By JIM ABRAMS
Upland habitat disappeared quickly in Ohio; so quickly that a single generation saw the decline and near extirpation of many wildlife species.
Advances in drainage allowed once marginal farm ground to be dried and the plow and planter utilized. Farm equipment became larger and more efficient while additional lands continued to be tilled to quickly push excess water from fields to waterways. Similar drainage technology promoted the expansion of rural housing.
These mixed blessings led to bumper crops of corn, wheat and soybeans, which help feed an evolving world and pay the family bills. But they sacrificed much of the uplands that held pheasants, bobolinks, quail and meadowlarks, as well as a large variety of other upland-dependent species, both plant and animal.
State wildlife agencies recognized these catastrophic declines and formulated plans in hopes that they could stop, or at least slow down, these losses. Soon, the U.S. Department of Agriculture responded through programs that not only recognized habitat decline but also addressed growing threats to water quality, erosion and flooding, the most well known being the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
When I first transferred to the Division of Wildlife’s District 2 office in Findlay, John Beall was the freshly appointed private lands biologist. His job was to assist landowners in northwest Ohio in designing plans to improve wildlife habitat and to assist in coordinating these conservation projects with farm service agencies.
We became well acquainted due to our overlapping professional concerns including habitat restoration, deer management, wood duck nesting box placement and maintenance, as well as each of us enjoying trap and skeet shooting at a local conservation club.
One day in about 1984, I remember picking up my mail at the local post office and discovering a newspaper-type flyer. It was from some fledgling conservation group calling itself “Pheasants Forever” and was based out of the upper Midwest. The name struck me as peculiar because pheasants were quickly finding themselves landing in “Never-Never Land” — a long way from “Forever.”
Upon reading it, I found that the organization was the brainchild of a group of dedicated pheasant hunters who were witnessing the steady and steep declines of their favorite game bird. They quickly realized the connection between upland habitat loss and declining pheasant populations. They began exploring what they could do to stop this expanding extirpation.
After finishing the flyer and giving it my pessimistic “lots of luck” nod, I gave it to John at the office. He told me that he’d heard of the group but he maintained a more optimistic attitude that a career lawman has a harder time mustering. Little did either of us know how closely John and the organization would one day be linked.
John was eventually promoted to District Wildlife Management Supervisor, but in 1990 he felt the call of another professional opportunity — a call that sounded suspiciously like a cackling pheasant on the flush. Pheasants Forever was growing rapidly and it needed experienced biologists to represent them, and one of their early grabs was John Beall.
He has since worked in several differing capacities with the organization: as a regional biologist and as a government affairs representative. He was also instrumental in putting together the very active Hancock County Chapter of Pheasants Forever, one of the oldest in the state, and continues to work with them on a variety of projects.
John has worked on farm bill conservation titles since 2002, helping to provide impactful, positive legislation for upland game birds and associated grassland wildlife throughout pheasant and quail country. Additionally, he served several terms on the North American Wetlands Conservation Act council staff to help deliver acquisition, restoration and management of wetland ecosystems throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Recently, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever announced that John was elected to the National Board of Directors, a 17-member group which oversees the operations of the organizations.
John explains: “Wildlife habitat conservation has been a central theme to my livelihood since my first employment opportunity with the Ohio Division of Wildlife in 1979. To this day, participating with my local chapter in Ohio and being involved with conservation measures at the state level continue to be gratifying experiences that will only be enhanced with my appointment to the Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever National Board of Directors.”
As for Pheasants Forever and their sister Quail Forever, they are now two of the most successful habitat organizations in the United States. They can boast over 149,000 members, more than 700 chapters, 150 biologists and many nongovernmental, governmental, nonprofit and corporate partners.
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have earned the right to call themselves “The Habitat Organization,” and folks like John Beall help them to prove it.
“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them.” — Aldo Leopold, “A Sand County Almanac.”
Along the way:
Seems like every walk to the garage or barn finds me stepping over woolly bear caterpillars. Also known as woolly and fuzzy worms, they’ve always had a bit of a reputation as weather prognosticators.
According to folklore, the wider the rusty brown sections of the wooly bear caterpillar, the milder the winter. The more black there is, the more severe the winter. The ones I’ve been avoiding all seem to be evenly proportioned, with each band about the same width.
In 1948, a scientist decided to check this theory. Dr. C. H. Curran, curator of insects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, collected as many caterpillars as he could in one day and then used them to forecast the coming winter weather.
He repeated his study for eight years, making the woolly bear caterpillar somewhat famous. In the end, Curran’s observations found that when the brown band had taken up a third or more of the woolly bear caterpillar’s body, the corresponding winters were milder than average. He therefore concluded that the folklore has some merit and might be true “” but maybe not.
Curran admitted his study was based on more fun than science and that the only real winner is the woolly bear caterpillar’s fame and the town of Banner Elk, North Carolina, which holds the annual “Woolly Worm Festival.”
By the way, the woolly bear caterpillar eventually transforms into the Isabella tiger moth.
• The United Conservation and Outdoor Association (UCOA) is seeking new members. The club offers trap, skeet, rifle, pistol, IDPA, sporting clays and archery shooting; a pond for fishing; and regular club and conservation events. Visit their website at http://www.ucoa-findlay.com for more information. Family dues are $75 per year. Contact Jon Nelson with your membership questions by calling 419-889-9930.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.
• Sunday: Sporting clays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.
• Tuesday: Deadline for registering for the free venison preparation and canning seminar, which will be held Wednesday from 6-9 p.m. at the Antwerp Conservation Club, 17814 Road 53, Antwerp. Preregistration is required by Jan. 14. Register at https://apps.ohiodnr.gov/wildlife/educationregistration/
• Thursday-Saturday: Northeast Ohio Sportsman show, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., informational seminars for all sportsmen featuring well known speakers on trapping, fishing, camping, hunting and land management, Mt. Hope Event Center; set your GPS to 8076 Ohio 241, Millersburg.
• Thursday through Jan. 20: Cleveland Boat Show and Fishing Expo, International Exposition (I-X) Center, 1 I-X Center Drive, Cleveland. Ohio’s oldest and largest boat show is even bigger with the addition of the new Fishing Expo. You’ll find more than 400 new power and sailboats from basic paddleboards to million-dollar motor yachts that are all ready to welcome you aboard. Visit http://www.clevelandboatshow.com/about-the-show/ for more information.
• Feb. 7: Deadline to enter the Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp juried art competition. Go to wildohio.gov for the contest rules, preliminary artist’s agreement and related information. The competition is open to all U.S. resident artists that are age 18 and older.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at email@example.com