Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: 2020 marks 30 years of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act

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Through the implementation of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA), MassWildlife's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) conserves and protects the most vulnerable native animal and plant species of Massachusetts and the habitats upon which they depend. Currently, there are more than 400 native plants, vertebrates and invertebrates that are officially listed as Endangered, Threatened or of Special Concern.

Many rare species have benefited from the protection afforded under MESA and the work of NHESP over the years, including the restoration and conservation of several notable species such as the peregrine falcon, bald eagle, and northern red-bellied cooter. However, there is still a lot to do and in the face of habitat loss, emerging diseases, invasive species, climate change and other threats, this work is more important than ever!

NHESP staff are diligently working to recover rare species and their habitats. NHESP's conservation efforts include targeted restoration and active management of habitats; collection, management and analysis of statewide biological data; conducting regulatory reviews; and the development of educational programming, publications, and conservation tools to connect residents with nature and help guide state and partner conservation priorities.

NHESP's work is primarily funded through grants, regulatory review fees, and donations from supportive citizens. Donations to NHESP are received through a voluntary check-off on the state income tax form and direct donations throughout the year. NHESP donations go directly into the Endangered Wildlife Conservation Fund, which can only be used for administering NHESP programs.

These donations are critical to ensure the dedicated NHESP staff can continue to perform important conservation work, including field research and surveys, regulatory review, habitat management, land protection and education. Without such support, NHESP cannot protect, manage and restore the Commonwealth's most imperiled animals and plants and the sensitive communities and habitats on which they depend. In addition to donations, citizens can help by reporting the location of a rare species or vernal pool to help NHESP keep its database current.

MassWildlife suggests that you go to throughout the year to learn about MESA and how you can support NHESP.

Onota's eagle couple

The picture of the two adult bald eagles (beneficiaries of MESA/NHESP) were photographed by Mark Thorne of Pittsfield. He said that he went to Onota Lake for a couple hours on Jan. 5 and easily found the adult pair that has been residing at the Point for the past several years. The male was sitting on the nest and went out a couple times to the west for sticks, and the female was a couple hundred feet away just watching a few people ice fishing on the lake. The eagles occasionally called to each other, and finally the male came over to roost with the female. Lots of preening and head scratching (tricky with those claws), but no other activity.

After a while, the male got closer to the female, both calling loudly to each other, and Mark really thought they were going to mate. But he'll never know because it was noon and he had to leave to do errands.

Before leaving, he got a good look at the leg bands colors/numbers and, to no surprise, it's the same pair he had been watching in prior years. She is 18 years old this coming spring, and he'll be 14. This year will be their seventh year together. Mark first identified her tag nine years ago, but he's sure she's been here much longer.

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Thank you, Mark for sharing the terrific picture.

Stockbridge Skeet Team

Congratulations to the Stockbridge Sportsmen's Club Skeet Team.

According to the most recent SSC newsletter, the club won the coveted Tri-Club Championship this year, edging out Sheffield by 13 birds, and "leaving Lee in the rearview mirror." After the championship, the attendees enjoyed a delicious BBQ chicken dinner.

Basic Hunter Education Courses

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By state law, if you are 18 years of age or older and you want to purchase your first-ever hunting license, you must complete a Basic Hunter Education course. Hunters 12-to-17 years of age must adhere to the regulations which are specific to their age. While minors are not mandated to complete Basic Hunter Education, it is a prerequisite for certain youth programs and it allows minors 15-to-17 years of age to hunt without direct supervision.

In a Basic Hunter Education course, students receive instruction in the safe handling and storage of hunting arms and ammunition, hunting laws and ethics, care and handling of game, and wildlife conservation. Courses are typically 15 hours in length and are offered in different formats to meet the public's needs. Students under the age of 18 will need a parent or legal guardian's permission to attend this course. All courses are free of charge and open to the public.

The Cheshire Rod & Gun Club will be conducting a six-session Hunter Education Course at its clubhouse on 310 Curran Road, Cheshire. The sessions will run Mondays and Fridays for three weeks from 6 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 24, 28, and March 2, 6, 9 and 13.

To enroll, call 508-389-7830.

Massachusetts Junior Conservation Camp

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At the last Berkshire County League of Sportsmen (BCLS) meeting, the delegates voted to sponsor two camperships this year to the Massachusetts Junior Conservation Camp (MJCC) one for a boy and one for a girl. The MJCC is a two-week program designed to teach teens between 13-17 years old various outdoor recreation skills as well as educate campers about conservation of natural resources and responsible use of the environment. Click onto for more information.

This year's dates are from Aug. 2-14. The camp tuition is $1,000 for the full two weeks and covers lodging expenses, food and activities.

The total cost to send both kids is $2,000. Fortunately, $1,000 of that amount was donated by: $500 from BCLS Vice President Bob McCarthy (he was awarded that amount by the National Grange for his civic duty in Williamstown) and $500 from Whitetails Unlimited. The remaining $1,000 will be picked up by the BCLS. In the past, the late George "Gige" Darey sponsored one or two kids a year.

If you know a kid who is interested in the outdoors and who truly wants to attend the camp, have him/her send a letter to Berkshire County League of Sportsmen, 150 Phelps Ave., North Adams, MA 01247 explaining why he/she wants to attend.

Incidentally, there are a couple of other local sportsmen's clubs that also sponsor kids for the MJCC. If the League has too many applicants, I'm sure it will pass the letters on to them.

Upcoming Ice Fishing Derbies

On Saturday, Feb. 8, the Ashfield Rod & Gun will be holding its 29th Annual Children's Ice Fishing Derby on Ashfield Lake. It is free and runs from 8 a.m. to noon. All school ages are welcome to participate. Prizes will be awarded to fish caught legally during derby hours and checked in at derby headquarters (The Ashfield Lake House). After the fishing derby there will be a spaghetti dinner held at the Sanderson Academy. The price is $5 for adults and children eat for free. Following the dinner there will be a presentation given by Tom Ricardi on birds of prey.

The 34th Annual Jimmy Fund Ice Fishing Derby will be held the following day, Sunday, Feb. 9 at the Frank Controy Pavilion at Onota Lake, Pittsfield from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Onota Boat Livery 413-443-1366 and Maces Marine at 413-447-7512. Admission: Adults $15, Kids $5. Trophies and prizes for kids, young adults and adults. Free with ticket will be dogs, burgers, chowder and soft drinks.

I am including these ice fishing derbies a week early in order to have more space available for an interesting column coming up next week. On Feb. 2, 1954 there was some exciting ice fishing news that became the talk of the community. If you were around, do you remember it? If not, can you guess what it was? Make sure to read next week's column.

Gene Chague can be reached at or 413-637-1818.


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