Thursday, November 16, 2006
Bill Cochran's Mailbag: Resident believes deer population not in decline
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
- Virginia’s hunting totals produce mixed results
- A good trade: Virginia trout for Kentucky elk
- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
BILL: As a life-long resident of the Shenandoah Valley, I have spent a good deal of time hunting on both the national forest and on private lands. While it's true that deer harvest in Rockingham County has dropped in the last few years, I take issue with your assertion that deer populations are on a worrisome decline, and that we should cut more timber on the national forest to increase deer there.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' draft Deer Management Plan for 2006-2015 states that over the past decade, statewide deer populations have remained relatively stable. In Rockingham County, DGIF reports that deer are increasing on private lands, where the agency will seek to reduce numbers over the next decade, and that deer numbers are stable on the national forest, where it proposes to maintain the population.
One thing you overlooked in your October 12 column was the number of hunters themselves. DGIF records show fewer hunters on Virginia's national forests. For example, since 1993 statewide sales of the national forest hunting stamp dropped by 24 percent and sales of the stamp in Rockingham County dropped by 30 percent. With fewer hunters in the national forest, it stands to reason that deer harvest there is down.
Countywide deer harvest also may be down due to more doe hunting. In 2001 the number of "doe days" allowed on private land more than doubled, leading to increased harvest of does and likely decreasing fawns in following years.
It seems to me there is nothing wrong with deer populations on national forest in Rockingham County, hence your conclusion that we should increase national forest logging to increase deer numbers is off base.
Let me add that timber harvesting is not at a standstill in our national forests. The George Washington/Jefferson national forest cut 26.1-million board feet of timber in 2005, 35 percent more than in 2003. This represents a lot of potential browse area.
As a hunter, I relish the adventure of going deep into the woods of our national forests, surrounded by mature and healthy stands where, incidentally, I usually see plenty of turkey, bear and deer signs. As a biologist, I recognize that these national forests are the best place to ensure we maintain large tracts of intact, mature forests that provide important habitat for non-game species, such as the Saw Whet owl, numerous songbirds and countless aquatic critters.
Bill, I appreciate your obvious concern for Virginia's deer hunters, but in debating pros and cons of wildlife management on public lands, we must look at all the facts and issues. Hunting is a time-honored tradition in Western Virginia and I enjoy exercising my right to hunt, but I want to make sure we maintain this tradition in a way that preserves the beauty and biodiversity of our natural forested landscape as well.
BILL: I am a regular reader of your online columns, and just wanted to offer some comments of your September 28 piece about “The Cleansing of Brown Trout.”
It is unfortunate and troubling indeed that the two camps could not have met in advance to air their views and sought a possible “win/win” situation. The last thing the sport of trout fishing needs in the Commonwealth is another divisive issue.
The presence of nonnative trout in Shenandoah Park streams is nothing newnor is their removal. The Park Service takes its mandate to conserve native species very, very seriously. And I applaud them for that.
The scientific fisheries literature over the decades has been very clear and leaves no doubt that brown trout historically have displaced and/or destroyed native brook trout populations all along the spine of the Appalachians.
This past spring I was truly alarmed when a friend and I were fishing the upper Hughes and he landed a beautiful 9-inch brown at a point more than a mile upstream beyond where I thought brown trout were restricted. And this was above two sets of waterfalls I would have previously regarded as impassable by browns or rainbows.
But at the same time, Mr. Genest and his colleagues at the Fly Fishers of Virginia raise a valid point. It is unseemly, at the very least, for 800-plus stream-bred wild trout, albeit nonnatives, to be summarily dispatched. The point here is that a valuable living resource was wasted--even if that resource was miles out of place.
Another alternative that didn't seem to be raised was the possibility of donating the winnowed trout to some group like Hunters for the Hungry or a homeless shelter somewhere in the Valley.
Bottom line: both sides are right and both sides are wrong. I think the Park Service is doing exactly what it should do in removing nonnative trout because the scientific record is clear: browns and rainbows can and eventually do supplant brook trout. But the agency is way off base in wasting a valuable resource so blatantly and visibly.
Conversely, the Fly Fishers of Virginia are seriously mistaken if they believe browns pose no threat to the brook trout. But the Fly Fishers of Virginia are right in insisting that a priceless and useful resource not be wasted. Still, I think the burden befalls them to find ways to work with Park Service, and probably TU and VDGIF as well, to get those trout into safe new habitats where they won't pose a continuing threat to a priceless native resource.
BILL: It seems the Virginia Outdoors Plan has forgotten the much beleaguered Shenanigan River and its tributaries. The Outdoors Plan being developed by the Department of Natural Resources does not include any riparian protection. As I read the plan, all activities are focused on the James River Basin.
(Sportsmen should) em ail Preston Bryant, Secretary of Natural Resources, state legislators and any and all friends to communicate to our state government to not forget the Shenanigan River.
GARY: Comments on the Virginia Outdoors Plan are being received during a series of meeting across the state this month. They also can be made via em ail. Details are on www.dcr.virginia.gov/prr/vop.htm#mtgs.