Wednesday, January 30, 2019

With just five days left in the season, Ohio's deer kill is 16,000 animals behind 2018

With only five days and change left in Ohio’s combined 2018-2019 deer-hunting season, the state’s deer kill remains 15,678 animals behind where it was last year at the same time.

Indeed, only an additional 2,164 deer were taken between the January 22nd and January 29th 2019 reporting periods.

Also, last year at this time 21 counties had to-date deer kills of at least three thousand animals each. To date this season that figure stands at just 13 counties. Then, too, last year at this point in the season Ohio had four counties with deer kills of all least four thousand animals each. To date this year that number is only two counties.

And given the horrifically cold weather that all of Ohio is undergoing and expected to continue until the season closure this weekend, the tally race to the finish line very likely will collapse before arrival.

Some of the counties with noteworthy declines when stacked up to their comparable and respective 2018 to-date numbers are: Adams – off 291 animals; Ashtabula – off 230 animals; Carroll – off 485 animals; Coshocton – off 585 animals; Guernsey – off 512 animals; Harrison – off 503 animals; Holmes – off 242 animals; Lake – off 87 animals; Muskingum – off 676 animals; Richland – off 291 animals; Tuscarawas – off 554 animals; and Washington – off 246 animals.

A few counties – and it’s only been a few – are currently still bucking the downward trend. Among these counties are Greene – up 16 animals; and Medina – up 40 animals.

A pair of other counties that started out beating their to-date deer kill numbers have also fallen on hard times of late. Now down as well are Geauga County – off eight deer; and Portage County – off 23 deer.

Even if these two counties experience good hunting over the next five days they likely will remain in the deficit column. Geauga County deer hunters will need to kill an additional 27 animals to best last year’s unofficial season-ending total. In Portage County that figure would have to be 44 additional deer.

-  Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Ohio's fish and wildlife well made to withstand current harsh winter blast

The on-going cold and snows should not impact wildlife survival though any prolonged crusting likely will make survival more challenging for many creatures.

For fishes, the answer is they almost certainly can take some pretty brutal conditions.

Any key to when such difficulties arise for wildlife depends upon the duration – and thickness – of crusting over snow cover, says biologists with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

“We’ll see what happens,” said Jeff Westerfield, wildlife biologist with the agency’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) office in Akron. “If the crust stays for only a few days there shouldn’t be any issues but if it lingers longer, than some problems could develop.”

“And a lot depends also on how thick is the crust,” Westerfield says also.

And it also depends upon the wildlife species as well. Some critters such as quail, pheasants and other ground-dependent birds can find winter life more difficult than birds that roost and feed in trees, such as most song birds and ruffed grouse, says Westerfield.

“Turkeys can be one of those species where a crust could cause problems, too,” Westerfield says.

Of prime interest to many sportsmen is how white-tailed deer can fare in winter, particularly if a heavy crust digs in for the long haul.

Here, however, deer are adapted enough to cut through some crust to get to food sources or else actually use it as a surface that is strong enough to maintain their weight. If so, the deer can still reach buds and the twigs of bushes, shrubs and trees, Westerfield says.

“If the crust is thick enough to support the wright of a person it is certainly strong to support the weight of a deer,” he said.

Importantly, the depth of the snow underneath the crust is likewise a factor, though that is seldom a serious problem.

“Even in extreme Northeast Ohio,” Westerfield says.

For generalists like raccoons, possums and skunks a crusted snow is no more difficult to cope with than is a soft snow.

Meanwhile, though squirrels may have their ground-stored food stuffs buried under a vault of crust snow, many squirrels will cache their nuts in tree cavities, Westerfield says.

As for feeding songbirds during tough winters, that issue is a two-edged sword: It provides a ready meal for the little birds but makes them a more accessible target for predators, Westerfield says.

“Hawks have to eat, too, and they see the feeders as a potential easy meal ticket,” he said. “The thing is, if there was no feeders the birds will still have to struggle to find food sources anyway.”

At least an unusually mild November and December combined with a record hard mast crop meant that wildlife were in good physical condition going into this spate of weather nastiness, Westerfield says.

“It’s stuff your bellies full now because you don’t know what’s coming down the road,” he said.

Fishes are almost certainly well adapted to the harsh realities of winter, even during periods of thaws that cause streams to overflow their banks with uprooted trees and rafts of thick ice barreling down the current, says Westerfield’s fisheries biologist counterpart, Curt Wagner.

“In streams, fish swim to the margins, go into the deepest holes or get behind a big rock or a bridge piling,” Wagner says.

Other fishes – such as steelhead - that are in a stream’s lower reaches might even go back out into a larger river or a lake to escape the velocity and associated current pummeling. And small creek fish species like darters simply rely on their natural adaptation to survive, Wagner says.

Asked if fishes get bonked and die from uprooted trees and large ice flows, Wagner says it probably happens “but I don’t believe it’s very common.”

“Fish just try to keep their heads down,” he said.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

(Updated) New Ohio Division of Wildlife leadership makes major staff changes

In a rapid fire set of changes, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has reassigned people who had been removed in 2017 from key mid-management positions by the just-ended Governor John Kasich-Natural Resources Director James Zehringer era.

And the new bosses also jettisoned other mid-management personnel.

In making the changes, the agency brought in as one of its two assistant chiefs a principal in the so-called “Brown County Five,” a group of several Wildlife Division officials who nine years ago were charged with felony counts for alleged misconduct in the manner of handling the discipline of a former county wildlife officer. The charges were later dropped following a successful appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court that their protections against self-incrimination were violated by the state.

Newly installed Wildlife Division chief Kendra Wecker announced the changes to agency employees via electronic notification. This memo highlighted the following changes:

The appointment of Todd Haines as one of two assistant chiefs: the elevation of acting to permanent Assistant Chief, Pete Novotny; the return of Ken Fritz as Executive Administrator for Wildlife Law Enforcement; the return of Scott Hale as Executive Administrator for Fish Management; the move of Rich Carter from Executive Administrator for Fish Management to the assignment of head of Special Projects including capital and engineering associated projects; the return of Dave Kohler as the full-time Human-Wildlife Conflict Administrator; the return of Stacy Xenakis as the agency’s Federal Aid Supervisor; the transfer of David Lane to the Ohio Division of Forestry; the transfer of Tammy Terry to the Ohio Division of Parks and Watercraft; and the departure of former Wildlife Division Assistant chief Mike Luers (though no indication as to Luers’ subsequent status).

In an official release the Wildlife Division says that Novotny began his career in 1996 as the wildlife officer assigned to Harrison County. He was promoted in 2015 as the manager of the division’s District Three office. Since April 2018, Novotny has served as acting assistant chief and administrator of the division’s law enforcement section.

The official release says that Haines began his career with the Wildlife Division in 1987, working as a wildlife research technician in Oak Harbor. In 1993, he moved to southwest Ohio, working as a management supervisor in the division’s District Five office. Since 2003, 
Haines has served as the manager of that office.

However, Haines likewise was a member of the then-so-called “Brown County Five.”

Haines and the others in the so-named “Brown County Five” group were successful in their appeal that the state was wrong in forcing them to testify against themselves in the case of former county wildlife officer Allan Wright.

Wright was ultimately dismissed after allowing an out-of-state wildlife officer to use his home address in order to buy a resident hunting license. The so-named “Brown County Five” were accused of handling the matter administratively instead of criminally by the state, with actual charges brought by then-Brown County Prosecutor Jessica A. Little.

The Ohio Supreme Court later ruled the defendants were subjected to testifying without the self-incrimination protections guaranteed under federal law. Following the Ohio Supreme Court ruling, the charges against the defendants were dropped.

The group later filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Little and the state though this suit was later dismissed as well.

In her electronic note to Wildlife Division employees, Wecker said that “2019 is going to be an outstanding year marking a new era for the Division of Wildlife.”

Your support, hard work and dedication are appreciated and together we are going to accomplish wonderful things. I am looking forward to meeting each one of you and spending time in the field,” Wecker said.

Mike Budzik, now retired Wildlife Division chief and current natural resources adviser to DeWine, believes that Wecker has developed “a truly awesome team that will be focused on the resource, constituents and employees.”

It is well balanced in terms of experience representing the proper mixture of field service and administrative service,” Budzik said.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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