Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Are there brown bears in our midst?

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A few weeks back, old friend and fellow hunter Rick Stanard of Lee sent me a picture of what appeared to be a brown bear which was hanging around his house on Beartown Mountain/Benedict Pond Road. It also had a unique light-colored snout. Before contacting me, Rick had done some research on the subject of brown bears in Massachusetts and found out that they do not normally exist here. I also did some research and came to the same conclusion. However, cinnamon bears do exist as far east as Pennsylvania and I wondered if perhaps one strayed up our way.

I contacted Dave Wattles, MassWildlife Black Bear & Furbearer Project Leader, about the bear and sent him a picture of it. I inquired if the bear could possibly be a brown or cinnamon bear.

He responded that it is definitely a black bear and that brown or cinnamon colored black bears are very uncommon in Massachusetts. When these spottings do occur, it is often in young bears and the coloration will gradually turn to black as they get older. He said that the light-colored muzzle is very common in our bears. MassWildlife does reasonably often handle cubs in the den that have varying degrees of blonde heads, not only the muzzle, that also darken as they age. The bears are almost always "typical" black bears in coloration when they handle them as yearlings the following winter.

So there we have it, Rick, mystery solved. It is a brown black bear.

Many thanks to Dave Wattles for solving this mystery.

New Ocean Recreational Fishing rules go into effect this year

At this time of the year, many Berkshire anglers start planning their trips to Cape Cod, Rhode Island and other parts east to do some salt water fishing. Please be aware of the following.

New recreational fishing rules have been adopted in Massachusetts to increase the conservation of Atlantic striped bass. The size of fish that can be recreationally harvested has been further restricted to end overfishing on the resource, while additional fishing gear requirements have been established to address recreational catch and release mortality. The commercial striped bass fishery has been similarly reduced through a quota cut. These changes were recommended by the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), approved by the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission, and took effect on May 1.

Here are the changes as listed by the DFM:

Slot Limit — Only striped bass measuring at least 28 inches and less than 35 inches (total length) may be retained in the recreational fishery. Recreational anglers may harvest and possess one striped bass per day within this slot limit, year-round. Striped bass measuring less than 28 inches, or that are 35 inches and greater, must be immediately released.

Circle Hooks — Recreational anglers are required to use an in-line circle hook when fishing for striped bass with whole or cut natural baits. A circle hook is defined as a fishing hook designed and manufactured so that the point of the hook is not offset from the plane of the shank and bend and is turned perpendicularly back towards the shank to form a circular or oval shape. This requirement does not apply in the following circumstances: When a recreational angler is fishing aboard a for-hire vessel on a for-hire trip; and when a recreational angler is fishing with natural bait attached to an artificial lure that is trolled, jigged, or casted and retrieved (e.g., "tube and worm").

Non-lethal Removal Devices — When using a device to remove striped bass from the water, recreational anglers must use a non-lethal device. A non-lethal device is defined as any tool used in the removal of striped bass from the water or to assist in the releasing of striped bass that does not pierce, puncture, or otherwise cause invasive damage to the fish that may result in its mortality. This effectively prohibits the gaffing of striped bass by recreational anglers.

Anglers are referred the DMF list of frequently asked questions for more information. Email them at marine.fish@mass.gov with additional questions, so they can update this list accordingly.

Recreational Bluefish Regulations for 2020

The Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission has approved DMF recommendations to adjust the recreational possession limit for bluefish effective May 1.

Recreational anglers fishing from shore or a private vessel are limited to harvesting and possessing three bluefish per day. Recreational anglers fishing from a for-hire vessel during a for-hire trip are limited to harvesting and possessing five bluefish per day.

These regulations reduce the recreational bluefish possession limit from 10 fish for all anglers to either three or five fish depending on fishing mode. This action is consistent with decisions of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to reduce coastwide harvest in 2020 so as to not exceed the recreational harvest limit. Massachusetts' recreational bluefish season remains open year-round, with no restriction on the size of bluefish that may be retained.

For more information, visit the DMF website: www.mass.gov/marinefisheries.

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Where Have All the Insects Gone?

In the May, 2020 issue of "National Geographic" there is an interesting article written by Elizabeth Kolbert entitled "Where Have All the Insects Gone?" It is an eye-opening article detailing how over the last 30 years insects in various parts of the world have declined by as much as 70 percent. As the article points out, insects may sting or startle us, but they keep the planet livable.

The article lists five crucial insect jobs:

"Providers — Insects are in nearly every food chain, especially birds, bats, amphibians and fish.

"Decomposers — Waste eating insects unlock nutrients for use by the ecosystem that would otherwise stagnate in dung, dead plants and carrion.

Pest controllers -By feeding on crop-threatening pests, predatory insects perform the role of pesticides without chemicals.

Pollinators - Nearly 90% of flowering plant species and 75% of crop plant species depend on pollination mostly by insects. If crops can't reproduce, humans and animals lose key food sources.

"Soil engineers - Termites and ants can transform soil in hot, dry climates. Their tunneling aerates hard ground, helping it to retain water and add nutrients."

What is the value of the services these insects provide? Back in 2006 an attempt was made by some entomologists and they came up with a figure of $57 billion in the US alone.

A study of mayflies in the upper Midwestern U.S. found their populations had dropped by more than half since 2012. Studies have also concluded that population losses of 27 percent of the dragonflies and damselflies, 36 percent of the butterflies and moths, 42 percent of the bees, wasps and ants, 61 percent of the beetles and 85% of the grasshoppers and crickets. This should be of concern to everyone, especially the flyfishing folks.

What are the reasons for the decline? Some entomologists blame climate change while others blame farming practices or other infringements on insect habitat.

What can be done? According to the article, if the cause is climate change, then it would seem that only global action to reduce emissions could really make a difference. If pesticides or habitat loss are the main culprits, then action on a regional or local scale could have a big impact. The article noted that the European Union has banned most neonicotinoid pesticides which several studies have linked to insect and bird declines. The German government adopted an "action program for insect protection" which calls for restoring insect habitat, banning the use of insecticides in certain areas and phasing out glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide.

Personally, I believe the bug zappers kill a lot of harmless insects as well as the biting ones. No harm in having one on your deck while you are outside trying to dine and/or enjoy the sunsets, but may I suggest that you turn it off when you go inside for the evening. There are a lot of moths and other harmless insects drawn to the light and killed during the evenings.

As one prominent entomologist wrote: "Plants and insects are the fabric of this planet. We're ripping it to shreds and we need to knit it back together."

May Hatchery fishing derby cancelled

In its effort to reduce the community spread of COVID-19 through social distancing, the Berkshire Hatchery Foundation in Hartsville-New Marlborough cancelled its planned youth fishing derby which was scheduled for this upcoming Saturday. Oh well, maybe next month.

Be safe!

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


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