The natural camouflage of a female Spruce Grouse allow it to virtually disappear among the branches of a small spruce tree.
It has been a busy season for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. In recent weeks, the department has released figures regarding hunting accidents that occurred during the recent Big Game Hunting Season. They have also developed two current wildlife management initiatives, involving cats and birds.
On top of that, the Department has also been trying to figure out to hand over management of Belleayre Ski Center, located on State Forest Preserve lands in the Catskill Park, to the Olympic Regional Development Agency, which is located in Lake Placid.
Just to keep things interesting, a consortium of environmental advocacy groups recently claimed the department did not follow proper procedures when it renegotiated conservation easements with Champion Paper Company, for 139,000 acres of forested lands spread across four Adirondack counties.
At the heart of the issue, openly opposed by Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Atlantic States Legal Foundation and the Sierra Club, is an agreement between DEC and the Heartwood Forestland Fund.
In the original purchase completed by DEC in 2009, the agreement required the removal of hunting camps from Champion Lumber Company lands located in Franklin, Herkimer, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties by 2014. Although a number of camps have already been removed, it has been a contentious undertaking fraught with recriminations and acts of social disobedience, including an incident of arson which destroyed an access bridge.
In efforts to appease lease holders, as well as the lumber company, and the local communities that realize substantial economic benefits from the leased camps, the DEC agreed to modify the original agreement with the current landowner, Heartwood Forestland Fund.
In exchange for a 2,100-acre tract of land located along the Deer River Flow, which will be added to the Forest Preserve, the DEC will allow the original hunting cabins to remain, and permitted 12 more to be built.
Advocacy groups claim the modifications of the original agreement violate state Environmental Conservation Law and devalue the property value. They have lobbied the state Comptroller and the Attorney General to intervene.
Charles Morrison, a former director of natural resources planning at DEC, who is now working with the Sierra Club claimed, “It (the renegotiated agreement) really doesn't protect the public interest."
However, the renegotiated agreement which allows the camps to remain intact certainly protects the public interests of numerous business owners in the small communities that have long depended on an annual influx of camp owners during the typical non-tourist seasons, which generally include all the months beyond July and August. In addition, leaseholders with a vested stake in the land are much more likely to protect it, than the traveling public.
When DEC isn’t engaged in legal wrangling with former employees, it is usually involved in more worthwhile efforts to protect wildlife, and the folks that pursue it.
Recently, DEC announced the 2011 Big Game Hunting Season equaled the 2009 season as the safest hunting season ever recorded in New York. Although there were several fatalities during the 2011 season, a majority of these incidents involved injuries sustained as a result of tree-stand accidents, rather than hunter on hunter incidents.
Cats and Birds
Cats and birds are not typically a good mix, however, when it comes to DEC efforts, there is a good chance that each species will derive some useful benefits.
Although bobcats are not a common sight in the interior of the High Peaks region, the cautious cats maintain a viable presence in many other areas of the state, including the Champlain Valley, the Hudson River Valley and throughout the Catskill Mountains. I’ve never come across a bobcat in the park, but I have observed several while hunting deer in the Southern Tier.
Recently, the DEC announced a proposed five-year bobcat management plan. “The plan, once final, will guide the management of bobcat in New York State for the next five years, a wildlife species which continues to fascinate and intrigue both the hunting community and nature observers,” explained DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. The draft management plan is available on the DEC website. The comment period on the draft plan runs through Feb. 16, 2012.
The public is invited to comment on DEC's proposed plan for guiding management of New York State's bobcat populations through the next five years. Comments may be submitted in writing through Feb. 16, 2012 to NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Bobcat Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by email (type "Bobcat Plan" in the topic line).
Fool Hens of the Forest
Spruce grouse, aka "fool hens" or “Adirondack Prairie Chickens” are one of the rarest birds in the Adirondacks.
They are renowned for an apparent lack of fear of humans. In my travels, I have often had to get out of my vehicle to chase them out of the road, so I could pass.
Roughly the size of a Ruffed Grouse, these timid birds measure about 15-17 inches in length, the male is black on the upper breast and throat, has a brown or blackish tail tipped with chestnut, white-tipped undertail, a finely barred gray and black rump, and a crimson comb above each eye.
Although spruce grouse were once a common fixture of the cut over forests of the Adirondacks in the late 1800's, the current populations are fragmented and sparse.
Many believe that a reduction and fragmentation of spruce-fir forests and the maturation of remnant stands is responsible for the steady decline of the species, which now number less than an estimated 400 birds.
Faced with a possible extinction of the species from the state, the NYSDEC developed a Spruce Grouse Recovery Team in 1992 to ensure the long term survival of spruce grouse populations and their associated boreal forest communities in New York.
The Spruce Grouse Recovery Team has identified various management and research actions needed in order to protect, maintain and enhance spruce grouse populations including the protection of currently occupied sites.
Fortunately, the core area of viable Spruce Grouse populations is centered primarily on a number of large interconnected, parcels of private lands. Public education, combined with the elimination of threats and the enhancement key habitat areas are the steps necessary to ensure the survival of this strange and stately species.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.