Friday, January 11, 2019

Ashtabula County man gets 12 years for 2017 Ohio accidental deer-hunting fatality

An Ashtabula County man will have a lot of time in prison to mull over his accidental shooting of another hunter.

Darrell A. Shephard, age 43, was sentenced to a total of 12 years in state prison for causing the accidental death of 62-year-old Randy Gozzard – of Florida but formerly of Ashtabula County - while both were hunting separately in Monroe Township on the first day of Ohio’s seven-day general firearms deer-hunting season, November 27th, 2017.

As such, Gozzard became the first deer-hunting-related fatality in Ohio since 2014.

Shephard was sentenced January10th by Ashtabula County Common Pleas Marianne Sezon. The length of the sentence was determined by Shephard having a prior criminal history that prevented him from legally possessing a firearm. He was sentenced for manslaughter with a firearms specification,

Both Shephard and Gozzard were hunting the same Monroe Township piece of property though only Gozzard had permission to do so. Gozzard also was wearing the required blaze orange outer garment, said Ohio Division of Wildlife District Three (Northeast Ohio) Law Enforcement Supervisor Jarod Roof.

Mr. Gozzard was legal in every way,” Roof said.

It is important to note that this not the same case, however, that is currently under investigation for a fatal, apparent, hunting accident that occurred November 25th, 2018 Ashtabula County. Such investigations, consulting with a county prosecutor, and sentencing can take many months, as indicated with the Shephard-Gozzard incident.

Agencies who assisted in the Shephard investigation included the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office, the Ashtabula County Coroner’s Office, and the Conneaut Police Department.
Also, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which provided a Wildlife Detection canine to track down components that were crucial in the investigation, Roof said.

The ODNR Division of Wildlife thanks Judge Sezon, Prosecutor Nicolas Iarocci, and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Cecilia Cooper for working with us to seek justice for the victim’s family,” Roof said also.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Good muzzle-loading season won't help much with Ohio's bottom line 2018-2019 deer harvest

Muzzle-loading deer hunters in Ohio scored a gain of 914 animals over what was shot during the 2018 four-day hunt but the additional take still put the running to-date kill under where it was at the same time one year ago.

In all, muzzle-loading hunters shot 14,182 deer verses the 13,268 animals that were taken during the statewide primitive weapons (unofficially but most often called, muzzle-loading) season in 2018. Some 62 of Ohio’s 88 counties posted gains over their respective 2018 primitive weapons deer kill numbers.

Much of the credit for the increases went to the same thing that hampered the state’s firearms, general firearms, and two-day bonus firearms deer-hunting seasons – only in the reverse: The weather. While the gun hunters saw terribly wet, windy and dreary conditions, the muzzle-loading hunters experienced favorable conditions for at least the all-important Saturday and Sunday portions of the four-day hunt.

“Looking over the numbers I was a little surprised and I thought they would be a little better,” said Scott Peters, wildlife biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) Office in Akron.

The reason, said Peters, was because he figured the nicer weather would have seen perhaps better participation and also because the woods had deer that were not taken during any of the gun hunting seasons.

“On the flip side, it would have been nice to also have seen a couple of inches of snow so hunters could spot deer better,” Peters said. “Maybe the harvest would have been up a few thousand more deer, but when it comes to the weather, no one has control.”

The 14,182 number does fall a little below the 15,843 deer killed during the 2017 muzzle-loading season but is still ahead of the 2016 four-day hunt total of 12,505 animals.

Several counties gained good ground over their respective 2018 muzzle-loading season numbers. And other counties, not so much.

Among counties found in the “up” ledger were: Adams -up 76 animals; Ashland, up 75 animals; Brown, up also 76 animals; Licking, up 50 animals; Medina, up 50 animals; Tuscarawas, up 71 animals; Knox, up 69 animals; and Morrow, up 40 animals.

Among the counties found in the “down” ledger were: Columbiana, down 52 animals; Hocking, down 94 animals; Geauga, down 31 animals; Guernsey, down 29 animals; and Trumbull, down 26 animals.

What all of this means in the marathon weekly to-date tally is that the state’s running deer kill is still 16,886 animals below the number that was shot to-date in 2018: 163,057 to-date thus far, and 179,943 animals taken to-date for the same period in 2018.

Given that only 6,304 more deer were taken between the to-date January 9, 2018 figure of 179,943 deer and the a—seasons’ ending number of 186,247 deer, it is certain that Ohio’s 2018-2019 deer hunting season will see a marked decline in the total number of deer being taken.

Of Ohio’s 88 counties, only two have posted to-date gains: Clark – up 30 animals; and Greene – up 13 animals.

Among the noteworthy counties with to-date declines are: Adams – down 291 animals; Ashtabula – down 286 animals; Coshocton – down 678 animals; Guernsey – down 573 animals; Licking – down 530 animals; and Tuscarawas – down 606 animals.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Ohio's to-date weekly deer kill slides even further

On the eve of Ohio’s statewide muzzle-loading deer-hunting season, the state’s to-date deer kill continues to lumber along at a snail’s pace.

Raw data supplied weekly by the Ohio Division of Wildlife shows that the January 1st to-date deer kill stood at 147,918 animals. The comparable January 2nd, 2017 to-date deer kill was 165,392 animals: A decline of 17,474 deer.

That 17,474 figure and the 147,918 figure are each interesting in each of their ways. The first figure represents a continued weekly slide in the number of deer being taken. A look at the to-date deer kill one week earlier showed a 17,041 deer kill difference between the respective to-date 2018 and 2017 figures: A number that has since expanded by another 433 animals.

And the 147,918 number shows that between the December 25th to-date reporting period and the January 1 to-date reporting period, only 1,321 more deer were taken during the course of that seven-day period. Last year that one-week figure was 1,754 more animals.

Of Ohio’s 88 counties, only three have shown current to-date increases over their respective 2017 to-date deer kill; a number that increased by one county from last week. The counties showing current to-date increases (with their 2017 respective to-date numbers in parentheses) were: Clark – 627 (605); Geauga – 1,605 (1,591); and Greene – 691 (682).

Among the remaining 85 Ohio counties with current to-date declines (with their respective 2017 to-date numbers in parentheses) were: Adams – 2,527 (2,900); Ashtabula – 4,314 (4,568); Brown – 1,925 (2,254); Coshocton – 5,150 (5,823); Guernsey – 3,558 (4,097); Hocking – 2,417 (2,824); Knox – 3,625 (4,163); Lake – 687 (769); Licking -3,814 (4,384); Lucas – 606 (653); Muskingum – 3,993 (4,639); Perry – 2,094 (2,443); Summit – 1,190 (1,226); Trumbull – 3,038 (3,236); Tuscarawas -4,390 (5,054); Vinton – 2,085 (2,491); and Williams – 1,370 (1,463).

Last year Ohio had 13 counties with to-date deer kills of at least three thousands animals each. This year the number of counties with to-date deer kills of at least three three thousand animals each stands at nine.

And last year Ohio had 29 counties with to-date deer kills of one thousand or fewer animals each. This year the current to-date number is 33 counties.

However, some ground could be made up beginning Saturday. That is the start of Ohio’s four-day muzzle-loading deer-hunting season. Last year, primitive weapons deer hunters in Ohio killed 13,268 animals. In 2017 that figure was 15,843 deer.

The long-range weather forecast for the four-day season generally calls for unseasonably mild temperatures ranging from the low 40s to perhaps around 50 degrees, and possibly some rain for the season’s last two days.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Report notes that November's excessive precipitation waterlogged Lake Erie, state's streams

Though statistical details for December are not yet available, November’s water inventory shows that Lake Erie levels went up instead of the typical down while Ohio’s river were over-flowing their banks.

Data furnished monthly by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Geological Survey shows that Lake Erie’s water level rose 0.03 feet in November over that seen in October. And while that increase is actually only a few inches, from a historical vantage point Lake Erie’s water levels drop during the month, not rise.

Indeed, Lake Erie’s water levels this past November were 0.39 feet higher than they were in November 2017. And the lake stood at 1.94 feet above its long-term average.

Should weather expectations prevail, the state’s Geological Survey Division says, for the foreseeable future Lake Erie’s water level could range anywhere from five inches to as much as 26 inches above its normal seasonal average.

The monthly report notes also that stream flows throughout the state were more than just excessive during November. They were extreme anomalies. For example, the Grand River during November stood at 185 percent of normal (average).

Yet that above normal flowage is puny compared to several other measured Ohio streams. The Great Miami at Hamiliton was 532 percent of normal during November while Killbuck Creek was 637 percent of normal for the month.

The head of the high-water pack, however, was the Scioto River near the small village of Prospect in Marion County. Here, the stream flow was a whopping 974 percent of normal for November, the Geological Survey’s data says.

All of which stems from the large volume of precipitation that fell throughout Ohio in November. All of the state’s 10 geologically designated regions experienced well above average precipitation levels; as many anglers - but especially - gun deer hunters know.

These differences ranged from 131 percent of normal for the Northeast Ohio Region to 189 percent of normal for both the Southwest and South-Central regions.

Precipitation amounts saw the lowest recorded at Portage County’s Hiram with 2.96 inches. The most was the 7.79 inches measured at Dover in Tuscarawas County.

The Geological Survey says as well that for eight of the 10 regions, this past November was ranked in the Top 10 wettest since record keeping began 136 years ago, including the fifth wettest for three of the regions.

Such large amounts of precipitation amounts were both a blessing and a curse. Ohio Division of Wildlife fisheries biologists say that high Lake Erie water levels are contributing to the welfare of young-of-year walleye. That is because the walleye fry and fingerlings are pushed toward shore and into more favorable nursery waters where their survival is more assured.

On the flip and negative side, the excessive amounts of rain stalked the state’s deer hunters all season long, plunging the overall deer kill results by thousands of animals as sportsmen simply have not been able to take to the state’s fields and forests in usual fashion.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Friday, December 28, 2018

Harpersfield dam breach sends government, renovation project company scrambling

An all ready delayed $7 million project intended to prevent the invasive sea lamprey from migrating further up into the Grand River and its tributaries has encountered another snag.

Harpersfield dam is part of Ashtabula County Metroparks’ 53-acre Harpersfield Covered Bridge Park. It is located off Route 534 and just south of I-90 in Ashtabula County’s Harpersfield Township. It is an enormously popular steelhead fishing spot and an upstream jumping off place for canoeists and kayakers.

And the dam serves as an effective barrier against supplemental upstream intrusion by sea lampreys. If the 117-year-old dam were to fail this action would allow the invasive species nearly 1,300 additional miles of main stem and tributary spawning grounds.

Thus a joint, local, state and federal project began to work on preventing the aged structure from experiencing a catastrophic failure. Project partners include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the Ohio Deaprtment of Natural Resources, the Ohio EPA, and the county parks system.

A moderately heavy rain event December 21st saw the dislodging of two expensive coffer dam bladders at the fabled Harpersfield dam. These bladders were installed in early November above the dam and its adjacent iconic covered bridge.

The two heavy-duty synthetic fabric multi-chambered water-inflatable devices – each costing upwards of $30,000 - were sent over the dam as a result of the rain-induced high water. One of the bladders became deflated and wrapped itself around a cover bridge support. Meanwhile, the other bladder scooted about 150 to 170 yards downstream where it came to rest in the middle of the Grand River, stuck on the stream bed.

A third coffer dam bladder remained in place above the dam and situated extending from near the north bank.

As a result of the two coffer dams’ departure, water began shooting out in a cavity of the dam that had been demolished along the stream’s north bank. The plume of water started eating away at the soft bank where it lips around a part of the structure that remains in place.

Project engineering firm Eclipse Company of Chagrin Falls immediately began establishing a temporary fix – a detail that included working through Christmas Day - dumping concrete dam remnants in the gaping maw; some of the material still eqipped with protruding strands of rebar steel.

By December 26th the breech largely was plugged though water still continued to stream through the cracks and crevices formed by the placement of the slabs of concrete and rock. A pair of earth-moving equipment were employed just downstream of the dam, scooping up more rock and wayward rebar-reinforced concrete plates in order to reinforce the enlarging hollow below the temporary stone dam edifice.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Eclipse and others met December 26th to discuss the best way to fix the problem, remove the two dislodged water-inflatable bladders and proceed with the anticipated two-year-long project that was to have begun in 2017.

This was the second delay for the project. However, a dispute over a privately owned 0.3-acre parcel on the south bank held up the affair, the county park district weary of going to court with an eminent domain claim, said an official with that agency.

This delay helped stall the project’s start, and also almost certainly became a contributing factor in its cost rising from an original price tag of about $6 million to close to $7 million, a Corps official said.

The Corps project manager for the site – Gabriel Schmidbauer – said his agency would have preferred that the bladders been anchored with the use of large rock or concrete blocks than by using rigging and driven posts. That was not the case, and the resulting loss of the two bladders and subsequent emergency response meant that the project is requiring revision “to ensure that this won’t happen again,” Schmidbauer said.

There’s going to be close scrutiny with any plan by my team, and the placement of the bladders must be rock steady,” Schmidbauer said. “Any plan that comes about must be the right plan and executed properly.”

Schmidbauer says also the two dislodged bladders appear to be salvageable and if so, they will be moved back above the dam and reused. A key is to make certain this work is done safely for Eclipse crews sake as the Grand River’s current is tricky, especially when rain events or snow melt dumps large volumes of water into the stream, rising its level quickly and swiftly.

The same safety concern applies to any loosened rock and chunks of rebar-fitted concrete that have made their way downstream. These pieces could prove hazardous to workers as well as anyone wading the stream or navigating it in paddle-sport vessels such as canoes and kayaks.

Safety is our priority,” Schmidbauer says.

In that regard as well the Ashtabula County Engineer’s office made a visual inspection of the covered bridge. The county agency was said to have found that the dislodged bladder hung up on the bridge piling did not threaten the integrity of the structure.

I’m not an engineer but that’s always a big concern,” said Larry Frimerman, the metroparks’ executive director. “And I want to stress to anglers to stay out of the river near the dam, especially since there could be debris still there.”

Schmidbauer did add that any additional cost resulting in the bladders dislodging, their possible removal and reuse, the building of the temporary dam patch, and other resulting extra project costs will likely be borne by Eclipse.

We did tell Eclipse that it was their responsibility, but we do have some contingency money and I still expect that the project will be completed by late 2020 with possibly even some savings,” Schimbauer said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ohio's to-date deer kill still limping; several counties down 500 to more than 600 animals

With Ohio’s accumulated deer hunting seasons running down the clock, the lag in the to-date kill continues to hover around seventeen thousand animals when compared to the same time frame in 2017.

Indeed, some counties are seeing drops of 500 to more than 600 animals when their 2018 to-date figures are laid next to their respective 2017 to-date numbers.

Based on raw data supplied weekly by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the current to-date deer kill – as reported through December 25th – stood at 146,597 animals. In 2017 the equivalent December 26th to-date deer kill was 163,638 animals: A difference of 17,041 deer.

The to-date comparison difference going into last week was a nearly identical 17,082 deer.

To illustrate the ball and chain effect on this year’s deer kill, only two of Ohio’s counties are showing current to-date increases when compared to their comparable and respective 2017 numbers. These counties are Clark – 622 (595); and Geauga – 1,580 (1,571). Last week this small subset of counties was three.

Which means that 85 Ohio counties are experiencing declines when compared to their comparable to-date 2017 numbers. And for some of these counties the changes are significant, too.

In Guernsey County the 2017 verses 2018 to-date numbers amounts to a 511 animal decline. Meanwhile, in Licking County that number is 559 deer while in Tuscarawas County the figure is 637 deer, and in Coschocton the number is 657 deer.

Among some of the other counties showing declines (with their comparable 2017 to-date numbers in parentheses) are: Adams – 2,504 (2,871); Ashtabula – 4,300 (4,532); Brown – 1,896 (2,232); Carroll – 2,901 (3,418); Harrison – 2,687 (3,187); Holmes – 3,274 (3,663); Lake – 674 (739); Lucas – 593 (622); Marion – 683 (811); Monroe – 1,954 (2,271); Morgan – 2,486 (2,822); Ottawa – 382 (410); Richland – 2,783 (3,129); Trumbull – 3,024 (3,209); Vinton -2,072 (2,471); Washington – 2,615 (2,861); and Williams – 1,365 (1,452).

Another way to look at the figures, last year this time the state had 13 counties with to-date deer kills of at least three thousand animals each. This year that figure stands at just nine counties.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Friday, December 21, 2018

Ohio Central Basin walleye anglers will see great angling into at least the early 2020s

Lake Erie Central Basin anglers are in for an extended streak of booming walleye fishing and likely improved yellow perch fishing well into at least the early years of the 2020s.

With the noteworthy walleye fishing that Ohio Central Basin anglers experienced this summer and fall comes the equally compelling news that the 2018 hatch of walleye is being described as “exceptional” by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Data gathered by the agency via the use of specialized trawling gear to sample for yellow perch, however, was described as only “average,” though the hatch was considerably better from Fairport Harbor east to Conneaut than it was from Huron east to Fairport Harbor.

Even so, the Wildlife Division is not inclined to credit the angler-motivated gentleman’s 
agreement to limit commercial fishing for yellow perch off Fairport Harbor’s fabled “Hump” as contributing to the better hatch from that port to Conneaut.

As for the details, the Wildlife Division says that data collected from its 2018 survey indicated that young-of-the-year walleye catch rates were “the highest recorded in the past 20 years of the Central Basin trawl survey (32 fish per hectare).”

This year’s results, combined with the excellent 2015 year-class, will ensure adult walleye abundance in the central basin will continue to increase,” the Wildlife Division says.

Adding to that statement are the thoughts of Travis Hartman, the agency’s lead Lake Erie fisheries biologist.

What we have seen is a strong recruitment of walleye lakewide,” Hartman said.

The “why” of such a recruitment is not fully understood but a powerful correlation suggests that in years when Lake Erie water levels are high so too is young-of-the-year walleye recruitment.

Hartman says the prevailing thought is that when Lake Erie’s water levels rise – and they are near record levels now – the just-hatched walleye get “swept toward shore” instead of out into deeper water.

In shore these young walleye find themselves in nursery waters; relatively safe and also able to access the plankton they need to feast on for growth, Hartman says.

Asked then how long it will take for the walleye born in 2018 to become of legal size, Hartman said that because of phenomenal growth due to an abundance of invertebrates for forage, a walleye hatched this year will be 12 to 14 inches by the end of the 2019 fishing season. And by 2020 these walleye will have grown to 14 to 16 inches.

Twenty twenty-one will be the big year;” Hartman said.

In detailing the Central Basin’s yellow perch hatch the Wildlife Division was not nearly so enthusiastic, though that term is relative.

The agency says that its trawl survey in the Central Basin for yellow perch indicated that while hatch was the “highest observed since 2014 (40 fish per hectare)” it was still just below the long-term average (45 fish per hectare).

In the individual management units, the western portion of the Central Basin (Huron to Fairport) index was 28 fish per hectare, below the average of 42 per hectare. The index in the eastern portion of the Central Basin (Fairport to Conneaut) was 51 fish per hectare, above the average of 41 per hectare,” officially says the Wildlife Division.

Hartman did add some meat to the news by saying that the Central Basin’s yellow perch experience “incredible growth rates.”

Much of that is because of a really good population of invertebrates the perch use for forage,” Hartman says. “It’s unbelievable how fast a two- and three-year-old perch grows in the Central Basin.”

Such growth rates are seen in the numbers: A Central Basin yellow perch that hatched in 2018 and survives to this time in 2019 will average 6 to 7 inches. By 2020, they will be of a size that Central Basin anglers relish to keep, Hartman says.

A jumbo yellow perch of 12 inches or more will be four or more years old, Hartman says as well.

Even so, Hartman declines to say that the sport angler-commercial fisherman gentleman’s agreement hammered out in 2017 to keep the latter off the Fairport Harbor Hump area during the perch spawning period had anything to do with the improved hatch in the region.

Simply, Hartman does not see a direct population maintenance link between the commercial harvest of yellow perch and its spawning period.

We manage in relationship to the (yellow perch) population and when it drops we lower the total allowable catch and adjust our appropriate regulations,” Hartman said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn