Wildlife NewsWednesday, April 11, 2012
(South Dakota Wildlife Federation Camo-Coalition)
Paddlefish snagging returns to Big Bend Dam
Rapid City Journal
The hooks will be flying May 1 below Big Bend Dam at Fort Thompson as a revived state paddlefish season gives anglers a chance to hook into Missouri River trophies that could weigh 100 pounds or more.
For the first time since the early 1980s, Lake Francis Case will be open to a snagging season for paddlefish, river natives with a prehistoric past that have struggled to sustain themselves because of modern-dam construction and other problems.
And it is likely that some real lunkers will be weighed in during the new 31-day season.
"I think there will be some hundred pounders taken," said Dennis Unkenholz of Pierre, a former state Game, Fish & Parks Department fisheries program manager. "When the (GF&P) crews have been out working with paddlefish, they’ve had some real big ones."
The Francis Case season will be carefully controlled. The state has authorized 350 paddlefish permits there, allowing one fish for the season per angler. More than 2,000 people applied for those permits.
The Lower Brule and Crow Creek tribes are each issuing an additional 25 permits.
Cliff Stone, GF&P regional supervisor in Chamberlain, expects many who drew tags to turn out on opening day.
"It probably won’t be 100 percent, but I’d expect a majority to be out," he said. "You’ll have 350 or 400 people thinking they’re going to break the state record."
The record sits at 120 pounds, 12 ounces and dates back to 1979. State fish crews working on Francis Case have seen and handled a number of paddlefish weighing more than 100 pounds.
There is no waiting for the big ones to bite, either. Paddlefish are filter feeders that swim with mouths open and strain zooplankton from the water. It is rare for them to take a baited hook.
So the fishing process for paddlers involves stout rods, big reels, heavy line and a large treble hook cast far into the water with the help of a hefty weight. Then the angler tries to hook a paddlefish by jerking the rod back, reeling up the line and jerking the rod back again.
And again, and again.
Paddlefish tend to concentrate in moving water areas. So while all of Lake Francis Case will be open to snagging paddlefish in May, Big Bend Dam is likely to be the busiest spot, Stone said.
"You’d expect a lot of action right there in the Big Bend Tailrace," he said. "And if conditions are right, there will be a fair number of people trying to fish down around or in the lower part of the White River."
The White River joins the Missouri River a few miles south of Chamberlain. And it is an area where paddlefish still return, during the right flow conditions with the urge to spawn. But ideal paddlefish spawning habitat has become rare since the main-stem dams were constructed in South Dakota. And without reproduction, the population dwindled to the point where in recent years the only remaining paddlefish season has been in October below Gavins Point Dam near Yankton.
But for the past three decades, GF&P has worked with federal fish crews to take eggs from wild paddlefish to hatchery facilities to produced young fish for restocking back into the river. That has paid off with a rebuilt population on Francis Case.
"This season is without a doubt because of the success of all those years of stocking," Unkenholz said. "It you can figure out the right management you can be successful in restoring a population that really would need the old natural river to survive on its own."
Some areas within the Missouri and Mississippi river systems continue to produce paddlefish. And there remains some paddlefish reproduction below Fort Randall Dam at Pickstown as well as below Gavins Point. But it is limited in Francis Case, where the Big Bend Dam tailrace was once a regional hotspot for paddlefish snagging.
Unkenholz expects the scene there on May 1 to be reminiscent of the old days.
"Oh, it’ll be a zoo," he said.
And in recent years there have been more reports of paddlefish of all sizes being hooked by walleye anglers below Big Bend. Those fish often break the smaller line used for walleye fishing. But occasionally the fish are hauled close enough for a memorable photograph.
The return of a snagging season to Big Bend and Francis Case will be memorable as well, said GF&P Commissioner John Cooper, who served as agency secretary for 12 years.
"I’m excited about the fact that we’ve basically got a restored fishery down there, and now people will have a chance to enjoy the paddlefish resource there again," Cooper said. "It’s not just catching a big one, either. I’ve eaten paddlefish. It’s good."
Stone is excited as well, but he’s also hoping that paddlefish anglers use common sense in casting their heavy weights and big hooks in an area where others will be fishing for walleyes.
"We’re hoping we don’t end up with conflicts between paddlefish snaggers on shore and somebody out in a boat trying to catch walleyes," he said. "There could be a lot of people out who are kind of new to casting those things. And with the new gear and line, they can launch them a long way."
Paddlefish are among the oldest fish species, with skeletal remains that date back more than 300 million years.
There are two paddlefish species in the world, one in North America, primarily in the Mississippi River drainage, and the other in China.
Dam construction, siltation and overharvest by anglers have been the main reasons for the paddlefish decline. They have disappeared in Canada and in four states, and 11 of 22 states in the remaining species range list the paddlefish as threatened, endangered or a species of special concern. The fish is considered stable in South Dakota.
Paddlefish can migrate for hundreds of miles or more. Fish tagged in the Missouri River in South Dakota have been captured in the Ohio River.
Paddlefish can live for more than 50 years and grow to more than 100 pounds. The South Dakota record on hook and line is 120 pounds, 12 ounces. It was caught in 1979.
Paddlefish are filter feeders, swimming with mouths open and using gill rakers to collect zooplankton.
State parks director says flood damage being repaired PIERRE — State Parks and Recreation Director Doug Hofer says crews are making progress in fixing flood damage at South Dakota's parks and recreation areas.
In an appearance on the Dakota News Network radio stations, Hofer on Monday said he expects all parks and recreation areas to be in good shape by the Fourth of July.
Hofer says electrical hookups are being installed and new grass is being grown in heavily damaged state camping areas just below Oahe Dam along the Missouri River.
He says about 40 of the state's 60 parks and recreation areas were damaged by flooding last year.
Hofer says total flood damages amounted to about $9 million, and about $6.5 million from state funds and reallocated parks and recreation money is available now for the highest priority repairs.
Tree restoration takes root in Pierre
Flooding took a toll on more than just human-made structures last year, and this week some efforts will begin in Pierre to replenish a natural element that suffered damage.
John Ball, the forestry specialist for the South Dakota State University Extension, will present tree planting tips at 7 p.m. at the SDSU Regional Extension Center on 412 Missouri Ave. The presentation is part of a volunteer effort this spring to plant hundreds of trees to replace some of those damaged in the flood.
Lawrence J. Weiss is the chief service officer for the tree planting project, conducted in cooperation with AARP and Cities of Service, a coalition that spans several states and applies what it calls "impact volunteerism" to city-based projects.
"The intent is that volunteers do work that is needed but would likely not get done by the city because of resources," Weiss said.
Volunteers who receive training tips on Wednesday will be ready to help out at several tree-planting sessions later this month. Weiss said he met with a number of city officials as they devised a plan.
"We put together what we called a comprehensive tree-planting plan," he said. "It combined what the city was intending to do and the intent under Cities of Service and AARP and made it one project."
Weiss said it’s still unclear how many trees will end up as casualties to the flood.
"We counted over 300 trees dead last fall, and we expect there may be some more this spring," he said. "Our tree experts tell us that if certain species sit in water over a long period of time, and it’s just standing water, then they’re probably not going to survive."
According to Ball, one important part of re-planting is choosing a diverse array of trees. He noted the benefit of trees that stay hardy in wet weather, but he said potential threats such as the emerald ash borer should also be considered. The more types of trees there are, he said, the less chance that any single problem – be it bug or flood – will wreak wide-sweeping damage.
"We don’t know all of the threats that are coming, so a diversity of plants is always a good idea," said Ball, who also serves as forest health specialist for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.
Later this month, tree planting sessions are scheduled at the Arboretum, the City Park Shop Nursery and the Hillsview Golf Course. The greatest number of trees to be planted – 220 – is slated for the golf course.
Weiss said more than $10,000 had been raised for the effort, including about $5,000 from the AARP and $5,000 of donations. He also said the group Modern Woodmen of America donated $500, the Hughes County Conservation contributed 75 trees and two other potential grants are pending.
Weiss said the Pierre Park and Recreations Department had about $7,500 in the budget for tree planting, as well.
Tom Farnsworth, division director for Pierre Parks and Recreation, said the volunteer effort marks a key first step to replenishing the city’s trees – but not the last step. He said more planting in the fall will likely focus on the parks and, once again, on the golf course. Those efforts, he said, will depend on an evaluation of trees this summer.
Farnsworth mentioned, too, that more planting in the spring of 2013 may concentrate on the shelterbelts around the city’s sports complex. He said city funds, grants and donations may combine to finance the ongoing efforts.
For now, Weiss said, a tree order for $14,000 has been placed with East Pierre Landscaping and Garden Center, where trees have been ordered from a Minnesota nursery. The order of 350 trees includes 150 elms – of several varieties – as well as swamp white oak, northern acclaim honeylocust, American linden and various other types of trees.
The bare-root trees range from about 5-10 feet, said Steve Bontje, garden center manager and landscape designer at the store. He said they were well-adapted to conditions in this area.
Volunteers from a host of local organizations are scheduled to help with planting, and more potential planters are welcome to come to the session on Wednesday. Weiss said if enough volunteers get involved, they’ll be able to help residents who want to re-plant trees on private property. But in that case, he said, the property owner will need to furnish the tree.
Get Growing! Tree Planting 101:
7 p.m. Wednesday, April 11, at the SDSU Regional Extension Center, 412 Missouri Ave. John Ball, SDSU Extension forestry specialist, will present tips for planting trees and shrubs.
Scientific group critical of USDA's lethal wildlife control
CODY, Wyo. — The USDA's practice of lethally removing wildlife from the landscape is counterproductive, favors certain game animals and fails to serve any long-term goals, the American Society of Mammalogists says in a letter to the agency.
The ASM, a scientific organization with 3,000 members from 50 states and 60 countries, is asking the USDA's Wildlife Services division to move away from the practice of lethal removal — killing — and focus instead on building public education to reduce the need for exterminating wildlife.
The group of biologists and educators is asking the USDA to reduce funding for its lethal control efforts and to reshape a program that, it says, has changed little from the days when the Bureau of Biological Survey waged a war against wolves and prairie dogs a century ago.
"We see from Wildlife Services a heavy and inflexible emphasis on lethal control and a lack of scientific self-assessments," ASM writes.
Citing federal data, ASM says that between 2000 and 2010, agents with Wildlife Services used aerial gunning, trapping and poisoning, among other methods, to kill more than 2 million wild mammals across the U.S.
The numbers include roughly 916,000 coyotes, 321,000 beavers, 126,000 raccoons and 84,000 skunks. They also include 3,000 wolves, 4,000 mountain lions, 4,500 bears, 19,000 muskrats, 29,000 opossums and 25,000 marmots and woodchucks.
ASM argues that the numbers are consistent each year, implying that either the killings are creating population "sinks" that quickly fill, or that reproduction is compensating for the increased mortality.
"We have no real data on the effects of this lethal control on the populations of target or non-target species because there is very little monitoring being done," ASM said.
Carol Bannerman, spokeswoman for Wildlife Services in Maryland, said the agency's data suggest that nationally, it euthanizes just 11 percent of animals on calls while using nonlethal means to remove animals 88 percent of the time.
Bannerman said 75 percent of the agency's research budget goes to nonlethal removal of wildlife. She said the agency also has made changes over the years.
"We've added a staff person out of Fort Collins whose entire job is to look at nonlethal methods and help our own staff, as well as those people we work with, use nonlethal methods where they can be effective," Bannerman said.
Bannerman said lethal removal is higher when it comes to invasive species, such as feral swine, brown tree snakes or nutria — a South American rodent that causes damage in U.S. coastal areas.
"We do not seek the eradication of any native species," Bannerman said. "We try to address the damage in a particular area where it's occurring."
In its letter, ASM takes particular aim at Wildlife Services for its killing of prairie dogs and gray wolves, both native in Montana and Wyoming.
Killing a large number of carnivores, ASM argues, has had unintentional impacts on other species and the ecosystem.
"A massive campaign to exterminate wolves and coyotes across the West was begun in the early 1900s," AMS said. "By the 1920s, rabbits had so overpopulated the region that another massive campaign was begun to reduce their numbers.
"Apparently, Wildlife Services never did make the obvious connection between coyote control efforts and rabbit population numbers."
The extermination of prairie dogs is also a problem, AMS said. Roughly 77 percent of prairie dogs killed in the last decade were exterminated in 2009, the group said, even as efforts to restore the black-footed ferret, which depends upon prairie dogs, were being made.
Efforts to reduce prairie dog numbers have had cascading effects on the quality of grassland ecosystems.
"Not only have species associated with prairie dogs declined, but their loss has resulted in the invasion of desert shrubs into North America's grasslands," the group said.
ASM is also critical of the means Wildlife Services uses when practicing lethal removal, such as trapping, aerial gunning and the deployment of M-44s, which release a deadly sodium cyanide spray when triggered by predators.
Bannerman said the EPA reviewed the agency's use of M-44s, as well as livestock protection collars, and found they had no significant impact to human beings or the environment.
"We seek to do it as humanely as we can," Bannerman said. "There are differing opinions on that. As for the livestock protection collars, the only animal harmed is the animal biting the neck of the sheep."
Wyoming Agriculture Statistics Services reported that in 2010, producers lost 16,800 sheep and lambs to predators, valued at around $1.4 million. Roughly $1.5 million in cattle and calves were also lost in Wyoming to predation in 2008, the last year for which figures are available.
In Montana in 2010, predation resulted in around $1.7 million in losses for Montana's sheep industry. Cattle predation has also increased over the last six years, the USDA says.
ASM said the tactics used by Wildlife Services aren't working.
"It's clear that the ongoing slaughter (of coyotes) has not brought about any long-term solution to the perceived problem," AMS said. "It's estimated that at least 5 taxpayer dollars are expended to kill every coyote that is deemed responsible for the loss of one dollar's worth of livestock."
Study finds mountain lions may be eating more than previously believed
Mountain lions, the largest members of the cat family in North America, may be heartier eaters than some researchers originally estimated.
"One of the most interesting things we found was how much more prey they kill in summer," said Kyle Knopff, lead author of a three-year Canadian mountain lion study that was recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. "Just how focused they become on young of the year ungulates was surprising."
GPS aids study
Knopff is basing his conclusions on data collected from more than 1,500 kill sites while tracking 54 cougars with GPS collars. The collars allowed the University of Alberta researchers, including his wife Aliah, to move in quickly after a kill to identify what was taken and by which lion.
In the journal article Knopff writes that some previous studies "may have failed to identify higher kill rates for large carnivores in summer because methods in those studies did not permit researchers to locate many neonates or because sample size was too small."
The use of GPS collars enabled Knopff and his colleagues to collect more data. As a result, he found that mountain lions killed more deer, elk and moose during the summer by focusing on juveniles and actually killed fewer animals in winter. The information contradicts previous studies conducted in Idaho.
"The Idaho estimates differed from our summer estimates by as much as 365 percent in terms of frequency of killing and 538 percent in terms of prey biomass," Knopff wrote. "Because kill rate fundamentally influences the effect predators have on their prey, the discrepancy between studies represents a substantial difference in the capacity for cougars to impact ungulates."
Built to kill
The study was conducted over 10 years in west-central Alberta, including the Bow Valley, Jasper National Park, portions of Banff National Park and in Clearwater County east of Banff. The terrain of the study area was a mixture of lodgepole pine and spruce forests at
elevations ranging from 2,500 to 9,300 feet. The mountain lions' prey included deer, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, feral horses, beaver and porcupines.
Cougars aren't easy creatures to study. The secretive animals range widely to hunt - 250 to 600 square miles for males, 60 to 125 square miles for females.
Adult male cougars can weigh 140 to 165 pounds. One male cougar in Knopff's study tipped the scales at 180 pounds and primarily fed on moose and feral horses. Females typically weigh around 100 pounds. From nose to tail the big cats can measure 6.5 to 10 feet long. The average lifespan for a male is 8 to 10 years, 12 to 14 for females.
Great leapers and sprinters, cougars kill by latching onto their prey with their front claws and powerful forelegs and then biting the windpipe or spine along the neck with their large canine teeth. For smaller prey, lions may crush the animal's skull. On rare occasions lions have been known to attack humans.
"Our kill rate estimates indicate that adult cougars are highly effective predators, killing at rates at the upper end of those recorded for wolves in both frequency and biomass," Knopff wrote.
In one prey encounter they studied, Knopff said a cougar brought down a feral horse less than 30 yards from where it attacked.
"I think our study showed they are very efficient predators," he said.
Because of their adaptability, cougars are found from the Yukon to the Andes of South America, a larger range than any other big mammal in the Americas.
In studying cougar kill sites, the researchers publicized a couple of interesting details. One is that that female mountain lions with kittens kill more deer; the other is that adult male lions kill larger but fewer animals.
"We had one male cougar kill 18 moose in less than a year," Knopff said.
Based on the Canadian data, the cougars killed on average .8 ungulates (mainly whitetail deer and moose) a week, an average of about 18 pounds a day. That statistic varied widely, though, based on the individual - from a low of .24 ungulates to a high of 1.38, or 18 to 41 pounds a day.
Those ungulates targeted tended to be young of the year or adults with yearlings, largely because they were easier to subdue.
Deer made up more than 75 percent of the diet for adult female lions in winter and summer. Adult males had a more varied diet, concentrating on moose (36 percent) in the summer and deer (44 percent) in the winter. All told, adult males targeted large ungulates for 62 percent of their diet. Subadult lions also ate more deer than other species, but like human teenagers they also varied their diet more opportunistically than adults.
On average, adult males killed an estimated 10,300 pounds of biomass annually compared to 9,400 pounds killed by females with young kittens.
Humans vs. cougars
Aliah Knopff said her portion of the study focused more on cougar-human interactions and the lion's habitat selection.
She said that as people have continued to build in more remote areas, cougars have had to adapt.
"These are actually quite adaptable carnivores," she said, from changing their movements to become more nocturnal and avoid humans, to finding undisturbed islands within development to live in - such as along pipelines or well sites. The same can't be said for many other carnivores.
These more urban lions are mainly limited by human tolerance, she said. The people in rural Alberta who were interviewed for the study valued cougars highly, but not if they were killing pets or livestock.
"That's the challenge for cougar conservation when the backyard is becoming more overlapping," she said.
Lion hunting is allowed in many Western states, including Montana and Wyoming. Hunters track and tree the big cats with hounds. Cougar kills are carefully regulated by state wildlife agencies.
Knopff writes that the Canadian study could be used by game managers to better calculate mountain lions' take of game animals and in turn reduce lion numbers to benefit deer, elk and moose populations. For example, hunting female cougars could reduce the number of deer taken in a specific area.
But such management can also produce unpredictable outcomes, he added. A lion population that is younger may lead to increased confrontations with humans.
Oh, carp! Invasive species gets into Iowa’s Okoboji lake
Commercial fishermen have netted dozens of leaping carp in East Okoboji Lake, leading some to worry that the dangerous fish could threaten boaters at one of Iowa’s premier vacation spots.
"Our greatest fear is that these fish could impact recreation and the ecology of the lakes," said state fisheries biologist Mike Hawkins of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Tourism is a $213 million business in the area, known as the Iowa Great Lakes.
The discovery adds pressure to a yearlong effort to build an electric barrier to keep Asian carp out of the lakes.
Asian silver carp leap far out of the water when they are disturbed by a boat’s propeller or other commotion nearby, and have injured boaters in other states. Silver carp can grow as large as 100 pounds, but those most prone to go airborne usually weigh less than 10 pounds. The filter-feeding fish also compete with young game fish for food.
A commercial fishing company caught 55 silver carp and 82 bighead carp March 28-29 at an area known as the narrows along East Okoboji Lake. They netted two silver carp and two bigheads in the same area last week.
On Friday, the fishing crews found one silver carp in Anglers Bay in the northeast part of Big Spirit Lake, the northernmost of the chain of six glacial lakes.
Local leaders had hoped to raise $700,000 to install an electric barrier in time to prevent the dangerous carp from getting to lakes, said Mike May, owner of Triggs Bay Resort, which is on East Okoboji.
"Obviously, it’s not good," said May.
"We certainly don’t want them in the lake. We’re pretty optimistic that the lake is not infested with them. They are here. The prognosis is that they will die out."
Nuisance factor rising from zebra mussels in Lake Minnetonka
Zebra mussels are clogging lawn-sprinkler systems for lakeshore homes that draw water directly from Lake Minnetonka, and there's concern that larger pipes in the lake used to fight fires also may be blocked.
The problems are the latest nuisance caused by the fingernail-sized mussels, better known for littering beaches with razor-sharp shells and out-competing small fish and other native species for food.
They were discovered in Lake Minnetonka in 2010 and since have spread to nearly all of the lake's 26 bays and 125 miles of shoreline.
Dean Holasek, president of Aqua Engineering of Eden Prairie, said his firm serves about 200 customers with sprinkler systems that pull water from Lake Minnetonka. "We're seeing zebra mussels that just jump onto the suction screens and hang on for dear life," Holasek said. "If they get on there heavy enough and long enough, they restrict the flow of water going into the lawn-sprinkler systems."
The typical system has a pump on land that draws water from the lake through a small-diameter hose with a mesh-covered basket on the end. An underwater screen prevents weeds and other debris from being sucked into system.
Holasek said there are probably a couple thousand homes that draw water from the lake. Many homeowners leave hoses in the water year-round, increasing the likelihood of zebra encrustation.
Lakeshore owners should be aware that equipment can be damaged, perhaps severely enough to be replaced, said Eric Evenson, administrator for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. "It could be expensive if you start getting these clogged lines and you're running a pump without any water going through it," he said.
"These little critters are going into these pipes and dark nooks and crevices, wherever they feel the safest and can latch on to something."
Fire departments rely on submerged lake pipes in locations where communities don't have pressurized hydrants. In those cases, firefighters hook up to "dry hydrants" and suck lake water through them to battle blazes.
Most communities around Lake Minnetonka have municipal water systems, but Excelsior Fire Chief Scott Gerber said that two homeowner associations in Deephaven rely partly on lake water for fire protection.
"Are zebra mussels on our radar screen? Absolutely," said Gerber, whose department also serves Tonka Bay, Greenwood and Shorewood.
The two pipes that service the hydrants in Deephaven are not encrusted enough to restrict flow, he said, but it's a potential problem. The associations own and operate the dry hydrants, and Gerber said he has requested time at their annual meetings in June to explain concerns about maintenance.
In some parts of the metro, divers have already been busy scraping zebra mussels off underwater pipes.
Tom Suerth, president of Waterfront Restoration in Long Lake, said his firm cleared zebra mussels last year from all four intake pipes in a North Oaks lake that are used by the Lake Johanna Fire Department. The mussels were discovered in Pleasant Lake in 2007 and have formed dense clusters on many hard surfaces, including the pipes.
"They weren't 100 percent clogged, but it was pretty bad," Suerth said.
Chipping and scraping
Divers use metal brushes, scrapers and smaller tools to remove the mussels, a process that Suerth said is "simple but arduous." Each of the pipes took a team of divers about two hours to clean, he said.
"In cases where it gets particularly crusted up, it's almost like chipping away cement because the mussels have calcified and hardened" on the pipe surface, Suerth said.
Suerth's company also cleaned intake pipes that supply North Oaks Golf Course with water from Pleasant Lake. Mussels returned so quickly that the 2010 cleaning had to be repeated in 2011, he said, and may need to be done twice this year.
Dick Osgood, executive director of the Lake Minnetonka Association, said that zebra mussels can accumulate by the thousands in dense clusters on hard surfaces.
Their expansion in Lake Minnetonka is likely to continue for the next two to five years, he said.
"These things will explode in the lake, and people with irrigation pipes and docks and boats are going to be experiencing greater and greater problems in the next few years," he said.