The Missouri Department of Conservation recently confirmed Missouri’s first signs of a new disease in bats that scientists have named “White-Nose Syndrome.”
WNS first came to biologists’ attention in New York State in 2006. Its name describes the white fungus, Geomyces destructans, typically found on the faces and wings of infected bats. Laboratory tests recently confirmed the WNS fungus on a bat found in a privately owned cave in Pike County.
Bats with WNS awaken more often during hibernation, so they consume energy reserves and freeze or starve to death. More than a million bats in 11 states and Canada have died of the disease since 2006. It appears to spread mainly through bat-to-bat contact and has not been found to infect humans or other animals.
Bats play a vital role in Missouri’s ecosystems, consuming thousands of tons of moths, beetles and other insects annually and sustaining cave life by bringing nutrients from outside. The Conservation Department has long restricted access to select caves to protect bats and fragile cave ecosystems. MDC caves are closed unless a sign is posted that it is open or a special permit is obtained.
Please do not handle bats. Contact a Conservation Department office if you find dead bats with white, fuzzy fungal growth. For more information, visit MissouriConservation.org/8442.
A ban on transporting walnut products from nine Western states into or through Missouri underscores the growing danger to Missouri forests from exotic pests.
The quarantine, issued by the Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industries Division, became effective April 12 to protect the state’s black walnut trees from the spread of thousand cankers disease. The affected states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington, plus northern Mexico.
Missouri is the first state to ban walnut products from areas where a beetle and newly described fungus blamed for the thousand cankers disease has been found. The walnut twig beetle carries a fungus that can form thousands of cankers under the bark of host trees. Early symptoms include leaf yellowing and wilting in the upper canopy of trees.
A recent Conservation Department study found that the annual economic impact from thousand cankers could exceed $135 million in Missouri, including $36 million in wood products, $35 million in nut production and the loss of $65 million in landscaping and street trees.
The beetle and fungus join a growing number of exotic scourges threatening Missouri forests. Missouri already has one small infestation of the emerald ash borer, which invariably kills ash trees. The Show-Me State conducts annual monitoring to detect potential outbreaks of the gypsy moth, which has killed millions of oaks and other trees in the eastern half of the United States by repeated defoliation.
Campers can spread non-native invasive pests by transporting firewood. Commercial shipment of wood products is another avenue of entry for exotic pests. Missouri’s external quarantine includes any firewood cut from hardwood trees and walnut nursery stock, green lumber or any other walnut material living, dead, cut or fallen. Products exempt from the ban include nuts, nutmeats, hulls and bark-free, kiln-dried lumber with squared sides. Finished products, such as furniture, instruments and gunstocks, are also allowed.
For more information on thousand cankers disease, visit mda.mo.gov/plants/pests/thousandcankers.php. If you notice a suspicious decline in black walnut trees or otherwise suspect an infestation of thousand cankers, contact the State Entomologist at 573-751-5505.
Hunters made the most of the final week of Missouri’s 21-day spring turkey season, shooting 8,263 birds. The last week’s harvest boosted the regular-season tally to 42,254, an increase of 429 from last year.
Top harvest counties for the regular season April 19 through May 9 were Franklin with 872, Texas with 755 and St. Clair with 701.
Missouri’s spring turkey season has two parts. Hunters age 6 through 15 shot 3,945 turkeys during the youth season April 10 and 11. This boosted the combined spring turkey harvest to 46,199, which is 1,491 more than last year.
Resource Scientist Tom Dailey had predicted the total harvest would be approximately 44,000. He attributed the 5-percent larger harvest to two factors.
“We had the usual mixed bag of weather during the hunting season this year,” says Dailey, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s turkey expert. “The opening weekend was pretty rough, with lots of wind and rain, and the last Saturday was windy. Other than that, though, conditions were extremely favorable for hunting.”
The second factor contributing to this year’s better-than-expected turkey harvest was a slight increase in wild turkeys’ nesting success in 2009. The Conservation Department measures nesting success by the number of poults—young turkeys—seen with turkey hens during the summer by volunteer observers.
“Compared to the long-term average, last year’s poult-to-hen ratio wasn’t what you would call great,” says Dailey, “but it was slightly better than the two previous years. It allowed turkeys to hold their own in many areas and increase in some others.”
Dailey says he was pleased that this year’s spring harvest did not include a higher-thannormal percentage of young turkeys. “Jakes,” as year-old male turkeys are called, made up 21 percent of this year’s harvest, compared to the historic average of approximately 25 percent.
“Hunters could have shot more jakes this year because we had a few more of them than in recent years,” says Dailey. “Apparently the opposite happened, so we will carry over quite a few jakes to next year. That means more 2-year-old birds next spring.”
Dailey says 2-year-old toms are the ones that gobble most, and hunters measure the quality of a day’s hunt largely by the presence or absence of gobbling birds. He says the moderate take of jakes is a good sign for the future.
Also a good sign is the return of more moderate spring weather. Cold and rain reduce wild turkey’s nesting success, and the past few years have set records for both. Dailey says with more normal weather during the summer there is every reason to expect the state’s turkey population to rebound from its current dip.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed,” says Dailey, “and I’m sure lots of other turkey hunters do, too.”
The spring turkey season pumps tens of millions of dollars into the state economy. In all, the economic impact of this spending is more than $248 million annually and supports more than 2,300 jobs.
Missouri has a new state-record black bullhead, and Nicholas J. Wray has his second fishing record in less than two years. Wray, 23, caught the 2-pound, 4-ounce fish on a jug line April 9 at a farm pond in Cass County. The bullhead nudged aside the previous record by 4 ounces. In 2008, Wray caught Missouri’s first state-record river carpsucker, a 2-pound, 3-ounce fish that came from Cass County’s South Grand River near
Amarugia Highlands Conservation Area. He did it by design, having noticed that no one had bothered to apply for a record for the species previously. The alternative methods category is for fish taken with trotlines, throw lines, limb lines, bank lines, tree lines or jug lines or by spearfishing, snagging, gigging, archery or grabbing (with a hook). Poleand- line records are those taken with hand-held lines. State-record entry forms and rules are available at MissouriConservation.org/72. A list of Missouri fishing records is available at MissouriConservation.org/69. The Conservation Department also has a Master Angler Program to recognize notable catches that fall short of records. For qualifying lengths and weights, visit MissouriConservation.org./71.
Hunters hoping to get a blind at Upper Mississippi Conservation Area need to be at the St. Charles Convention Center July 17 when the Missouri Department of Conservation holds the drawing for prime hunting spots on the 12,500-acre wetland area north of St. Louis. Registration will take place from 9 until 10:30 a.m., with the drawing at 11 a.m. The Conservation Department will provide aerial maps for winning hunters to choose their blind sites as they are drawn. Winners also select co-registrants who will occupy the blinds with them. Registrants must be 16 or older. Hunters age 16 to 64 are required to bring a 2010 Missouri Small Game Hunting Permit. All participants will need a 2010 Migratory Bird Permit, a signed 2010 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp and a photo ID. Drawing winners must also provide names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and conservation numbers for all co-registrants. Upper Mississippi CA consists of 87 tracts of federal land between Melvin Price Lock and Dam and LeGrange. For more information, call Columbia Bottom Conservation Area at 314-877-6014 or the St. Louis Regional Conservation Department Office at 636-441-4554.
The St. Louis WOW event July 9 and 10 still has room for families with children 9 and older who want to discover the challenge and excitement of activities from canoeing to rock climbing. The event in Forest Park also includes outdoor cooking, camping, fishing, archery and a youth camp for kids age 4 through 8. The cost is $10 per person or $25 per family. Financial assistance is available. Registration continues through June 18. Call 314-340-5794 for a registration packet.
Would you know what to do if you rounded a bend in a trail and came face to face with a bear? That still is unlikely in Missouri, but the state’s growing bear population means it is not impossible.
The Conservation Department has confirmed bear sightings in 61 of the state’s 114 counties. Ninety percent of the state’s bears live south of Interstate Highway 44. Ozark County leads the state with 102 bear sightings since 1987. Adjoining Howell and Douglas counties are second and third with 60 and 51 sightings, respectively. Counties with 40 or more sightings include Carter, Christian, Iron, Reynolds, Shannon, Stone and Taney. The cluster of bear sightings in and around Reynolds County extends north as far as Crawford, Franklin and Washington counties, each of which has produced more than 30 verified reports since 1987.
Bears are naturally shy of humans, so most meetings with bears are brief. However, accidental bear encounters can be dangerous if the bear is startled or cornered or if a person gets between a sow and her cubs.
One way to avoid surprising a bear is to make noise. Talking with companions, whistling, singing or fastening a small bell to your backpack or clothing is a wise idea in bear country.
If you see a bear that has not seen you yet, leave the area quickly and quietly. If the bear is aware of your presence, avoid eye contact, which bears perceive as aggressive behavior. Look down and walk away while speaking in a normal voice.
Although attacks by black bears are rare, they do occur. Bears can run much faster than humans, and they are excellent climbers, so fleeing or climbing a tree is pointless. The most effective strategy is to fight back with whatever you have—a knife, a rock, a stick or any other weapon. Black bear attacks have been repelled by people using nothing more than their fists. Striking a bear around the face is most effective. Pepper spray also can stop a bear attack.
Aggressive bears usually are those that have become accustomed to human presence. This most often occurs through intentional feeding. Never deliberately feed bears or allow them to raid trash, livestock feeders or other human food sources. This puts both people and bears at risk.
If you see a bear—especially an aggressive one—contact your conservation office or your local sheriff’s department immediately. The Conservation Department has specially trained employees to deal with problem or aggressive bears. For more information about living with bears, visit MissouriConservation.org/7835.
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