Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Headlands Beach State Park: Old problems still exist under new administration

All politicians make promises with caveats and conditions large enough to drive a trash removal truck through.

I’m betting the Mike DeWine Administration’s Ohio Department of Natural Resources director can tell whoppers with the best of them. Maybe some proof of that came just an hour or so ago when I took a bit of time to visit nearby (for me) Headlands Beach State Park.

I do that from time to time, just to satisfy my pessimism that nothing really changes in government, even when the baton is handed off from one administrative ship to the next.

Truth is, I pretty much saw what I was expecting, given the low status that Headlands Beach has accumulated over the years. The same could be said about the (former) Cleveland State Park which was punted to Cleveland Metroparks when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources failed in its duties to maintain that jewel.

And Headlands is no less a valuable resource, though my hour-ago visit indicated otherwise.

Granted, the place is wet and that has complicated matters at Headlands and other state parks along Lake Erie. We have near historic high Lake Erie water levels which have impacted low-lying Headlands. Ditto with above average precipitation for March, April and thus far in May: plus-0.16 inches for March, plus-0.52 inches for April, and plus-.021 inches thus far for May.

Any number of Headlands’ parking lots and interior roads have standing water in them while the park’s eastern section is cordoned off due to the high water.

I get all of that, though there are other issues which cannot be ignored, and which have long been a sore point with more than a few Headland visitors. Myself included.

Many of the park’s picnic tables are in horrendously poor shape and perhaps even dangerous to use, though they remain available. Covered in unappealing moss-like growth, these picnic tables’ rotting wood typically sag and buckle.

Then too the parking lots have long-standing piles of wood chips, branches and other debris; everything being pretty unsightly, honestly.

Far, far worse are the condition of several park metal trash dumpsters. In fact, one trash dumpster was anchored in ankle-deep water; thus unusable unless one wanted to wade wet in order to lob in a bag of trash. Yes, some substantial portions of the parking lots are inundated but I seriously doubt it would take much for some piece of machinery to drag this particular dumpster several feet back onto dry ground again.

More disheartening – and an unhealthy one at that – was observing how several of the dumpsters were full or nearly full of trash; bags of discarded food stuffs, junk, and even broken pieces of what looked like boards from a couple of those picnic tables we mentioned a bit earlier.

Things is, having dumpsters still full of trash two and three days after a major holiday is inexcusable. It is beyond unsightly because it is unhealthy. They are breeding grounds for disease, insects and vermin., the latter two of which Headland has in abundance.

And so, the promise to do better by Natural Resources director Mary Mertz and Parks and Watercraft chief Glen Cobb to Ohio’s outdoor writers less than one month ago must be viewed with a certain degree of questioning faith.

After all, I’d much rather see a politician accomplish a little thing like removing disease-carrying trash than for a politician to promise that with the arrival of a new administration happy days are here again.

I will believe it when I see it, and right now my eyes are smarting from seeing my hometown state park in such a sad state of affairs.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ohio's 2019 spring turkey kill drops 16 percent; figure likely becomes new normal

Ohio’s 2019 spring wild turkey hunting statistic saw a 16-percent decline from its 2018 counterpart, which itself had experienced an increase from the 2017 combined spring seasons total.

In all, preliminary data shows that a combined 19,088 bearded wild turkeys were taken during Ohio’s youth season, and the Southern and Northeast Ohio zones. This figure is very close to the state’s 10-year average spring kill of 19,244 birds.

For comparison, in 2018 combined spring turkey kill figure was 22,635, or the third highest spring wild turkey kill on record for the state. Further comparison shows the combined spring wild turkey kill (or harvest) for 2017 was 21,042 birds; for 2016 the figure was 17,793 birds; and for 2015 the figure was 16,049 birds.

Mark Wiley – the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s lead forest game biologist – believes the decline from 2018 to this year really is more of a leveling off. In effect, the new normal.

The reason is because the 2018 figure represented a huge swelling in the state’s wild turkey population the year before due to the cyclic 17-year emergence of cicadas.

Cicada’s provide a high-protein diet for wild turkey adults and – especially - their young, called poults. Such factors often lead to a much greater survival rate and overall better conditioning of turkeys.

In 2018 we saw turkey harvest in some counties jump 20 to 40 percent, and then decline this year by similar numbers,” Wiley said. “Such a large cicada emergence represents a significant event.”

Other statistical examination shows that of Ohio’s 88 counties, 28 of them saw gains. These increases were in a seemingly checkerboard, random pattern though a concentration of some of the highest gainers were in southwest Ohio and near the Indiana line.

The counties which saw the most marked decline were largely in southeast Ohio, or those that saw the biggest jump in their respective kills in 2018.

This region had an extremely high reproductive index (as measured by poults-per-hen) in 2016. This cohort contributed to a regional spike in spring harvest in 2018,” Wiley said. “Fewer birds from the 2016 cohort were available during the 2019 season and harvest in southeast counties fell to more typical levels.”

Wiley did say an emergence of cicadas is expected this year but for a much smaller section of Ohio; and this being confined largely to a sliver in Northeast Ohio near the Pennsylvania state line.

It should be enough to be seen in next year’s totals but very locally some hunters may see more birds,” Wiley said.

Of concern is whether this wet and cool spring has thus far impacted turkey poult production and whether any continuation of this weather pattern will hamper egg-laying and hatching along with survival of young birds, Wiley said.

The Wildlife Division won’t have an answer to that question until September and after brood counts are conducted in June, July and August, including those by citizens who voluntarily report their sightings.

As for next year, the spring season dates will appear abnormal. This will come about because the spring season opener for the South Zone is established as being the Monday closest to April 20th while for the five-county Northeast Zone the opening date is the Monday closest to May 1st.

Thus, the opener will be April 21st for the South Zone but not until May 4th for the Northeast Zone; or two weeks later.

It’s strictly a function of the calendar,” Wiley said.

Here are the county-by-county 2019 spring wild turkey kill numbers with their respective 2018 numbers in paranthesis. Note that kill – or harvest - numbers are raw data and subject to change.
Adams: 417 (398); Allen: 73 (71); Ashland: 216 (294); Ashtabula: 558 (574); Athens: 462 (575); Auglaize: 42 (42); Belmont: 565 (738); Brown: 411 (384); Butler: 190 (209); Carroll: 386 (509); Champaign: 97 (89); Clark: 17 (21); Clermont: 334 (347); Clinton: 74 (63); Columbiana: 327 (351); Coshocton: 548 (805); Crawford: 67 (63); Cuyahoga: 8 (11); Darke: 61 (49); Defiance: 197 (223); Delaware: 114 (105); Erie: 51 (48); Fairfield: 118 (128); Fayette: 13 (14); Franklin: 21 (20); Fulton: 116 (109); Gallia: 400 (455); Geauga: 259 (261); Greene: 26 (16); Guernsey: 527 (805); Hamilton: 108 (93); Hancock: 34 (38); Hardin: 95 (86); Harrison: 476 (699); Henry: 62 (69); Highland: 388 (378); Hocking: 280 (444); Holmes: 282 (401); Huron: 118 (163); Jackson: 392 (495); Jefferson: 415 (498); Knox: 349 (461); Lake: 73 (65); Lawrence: 234 (256); Licking: 364 (459); Logan: 113 (120); Lorain: 141 (146); Lucas: 69 (75); Madison: 10 (13); Mahoning: 186 (218); Marion: 30 (31); Medina: 148 (169); Meigs: 554 (674); Mercer: 17 (19); Miami: 24 (14); Monroe: 648 (809); Montgomery: 27 (21); Morgan: 399 (548); Morrow: 142 (160); Muskingum: 585 (796); Noble: 484 (585); Ottawa: 5 (0); Paulding: 69 (71); Perry: 309 (441); Pickaway: 23 (25); Pike: 241 (262); Portage: 259 (275); Preble: 136 (112); Putnam: 64 (58); Richland: 318 (340); Ross: 295 (365); Sandusky: 19 (18); Scioto: 284 (289); Seneca: 154 (151); Shelby: 38 (38); Stark: 298 (329); Summit: 80 (76); Trumbull: 430 (375); Tuscarawas: 569 (815); Union: 58 (49); Van Wert: 20 (23); Vinton: 329 (468); Warren: 102 (115); Washington: 591 (699); Wayne: 124 (123); Williams: 226 (232); Wood: 21 (19); Wyandot: 84 (87). Total: 19,088 (22,635).

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Monday, May 13, 2019

Weather-associated meteotsunami roughs up Geneva State Park marina

An April 14 rouge meteorological event called a “meteotsunami” sent a wall of water estimated at 10 to 12 feet high crashing into the Lake Erie shoreline from Madison Township in Lake County and east to Conneaut along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

Roughed up a bit in the event was the 400-boat slip marina at the 698-acre Geneva State Park in Ashtabula County. However, the marina had yet to tether any vessel to its assigned berth so no boats were damaged.

Meteotsunamis are driven by air-pressure disturbances often associated with fast-moving weather events, such as severe thunderstorms, squalls, and other storm fronts,” says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service.

The storm generates a wave that moves towards the shore, and is amplified by a shallow continental shelf and inlet, bay, or other coastal feature,” NOAA says. “They occur in many places around the world, including the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Coast, and the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.”

It is believed that another such weather-associated event struck Cleveland Metroparks’ Wildwood Park in Cleveland last October, striking the party fishing boat “Linda Mae,” and partially submerging the vessel.

For the popular Geneva State Park marina, the event was even recorded on the facility’s security camera system.

All of the Geneva State Park marina’s docks are floating types that ride up and down on metal pilings. When the meteotsunami’s impact struck the marina’s protected interior harbor, the wave action caused any number of the floating docks to ride on top of the water’s crest with several of the structures then slipping off their piling supports.

And some of the floats that are attached to the docks became loose and we had to remount them first before we could let the docks back down,” said Bob Munson, the marina’s dock master.

Munson said the event also caused a swell of debris to wash up and over the cement sidewalk that edges much of the marina harbor’s dock area perimeter.

It took marina personnel about three days to get the facility’s affairs back in order and cleaned up, Munson also said.

This same situation of debris piling up was seen all along the Lake Erie shoreline from Madison Township to Conneaut with reports of two-ton concrete breakwater devices easily being relocated several feet away by the force of the wave action, the National Weather Service’s Cleveland office saying as well.

The marina’s security camera system did record the event at around 7:17 p.m. when no one was around. This filming provided a visual testimony that saw the water rise for about 10 minutes, Munson said.

It was pretty impressive footage,” Munson said, adding that he had heard stories regarding a similar event about 20 years ago.

But I wasn’t around back then,” he said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Cool, wet spring not drowning out Ohio fishing license sales

Sales of many – but not all – of Ohio’s various fishing licenses do not appear to have been dampened by this spring’s generally cool, excessively wet weather.

However, these conditions do seem to have shot holes in the to-date sales of one-day and seasonal shooting range permits, resident hunting license sales, along with both non-resident and youth spring turkey-hunting permits.

To-date figures from February 22nd through May 7th - and supplied by the Ohio Division of Wildlife via its computerized license-issuing system - point to the issuance of 246,513 resident fishing licenses. That figure is actually up from its corresponding 2018 time frame of 235,316 resident fishing license being issued, or an increase of 4.8 percent.

Noteworthy also is that the additional resident fishing license sales added another $201,546 to the agency’s Wildlife Fund.

An 8.7 percent jump was seen also in the to-date sale of three-day fishing licenses along with a 9.3 percent rise in the number of one-day non-resident fishing licenses.

On the downturn were sales of one-day resident, one-day resident Lake Erie charter fishing, and one-day non-resident Lake Erie charter licenses. The latter two categories each saw sales drops of more than 24 percent. The drops in these categories could be attributed to the numerous storms that buffeted Lake Erie from late March through press time.

Hit too, were sales of seasonal non-resident fishing licenses, dropping by 7.8 percent. Meanwhile, sales of the reduced cost (senior citizen) annual fishing licenses were down only 1.2 percent.

The net result is that Ohio actually issued more fishing licenses of all kinds – 22 in number to be exact – from February 22nd to May 7th than it did for the same period in 2018. The figure totaled 38,107 more fishing licenses and permits being issued for an additional $626,143 going into the Wildlife Fund.

The fact that fishing license sales are up compared to last year’s is promising and certainly better than being down,” said Andy Burt, the Wildlife Division’s license coordinator for the Division of Wildlife.

 “Sales are also strong for our multiyear licenses, and the automatic renewal of hunting and fishing licenses is now an option for those who purchase at ”  
However, Burt also says “as we have seen in the last few weeks, spring weather is highly variable.”

So sales typically do fluctuate widely until we get into mid-June when weather and sales typically settle in,” Burt said.

Hunting license and permit sales were good too, though not with the dramatic flare seen for their fishing license and tag counterparts. Here, resident hunting license sales were down 6.5 percent and reduced cost (senior citizen) hunting license sales were off 8.2 percent.

Also dropping were sales of youth spring turkey permits – down 5.7 percent – and non-resident spring turkey permits – down 1.4 percent.

Taking the biggest dive off the cliff were sales of shooting range permits, the tags being required at several shooting ranges operated by the Wildlife Division. To-date as noted during the measured period the agency had sold 3,708 one-day range permits for a decline of 32 percent, and 2,967 annual range permits for a drop of 28.6 percent.

Lumping the sales of range permits and “Wild Ohio” magazine subscriptions, waterfowl habitat stamps, the Wildlife Division’s hunting permit/license extensive stockpile numbers 70 items.

In all, to date as of May 7th, the Wildlife Division had issued 516,215 hunting associated documents. That figure is up from the 482,533 documents the agency issued during the corresponding period in 2018.

For accounting purposes, this increase has thus far added another $659,787 to the Wildlife Fund.

- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Endangered or MIA, the ruffed grouse is on shaky ground

John Grantham and Troy Conley live is extreme opposite ends of the state: Grantham in Northeast Ohio’s Snow Belt and Conley in Southwest Ohio’s “Banana Belt.”
They do not know each other but they do share a common thread; that being, they both love to hunt ruffed grouse. Or more accurately, they did like to hunt Ohio ruffed grouse – a game bird species that has fallen on very hard times in Ohio and elsewhere.
I think the last time I shot a grouse in Ohio was 15 years ago,” Grantham said reflectively. “We were rabbit hunting and kept jumping this grouse until I finally was able to shoot it. I felt pretty badly, too, like I had just killed the last passenger pigeon.”
Much the same for Conley who at one time did not need to travel a long distance from his Brown County home to find grouse.
I started grouse hunting in the late 70’s and early 80’s and back then I didn’t have to drive far to get into birds,” Conley said. “But eventually land access became an issue and the solution became to just drive east to public and Meade Paper land. The long drive was worth it to find birds.”
In recent years the grouse number on these holdings “have plummeted, too,” Conley said.
Over the past two seasons I haven’t been able to find a bird on multiple trips,” Conley said.
Ohio is not alone is seeing its ruffed grouse numbers tumble into the abyss. Eighteen states list ruffed grouse as a species of concern across a wide geographic area that encompasses New England, the upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and the Appalachians, says Ben Jones, President and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society.
Indeed, the situation is so dire that in neighboring Indiana it is estimated that state has lost 99 percent of its grouse population over the past 40 years, forcing Indiana to close grouse hunting there four years ago.
And by the time you read this story, Indiana may have all ready moved the ruffed grouse from the state’s Species Of Special Concern List to its Endangered Species List.
Ohio’s clock is ticking as well as the Ohio Division of Wildlife ponders the ruffed grouse’s current status along with its future. To that end the agency’s forest game biologist Mark Wiley addressed several topics related to the ruffed grouse’s status in the state.
Habitat, or the lack of suitable habitat, says Wiley, is the principal driver of Ohio’s ruffed grouse population trends.
Over the past few centuries the ebb and flow in Ohio’s grouse population have been linked to the amount of suitable young forest habitat in the state,” Wiley says.
Most recently, Wiley says, farm abandonment and subsequent reforestation in the first half of the Twentieth Century created a surge of young forests. From 1941 to 1968, Ohio’s estimated total forest area increased from 3.2 million to 6.3 million acres, of which 3.7 million acres were categorized as young forest, Wiley says.

Since that peak, reforestation slowed, and much of the existing young forest habitat in the state matured beyond stages suitable for grouse. From 1968 to 2017, estimates of young forest decreased by more than 2.7 million acres in Ohio, says Wiley.
Not surprisingly, Wiley says also, at the same time grouse abundance steadily declined, reaching historic lows in recent years. Statewide grouse harvest - which was 22,000 birds in 1950 - peaked at 292,000 birds in 1982, Wiley says.
Without widespread increases in forest management activities or large-scale disturbances creating young forest habitat in Ohio, grouse populations are likely to remain low,” Wiley says.
Even so, question do remain as to whether the current extensive private property forest harvesting methods employing both selective and clear-cutting methodologies are – or will – influence a ruffed grouse rebound.
The majority of Ohio’s forested land – 85 percent p is privately owned, which presents challenges to broad-scale forest habitat management,” Wiley says. “Other challenges, particularly to creation of young forest, include public misconceptions about forest disturbance, poor oak regeneration, and increasing threat from invasive plant species.”
So, too, it seems the influence of both avian and ground predators. Grantham and Conley are willing to cast suspicious eyes on egg-stealing raccoons, skunks, and possums as being serious culprits in robbing grouse nests.
In my opinion the problem is a mix: Loss of habitat and ground predators,” Grantham says.
Conley agrees, adding that “since we no longer have the number of folks trapping, that has led to an explosion the number of ground nest predators.”
Wiley also is willing to say predation is an issue.
Hawks and owls are the primary predators of adult and juvenile grouse, (with) mammals playing a lesser role in adult grouse predation, but are common nest predators,” he said.
Forget, coyotes, however, as a major consumer of ruffed grouse, Wiley says also.
Although coyotes will prey upon grouse if given the opportunity, studies suggest this happens infrequently,” Wiley says.
The same goes for the wild turkey. While grouse numbers began to tank about the same time that Ohio’s wild turkey flock made its accession, it wrong to draw a connect-the-dots link, Wiley says.
I am not aware of any evidence that wild turkeys have significant negative impact on ruffed grouse populations. Predation, nest destruction, and even nest parasitism by turkeys are possible, but occur so infrequently they are rarely documented and have no measurable impact,” Wiley says.
The scientific nail to the blame-the-turkey conspiracy was a late-1990’s regional research study. This study determined the fate of 376 grouse nests and monitored 50 grouse broods via radio telemetry.
Appalachian Cooperative Grouse Research Project researchers identified many nest and brood predators, but turkeys were not among them,” Wiley said.
And though habitat loss appears to be the ruffed grouse’s Public Enemy Number One it is not the only member on the Most Wanted list. Point the finger at West Nile Virus, Wiley says.
We are currently cooperating several other state wildlife agencies in the Appalachian region on a West Nile Virus study,” Wiley says. “To the best of our knowledge, West Nile Virus may exacerbate grouse population declines already occurring as a result of habitat loss in Ohio.”
Obviously then neither Wiley, Jones, Conley, or Grantham ever want to see Ohio’s ruffed grouse go the way of the last passenger pigeon. It will be an uphill struggle.
For Grantham that means joining siblings and friends in purchasing a bird- and deer-hunting retreat in the far western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula just so they can enjoy bird dog work and a few flushes.
And here, Granham’s and Conley’s grouse-hunting lives again may merge in a fashion.
I don’t think the grouse will ever come back in Ohio,” Conley says. “But I still have a bird dog, and future grouse hunts are being planned though they’ll take place in northern Michigan.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn