News and Almanac

January season pushes deer harvest to new record

Missouri hunters bagged 7,698 deer during the final segment of firearms deer season Jan. 3-4. The January kill brings the 1997-98 firearms deer harvest to a record 194,260.

The January hunt took place in Deer Management Units 1-17, 20, 22, 23, 58 and 59. This year's January deer kill topped last year's by 12.

The harvest during the statewide firearms deer season in November was 186,562 deer, about 6,000 more than were taken in November 1996.

The January season offers additional hunting opportunities in management units where deer populations are above target levels. In setting those targets, the Conservation Department must balance some people's desire for more deer with the likelihood of increased deer-auto accidents and the needs of people whose crops, trees and shrubs sustain increased damage with higher deer numbers.

Hunters using muzzle-loading rifles killed 1,711 deer during the muzzleloader season in December. That is an increase of 214 from last year.

Deer hunters share more each year

Share the Harvest continues to grow, channeling more food from deer hunters to needy Missourians each year.

During the 1995-96 deer season, Missouri had 25 Share the Harvest programs statewide. Last year there were 65 programs, which collected 20,497 pounds of venison to be distributed through participating charities.

The number of programs increased to 67 for the 1997-98 season. Figures aren't in yet on poundage donated, but organizers say they expect the amount to continue growing as public awareness of Share the Harvest grows.

Hunters interested in starting Share the Harvest programs in their areas can find out more by calling Conservation Department Protection Programs Administrator Dave Beffa at (573) 751-4115 ext. 819.

Conservation Federation conference set for March 27-29

The Conservation Federation of Missouri will hold its annual conference March 27-29 at the Marina Bay Resort, Osage Beach.

Information about conference registration and programs is available from the Conservation Federation, 728 W. Main St., Jefferson City, 65101-1534, phone (573) 634-2322. For room reservations, call (573) 348-2200.

Federal court gives anti-trapping suit the boot

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. has dismissed a lawsuit aimed at preventing export of otter pelts from Missouri.

Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled against the St. Louis Animal Rights Team and two out-of-state animal-rights groups, saying they had failed to prove their case.

"The judge looked beyond anti-trapping groups' emotional hype, innuendo and outright misrepresentations and found that their arguments had no substance," said Conservation Department Director Jerry Conley. "He recognized that river otters aren't endangered, and the Conservation Department has sound scientific data to back up its otter management policies."

The St. Louis animal-rights group joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund of San Rafael, Calif., and the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C., in suing the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which issues permits to export otter pelts. In dismissing the suit, Judge Urbina noted that authority for managing resident wildlife belongs to state, not federal agencies.

The court's decision lent support to the Conservation Department's otter stewardship, which the court found to be based on the best available biological information derived from professionally accepted practices used in wildlife management.

Eagle recovery continues

Bald eagles continued their steady recovery in Missouri last year, producing between 56 and 64 young.

That is a substantial increase from the previous year, when an estimated 37 to 44 young eagles fledged from Missouri nests. It is especially impressive when you consider that in 1987 only five eagles fledged in Missouri.

The number of nests in the state has increased, too. In 1987 the Show-Me State had four active nests. Last year there were 36.

Annual eagle production estimates are based on aerial surveys of eagle nests.

Price rises for out-of-state subscribers

People living outside Missouri will have to pay more to keep in touch with the outdoor scene in the Show-me state.

Rising costs are forcing the Conservation Department to raise the cost of out-of-state subscriptions to the Missouri Conservationist from $5 to $7 annually. The magazine will cost $10 annually for addresses outside the United States.

The price increases go into effect immediately. The monthly magazine will continue to be provided free to adult Missouri residents.

The subscription fee increase helps the Conservation Department recoup the production and mailing costs of servicing out-of-state subscriptions, which number approximately 15,000. The last price increase occurred in September 1988, when out-of-state subscription rates jumped from $3 to $5.

Group seeks donations for new conservation area

A leadership group is trying to raise funds for a new conservation area east of Springfield. The new area would be called Cedar Gap Conservation Area, after a nearby town.

The group, Phoenix 2000, wants to buy and donate to the Conservation Department a 391-acre parcel of land that contains the headwaters of Bryant Creek, in southwest Wright County.

Acquiring the land, which includes forested ravines, springs, limestone boulders and shelter caves, would protect the popular waterway and provide recreational opportunities, including hiking, birdwatching an hunting.

For more information about the project, call David Reynolds at (417) 831 8719. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made through the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 366, Jefferson City, 65102 0366. Indicate on your check that your contribution is designated for the Cedar Gap Conservation Project.

White bass runs create spring fishing flurry

From mid-March to mid-April, white bass get the spawning urge, and those who love to catch white bass get fishing fever.

White bass inhabit most of Missouri's larger lakes, and most have spring spawning runs up their tributary streams. Not all have big spawning runs each year, but when a strong run occurs, a major part of the white bass population is concentrated in small areas, enabling anglers to catch more and bigger fish.

Areas that see fairly reliable white bass runs include the Niangua Arm of Lake of the Ozarks, the Beaver and Swan Creek arms at Bull Shoals Lake, the North Fork of the White River at Lake Norfork, the James River Arm of Table Rock Lake and the Pomme de Terre arm of Pomme de Terre Lake.

Anglers can use the same white bass lures during spring spawning runs that they use throughout the year. Jigs, minnow-type baits and spinners all work well.

Apply now for pond stocking

The Conservation Department is accepting applications now for fish stocking at qualifying private ponds.

Fingerling bluegill, channel catfish and bass are available. To qualify, you must have your pond inspected by Conservation Department personnel to ensure that fish can survive there.

You don't have to open your pond to the public if you receive fish from the Conservation Department. You do have to agree to permit a reasonable amount of access, but it is up to you who fishes in your pond.

Applications for pond stocking are available from conservation agents or regional conservation offices. Applications must be submitted by July 15.

Are woodpeckers knocking at your front door?

Woodpeckers can be fun to watch, but birds that damage property or disturb the peace are nuisances.

March and April are mating season for woodpeckers, and the Conservation Department receives many calls this time of year about woodpecker problems. The birds' mating behavior includes drumming on hollow objects to mark their territory and attract mates. Drain pipes, chimney flashings, siding and shiny objects around homes are favorite drumming posts.

Sometimes "scare balloons," which look like predatory birds, are enough to frighten away drumming woodpeckers. These balloons are sold at pet supply shops and feed stores.

Nylon netting will keep woodpeckers away from siding beneath roof eaves. Chemical repellents are another solution, but they can damage painted surfaces. Be sure to test them on a small, hidden area first.

Persistent woodpecker problems may require help from experts. The nearest Conservation Regional Office can provide advice about how to solve woodpecker problems. Commercial pest-control services will do the job for you.

Don't take drastic measures on your own, however. Woodpeckers are federally protected. You need a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill a woodpecker.

Private foundation will help conservation programs

A newly formed not-for-profit organization has the goal of supporting fish, wildlife and forest conservation programs in Missouri.

The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation is an independent entity set up to support Conservation Department programs. It plans to do this by offering alternative ways of making donations to conservation.

In the past, donors had no way of earmarking their contributions for projects of special interest to them. The new foundation will allow them to do this.

Donated funds can be allocated by the foundation's board of directors for specific projects approved by the Conservation Commission.

Previously, donated funds went into the regular Conservation Department budget, which made it difficult to guarantee that donated money would be applied to a program of the donor's choice.

The foundation will benefit the public by bolstering existing conservation programs and funding new ones, such as capital improvements and scholarships to conservation workshops. Since its recent founding, donors have given the foundation more than $34,000.

Donations must be made directly to the foundation, not to the Conservation Department. Donors can contact the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation at P.O. Box 366, Jefferson City, 65102-0366. Contributions to the foundation are tax-deductible.

Workshops help teachers learn about conservation

Missouri school teachers can earn college credit and enhance their ability to teach students about wildlife and forests can take advantage of more than 30 workshops offered by the Conservation Department.

The courses take place from April through October. Among the many courses offered are spring flora of Missouri, designing outdoor classrooms, wildlife management, forestry concepts, conservation education for elementary or early childhood teachers, wildlife adaptations and behavior and using children's books to teach conservation.

For a full listing of courses, dates, locations and college credit available, write to Education Services Section, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City 65102 0180.

It's wet, it's wild, and it's for kids!

Wetlands for Kids is coming to August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area. From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. March 14, the Conservation Department and Ducks Unlimited will sponsor hands-on activities that teach youngsters the importance of wetlands and the animals that live there. Other attractions will include a retriever demonstration and a display of live birds of prey from the World Bird Sanctuary. For more information, call (314) 441-4554.

Native plants add character to home landscapes

This is the season for poring over seed catalogs and planning spring gardens. It's also time to consider using native plants for home landscaping. Hardy natives offer several advantages over exotics.

Because they come from varieties that have been living here for tens of thousands of years, native plants are adapted to Missouri's climate, soils and pests. You'll spend less time and money propping them up with fertilizer, supplemental watering and pesticides.

You also don't have to worry whether aggressive imports such as kudzu, Japanese honeysuckle and multiflora rose will escape your garden and upset the balance of Missouri's natural landscape.

Several specialty nurseries meet the growing demand for native plants for home and garden. Native plant nurseries in Missouri include:

  • Forrest Keeling Nursery, (800) 356-2401 (trees & shrubs).
  • Hamilton Seeds and Wildflowers, (417) 967-2190 (wildflowers & grasses).
  • Missouri Wildflowers Nursery, (573) 496-3492 (wildflowers, grasses & shrubs).
  • Sharp Brothers Seed Co., (816) 885-7551 (grasses).
  • Longview Gardens, (816) 765-5664 (wildflowers, trees & shrubs).
  • Royal Seeds, Inc., (816) 842-6830 (wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs).
  • Mangelsdorf Seed Co., (314) 421-1415 (wildflowers & grasses).
  • Gilberg Perennial Farms, (314) 458-2033 (wildflowers, grasses, trees & shrubs).
  • Elixir Farm Botanicals, (417) 261-2393 (wildflowers).
  • Pan's Gardens, (417) 934-6537 (wildflowers).
  • Arborvillage Farm Nursery, (816) 264-3911 (trees & shrubs).
  • Bluestem Seed Co., (816) 786-2401 (grasses).
  • J&J Seed Co., (816) 663-3165 (grasses).
  • Rock Post Wildflowers, (573) 642-6927 (wildflowers).

An Embarrassment of Riches

The December 1997 issue of the Fisheries Division newsletter, Aquagram, carried a report that Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area near McBaine had an "infestation" of goldfish. Editor Frank Ryck faithfully reported the problem, but the judgmental tone bothered him. So, in the spirit of celebrating diversity rather than decrying it, Ryck asked his readers to suggest less negative ways of describing the overabundance of goldfish. A "bowlfull" and a "Fort Knox" of goldfish got runner-up honors, but Ryck awarded first prize to his own entry, a "treasury" of goldfish.

Muskie program has a good year

1997 was a good year for Missouri's muskellunge stocking program, with more than 6,000 of the torpedo-shaped terrors mustering out of Conservation Department hatcheries and reporting for duty at lakes. The lion's share (5,790) of the 12-inch fish went to Pomme de Terre Lake near Hermitage. Another 540 now prowl the clear waters of Pony Express Lake east of St. Joseph. "Muskies," as they are popularly known, grow rapidly in Missouri waters, reaching lengths of more than two feet two years after stocking. Although their mouths are filled with needle-sharp teeth, muskies present no danger to humans. . .unless you count the possibility of heart attack when a two- or three-foot muskie snatches a drowsy crappie angler's minnow.

Above and beyond

Fisheries Management Specialist Travis Moore was the only Conservation Department field worker available when a Hannibal resident called to report a dead owl. All Conservation employees are expected to handle "other duties as assigned," so Moore responded. On the scene, he concluded that the owl probably had fallen victim to overhead power lines, a common fate for bids of prey. His analysis was confirmed when someone noticed the late owl's former prey-a muskrat-dangling by its tail from the power line. When asked to remove the twice-unlucky muskrat, Moore deferred to the power company. Tinkering with power lines, said Moore, was above and beyond the call of duty, even for an unusually accommodating fisheries biologist.

Welcoming geese can be a mistake

Feeding geese can leave you with a mess, in more ways than one. Dodging droppings is just the beginning of problems when you encourage the big birds to take up residence in your neighborhoods. They can destroy lawns and become aggressive toward people.

Furthermore, feeding geese can actually harm them. Human foods don't meet the birds' dietary needs and can lead to malnutrition. And concentrating geese around artificial feeding sites increases their risk of disease transmission.

Feeding wild animals robs them of their wildness, putting both animals and humans at risk. Don't start. Canada geese are survivors, and do very well on their own.

Special hunts, events mark spring turkey hunting season

Refuge at Peck Ranch to host Special Turkey Hunt

Turkey hunters can hunt on the refuge area of vast Peck Ranch Conservation Area in Carter and Shannon counties April 20-May 10.

The Conservation Department offers a managed hunt inside the 11,000 acre refuge each spring. The only catch is that participants must register before and check out after their hunt. Information gathered during the hunt helps biologists understand how hunting affects turkey populations.

The gates to the area open at 4:45 a.m. daily during turkey season. Up to 40 hunters are allowed in on a first-come, first-served basis, but this quota almost never is reached. Hunters are allowed to scout the area April 18 and 19.

Primitive camping is available adjacent to area headquarters. The headquarters building can be reached by turning north off of Highway 60 at Winona onto Highway H and then turning right onto a gravel road at the sign for Peck Ranch Conservation Area. For more information call (573) 323 4249 or 323-4359.

Disabled turkey hunters invited to Mark Twain Lake

Applications for the annual turkey hunt at Mark Twain Lake for hunters with disabilities must be postmarked by March 31.

Hunters will be selected by random drawing at 1 p.m. April 6 at the Mark Twain Lake Management Office. Only permanently disabled (non ambulatory or semi-ambulatory) hunters with valid 1998 spring turkey hunting permits and hunter safety certification cards are eligible.

Those selected must hunt from designated blinds and use shotguns 20 gauge or larger.

For applications or additional information, contact the Mark Twain Lake Management Office, R.R. 2, Box 20-A, Monroe City 63456, phone (573) 735 4097.

Celebrities flock to Warsaw for annual turkey hunting shindig

The 1998 Missouri Invitational Celebrity Turkey Hunt at Warsaw is expected to draw the usual assortment of luminaries, and special events offer visitors the chance to rub elbows with movie stars, country-western singers and renowned wildlife artists.

The event is scheduled for April 24-26. Celebrities and local guides, paired in a random drawing, engage in friendly competition to see who can bring in the biggest turkey gobbler.

Besides opportunities to meet celebrities, visitors can enjoy a fish fry, attend live concerts, take in a wildlife art exhibition and bid for celebrity memorabilia.

In addition to promoting local tourism, the hunt raises money for the National Wild Turkey Federation's youth-oriented JAKES Program, Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and other charities.

To find out more, call the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce, (816) 438-5258 or 438-2052.

Dry, windy weather is not time to burn trash

Dry, windy weather in March creates ideal conditions for destructive wildfires. Careless burning of leaves or other yard waste can lead to serious fires, even if it has rained recently. If you are thinking of burning, follow basic safety rules to prevent wildfires.

Before starting a fire, call the fire department or the nearest Conservation Department forestry office for advice about whether it is safe and legal to burn. If conditions are favorable, take the following precautions.

  • Clear a 10- to 15-foot fire break around the burn area. The area should be stripped to the soil.
  • Keep a water source and a rake within reach to help manage the fire.
  • Stay with the fire until every ember is out.
  • Burn in the evening when winds are calm and humidity is higher.

If a fire gets out of hand, call the fire department immediately.

Waterfowl flock to wetlands

Hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese, grebes and other water birds are thronging Missouri wetland areas.

This annual event means spectacular opportunities for viewing dozens of bird species in brilliant breeding plumage.

The number of spring migrants peaks in mid-March, but excellent waterfowl viewing can continue well into April.

Conservation areas with concentrations of waterfowl include Marais Temps Clair in St. Charles County, Four Rivers in Bates and Vernon counties, Grand Pass in Saline County, Ten Mile Pond in Mississippi County, Schell Osage in Vernon and St. Clair counties, Bob Brown in Holt County, Duck Creek in Stoddard and Wayne counties and Eagle Bluffs in southern Boone County.

Colorful deer . . . In black in white

Each year the Conservation Department receives many calls and letters about albino deer. Among the questions most often asked are "What causes some deer to be albinos?" "How common are they?" "Are they protected?" and "Can they reproduce?"

Albinism is a recessive trait found in mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and even plants. These plants and animals do not have the gene for normal coloration and do not produce the enzyme responsible for skin, hair and tissue coloration. Albinism is the total absence of body pigment. The eyes of an albino are pink, because blood vessels behind the lenses show through the unpigmented irises.

As you might guess, albinism is not a desirable trait for either predators or prey species. Being totally white year-round makes concealment difficult. Also, many albinos have poor eyesight. In the game of life, where survival of the fittest is the rule, albinos have a strike against them from the start. Perhaps that is why albinos are rare.

Because albinism is a recessive trait, both parents must carry the gene before it can occur in their offspring. An albino deer bred to another albino would have only albinos. An albino bred to a normal deer with no recessive genes for albinism would produce all normally pigmented deer. Offspring from this cross would carry the recessive gene for albinism but would be normally colored. When carriers of albinism breed there is a one-in-four chance they will produce an albino fawn.

Recessive genetic traits typically become less common unless they confer a survival advantage or are artificially enhanced through selective breeding. Based on hunter reports, about one deer in 30,000 in Missouri is an albino.

Not all white deer are true albinos. Some white whitetails have normally pigmented noses, eyes and hooves. This is a genetic mutation for hair color but not other pigments.

"Piebald" and "melanistic" deer are still other color variations. Piebald deer have patches of white hair but are otherwise normally colored. Piebalds are thought to be more common than albinos. Melanistic deer are dark black. Melanism results from overproduction of pigment and is less common than albinism.

Protecting albinos, piebald and melanistic deer from hunting would have no biological impact and probably would not result in an increase of these traits.

And that-in black and white-is the story of albino deer. If you bag a white, piebald or melanistic deer, enjoy the special trophy. Or if you see one anytime, you should consider playing the lottery-it may be your lucky day! -Jeff Beringer and Jim Featherstone