course, shooting too many prime bull moose during the rut isn’t the only issue besetting Ontario’s moose population. But it is an issue and one that isn’t being properly addressed because, at least in part, it means talking about the managing for ‘trophy’ moose.

It’s OK in Ontario government circles to talk about managing for trophy fishing opportunities, but it’s not OK to talk about managing for a trophy hunt.  Strange, but true.

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The blueberry crop is spotty because of the tent caterpillar outbreak

Back in early May I posted “Sometimes Ducks Like it Dry”, because the weather had been unusually dry. But almost as a cautionary note, I also said “Many years our area gets cool, wet weather in June and July, which raises water levels and drowns out the wild rice beds.”

Guess what? June and to date, July, have been monsoon-like. Water levels are high high high and from what I’ve seen many of the wild rice beds have suffered. Our field is sopping wet – water squishes out underfoot when walking there. Lil and I have been on pond detail almost daily, meaning breaking the beaver dam to let water out, but the pond is still at an all-time high. That’s what happens when rain storms are measured in centimeters (or inches!).

The worst storm was the night we had a bit of a family reunion. Got more than 15 centimeters of rain (you read that right) overnight. Road washouts were everywhere.

I didn’t mind the rain as much as the thunderstorms. They were intense. Finally, about 3:00 am, we had a direct hit to the house (luckily we have lightning rods), which knocked out our power immediately.

It also blew up our phone lines, nixed the compressor on the refrigerator, axed the WiFi modem, damaged the TV satellite receiver and blew out a couple of light fixtures along with several flood lights on our motion sensor detectors. What a mess. A least there wasn’t a fire and no damage to my desktop computer or other sensitive electrical components.

I doubt all the rain has been good for the grouse hatch. A few days ago we were (again) out checking our remote critter cams and saw a number of ruffed grouse with broods, but they seemed to have only 2-4 young. Not a good sign.

The rain didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the large tent caterpillar outbreak (this was their peak year). The caterpillars denuded thousands of square kilometers of deciduous forest. Around our house, they also gobbled up the blueberry bushes, so this year there are few berries here. There are blueberries around, though, as some places – like those areas with few to no poplar trees – didn’t get hit, which makes sense. The outbreak is over now, as the caterpillars have cocooned up. The leaves are growing back on the trees and bushes that were ravaged. Although the foliage is nowhere near as thick as it was.

On a final note, I was hoping to get some photos of moose tracks for the magazine I regularly write for (Ontario Out of Doors) on the day we went to check our cameras. Although we drove close to 100 km of bush roads in areas that had some of the highest moose densities in Ontario in the 1990’s, I didn’t see a single track. Part of the problem, of course, was the heavy rain, which tends to wash out tracks rather quickly. But the bigger issue is . . . just not a lot of moose around. Sad, really.

My camera checking partner, Murray, was just back from a three week trip to Norway, where he saw three moose. More than he’s seen in the past several years here in Ontario.