By JIM ABRAMS
The new year is here and we now have to tackle that daunting task of remembering to record the correct year on all of our documents. While slipping up and writing the wrong date is usually a minor annoyance, accuracy can make a difference on the more important paperwork.
The Division of Wildlife will also find itself struggling with the new year’s numbers. They’re much less concerned about the correct date and more with correcting and analyzing several other sets of critical numbers.
The first numerological crunching that most hunters will find noteworthy concerns the decline in Ohio’s statewide deer harvest. While the short four-day muzzleloader and remaining bow seasons will add to the overall numbers, it’s doubtful that they’ll make up for the already lagging kill.
Based on updated information, the statewide harvest of whitetail deer was 146,597 as of Christmas Day. During this period last year, the 2017 harvest was 163,638. That’s a difference of 17,041, or 10.4 percent fewer deer taken.
There’s no doubt that the depressed harvest can be primarily attributed to the rather dismal weather conditions during prime hunting days of the statewide season. While 85 of Ohio’s 88 counties showed substantial reductions, some hunters see this as a gift that will keep on giving, adding to 2019’s autumn hunting opportunities. On the other hand, some landowners may groan in exasperation at the thought of seeing additional deer on their property.
The Division of Wildlife will be tasked with figuring out the best way to handle the increased adult deer numbers, spring’s amplified fawning and the subsequent jump in the deer herd. While this is certainly no Armageddon for farms or orchards, perceptions and politics can be an ever-driving force when it comes to managing deer.
Fortunately, deer management and the deer population itself are very fluid. Much like a glass of water, the level can be easily manipulated, emptied a little or allowed to fill a little. The goal is to never let it go dry or overflow. Once the numbers are evaluated, along with input from the public during March’s statewide open houses and surveys, the biologists will be able to make their best recommendations to the Wildlife Council.
That brings us to the next set of numbers that plague the Division of Wildlife: those involving active participation in angling and hunting. Since the early 1980s, hunter numbers have declined substantially and angler participation has barely held its own. When an agency’s primary source of income is driven by the sale of licenses and permits associated with these activities, funding of programs and the hiring of critical staff suffers.
One decades-long, never-ending effort continues: recruitment of new participants through hunter-involved programming. While recruitment, retention and reactivation have always been of prime importance to the Division of Wildlife, the lagging license sales are reaching critical mass. These issues and their reasons will continue to be studied, with solutions explored and the numbers examined annually.
Then there’s the department’s budget issues. Regardless of the outgoing administration’s rose-colored glasses when dealing with the public and their “believe us or else” attitude toward employees, knowledgeable folks who work inside that Columbus beltway know that there’s more fantasy to fact in their yearlong spending spree. Those rose-colored glasses may have included blinders for the rest of us.
The incoming administration, led by newly appointed Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz, will have its hands full. She’ll be considering how to put a cork in some of the spending holes; evaluating overtime use; considering staffing issues caused by the poorly handled booting and reassigning of experienced wildlife experts; a sometimes overzealous use of position and power; improperly performed personnel investigations; dismal morale; and a myriad of other issues.
The new director will almost certainly be examining how to best fund the department’s divisions as well as specifically considering alternative help in subsidizing the Division of Wildlife, an agency that benefits all but is funded by few.
Mertz will be putting together her own staff of trustworthy and experienced personnel to help navigate these possibly perilous political purviews while leaving a few folks standing behind on the docks.
Finally, there are good numbers … really, really good numbers. It appears that Lake Erie’s walleye hatch has hit a home run and the perch hatch may have bounced into a double. Preliminary results from the fall trawl survey of the central basin of Lake Erie show exceptional results.
The survey indicates that young-of-the-year walleye catch rates were the highest recorded in the past 20 years of the central basin trawl survey. This year’s results, combined with the excellent 2015 year’s class, will ensure adult walleye abundance in the central basin will continue to increase and add to future angler success.
Results for yellow perch indicate the hatch was the highest observed since 2014 and just below the long-term average for the central basin. In the individual management units, the western portion of the central basin (Huron to Fairport) index was 67 percent of the long-term average, but the index in the eastern portion of the central basin (Fairport to Conneaut) achieved 27 percent above the average.
During the upcoming months, data from all Lake Erie agencies will be combined to estimate the hatches and population size of Lake Erie’s walleye and yellow perch. These estimates will be utilized in determining jurisdictional quotas among bordering states and Canada.
Good luck, Director Mertz. I think you’ll be impressed by the dedication of the folks waiting for you to take office.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” — T.S. Eliot
Along the way
A great horned owl making its home in central Ohio got a little too close while passing by some Christmas lights and found itself hopelessly entangled. Fortunately, a pair of good Samaritans spotted the well-lit owl and contacted a certified wildlife rehabilitator.
The angry owl was unwrapped from its cheery bonds and taken to a rehab facility to regain its strength and recover from its injuries. It will be released in the area where it was found.
If you encounter a wild animal in trouble, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you or call the local wildlife office or county wildlife officer for help. Learn about what you can do to help injured wildlife and how to prevent wildlife injuries from happening at wildohio.gov/staywild
• Today to Tuesday: Statewide deer-muzzleloader season.
• Today and tomorrow: Tri-State Gun Collectors show, Allen County Fairgrounds.
• Tomorrow: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Saturday, Jan. 12: Join Fin Feather Fur Outfitters for its third annual Eat Wild event at the Ashland store located at 652 U.S. 250 E, Ashland. There are deer processing demos along with cooking and sausage-making demos, and you can try wild game prepared a variety of ways while getting tips from the pros. The event is free and the public is welcome, beginning at 11 a.m. Preregistration is appreciated: Visit https://app.wyng.com/EatWildPreRegistration
• Jan. 23: Professionals from the Division of Wildlife and Antwerp Conservation Club will cover topics including how to pressure can venison and how to make venison jerky. Wild game smoking techniques and venison preparation recipes will also be shared. The event is at Antwerp Conservation Club, 17814 Road 53, Antwerp, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Preregistration is required by Jan. 18. Contact Andrea Altman at 419-429-8321.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org