Hunters wondering about prospects for quail, rabbits, squirrels, and other small game in Missouri will find many answers in the past two years’ weather.
The fortunes of wild animals always depend heavily on weather. But what’s good for one game animal doesn’t always favor others. Squirrels and quail offer a good example of the contrasting effects of weather.
Bobwhite quail build their nests on the ground. Immediately after hatching, bobwhite chicks are barely larger than bumblebees, and their downy plumage is not waterproof. This makes them extremely vulnerable to death by hypothermia. Consequently, quail-nesting success falters when cool, wet weather lingers into summer. Drought doesn’t exactly help quail, but they are much better adapted to hot, dry conditions than to wet and cold.
In contrast, gray and fox squirrels generally rear their young in hollow trees, where they are protected from the elements. By the time they emerge from den trees six or seven weeks after birth, they are half grown and well equipped with insulating fur. Damp summers don’t bother them much. However, they depend heavily on acorns and other nuts for food. In years when acorns are scarce — as they were across much of southern Missouri in 2012 because of drought — squirrels go hungry. That means fewer squirrels survive the following winter. And because squirrels go into the next breeding season in poor physical condition, they tend to raise only one litter of young instead of two. So the effects of a bad nut crop are felt for at least two years.
That scenario is exactly what is unfolding this year.
“The effects always are more severe in southern Missouri,” says Lonnie Hansen, a re-source scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “That is because acorns and other nuts make up so much of the food base for squirrels and other wildlife in heavily forested areas. A poor nut crop is less detrimental in northern Missouri, where row crops like corn and soybeans help create a more diverse and stable diet.”
Nevertheless, Hansen says his and others’ observations indicate that squirrel numbers are down in northern Missouri, too.
“I think there has been somewhat of a crash, especially in the Ozarks,” he says, “but they will come back.”
Resource Scientist Beth Emmerich says the news for quail is better. In spite of a couple of major snow events, the winter of 2012–2013 was fairly mild, allowing good carry-over of bobwhites for the 2013 nesting season. A late spring meant quail got a late start, with the peak hatch occurring in July. However, the warm, dry conditions that prevailed after that were ideal for bobwhite nesting.
“The record rainfall of 2008 made things extremely hard for nesting quail,” says Emmerich. “2009 and 2010 also were cooler and wetter than normal, continuing the trend of bad news for quail and quail hunters. But the summers of 2011 and 2012 were dry and warm, and quail made some gains.”
Reports from the field lead Emmerich to believe another warm, dry summer allowed quail to build on recent years’ success.
Rabbit population changes tend to mirror those of quail because their habitat needs are similar. Larger size and fur make cottontails slightly less vulnerable to weather, so their population swings are less dramatic. But warm, dry weather favors rabbit reproduction, so rabbit hunters get good news this year, too.
Emmerich says lack of suitable habitat continues to be the biggest obstacle to increasing quail and rabbit populations.
“Good brood-rearing habitat is most limiting statewide,” she says. “Quail chicks need bare ground to be able to forage effectively, with weedy plant species providing food as well as overhead protective cover.”
Trappers and furbearer hunters have a bright outlook this fall. Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer says populations of all commercial fur-bearing species in Missouri are stable or slightly increasing.
According to Beringer, favorable weather and strong fur prices resulted in high participation by hunters and trappers during the 2012–2013 season. The Conservation Department sold more than 9,000 trapping permits, which was a 25-year high. Last year’s bobcat harvest was an all-time record, with 5,059 harvested. The otter harvest was the second-largest on record, and the coyote harvest was the largest in 25 years.
Raccoons bucked the trend, with a 12-percent decrease in the combined trapping and hunting harvest from 2011–2012 to the 2012–2013 season. The decline was in line with archery hunter observations, which showed a 35-percent decline in raccoon sightings. Beringer attributes the decrease to deaths of young raccoons during last year’s drought.
Meanwhile, last year’s red and gray fox harvests increased by 18 and 41 percent, respectively. Beringer said this probably occurred because the value of bobcat pelts was high last year.
“A lot of foxes are taken incidentally by trappers targeting bobcats and coyotes,” says Beringer. “We have seen a long-term decline in both red and gray fox numbers, probably due to competition [for resources] with coyotes and bobcats.” Distemper might have played a part in this decline, too. However, archer observations and sign-station surveys suggested increases for both fox species from 2011 to 2012.
Recent survey data indicate that more than 13,000 hunters pursued raccoons in Missouri last year and more than 25,000 hunted coyotes last year. Beringer says he expects the trend toward greater participation in furbearer trapping and hunting to continue.
Permit requirements, season dates, bag limits, and other details of trapping and small-game hunting seasons are found in the 2013 Summary of Missouri Hunting & Trapping Regulations. This booklet is available wherever hunting permits are sold, at Conservation Department offices and nature centers, or online at mdc.mo.gov/ node/11416.
Conservation professionals and amateur naturalists who take their botanizing seriously are rejoicing over the publication of the third and final volume of the revised Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri. Julian Steyermark’s monumental work encompassing more than 3,000 plants has been a priceless tool for conservation professionals and nature enthusiasts since its first publication in 1963. Over time, however, changes in plant diver-sity and distribution have left gaps in the book’s coverage. The Conservation Department and the Missouri Botanical Garden collaborated on a second edition to update Steyermark’s seminal work. Botanical Garden Curator George Yatskievych is overseeing the project, with the first volume published in 1999 and the second in 2006. With the publication of Volume 3, Missouri now has a fully updated compendium of the state’s plants. Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri is available from the Missouri Botanical Garden Press, http://www.mbgpress.org/, 877-271-1930.
Resource Forester Marty Calvert nominated Lindgren for the state award. He says Lindgren understands a clean logging job is a direct reflection on himself and his company.
“Dustin knows the importance of forest products utilization and is supportive of timber stand improvement practices,” says Calvert. “Some of the things we look for include good working relationships with landowners and foresters, minimal damage to remaining trees and resources, and prevention of soil erosion. Other important factors include the aesthetics of a site after harvesting is completed, safe work performance and use of equipment, utilization of harvested trees, the desire to address wildlife management concerns, and use of proper forest-management techniques.”
Lindgren advanced to the statewide competition after winning the Southeast Region title.
According to Calvert, the Logger of the Year Award Program is intended to recognize and encourage loggers throughout the state who do outstanding jobs of practicing low-impact, high-efficiency logging.
To be eligible for the award, loggers must have completed the Professional Timber Harvester’s Training Program sponsored by the Missouri Forest Products Association and the Conservation Department.
As state winners, Lindgren and his crew received signed prints acknowledging their accomplishment from the Conservation Department. They also received a new MS 441 C-M Stihl Magnum chainsaw and safety gear from Crader Distributing Company of Marble Hill.
For more information on forest management in Missouri, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/3352.
Conservation pioneer Elizabeth “Libby” Schwartz died surrounded by her family in The Dalles, Ore., in September. She earned a PhD in zoology from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she also taught. It was in one of her classes that she met her future husband, Charles “Charlie” Schwartz. That was the beginning of a love affair/ professional collaboration that spanned five decades and took them and their children to Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Africa studying, photographing, and filming a dizzying array of wildlife. In Missouri, they conducted groundbreaking research on prairie chickens and box turtles. Their book The Wild Mammals of Missouri remains the definitive text on that subject and a gold standard for meticulously researched, intimately detailed, and lovingly illustrated wildlife guidebooks. Their films won international ac-claim. They were frequent contributors to the Conservationist and produced two-dozen nature films for the Conservation Department. These productions routinely won national and inter-national awards. Libby’s insatiable intellectual curiosity led her to take college courses well into her 80s. She was born on Friday, Sept. 13, 1912, and died on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013.
The Missouri Department of Conservation was honored with the Missouri 4-H Foundation’s Nelson Trickey Bridge Builder award Sept. 20 in Columbia. The Conservation Department has been a dedicated Missouri 4-H partner for more than 50 years.
“We value the strong, long-standing partnership between 4-H and the Department of Conservation, and are honored to receive the Nelson Trickey Bridge Builder award,” said Conservation Department Outreach and Education Division Chief Michael R. Huffman. “The focus of 4-H on youth and families is helping develop future generations of Missouri leaders. The partnership between the Department and 4-H is helping develop the next generation of citizen conservationists.”
The Conservation Department’s work with Missouri youth began in 1939 with “Missouri Nature Knights,” an education initiative that promoted activities to restore wildlife habitat. In 1958 the Department began leading 4-H pro-grams covering youth hunter safety, wildlife education, water facts, fishing, and boating safety. Missouri 4-H honored the Conservation Department with the Friend of 4-H award in 1977 for contributions to outdoor education and safety development. The Department’s support continues today in all 4-H outdoor education and natural resource programs.
“The Missouri Department of Conservation is committed to the continued growth of Missouri 4-H programs,” said Missouri 4-H Foundation executive director Cheryl Reams. “We are very grateful for this extraordinary partnership that makes possible so many opportunities for Missouri’s young people, and the Conservation Department is very deserving of this honor.”
The Missouri 4-H Foundation’s Nelson Trickey Bridge Builder Award is presented to individuals or organizations for exceptional service bridging youth and community.
Missourians are most likely to see snowy owls in the state’s northern counties from mid-November through February. They nest in the open Arctic tundra. Peak numbers in Missouri occur about every four years in response to lemming population crashes in the far north. Snowy owls in Missouri are mostly immature individuals forced south for lack of food. Younger owls have extensive black barring on their body and head. Adults, especially males, are very white with some barring. Adults are 20–25 inches long (tip of bill to tip of tail) and have a wingspan of 41/2 to 5 feet. Snowy owls are active during the day and prefer open grasslands where they perch on the ground, fence posts, and hay bales. —photo by Noppadol Paothong
The past few months have been active ones for Missouri’s State-Champion Tree Program, with four new champions certified.
A tree in St. Louis’ Forest Park is the new state-champion cucumber tree, Magnolia acuminata. It stands 76 feet tall and has a spread of 81 feet and a trunk circumference of 11 feet, 10 inch-es. This species’ common name comes from its cucumber-shaped seed pods. Although it is related to the flowering magnolia, its flowers are not showy.
Another new champion, a shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria), lives in St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery. It measures 109 feet tall, has a spread of 95 feet and a trunk circumference of 14 feet, 6 inches. Bellefontaine Cemetery also is home to Missouri’s state-champion American elm.
A black maple (Acer nigrum) growing in Cooper County has been declared a co-champion for its species. It stands 52 feet tall and has a spread of 67 feet and a trunk circumference of 8 feet, 10 inches. The other champion black maple is in Boone County, on land owned by the University of Missouri.
A tree growing at the Eastwind Community in Ozark County is the new champion black gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica). The tree stands 92 feet tall, has a circumference of 104 inches, and a spread of 34 feet. It replaced the old champion black gum, a 109-foot tree on Caney Mountain Conserva-tion Area that was claimed by strong wind in 2012.
Could you have a champion tree in your area? To find out how big a tree must be to qualify, and to learn how to enter a tree in the program, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/4831.
Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
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