Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘NMWF’

The author’s dog, Bartok “Hugo” Ahornzwinger, is a wirehaired dachshund, a breed often used to track wounded big game. He just passed his first field test for United Blood Trackers. Photo by Matt Vincent

As hunters put in for big game tags in Arizona and begin thinking about plans this fall there is one aching gap in Arizona Game and Fish regulations that needs to be addressed – the ability for hunters to access game recovery dogs to find wounded game.

 

Tracker Scott Gillespie, Lucy (dachshund), Lynas and recovered elk.

Forty three states allow tracking dogs as a reliable conservation component to reduce waste of big game species. In the vast majority of states the dog is required to be on a lead and in constant control by the handler. Most inveterate hunters have experienced the loss of a wounded animal at some point in their history. Those that haven’t are both lucky and, likely, take close approach shots with a rifle or the pull of their bow. But we all know the advances in optics, ammo and archery equipment provide opportunities for longer take downs – and also the opportunity to critically wound an animal that still has enough juice left to evade harvest.

Scott Gillespie and Lucy (dachshund) on a recovered black bear.

Game recovery dogs can solve many of these lost target issues during what becomes a stressful and emotional moment for hunters. The results can be amazing and salvage what may be the trophy elk, mule deer, Coues deer or bear of a lifetime (and one that possibly cost decades of bonus points to garner).

 

“A strong case can be made for the use of tracking dogs, both as a means of reducing animal suffering, and as a way of reducing the waste of a valuable natural resource,” says John Jeanneney in his landmark book Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer. “There are political and social implications involved that cannot be disregarded”

 

Efforts by United Blood Trackers of America, which has a searchable database of tracker contact info and resources on tracking and recovering big game, has transformed the conservation landscape by working to get state game and fish regulations in line with contemporary conservation concepts. In the West, too, there are social media landing spots like Rocky Mountain Big Game Recovery on Facebook that can guide hunters to being prepared for hunting season and lessons about arrow or rifle impact zones and what that means for recovering wounded game. In many cases, recovery dogs can be used at little to no cost compared to the financial outlay of the overall hunt itself.

Joe Bradley and a recovered mule deer that was partially consumed by a bear.

“Tracking is a serious business. It is about recovering a wounded animal that might be still alive, in great distress and pain,” according to Steven McGonigal and Julia Szeremeta in their book The International Working Teckel. “It all starts with the hit spot and a description from the hunter what has happened – an experienced tracker is like a detective, putting all the information together to determine whether and when to start tracking. Depending on the shot placement, the wounded animal needs time to expire.”

Hopefully, the Arizona Game and Fish agency can address this gap in hunting regulations and in the future consider allowing the use of tracking dogs (on a 30-foot lead) for recovering wounded game. Hunters will be grateful, and the resource will be more healthy and cared for as a result. For more information go to www.unitedbloodtrackers.org or visit the Facebook site for Rocky Mountain Big Game Recovery to chat with trackers throughout the region.

Reprinted courtesy of Arizona Wildlife Federation.

Read Full Post »

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

Hard Country: A Lesser Prairie-Chicken Final Frontier

By Lew Carpenter

Reprinted with permission from the North American Grouse Partnership. This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of the Grouse Partnership News.

Thirty years of drought has been tough on lesser prairie-chickens in eastern New Mexico. The hard scrabble country leaves little opportunity for a bird that once exploded skyward by the hundreds throughout the landscape on any given day. And, while lesser prairie-chicken numbers have recently ticked up – offering hope that proper wildlife management and private landowner incentives will ultimately save this prince of the grasslands – so much still must be done.

 

Jim Weaver left his work – 18 years at Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, Department of Ecology and Systematics where he focused on endangered species – to raise both a family and cattle on an eastern New Mexico ranch; plus to engage his passion, hunting with a falcon. Drought and the  inherent logistics of the remote ranch got the better of the cattle operation, but the lesser prairie-chickens are still there – not in the great numbers of the mid 70s, but with respectable populations that would not exist without landowner passion and respect for the habitat.

 

“It’s not what people think about when they think of a beautiful New Mexico Ranch. We are out on the eastern side where the country has been beat up for so long it’s hard to find a place that easily fits the travel brochure – let’s put it that way,” Weaver said.

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

The Weaver Ranch is on the High Plains where it’s nearly all been farmed at one time or another. The redeeming thing for Weaver is that this was where all the prairie chickens were, which means at least from that standpoint everything was looking pretty good.

 

“We started off buying a couple of sections down here and it was $40 an-acre-land if that sort of puts things in perspective – so at that point a couple of sections wasn’t that big of a deal for someone still holding down a university job,” he said. “So, at any rate, that’s how we started, and over time other pieces and properties came together and we ended up with roughly 30,000 acres of this kind of country over the past 30 or 40 years.”

 

When Weaver put together a cattle operation he did things a little differently than others. He started out with some Mashona cattle, a tribal breed of the Shona people of Zimbabwe, that he ran into over in Africa when he was there doing bird research, and brought that breed over here through an independent USDA import protocol and started them in 1995. “That was more-or-less a success and it was great having the breed here. But we sold out of those cattle probably six or seven years ago,” he said. “We’d had a couple of exceptionally dry years, even for the overall drought, and we could no longer make that pencil out on a normal kind of cattle operation, so we sold out and went back to just worrying about prairie-chickens, more-or-less, and continuing to improve the land and get it back in shape where we thought it was optimal lesser prairie-chicken habitat.” Habitat on the ranch has been improved during the years and, along with the deep sand and hard flats, it has more than a hundred pastures of various sizes with some irrigated pastures running organic alfalfa. The improvements have been good for the chickens, keeping them alive by providing access to water and insects in those pastures.

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

“In the beginning, for a period of three or four years in the early to mid-70s, you could easily see a thousand chickens in a day,” Weaver said. “I was hunting chickens back then, and other game birds, with a falcon. And we would use pointing dogs, too. We were camping down here in those days and we were out there every day. Many, many times we would see three or four hundred fly right over the top of our camp.”

 

It’s hard to say what the total population was back then since there was no real effort to figure it out, according to Weaver. If the birds were gone folks would just say they’ll be back like they always have, but it has taken a lot longer than anyone anticipated.

 

“I’ve always been one of the people that’s been against the listing of the birds,” he said. “All management and control of a species rests with the US Fish and Wildlife Service once they are federally listed as Threatened or Endangered. But there just isn’t any money to do anything once they are listed. And this goes back to my time at Cornell years ago with endangered species. It’s just the worst thing in the world when you start inhibiting people’s ability to work with wildlife – at least from a wildlife management standpoint – if you can’t get in there quick and get your hands on something to make a difference then you’re pretty much dead in the water.”

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

However, in Weaver’s mind there’s always hope. It really depends on whether the remaining habitat can be optimized with such little suitable habitat left in New Mexico – just two or three counties still have appropriate habitat, and very small portions of those counties. In addition, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) payments in the area have been cut to their lowest in the country making it difficult to convince farmers to get on board. “They don’t even pay them enough now to cover their expenses,” Weaver said. “And then they cut out the mid-management contract and cost sharing and so on. So the farmers’ incentive is to plow it back up and we’ve seen a couple of leks plowed out of expired CRP. In this area its mostly classified as Highly Erodible Soil that has suffered by wind erosion since the Dust Bowl days. That’s one of the saddest things about it. Private landowners are willing to help, but they need to get paid.”

 

Mesquite and shinnery oak were Weaver’s biggest problems on the ranch when he arrived. And they still are a problem today, sucking what little moisture the landscape receives, preventing the grass from growing. Lesser prairie-chickens need residual grass for nesting habitat, but you can’t have residual grass unless you have grass in the first place. “The shinnery oak prevents the grass from becoming dominant again in the way it used to be back in pre-European times, and you’re up against that battle all the time,” Weaver said. “Mesquite is another big problem because chickens avoid places where the mesquite is more than three or four feet tall, so you’ve got to get rid of the mesquite.”

 

Weaver thinks the chickens could probably survive on a managed, million-acre complex. It doesn’t all have to be adjacent parcels, but they need to be close enough – not blocked by another wind farm or some high-tension wires, or something else that further breaks up the habitat that’s available.

 

“It’s really all they have left,” he said. “There’s really no place else for them to go. It’s absolutely the end of the line for the New Mexico lesser prairie-chicken if people don’t really start paying attention. New Mexico Game and Fish has been great. They’ve got chicken areas all over the place but they lack management money. But we’ve lined up some of those places for the Game and Fish to buy and it’s worked out great, and we’ve got a charitable foundation that buys acres when they become available to try to hold them for conservation-minded people that may want to buy them later, whether that be private folks, NM Game and Fish or US Fish and Wildlife Service – whoever might come along when they are solvent enough to want to make these kinds of conservation investments.”

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

Opportunities for the million acres of lesser prairie-chicken habitat could include Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. The BLM assets in this area aren’t all the best chicken habitat, but they do own some of it, and the BLM has made some positive strides, according to Weaver. “They’ve changed some of their grazing regimes around, which has been pretty unpopular for them in the ranching community, but it was the right thing to do to reestablish and maintain good habitat. There’s been no subsoil moisture here to speak of for almost 30 years. That moisture regime has to be returned and the brush has to be controlled and we might come back to a reasonable diversity of grasslands that will sustain these birds.”

Weaver Ranch. Photo by Kyle Weaver

Currently, there are about 17 leks on Weaver’s ranch up from three to four at the lowest point. He saw a good year, last year, with almost a tripling of numbers of birds on lek in just that one season. He’s optimistic that there are plenty of people coming along that want to conserve the country, and with good wildlife management and private landowner incentives something significant could be done. “We’ve worked closely over the years with groups or agencies that offer grant or cost-share assistance for conservation work. US Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the NRCS Grasslands Reserve Program, Farm Services Agency EQIP and CRP programs, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico Dept. of Game and Fish, New Mexico State Land Office, and Center of Excellence have all cooperated at some point. Folks want to do the best thing they can for the land and the wildlife and the habitat,” he said. “And they are proud of what they have to show for it when they do fix things up for game birds and for wildlife in general, which leads to better biodiversity overall.”

Read Full Post »

organmtns

Years of work by sportsmen and others in Doña Ana County came to fruition in late May when President Obama created Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The designation protects hunting and other traditional uses such as camping, hiking and grazing. The new monument covers nearly 500,000 acres in three sections. The BLM will continue to manage the monument.

“This is a great day,” said John Cornell (at right in image), president of Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen and the southern New Mexico organizer for New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Sportsmen, many of whom own local businesses, have been reaching out to community leaders and elected officials to make permanent protection of these important lands a reality for a decade. We have all been committed because of what these lands and wildlife mean to us and will one day mean to our kids’ outdoor opportunity and potential livelihood.”

Lifelong Las Cruces hunter Jim Bates (above left) added, “To many, this national monument effort has mainly been about protecting the iconic view Las Cruces residents and visitors enjoy on a daily basis. But for hunters and outdoorsmen like me, much more was at stake. We knew how much we stood to lose if the Potrillos, Robledos or Sierra de Las Uvas were covered in wind turbines or big box stores.”

It is the second monument designated in New Mexico in 14 months. Rio Grande del Norte National Monument protects about 230,000 acres of BLM. New Mexico Wildlife Federation worked with elected officials, agencies and other organizations to ensure that hunting, fishing and other traditional uses will continue in both monuments.

Read Full Post »

20131002-103036.jpg

Rich Holland of SmartEtailing.com fishes a stretch of water on public land. Photo by Lew Carpenter

We all know that access to our public lands has been shrinking. Everyone who has been around New Mexico for more than a decade has a story. My friend and co-worker Max Trujillo, for example, remembers hunting with his father and brothers on BLM land in San Miguel County that eventually was designated as the Sabinoso Wilderness. “There’s good hunting up there,” he said, but as private lands surrounding Sabinoso changed hands, public access routes were shut down and the public lost all access into the area. Now Sabinoso is landlocked and no one but the neighbors can hunt there. “My kids never had that chance,” Max said.

In Las Cruces, NMWF board member Jim Bates talks about a large area of BLM land in the Sierra de Las Uvas where he used to hunt 40 years ago. Then came a locked gate. At first the landowner charged $25 a year to get to the public land. Then the price jumped to $100. Last time he heard, Jim said, it was $400. “It’s a nice area and there’s some pretty good hunting in there. But that’s not why we need access. It’s the principle of the thing – that’s our land and we can’t get to it.”

John Cornell, NMWF’s sportsman organizer in Hillsboro, lives in the shadow of Gila National Forest. But because one landowner has blocked access up Berrenda Creek, the public is locked out of the entire southeast corner of the forest. “That’s tens of thousands of acres that we can’t reach, but it’s the landowner’s private playground,” John said.

These are exactly the kinds of access issues that a bill now before Congress would address. The HUNT Act, introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich, would expand and protect access to millions of acres of landlocked public land nationwide.

If this sounds familiar, it is. Sen. Heinrich introduced the same legislation last year when he was in the U.S. House. The new bill (click here to read it) would require agencies like the BLM and the Forest Service to work with willing landowners to provide access to public lands currently off-limits to hunters and anglers like Max, Jim, John – and YOU.

Polls have found that access is sportsmen’s No. 1 concern. The Government Accountability Office found that more than 50 million acres of public land is literally off-limits to the public that owns it. Not surprisingly, the HUNT Act has proven popular with sportsmen’s groups. Outdoor Life called it a “helluva good bill for hunters and anglers.” ( Click here to read the full story.)

Specifically, the HUNT Act would:
– Require public land management agencies to publish annually a list of federal lands over 640 acres with recreational potential but without access;
– Require the agencies to identify existing access routes to those parcels and develop a plan to provide access, including the resources needed;
– Dedicate 1.5 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (which comes from a portion of federal offshore oil and gas revenues) to purchase easements and rights-of-way from willing sellers to unlock federal public lands.

This is legislation sportsmen have been waiting for. Please take a moment now and thank Sen. Heinrich for continuing to push for improved access for hunters and anglers, and for searching for ways to provide access to millions of acres of landlocked public lands. Click here to send your message.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: