By Don Mallicoat- The NC Wildlife Resources Commission recently released their deer harvest data. The good news is the total harvest across the state increased over last year. The bad news, District 9, the mountain region lags way (stretch that out as far as you can) behind all other districts. How bad is it? Let’s start with the fact that District 9 did not even break the 10,000 mark which all other districts did. In fact, we weren’t even close.
According to the data, a total of 4,638 deer were harvested in District 9 with only 800 coming from the Game Lands. The lowest number above that was District 8 (also partly in the mountains) with 14,538, with a paltry 312 coming off Game Lands. District 3 over near the coast led the state with 34,312 total deer harvested. So what’s my point behind these numbers?
It is something I have stressed in previous columns: District 8 and 9 have over half the Game Lands in North Carolina yet we have the lowest deer harvest records year after year. The reason for this is that Game Land is mostly National Forests which are not being properly managed for wildlife habitat. Except for squirrels there is no suitable habitat for most wildlife. Heck, the bears don’t want to live there which is why they are moving into our neighborhoods. This is why it is so critical that hunters get involved in land use planning for the National Forests. We should be crowding every public hearing demanding wildlife habitat management. The National Forest staff seems to be favoring other recreationists like hikers and bikers.
Don’t believe me? In the Scoping Notice for the current plan revision process, under the heading of Recreation, hunting is not even mentioned as a recreational use of the National Forest while hikers, mountain bikers, and trail riders are mentioned. The reason this bothers me so much is we are the ones paying to use the National Forests through our Game Lands permits. I don’t know if the WRC pays the USFS anything for it to be part of the Game Lands system. If they do, money and support should stop until the USFS recognizes the important role hunters play in supporting the forests through fees and Pittman-Robertson Act funding.
Speaking of that, let your non-hunting friends that think they have priority in the National Forests know that in 2013 hunters and shooters contributed over $700 million to fund wildlife research and habitat improvement. Since the Act was signed into law in 1938 the total is $9 billion. As they look at you in astonishment ask them, “How much did you contribute?”
It’s that time of year to issue our bear encounter warning. You may see something in the news that WRC are tranquilizing, tagging, and relocating bears in the Asheville area as part of a long range study to determine their movement patterns in the spring looking for food. In spring, juvenile bears from 1-2 years old disperse beyond their previous home range, while adult bears can roam extensively searching for food and mates. This can include roaming into residential areas. If left alone, most transient bears will find their way quickly out of town and back to natural habitat. People are urged not to approach or follow bears, or put themselves between bears and possible escape routes.
“Sometimes when a bear is seen, crowds may gather. This seemingly harmless situation can become dangerous for both humans and bear,” said Ann May, the Commission’s extension wildlife biologist. “But the best option is to stay away, not interfere and allow the bear to move out on its own.” The Wildlife Commission cautions people to not feed bears, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Bears can become bold when they grow accustomed to feeding on pet food, garbage and birdseed. Residents can best avoid problems with bears by: Securing bags of trash inside cans stored in a garage, basement or other secure area, and placing the cans outside as late as possible on trash pick-up days; Purchasing bear-proof garbage cans or bear proofing existing garbage containers with a secure latching system; Discontinuing the feeding of wild birds during spring and summer, even with feeders advertised as “bear-proof.” Bears are still attracted to seed that spills on the ground; Avoiding unattended outdoor pet food containers. If you must feed pets outdoors, make sure all food is consumed and empty bowls are promptly removed; Cleaning all food and grease from barbecue grills after each use.