Rough Year for CTS

Yes, California Tiger Salamander (CTS) larvae were scarce this year. About three weeks ago we seined 13 ponds and found CTS larvae in two of them. In one pond, we netted only one larvae. The other had 40.

We went back to the pond with 40 larvae today and seined 39. They are now much larger, but not showing signs of morphing.

Here’s a couple photos.

pond 26-2 on June 13, 2018 Reaching for a couple larvae DSC_0595

Grabbing for two at once. They’re slippery.

One in the hand - pond 26-2 June 13, 2018 DSC_0590

Here’s one in the hand.

We’ll go back in about three weeks and these guys should be ready to morph and leave the pond.

The (MDF) Caribou

caribou resized

My first outfitted big-game hunt was an Alaska barren ground caribou hunt that took place about 20 years ago. Bought the hunt at the Mule Deer Foundation Convention in Sacramento that took place in 1998. The caribou tag says 1998, so that validates the year.

The donation to MDF was set up by Gary Williams, MDF Chairman of the Board. At the time Gary was working for Leupold-Stevens and Leupold paid some of the trip costs as a donation from them.

The hunt went to sale at auction and I was the high bidder for $1700. The hunt took place in September and the caribou we hunted were part of the Mulchatna herd.

Camp was on the Nushagak River and we hunted up and down the river by boat. We found this caribou along the King Salmon River, a Nushagak tributary.

Although the Mulchatna herd was supposedly at an all-time high, I believe it may have already been in decline. We didn’t see many caribou and the one on my wall was probably the largest that my guide, Robert Nelson, or I sighted. Today the Mulchatna herd has still not regained the stature it had during the early 1990’s.

Robert and I stalked to within 60 yards of a small band of caribou and the I shot was the largest bull in the group. We killed him about two miles from the boat and the boat was about 30 miles from camp. The next day we brought a meat packer back with us to make the pack out a little easier.

I had two caribou tags and could have shot another smaller bull, but decided to pass. It was a good decision because I ended up using my second caribou tag on a Sitka blacktail deer on Kodiak Island about a week later.

I killed the bull with a Browning Automatic Rifle in 7mm. It was the first hunting rifle I owned with which I bagged a big game animal. Prior to that time, I hunted big game with bow and arrow only. The rifle was a raffle prize a San Jose MDF banquet in 1995 and it has an inscription on it: CENTRAL COAST CHAPTER, 1995, Fifth Annual Banquet, The Mule Deer Foundation. It was the model and caliber used by John Leonti the original chapter chairman of the San Jose Chapter. He was a nice man who passed away some time during the year before the banquet.

I purchased only one raffle ticket that night because I didn’t want to stay for the end of the banquet. I handed my ticket to David and Rose Stevens before I left and asked them to watch over it. David called me the next day and told me I had won.

I tanned the original cape from my caribou, but never mounted it, probably because I couldn’t afford the price of taxidermy work in those days. Last year I decided to find capes for a few of the animals taken on some of my past hunts. This is the only caribou I’ve killed so it is definitely a trophy to me even though just another caribou to anybody else.

My taxidermist and MDF supporter, Taff Vidalles, searched for a proper cape. Early season capes were available, but they did not properly represent the bull I had killed. Eventually he found a cape with characteristics of the bull I killed and purchased it for $650 wet-tanned.

I ended up paying $1,250 for the mount. $900 was Taff’s normal price. He added $350 (of the $650 cost of the cape) to his regular price and estimated that the $300 credit was appropriate because he normally would have had a preparation and tanning cost of about that much. I agreed.

Here’s me and the bull the way we looked in 1998.

Rich and Caribou

 

The Foot Doctor

At the age of 67, I learned that Podiatrists have value. With a really bad ankle that I broke in a car accident 46 years prior, an occasional cortisone shot sometimes makes life bearable. A rub down of athlete’s foot cream doesn’t hurt and cutting rock hard toenails is a real benefit.

My doctor is not an outdoorsman, but he likes to ask me questions. Often he asks about mountain lions. I suppose he asks because I’m the only person he knows who has ever seen a mountain lion.

I’m now 68 and still going, he is of similar age to me and he has asked me lots of outdoor questions about hunting and mountain lions, in fact they are one of his favorite subjects.

He lives on the edge of town and there has been mountain lion activity in his neighborhood.

On my visit today, we talked about my toenail fungus, possible ankle surgery and mountain lions.

His first mountain lion question was fairly well-developed.

“Do you think that there will ever be a change to the law that makes mountain lions endangered?” he asked.

“Mountain lions are not endangered in California, just fully protected,” I responded. “Lions are extremely sneaky. When they hear a person coming, they hide and peak from behind a bush or rock. The public knows nothing about lions,”

What I didn’t say is that a lion will hide until the person is gone, or obviously sees them, which seldom happens. If a lion catches your eye at close range, it will stare at you fearlessly or run to the nearest bush. If it stares at you, you will look for something to shoot it with, in self-defense.

“OK, do you think public pressure will cause them to be hunted again?”

“The public knows nothing about mountain lions,” I responded. “The issue is purely political. The public knows nothing.”

Then he said something vague about the public being mislead.

Atwoods trip 041

Nice house guest.

I told him that even people who spend a lot of time in the woods almost never see a lion. Very few people know anything substantial about lions. The fully protected status of California lions only makes the problem worse.

There is no management of lions in our state. There is no money to manage lions. It’s as if lions don’t exist. That’s the way it will be until something changes and that is not likely to happen.

If you want to see a mountain lion, go somewhere where they’re hunted.

 

Looking Ahead to the “Open Zone” 2018 Hunt

2016 is over now. I got my buck and it is hanging next to me on the wall. The minute I saw it step into the open it was a shooter. The finish of the 2016 hunt took place on opening day of the Doyle Muzzleloading Rifle hunt. You can read all about it on previous blog posts.

The decisions I’ll make for 2018 will be similar to 2016, but probably a bit different as well. In 2016, I didn’t hunt seriously during any of the early hunts. I just scouted, but I did carry a bow or firearm most of the time. This year I may hunt the Devil’s Garden archery hunt, A4, as I drew a tag for that hunt last year and really enjoyed it. I also saw some big bucks.

Assuming I’m still with tag during the Devil’s Garden muzzleloading rifle season, I’ll probably have to do that hunt again. Last year’s hunt was cut short when my dad became ill. I went home and was present for his recovery. I have some unfinished business in Modoc.

The Doyle hunt is a tough one. There are several hunts going on at that same time. I’ll have to think hard about the Round Valley hunt has a high probability of seeing a big buck. Anderson Flat is also a hunt that conflicts with the Doyle hunt and there are often  big bucks that migrate from Yosemite Park. Right next to Doyle is the Bass Hill Archery Hunt in X6A and it takes place during peak rut time.

But before I make definite plans, I’ll follow my own advise and check the Big Game Digest from 2017 and also 2018 when it comes out. There will probably be some information there that will influence my thinking.

Whether I follow a path similar to 2016 and enjoy revisiting the great places I hunted previously or invite new adventure by hunting some of the remaining places I’ve not seen, the 2018 hunts are likely to reveal another impressive mule deer with an outsize rack. When I see the right one, I’ll know it’s time to shoot.

Anticipation is half the hunt.

 

Conservation Versus Conservation

 

mayberry-feb3-026-mallard-flock-cropped

This great mallard habitat on Sherman Island is no more.

Our duck club, on Sherman Island in the California Delta, was some of the greatest seasonal marsh on earth. In winter, ducks, geese, shore birds, raptors, river otters, beavers, muskrats and many more critters thrived in that habitat.

It was great hunting.

After the California Department of Water Resources purchased the duck club from us, we continued to manage the property as a seasonal marsh. Then California decided that the property needed to be turned into a conservation experiment.

The primary goals were to reduce subsidence and sequester carbon. This was a prototype project. Unfortunately, the goals of the experiment conflicted with the existing use.

In order to test the hypothesis, the existing seasonal marsh would have to be replaced by permanent ponds.

DSC_0056 ducks

Our Sherman Island duck club was converted from seasonal to permanent marsh. It is no longer managed for waterfowl.

Having sold the property to the State, we were in no position to oppose the program. The rest is history. Although ducks and geese still migrate to Sherman Island, they avoid the permanent marsh in favor of the remaining shallow-flooded pasture that surrounds the property we used to own.

It’s easy to see the effects to waterfowl when you observe our property. It’s more difficult to quantify the effects this change had on the California waterfowl population, but when combined with other similar projects, it could be substantial. We’ll never know.

This was a situation where one form of conservation conflicted directly with another.

Conservation comes in many forms and we see conservation activities frequently, but underlying conflicts are usually invisible except to specialists who manage wildlife or wildlife habitat.

Ongoing are changes to wildlife preserves and refuges on public lands. Where lands are dedicated simply to wildlife, there is competition between thriving species and threatened species. Should endangered or threatened status always trump thriving or common?

Where land is purchased for and dedicated to a certain species or group of species, one would expect management of that land to be managed for that species. Is that always the case?

Take, for example, land purchased with Federal or State Duck Stamp money. Duck stamp funds are raised by our government agencies specifically to purchase habitat for migratory waterfowl. Hunters purchase these stamps with hopes that there will always be waterfowl to hunt.

California has a long list of threatened, endangered and special-concern plants and animals. What is the ultimate “trump” species? Can habitat for a threatened species displace waterfowl habitat on dedicated land?

garter snake on log

Sometimes habitat is designed by the forces of nature. Other times man redesigns land to favor one species or another.

Habitat can be converted by applying water. Timing of the water application is crucial. When water floods fields in winter and is left to dry during the spring, the habitat favors migratory birds. When farmers use water to irrigate, farming can create food for many species including waterfowl.

When land is flooded and water covers the land during spring and/or summer, it is beneficial for numerous species and sometimes waterfowl can nest there, but usually not.

When land is permanently flooded, it favors primarily fish species but there is little food to attract waterfowl, especially dabbling ducks.

We must not kid ourselves about permanent marsh. It may attract golf course Canada geese, but it is not important to migratory waterfowl.

It would be nice to think that conservation always benefits all things, but it’s not that simple.

Western Hunting and Conservation Expo 2018

The Western Hunting and Conservation Expo was a great show and gathering spot for a multitude of Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) members.

When the counting is over, the result will be that a great deal of money was raised for conservation – millions.

Many exhibitors went home happy with their decision to attend. The wait-list for booth space will continue to grow.

And, mule deer conservation received support from the Trump administration. Here’s a quote from the MDF news release:

Secretarial Order 3362 was signed today by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo, the annual convention of the Mule Deer Foundation. The order outlines the Department’s intent to work closely with the 11 western states to enhance and improve the quality of big game winter range and migration corridor habitat on federal lands that the Department manages.

Corridors and migration routes are a critical element of mule deer habitat. Improvement of forage and cover is important.

Where migration routes are blocked, deer herds dwindle. Some of California’s largest herds have been decimated by segmented range where freeways have made migration nearly impossible.

The best example of a severed migration route that I can think of is Interstate 80 between Truckee and Reno. On many other highways automobile collisions take a huge toll on mule and black-tailed deer – not to mention autos and their drivers. Highway 395 between Reno and Susanville is a good example.

Hopefully, this order will allow wildlife supporters to get out in front of any new efforts to bisect habitat. The best (and safest) time to do that is before a road is built.

California’s Public Waterfowl Hunting Areas

California is blessed with numerous public hunting areas. Many of those are waterfowl refuges where acquisition and management of the land has been and continues to be funded primarily with money garnered from sales of federal duck stamps or taxes on firearms and ammunition. This means primarily duck hunters.

In California you can break down the refuge system into four distinct areas. Northeastern California, the Northern (Sacramento River) portion of the Central Valley, the Southern (San Joaquin) portion of the Central Valley and the Imperial Valley of southeastern California.

State Wildlife Areas are managed  by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and National Wildlife Refuges are managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). With a couple exceptions, the hunting program on all public hunting areas is managed by the State.

Currently there is a petition being circulated by Jeff Kerry, a very dedicated hunter and developer of duck habitat and also good friend of water-fowlers. He is seeking support for a plan to create more oversight by public hunting interests on the lands managed by CDFW and USFWS. A petition for a show of support is being circulated. I have personally signed on.

A few years ago, the California Waterfowl Association supported legislation requiring the CDFW to accommodate a Habitat Conservation Committee to provide public input into how the habitat on hunting areas is managed.

The effort met with resistance from the CDFW staff and an alternative solution was negotiated. The current system requires CDFW to hold meetings for hunters each year prior to the opening of duck season. Although these meetings may be productive in other ways, and they should not be abandoned,  it is unlikely that they will result in improved habitat conditions.

A habitat committee would review plans for annual planting, manipulation and flooding. The committee would be advised as to water allotments and how they would be applied as irrigation is the most important aspect of wetland management. Water is the difference between a seasonal marsh and just plain upland. Water is important before, during and after duck season.

Based upon the information I’ve gathered, I am now even more convinced that a Habitat Management Committee is needed to review how California hunting areas are managed. The committee needs access to management plans and the areas themselves.

I’m continuing to urge public area hunters to sign the petition. More to come as I continue to investigate.

Go to: http://chn.ge/2BfeLpd