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Solving Problems with Nature - Naturally

ERIC P. ORFF
Certified Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife Author - Wildlife Lecturer - Wildlife Photographer
Non-Lethal Control of Bats since 1983
nhfishandwildlif@aol.com

NH Nature

New Hampshire Nature Notes by Eric Orff

Monday 12/17/2018 Friday. Winter has melted away for the time.

The snow of mid November has pretty much all melted away within the last week or so. All the fields here in Epsom are now bare. Although the frigid temperatures of the last couple of two day plunges did refreeze our ponds. In fact even the lakes have buttoned up for the winter. I drove by Northwood Lake yesterday morning and it had some pretty good looking ice on it. Although the Suncook River flowing past my house remains ice free for now.

New Hampshire had a record black bear kill of 1,033 bears this fall. How things have changed with bear numbers in my life time. The state paid a bounty of $20 to anyone killing a bear from the 1800's until 1955. Usually around 200 bears were killed a year based on bounty reports. You could kill them year round until the mid 1960's and kill as many as you wanted until the early 1970's. 

I became the Fish and Game Department's first "bear biologist" in the fall of 1978. By 1983 I had collected enough bear teeth to get a good age sample data to estimate a black bear population for New Hampshire. As I recall it was about  1,000 to 1,200. So this year's kill actually equals the total number of bears we had in 1983. Of coarse the current estimated black bear population is 5,500. We now have more bears than during colonial times. It was in 1985 that Fish and Game was granted the authority to regulate bear hunting. The season was cut from three months to one and the southern seven counties were completely closed to bear hunting for nearly a decade. And did he bears ever begin to recover during that restricted season. Since the 1990's the bear season has been adjusted by zones across the state to adjust the population in each region. But a significant contributing factor to the record bear kill was the lack of wild food. The bear kill goes way up in years of poor food as the bears become more vulnerable in searching for food. Then in years of food abundance the bear kill drops significantly. So a record bear kill doesn't mean the bear population has exploded. It just means a much higher percentage of the population was killed. This kill likely significantly reduced bear numbers. Plus the lack of food means bears are going into this winter in poor health. No doubt many more will die this winter. Certainly a situation that the Fish and Game Department will be looking at in setting the next bear seasons. 

The deer kill will be close to a record as well. A couple weeks ago the kill was at something like 11,600. The archery season ends Saturday with a near final number likely to be announced next week. I bet it will be over 13,000 and close to the 14,000 plus record set way back in 1967. Back then there was a two month deer season. A month in northern NH and another month in the south. There were no restrictions on killing any deer. But the deer population was likely less than 40,000. That means a huge percentage of the population was killed that year. In fact that seemed to be the beginning of a downward trend in the deer kill. Finally in 1983 Fish and Game was allowed to begin to manage the deer hunting season and for the first time restricted the doe kill. That was the low point in the deer kill at just over 3,000 as I recall. The Department estimated the deer population to be around 42,000 by the mid 1980's. The current estimate is over 120,000 deer. Hence the deer kill annually is at or above 11,000 deer. The deer season has been adjusted every two years by the Department to grow the numbers in some regions and to try to cap the population in the more urban parts of the state. But a year like this with a late start to the deer season, it opens the second Wednesday in November, plus a statewide snow fall on the second day of the season put us heading into record territory. Deer certainly can recover far more quickly from a record deer kill given the huge number we now have statewide.

There are turkeys everywhere. And gray squirrels. In fact I just counted 23 grays eating the bird food I scatter on my lawn several times a day.  feed whole cornel and a mic of cracked corn and oats . The turkeys come in multiple times a day to clean it up. Sometimes more than thirty arrive together. Hence I find myself spreading a quarter bucket of grain three or four times a day. Probably ten pounds a day I would guess. I fill my hanging feeders with sunflower seeds. So feeding the less costly corn on the ground seems to keep my sunflower feeders from emptying too quickly. I've had lots of song birds this winter. Blue jays in numbers cardinals, titmice, chickadees, sparrows, doves and woodpeckers in good numbers as well.  

No big snow storm on the horizon between now and Christmas. Not looking like a white Christmas here in Epsom.


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