Monday, October 24, 2005

34,000 Deer Impacts in 37th Smallest State

It's hard to be believe that in 1900, thanks to unregulated commercial market hunting, white tail deer were pretty much extinct in the State of Virginia. The scientific name of the white tail, after all, is Odocoileus virginianus. And yet, up to 1960, the State of Virginia was actually importing deer into the state.

Now, thanks to the phenomenal reproductive capacity of wildlife, combined with systematic habitat protection and careful regulation of hunting, we have more deer in the State of Virginia than we know what to do with. In fact, last time I counted, you could get legally take 18 deer without an abatement licence by simply getting all the "special tags" in places like Ocquoquan, Fort AP Hill and other locations where local deer abatement programs require increased intensity for either safety or habitat protection reasons.

Though hunters shoot about 200,000 deer a year in the little state of Virginia, the deer population keeps shooting up, especially in the suburbs and ex-urbs of 5 to 10 acre mini-estates tat seem to sprawl out from our cities forever. Here the deer cannot be hunted because the houses are too close for rifles, shotgun or even bow.

The article, below, is from yesterday's Washington Post, which informs me that there are more than 34,000 deer-auto strikes per year in Virginia. That's a lot of auto damage, and a lot of deer damage too.

Deer Could Pose Record Road Hazard
By Leef Smith, Washington Post, Sunday, October 23, 2005

It's as seasonal as the falling leaves and about as welcome as soaring gas prices, but the arrival of deer-mating season has many motorists girding for what officials predict could be a record year for deer crashes in the Washington suburbs.

Fairfax County police estimate that as many as 5,000 collisions involving deer occurred on county roads last year. The number of deer-related crashes reported in Montgomery County has held steady at about 2,000 for the past several years, but officials say the actual number of incidents is considerably higher.

Although many blame development in suburbia for pushing deer onto the roadways in search of food, biologists say there are more deer crashes in large part because there are more cars.

"Even if you were able to reduce the deer population by half in a given period, it wouldn't make a difference if the traffic load is doubled," said Fairfax wildlife biologist Earl Hodnett. "You come up with the same number of collisions. That's part of what's going on right now."

Officials have been trying for years to curb the deer infestation that at its best infuriates homeowners by reducing their flower beds to bare soil and at its worst renders automobile side panels dented, windshields smashed and -- in some particularly violent crashes -- fatalities.

The problem isn't isolated to the suburbs. Rock Creek Park in the District has its own struggle with a rising number of deer and the problems they create.

"It's an issue that virtually every municipality in the central and eastern United States is facing," said Rob Gibbs, natural resource manger for Montgomery parks and chairman of the county's deer management work group. "It has a lot of people scratching their heads. It just isn't an easy problem to solve."

Cady Codding, 34, of Fairfax said she considers herself about as lucky as someone whose vehicle was struck by a deer can be. The crash occurred early Oct. 5 as the Freddie Mac accountant was on West Ox Road in Fairfax. In an instant, a deer smashed into the front of her Ford Escape, demolishing the fender.

If the deer had been larger and Codding hadn't been in a mini-sport-utility vehicle, she said she could have been the one who was badly hurt, as was the deer lying dead on the side of the road.

"It was awful. I didn't know what to do," recalled Codding, who thought first to call her father on her cell phone. "You'd think you'd hit deer driving out to the country somewhere, not off West Ox."

In fact, it happens all the time. According to a study commissioned by the Virginia Department of Transportation, an estimated 34,000 deer-vehicle collisions occur in Virginia each year. Experts say most of the crashes occur during dusk and dawn hours, mainly during the fall rutting season -- from mid-October to January -- and then again in the spring. One of the biggest mistakes drivers make, experts say, is assuming they're in the clear after they pass a deer on the side of the road. More, they say, are likely to be in close proximity.

Mike McCombs calls his encounter last year with a deer his "unidentified flying object story," recalling how the animal crashed into the passenger side of his GM van as he traveled down Leigh Mill Road in Great Falls.

"There's hardly anyone who hasn't missed or hit a deer in Great Falls," said McCombs, 64, who sees deer on the road regularly. "You can never tell when one is going to jump out at you on the stretches."

Planners continue to test new technologies, including car-mounted whistles, roadside blinkers and reflective prisms, all to discourage deer from leaping into roads. So far, officials say, none has proven to be a solid fix. And one reflector that was tried in Fairfax was shown to increase the number of deer-related crashes.

"The problem won't go away with what we have to choose from today," said Hodnett, the Fairfax wildlife biologist. "We can reduce it. We can make people more aware of it, but it will take some new technology that I don't believe is out there yet to solve it -- if that technology ever does come along."

Technological gizmos aside, research has shown that a few solutions -- particularly costly ones -- can lessen the problem. One involves the use of fencing to channel deer to well-lighted underpasses through which the animals can travel safely beneath busy roads. The solution, however, is better suited to new roads. Although retrofitting roads is possible in some cases, the costs are high.

Controlled hunting in some of the area's larger parks is effective, officials say, but the scope is limited and can't address the greater deer population.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments formed a task force to take a regional look at the problem and possible solutions. The group's report could be released by the end of the year.

As for existing roads, some of the most troubled are in Great Falls, where dead deer litter the roadways during rutting season. Hodnett said techniques used in other parts of the country could be tried locally.

For example, he said, flashing lights could be erected during danger seasons (more effective, officials say, than the static deer-crossing signs that motorists tend to tune out). Another possibility, he said, is the use of the same flashing lights that would be turned on by sensors when animals approach.

Lisa Rymsza said it will take $2,200 to repair the damage a deer did to her Lincoln Navigator on Tuesday, as she took her son to the bus stop on Springvale Road near her home in Great Falls.

"He made a body imprint on the door," Rymsza, 38, said of the deer. "I try to be careful, watching for them. But it just literally jumped right out at the car."

Clyde Smith, 66, is a special projects director with the National Underwater and Marine Agency. His view of the deer that roam his eight-acre Great Falls property and the roads around it is considerably more understanding than those of many of his neighbors.

"If people will drive the speed limit, they're not going to have a problem," Smith said. "People move to Great Falls, and they chop down a lot trees and put up fences and plant flowers and [complain] about the deer. It makes no sense to me. I see the deer out front every morning, and I think it's wonderful to be this close to nature. The deer were here before we were."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

From Hurricanes Shelter to Deer Stand

Scores of thousands of trailers are being putchased by the U.S. Government to house victims of Hurricane Katrina.

What will be done with them in 18 months when they are no longer needed? Some will be shipped overseas, some will find use in the secondary market, some will be scrapped, and I am betting a few will end up like the one below -- the world's most luxurious deer stand.

America, what a country!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

UK Court Upholds Fox Hunting "Ban"

The U.K.'s highest court upheld a ban on fox-hunting with dogs, ending one of two legal challenges to the law.

Supporters of the sport had challenged the ban, which took effect in England and Wales in February, claiming that it was unlawfully adopted by Parliament. Britain's Law Lords today dismissed their case in a judgment released in London.

Meanwhile, all the mounted hunts continue to pursue fox, which are shot and worked with terriers in complete accordance with the law. There has not been one sucessful prosecution under the "ban."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Possum on Cold Windy Day

Has summer faded away this fast? It seemed that way on Sunday. The ground was still pretty wet from last weekend when it dumped about 10 inches of rain over two days, and there were a few more sprinkles during the week to keep the ground pretty wet. What really sucked the life out of me on Sunday, however, was the wind. It was really blowing, and it did not help matters that I forgot a hat for my bald head.

It was short day, as I had to get back home by 3 pm to see my daughter back off to college, but Sailor managed to score this possum which was in a very shallow dig under thick roots.

Mountain scored something else, but for the life of me I could not find her and she went missing for at least an hour. She was not far off, but about six fences and as many hedges run together in this spot, and Sailor found just as Mountain went missing.

I left Sailor at work in the ground for a bit and blundered around looking for Mountain, but only managed to raise a feral cat and a four-point buck who had to decide whether to run me over or hop a high wire fence to get away. Lucky for me the deer chose the fence. It got hung for a second, but rattled free and I went back to dig out Sailor, the one dog whose location I knew.

After tailing out the possum and a quick picture, Mountain had still not appeared despite my repeated calling. I finally went back to the car, drove it up the fresh cut corn field (praying I did not get stuck in the soft earth) and the blew the horn. Fifteen minutes later she was out and running back up the field, looking a bit dirtier for the experience, but otherwise unharmed and quite pleased with herself. Foolish dog hunts too damn wide.

In any case, back to the possum. This is an adult male of about average size for an adult. The picture below shows a fairly impressive set of canines, which is as good an excuse as any to mention that America's only marsupial also has the most teeth of any North American animal -- 50.

Depite the teeth, possums are the easiest of American terrier quarry, and I do not count them for much, as they are pretty slow and quite stupid. Though they will hiss and bluff, they cannot do much damage to a dog, and so are a good animal to start a young dog off with. I generally let possums go if I can, but this one was living next to a farm with horses, and possums can give a brain worm to horses so it is best if they are removed from the area.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Running Out of Gas

A little girl asked her mother, "Mom, may I take the dog for a walk around the block?" Mom replies, "No, because she is on heat."

"What's that mean?" asked the child.

"Go ask your father. I think he's in the garage."

The little girl goes to the garage and says, "Dad, may I take Belle for a walk around the block? I asked Mom, but she said the dog was on heat, and to come to you".

Dad said, "Bring Belle over here." He took a rag, soaked it with petrol, and scrubbed the dog's backside with it and said, "Okay, that should take care of that problem, You can go now, but keep Belle on the leash and only go one time around the block."

The little girl left, and returned a few minutes later with no dog on the leash. Surprised, Dad asked, "Where's Belle?"

The little girl said, "She ran out of petrol about halfway around the block, so another dog is pushing her home".

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Hazards of Being an American Dog

American terrier work is its own bird. Our quarry is is a bit different (raccoons, groundhogs, and possums being indigenous to our shores), our tools and techniques are a bit different (our digging bars are longer than those in the U.K., we use snare and coontongs to avoid rabies), and even our settes are a bit different (we have no earthen settes as large or as cavernous as the badger settes of the U.K.).

American terrier work has its owns hazards, of course. For one thing, we have skunks (got into one on Sunday while out digging with Scott K. and Larry M.) whose lethal spray can kill a dog in minutes.

We also have rabies.

In the deep South we also have alligators, and throughout the West and parts of the South and Southwest we have rattlesnakes and porcupines.

And of course, coyotes are everywhere now, while mountain lions and bears are increasingly common in huge swaths of this country.

Though most dogs live their entire lives without encountering any of these "field hazards," if you are out and about enough, you may yet run into one. There is nothing to be done but to be prepared, have a working knowlege of what to do in case of a medical emergency, and carry a credit card without a limit.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Hunting Dogs As Economic Engines

From The Congressional Sportsman's Foundation:

"A hunter’s best friend is his dog and they show it - - they spend $605 million on their hunting dogs, well more than the $513 million skiers spend on ski equipment."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The High Cost of Animal Rights Rhetoric

The lunatic fringe of the Animal Rights movement has a wide array of schemes to dodge the need for game management, especially the management of deer. One of the more common proposals is to "relocate deer" which sounds easy enough until you discover how very expensive it is.

In the 1980s, an overpopulation of deer led to a relocation effort from Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay area. Deer were captured and relocated at a cost of $431 per deer. Most deer died due to stress of relocation, bringing the final cost to $2,876 for each deer that survived one year. Set aside this last little bit of inconvenient reality.

If state and local governments were to "relocate" the 3,000,000 deer that are shot annually in the U.S. by hunters, where would these deer be relocated to? As far as I know the only people that want 3,000,000 deer are people with cooking pots in the developing world ... and American hunters.

Now let's look at the costs. The cost of relcoating 3,000,000 deer at a price of $400 per unit (we will assume some economies of scale), is $1,200,000,000 per year. Of course, this is not the real cost of relocating deer -- we also have all that lost revenue from hunting licenses, and the loss of entire industries based on hunting equipment, taxidermy, guiding, hunting publications, meat processing, as well as the travel costs associated with hunting.

Tits in the Trees

What do tits in the mail have to do with tits in the tree? Sadly, more than you would imagine.

The tits in the mail are all those Victoria's Secret catalogues that seem to arrive with every post. Believe it or not, the Victoria's Secret company print and mails, on average, over one million catalogues A DAY promoting push-up bras, thong underwear, and tiny nighties. Nothing wrong with the product (in the right hands, of course), but where is all that catalogue paper coming from?

It turns out that about 25 per cent of the paper in a Victoria's Secret catalogue comes from ancient trees felled in Canada's virgin boreal forest, which are the primary nesting habitat for a wide variety of songbirds, including the Azure Tit, show in the picture above.

As the forests are destroyed, the bird populations that nest in these forests are falling fast. See >> for more information.

To send a paper free e-mail to Victoria's Secret urging them to switch to recycled paper (and how about de-duping their mailing lists while they are at it??) >> click here

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Birdfeeder Troubles In the Catskills

This set of pictures was taken by a friend of a friend who has been having trouble with bears at her birdfeeder in the Catskills (Sullivan County, New York). This is only 90 miles from New York City. That's a pretty strong rope and a pretty nimble female bear!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Badger - A Monograph.

The Badger: A Monograph by Alfred E. Pease, M.P., was originally published in London, 1898. Now reprinted in a quality pictorial soft-cover edition from the extremely rare original by Read Country Books.

This fascinating historical document was written at the turn of the century by avid huntsman and Member of Parliament, Alfred Pease. It is a lengthy treatise on the natural history of the badger as well a detailed work on the hunting of the animal. Pease writes in great detail about the life and habits of the badger and includes anatomical diagrams. Over half of the book is devoted to the badger as a sporting quarry. There is much discussion on techniques of hunting including dogs and equipment. There are numerous illustrations including detailed diagrams of the various excavation tools. 126 pages. 10 black + white illustrations.

Benjamin Read has a well-named business called "Read Country Books" which publishes and sells books about dogs and country pursuits. They specialize in reprinting hard-to-find, out-of-print books and have some excellent stuff on terriers, lurchers, wildlife, trapping, etc. See the link to the right on this Blog to order, or go to >>

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Simple Tunnel Construction

Laying out a Go to Ground Tunnel using a single sheet of 3/4 inch plywood. The straight part of the den liner is 6-foot long, and two corners are cut out of the last 2-feet of the plywood sheet. I recommend simplifying the math and ripping all the long plywood sections into 9-inch wide pieces. You will end up with a slighty-narrower-than-regulation go to ground tunnel this way, but the dogs will have no problem with it.

Tunnel length assembled with three scrap pieces used as cross braces. All assembly is done with drywall screws. These braces are no trouble for the dog to step over, and make for a much stronger liner. Center the middle brace, and it becomes a perfect handle for carrying the liner.

Mountain checks out the wooden bars. The bars are loose and fit into slots drilled into a double cleats across the bottom, as shown. A cleat across the top holds the bars in place at the top. Remove one screw, and the cleat pivots (as shown) so that the 1" thick hardwood dowels can be changed when they become worn by terrier teeth.

Mountain enters the corner. The cleats on the outside, where the corner joins the straight section, prevent light from entering, but also allow the sections to be firmly attached with just a screw or two. Any dark colored mis-mixed external latex paint (available at HomeDepot for $1 a gallon) can be use to paint the outside of the liner, which will prolong its life. A six-foot liner is easy to transport, and will stand up right in a basement, garage or shed corner. Corners, can be flipped left or right, and you can build and add as many straight or odd pieces as you want (false dens, Ts', Y-forks, etc.).

For more information on using Go to Ground tunnels to start off a young dog, see >> HERE

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A Simple Fox Feeder

I moved several bird feeders from the back yard to the front several weeks ago, and ever since then our house has been visited every night by a fox that has been poaching spilled bird seed.

I like fox, so I put together a simple fox feeder made of PVC tubing (painted grey-green to camoflage it), with a Y-tube on the bottom. Dry kibble dog food is loaded into the top of the tube, which is capped to keep out rain water.

I have actually not see the fox yet, as I am not willing to wait up that late at night, but it has marked the bird feeder, and every approach to it, with scat. Particularly rich food sources are often "marked off" to send very clear signals to potential interlopers. Apparently my little feeder is seen as very nice buffet.

I have put the fox feeder and one of the multi-bird feeders right outside the greenhouse, which has a hot tub inside it, so if I ever decided to stay up for a soak one snowy night, I might yet get a viewing of Mr. Reynard. In the interim, I hope he enjoys himself.