Monday, September 30, 2013

National Hunting And Fishing Day

Maryland's black bear conservation program was started in 1996
Over one hundred years ago, hunters and anglers were early and vocal supporters of conservation and scientific wildlife management. They recognized that rapid development and unregulated harvesting of wildlife were threatening the future of many species.  Led by fellow sportsman President Theodore Roosevelt, these early conservationists called for the first laws restricting the commercial slaughter of hunted animals. They urged sustainable use of fish and game, created hunting and fishing licenses, and lobbied for taxes on sporting equipment to provide funds for state conservation agencies. 

These actions became the foundation of the North American wildlife conservation model, a science-based, user-pay system that would foster the most dramatic conservation successes of all time. Populations of white-tailed deer, elk, antelope, wild turkey, wood ducks and many other species began to recover from decades of unregulated exploitation.  During the next half-century, in addition to the funds they contributed for conservation and their diligent watch over the returning health of America’s outdoors, sportsmen worked countless hours to protect and improve millions of acres of vital habitat -- lands and waters for the use and enjoyment of everyone.

In 1986, on some very rough
water just outside the San
Francisco bay, I caught my
limit of red snapper while
most of the other anglers
got seasick
I am not a hunter, and I haven’t fished in many years.  But I was happy to help out on Saturday when  Maryland’s Wildlife and Heritage Service, a division of my state’s Department of Natural Resources, asked me to spend a few hours staffing a booth at Maryland’s commemoration of National Hunting and Fishing Day, held on the fourth Saturday of September.  The event was being staged just down the street from my little farmhouse in northwest Baltimore County.  How could I say no?  

After parking at the Associated Gun Club’s outdoor pistol and rifle range, situated along a winding tributary of the picturesque Patapsco River, I located the Natural Heritage Program’s event coordinator and asked where she would like me to work.  The “bear booth” came the reply.  Maryland’s Black Bear Conservation Program was created by State Assembly in 1996 for the purpose of selling commemorative stamps to generate funds for a successful bear repopulation effort and to provide compensation to farmers whose crops are ravaged by the bears’ foraging.  The program also provides electric fencing to beekeepers to prevent bears from raiding hives for honey.

The winning illustration for this year's stamp was
created by Judy Schrade
I gave myself a crash course on black bear trivia and went to work, answering questions from curious youngsters and offering them a chance to feel the soft fur of a black bear pelt.  Turns out the black bear’s favorite food is acorns, followed next by berries, but they are omnivorous and will eat frogs and lizards and even carrion when they can’t find anything better.  This time of year, as females, weighing up to 300 pounds, and males, weighing up to 600 pounds, start packing on the pounds for winter hibernation, they will consume up to 20,000 calories per day.  Not even Baltimore’s own mega-caloric consumer at the height of training, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, devours 20,000 calories per day.  That’s a lot of acorns!

The wheel bug has a spiked cog on its
back which looks like part of a wheel or
saw blade protruding through its armor
My next assignment was to spend a few minutes assisting a dog handler as he showed a crowd of interested onlookers how his black Labrador retriever could stop, start and fetch various decoys by verbal command and hand gestures.  My final appointment was to staff the Wildlife and Heritage Foundation’s booth, where I regaled children and adults with fascinating factoids about the wheel bug (Arilus cristatus), an east coast  member of the “assassin bug” family, so named because it preys on garden pests, such as the invasive brown marmorated stinkbug, by piercing its victim with its long, sharp beak and injecting an acidic saliva that liquefies soft tissue, which it then sucks out of the victim’s body, Dracula-like. While a wheel bug should not be handled carelessly because its painful bite can take months to heal and leave a scar, it is considered a beneficial insect and should be encouraged in one’s garden.  Who knew?

Children were asked to describe what
they were touching when they poked
their hands into covered holes, inside
which were hidden antlers, feathers,
a turkey foot and a raccoon tail 
In my role as volunteer ranger for the Maryland Park Service, I have come to cherish the time I devote to the Department of Natural Resources.  I learn a lot about science and nature and then I get to share that knowledge with children.  What better way to spend a few hours on a glorious autumn morning?

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin" ~ William Shakespeare

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