Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: A record harvest of black bears in the Berkshires

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According to figures released by MassWildlife, 119 black bears were harvested in the Berkshires last year, beating the previous record of 106, which was set in 2016. The harvest numbers have been steadily rising over the years. For example, 57 were harvested in the Berkshires in 2013, 78 in 2014 and 75 in 2015. Berkshire County continues to have the most resident bears and, consequently, the highest harvest totals. The county with the next-highest harvest was Franklin County, with 64 bears last year.

The statewide harvest came in at 268 bears in 2017, and that represents the second-highest total, just below the 283 bears taken in 2016. A statewide breakdown by hunting season is as follows: September season (Sept. 5-23) was 151, the November season (Nov. 6-25) was 26 and the Shotgun season (Nov. 27 through Dec. 9) was 91.

New regulations proposed

for Wildlife Management Areas

MassWildlife is proposing leash and waste disposal regulations for dogs on Wildlife Management Areas. MassWildlife has a long tradition of welcoming dogs on WMAs, and dogs are still welcome on them under this new proposal.

MassWildlife proposes to take this action because of repeated complaints from WMA users about negative and unsafe encounters with unleashed dogs and issues with dog waste. MassWildlife protects and manages these areas to sustain wildlife abundance and diversity and provide wildlife-related recreation, including hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching, while at the same time providing a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience for all visitors. Therefore:

1. The proposed regulations require leashing dogs and other domestic animals on WMAs. Dogs can be off leash only when hunting or hunt-training with licensed hunters under existing regulations, or if they are participating in retriever or bird dog trial events that have been permitted by MassWildlife. Leashing dogs decreases conflicts with people and other dogs, resulting in a safer and more positive experience for everyone.

2. The proposal also requires dog owners to pick up dog waste and dispose of it off-site. Removing dog waste reduces nuisance, and protects the safety and health of dogs and other pets, people and wildlife.

In a recent report to the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen, Western District Supervisor Andrew Madden noted that here in the Berkshires, the problem is not so severe. But in the WMAs in the eastern part of the state it is a real problem because large numbers of unleashed dogs are roaming in some of those WMAs. In many cases, it is the dog sitters who are bringing them. Hunters, whose license and Wildland Stamp fees helped purchase these lands, cannot fully enjoy the hunting experience because of the numbers or dogs, some of them aggressive, disrupting hunting activities.

A public hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. at the MassWildlife Field Headquarters, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough. Information on the public hearing, public comment process and proposed regulatory language is posted on MassWildlife's website at www.mass.gov/masswildlife-public-hearings. Outdoor sportsmen, and any other users of Wildlife Management Areas, are encouraged to attend or weigh in, by mail or email, on this proposed regulation.

MassWildlife Habitat

Grants announced

Eighteen municipalities, organizations and private landowners across the state have been awarded a total of $506,856 in grants for wildlife habitat improvement projects. The MassWildlife Habitat Management Grant Program was developed to establish partnerships between MassWildlife and private and municipal landowners to enhance habitat and increase recreational opportunities on properties across the state. This year, money provided through the grant program will benefit 20 wildlife habitat improvement projects, totaling 950 acres in 19 Massachusetts communities. The projects will complement the ongoing habitat management efforts underway on state-owned lands.

The Habitat Management Grant Program is in its third year, and has awarded over $1,215,000 in funding to 51 projects. The program's mission is to provide financial assistance to municipal and private landowners of conserved properties to improve and manage habitat for wildlife that has been deemed in greatest conservation need and for game species. Projects awarded with money are also designed to expand outdoor recreational opportunities. This year, the Baker-Polito Administration increased the funding of the program by $200,000 utilizing environmental bond funds.

"The Habitat Management Grant Program is a great example of the strong partnership between the state, municipalities, private landowners and organizations working together to conserve land and wildlife," said Gov. Charlie Baker. "These grants are an important tool to help build upon the thousands of acres of important conservation land for wildlife and residents across the Commonwealth."

"Massachusetts is home to an incredibly diverse array of protected natural resources and habitats that include saltwater marshes, mountain summits, and old growth forests," said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. "Habitat for common and rare plants and wildlife requires active and ongoing maintenance and management in order to thrive, and these grants will assist in those important efforts."

"Habitat management is key to benefiting birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians which depend on some less common habitats," said Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Amidon. "I'm grateful that we have the opportunity to expand our habitat management footprint and improve recreational opportunities for sportsmen and women, birders, naturalists and other outdoor enthusiasts."

"About 80 percent of Massachusetts' lands where wildlife is found is owned privately," said Jack Buckley, MassWildlife director. "Therefore, as an environmental agency we should promote and apply science-based habitat management activities with committed municipal and private landowners, thereby protecting their investment in wildlife and habitat."

Local or nearby awardees of this year's Habitat Management Grant Program are:

$36,500 to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council in Great Barrington to conduct invasive species control at Housatonic Flats and Thomas and Palmer Preserves.

$16,675 to the Franklin Land Trust in Heath and Plainfield to enhance native shrub habitat on Crowningshield Farm (Heath) and Guyette Farm (Plainfield).

$36,630 to the Town of Lenox to conduct hardy kiwi invasive species control within Kennedy Park.

$15,632 to the Sheffield Land Trust to work to control invasive species at Ashley Falls Woods.

$20,503 to the Nature Conservancy in Sheffield to create and improve old field and shrubland habitats at the Schenob Brook Preserve.

$15,500 to the Cherry Hill Realty Trust in Stockbridge to remove the invasive hardy kiwi plant.

$20,905 to the Town of Stockbridge to treat invasive species at Gould Meadows and Bullard Woods.

$24,493 to Mass Audubon in Tolland to create shrubland habitat at the Richardson Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.

Winter Waterfowl Survey

Every five years, MassWildlife conducts a winter waterfowl survey of sites where people feed wild ducks and geese. While the feeding of wildlife is discouraged, there is no state law or regulation that prohibits feeding (though some municipalities do restrict or prohibit feeding). MassWildlife is asking the public's assistance in reporting current waterfowl feeding locations for biologists to identify and count these birds.

The survey will be conducted statewide this month and includes sites in urban, suburban and rural areas near fresh, brackish and salt water. Feeding sites range from municipal parks where many visitors come to feed the ducks to ducks in backyards feeding on spilled bird seed or handouts thrown out someone's back door.

MassWildlife biologists will visit historic feeding sites through Jan. 26. Because these locations can change over five years, public input is needed. If you know of a spot where waterfowl are being fed, let them know by phone at 508-389-6321 or by e-mail at h.heusmann@state.ma.us. Include the town and specific location where you've seen waterfowl being fed this January. If you are able, also include the number of ducks and/or geese (preferably by species) that you see at a feeding site at one time.

Mallards are by far the most common duck at feeding sites but other ducks might be observed as well. American black ducks are common and wood ducks, pintails, gadwalls, American wigeon and hooded mergansers are seen on occasion. Canada geese are common at many feeding sites.

MassWildlife's survey started 45 years ago and documented the increase of mallards at feeding sites reaching peak numbers of over 20,000 mallards at 218 sites during the 1993 survey and declining thereafter. This decline can be attributed to more Canada geese using the sites, resulting in many areas being posted "No Feeding" because of the mess geese made. The previous survey showed that the number of mallards was down to 9,700 at 139 sites along with nearly 1,600 geese (down from over 5,300 geese recorded during the 1998 survey).

Marlborough Fly Fishing Show

The 2018 Fly Fishing Show will take place from Friday through Jan. 21 at the Royal Plaza Trade Center in Marlborough. There will be over 50 talks and demonstrations each day. While there, you might shop for the newest tackle, book your next dream trip, watch tying and casting demos and learn from the experts. There will be more than $40,000 in door prizes.

All the new rods, reels, fly tying materials, books, DVDs and latest equipment will be on display to test and purchase. There is a casting pond for casting demos, and it is available to test your new rod. Some of the celebrity authors this year include Joe Humphreys, Gary Borger, Bob Clouser, Ed Engle, Sheila Hassan, Jason Randall, Bob Romano and others, and they will be happy to autograph your books.

Show hours are Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Jan. 21 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Ticket costs are $15 for one day, $25 for two-day passes and $35 for all three days. Children younger than 5 are free, and children younger than 12 cost $2. Scouts younger than 16 in uniform can get in free and active military members with ID can get in for $10. Go to www.flyfishingshow.com/Marlborough_for more details.

This is a must-attend event for New England fly fishers and fly tyers. The next closest show of this magnitude is in New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

Gene Chague can be reached at Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com or 413-637-1818.


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