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The Month in Maine – February

This Month

February is the shortest month. Its name derives from the Latin term februum, that translates roughly into “I’ve gotta get another pair of wooly longjohns to wear under this toga.”

HeartValentine’s Day is Saturday the 14th, and (according to our new Miss Maine Sportsman calendar) is also the last day for bobcat hunting.  For all readers who are bobcat-chasing enthusiasts, make plans carefully, in order to maintain domestic bliss and tranquility.Bobcat looking back

Crow season starts on Saturday, February 7 in Wildlife Management Districts 1 through 6, consisting of Aroostook County and the northern tips of Somerset, Piscataquis and Penobscot Counties. The season began for the southern three-quarters of the state on Friday, January 23.

Snowmobiling, ice-fishing, Nordic skiing, and (if you can find smooth ice) skating dominate our outdoor activities this month Although it’s barely perceptible, the days are now getting longer, as we forge ahead toward the milder (but frequently just as snowy) remaining winter months ahead.

Cross Country SkiierSo enjoy this issue, which contains a good balance of where-to and how-to for those pursuing outdoor winter sports, combined with a sufficient number of recollections of great hunting and fishing last spring, summer and fall to keep us going through these cold days.

Keep those letters to the editor coming! Many of you have great stories to tell, and we can all learn from – and be entertained by – your tales of challenge and success.

Now You Know

Crows are Smart

How smart?

Crows passing over the city of Chatham, Ontario became numerous.

CrowThe black birds used Chatham as a rest stop along their migration route, and hundreds of thousands of crows took refuge in the town.

Chatham is a farming community, and its residents didn’t welcome the birds because crows are tough on farm crops.

The mayor of Chatham declared war on the crows.

The day after the declaration of war, hunters went forth and shot a crow. One crow.

The rest flew away, and presumably held a caucus.

After the death of the one crow, out of perhaps half a million, whenever the Chatham crows flew by, they always flew high enough to be out of shotgun range.

Following the death of the one crow, no more crows were shot in Chatham.

How-to articles on crow hunting often advise that after one site is used to call in and shoot crows, the same site should not be used again.

Now we know why. (J.L.)

New England News

Baxter Park Seeks to Recover $10,000 for Rescue Effort

According to the Bangor Daily News, the Baxter State Park Authority will ask an Ontario, Canada man for $10,000, the amount it claims was expended on rescue efforts when the man headed up to Mount Katahdin alone on December 8, 2014 into an impending snowstorm without registering to let anyone know where he was.

When the hiker failed to return, a Blackhawk helicopter with infra-red sensors was utilized in the search effort, but the storm limited its use. The following day, the man was found walking along a park road, having traveled off a trail and through some woods before pitching a small tent and spending the night.

moneyPark rules permit the authority to request, but not require, payment in cases in which a hiker’s “recklessness” leads to the incurring of rescue costs. It’s only the third time such a request has been made; some costs were recovered from hikers following the two prior requests.

New Hampshire May Bill Saco Students for Rescue Costs

Two college students from Saco were rescued recently in New Hampshire’s White Mountains after they became lost, and they may be billed for the costs of the rescue, according to a recent article in the Portland Press Herald.

The couple had taken a wrong trail down from the summit, and when they realized they could not return by dark, they used a cell phone to call 9-1-1.

Based on GPS coordinates obtained from the cell phone call, wardens directed the pair to a point where they could be met by rescuers. When the rescuers encountered the hikers, it was 7:30 p.m., and the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mt Garfield

Mount Garfield. Photo by Tim Sackton

An officer of the New Hampshire Fish and Game agency determined the hikers were not sufficiently prepared for winter climbing when they set out for 4,500-foot high Mount Garfield. One of the pair wore sweat pants, while the other had cotton jeans. They did not have a flashlight or headlamps, crampons for grip in icy conditions or even a map of the area.

Under New Hampshire law, if the students are deemed to have been negligent, they can be billed for the rescue costs, which are estimated at about $1,000.

Cell phones have become a two-edged sword in our parks and wilderness areas. While such devices can be an effective means to summon help in an emergency, they may also lull hiker and adventurers into taking chances or setting out unprepared for weather changes or other adverse conditions, secure in the knowledge that help may be only a cell-phone call away. It was perhaps for this reason that as recently as 1998, Baxter State Park regulations prohibited the use of cell phones in the Park. The prohibition against cell phone use does not appear in current regulations, likely because of the difficulty of enforcing such a ban.

The increasing frequency of rescues of poorly-prepared hikers in wilderness areas, combined with the tightened budgets of natural resource agencies, has prompted debate over the question of who should pay for costs incurred when state personnel must be mobilized to search for folks who are lost or overdue.

Increasingly, in cases in which hikers are negligent, they may be called upon to reimburse the state for the costs expended.

For many years, European hikers have known that if they are negligent and unprepared, they may be required to repay the costs of their rescue. In fact, concerns over that potential liability have prompted many European mountain climbers to join climbing clubs so that club members can carry out rescues of their members, thereby avoiding having to paying for government rescue costs. (J.L.)

A Step Forward in the Lyme Disease Battle

If you know anyone affected by Lyme disease, you understand its sometimes-debilitating effects, and the frustrations that arise given the difficulty and delay first in identifying the illness, and later in treating it.

Bullseye_Lyme_Disease_Rash

Bullseye Lyme Disease Rash. Photo by Hannah Garrison

Those affected by Lyme suffer joint pain and inflammation, chronic tiredness and sleeplessness, and migraines.

What is widely understood is that the earlier exposure to the disease can be diagnosed through testing of ticks that have bitten people, and the earlier antibiotics can be administered to the affected individual, the better the chances to avoid serious cases.

Last November, voters approved a referendum measure to fund the construction of a laboratory at the University of Maine. When it’s completed in 2-1/2 years, scientists there will be able to test ticks and determine whether they carry the disease, leading to fast treatment in cases in which someone has suffered a bite from the tick.

All outdoors enthusiasts are at risk for deer tick bites, especially folks like turkey hunters who required to hunker down in the leaves and grass while calling in Toms.

According to the Portland Press Herald, in the past 4 years more than 1,000 Mainers each year have been diagnosed with the disease. In reality that number may be much higher, given the difficulty of identifying symptoms.

When the lab is complete, ticks will no longer have to be sent out-of-state for testing. Faster results will lead to faster treatment with antibiotics, stopping progression of the disease before it takes hold. That’s good news for all of us who spent time afield. (W.L.)

National News

After Avalanche, Snowmobilers Free Alaska Moose

AvalancheOn December 28, 2014, three snowmobilers rescued a moose trapped in the snow from an avalanche, according to an item in the Alaska Dispatch News.

The snowmobilers were traveling 55 miles northeast of Anchorage when they noticed a small valley containing moose tracks and ski tracks.

Returning an hour later, they saw that an avalanche had careened into the valley, and that new, deep snow had covered the moose and ski tracks.

Concerned that a skier may have been caught in the avalanche, but also wary that another avalanche might be coming, the men moved to the edge of the valley and looked around. They noticed something moving, and saw the moose’s ears and snout sticking above the snow.

Two men dug with shovels while the third kept a lookout for an additional avalanche. The moose seemed to get calmer as the men dug.

When the moose was three-quarters free, one of the men gently poked the animal with his shovel. The moose jumped out of the hole, stood up, shook off a thick coating of snow and ran down the mountain, uninjured by the ordeal.

Bird of the Month

Snowy Owl

Picture a white, frozen scene. Portland’s Back Cove was covered with snow, and yet I was looking for a bird that was just as white, the elusive Snowy Owl. I scanned the horizon with my binoculars, searching for its signature silhouette. At first, I saw mostly gulls. Then, in an instant, a pair of huge wings cast a shadow over my head and a real Snowy Owl glided gracefully to the icy ground. She was the first owl I had ever seen, and she was beautiful.

Bird of the Month Snowy Owl

A snowy owl settles atop an old wooden piling in Biddeford Pool. Erika Zambello photo

During the winter of 2013/2014, Maine experienced an amazing “irruption,” defined as a large influx of Snowy Owls. They flocked to airports, marshes, fields and anywhere else they could find food. Everyone was talking about their remarkable presence, all over the country.

In the summer, Snowy Owls breed north of the Arctic Circle, hunting for ptarmigan, lemmings, rabbits and other prey. One of the largest owl species, Snowies even hunt for ducks or geese.

Unlike other owls, the Snowy species hunts only during the day, making them much easier to find than many other varieties. They hunt both from the ground and in the air, and there is even a recorded instance of an owl hunting for fish by perching at the edge of an ice hole! They are clearly very versatile predators.

Observers who spot a Snowy Owl will never mistake it for anything else. With a wingspan that can extend over 57 inches, Snowy Owls are about the same height as Great Horned Owls – around 28 inches. While male owls are mostly white, juvenile and female owls can have a significant amount of black barring across their bodies. Their most striking features, however, are their golden eyes, that can be visible even from a distance.

To spot a Snowy Owl, look for open, frozen ground where the birds can easily locate and catch prey. Also pay attention to birding reports, as owls can be seen in urban areas on chimneys and lampposts. Though owls are not migrating to Maine in such great numbers so far this winter, they have been spotted from northern Maine all the way to the southern tip, and have been relatively abundant in Biddeford Pool. (Erika Zambello)

Book Corner

The Origin, Formation & History of Maine’s Inland Fisheries Division, compiled and edited by Suzanne Auclair

Book CornerDo you think you know a lot about Maine’s inland fisheries? So did I, until I read Suzanne Auclair’s amazing new book. The Origin, Formation & History of Maine’s Inland Fisheries Division is a thorough, often-in-their-own-words, fascinating examination of the important and historical work of our state’s fisheries biologists.

This book is a treasure and will be the place future fisheries managers and anglers go to understand the state’s complicated evolution of fish and fisheries management. Suzanne spent two long years creating this book.

Some of the chapters are written by the biologists, and some by Suzanne based on interviews with — and about – the biologists. But the stories are always their stories, and often

in their words. Suzanne is married to the only living member of our first generation of fisheries professionals, Roger Auclair, and Roger’s chapter is among the most interesting.

In the book, we learn about a lot of the early research that resulted in the adoption of more and more protective measures for fish. And some of the issues raised by our earliest fisheries biologists are still being debated today. Here’s one, in Roger Auclair’s own words:

I have never agreed to using live fish as bait, which is a danger because it can result in unwanted introductions and cause all sorts of problems. But it’s so well entrenched world-wide, you can’t even talk about it. It’s all about business.

Well, Roger, we’re still talking about it!

As a great admirer of fisheries biologist Forrest Bonney, who wrote the definitive book on Maine’s wild and native brook trout, I highlighted practically his entire chapter. It’s fascinating to learn, based on his own research, how the thinking changed over time, always moving toward less stocking and a greater focus on protection.

For example, Forrest reported on Commissioner Bucky Owen’s quality fishing initiative:

to impose restrictive regulations on waters that had the biological potential to produce quality fisheries if harvest were limited. The proposal included, for the first time, several catch-and-release waters. I was able to document a statistically-significant decline in the proportion of old-age brook trout over time, thereby providing justification for restrictive regulations to restore older-age fish in many of our waters.

Former Commissioner Bill Vail, one of my all-time favorite commissioners, who insisted on keeping his door open to any visitor (and yes, I visited – and pestered him – quite often), wrote the book’s introduction. “The State of Maine has always been a place where most fish stories are actually true stories,” wrote Bill. Thanks for sticking up for our veracity, Bill!

I must thank Matt Scott, who began his career in state government as a fisheries biologist in the Belgrade Region, for buying and sending me this book. I will leave you with Matt’s final comment, in his chapter:

I pose the question about sustainability for the coming ages. As a society are we going to continually be faced with habitat fragmentation? If we lose the aquatic habitat, then we lose the fishery. Therefore, I have to conclude: What is sustainability? It is becoming a significant challenge to all of us. (George Smith)

About Alexander Theberge

Alex is the former creative director of The Maine Sportsman. An avid fisherman and professional photographer he enjoys everything about the outdoors.
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The Month in Maine – January

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