The Cormorant Plague
By Bradley Carleton

September is like the appetizer before a seven course gourmet meal. It is temptation, anticipation and tease all rolled into one smoked salmon brie encrusted filo pastry. You can tell I like fine food, can’t you? Well, although I can’t say that I hunt because I need food, I do hunt because I like my food to have a spiritual connection with those to whom I choose to share. September starts out subtly. It’s a leisurely walk in the woods on a bright sunny day with the .22. It’s sitting under a nut tree and listening to acorns drop onto the musky earth floor. It’s falling asleep leaning against said tree and being awakened by skittering in the branches above. As a big gray squirrel peaks its head around the trunk, just before he scolds you, you’ve put the crosshairs on him and “crack” he drops to the floor like an overgrown acorn. Half a dozen of these critters and you’ve got yourself a fine squirrel pot pie. And after the first few days of the month Labor Day rolls around.

The day after Labor Day we will be sinking into our layout blinds in some freshly cut wheat field surrounded by full body goose decoys. The sun will rise with such extraordinary splendor that it will seem as if nothing is wrong anywhere on the planet. The first honk off in the distance will set us on our backs, sinking ever lower into the blind. Wheat heads will billow over the top of the blind and we will blow our best siren song with our calls. The birds will turn and, as if on a string, make a beeline for our spread. The black leather shoes will drop from their chests to step onto the dance floor to tango in the wheat with their plastic brethren. When they are firmly committed to the dance, we all will rise and fire off a volley to ring in the new season. Later, after we pick up our decoys and the pile of majestic Canadas, we will head out onto the Lake to troll for salmon as the lake begins to turn over and cool water returns to the surface. There is no question that September is, for many of us, the beginning of the year. We all know that, even though this appetizer is delicious, the main entrée is yet to come.

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A statewide open hunting season for Canada geese will occur September 7-25, 2010. The daily bag limit will be five Canada geese except in that portion of the Lake Champlain Zone within Addison County north of Route 125, where the limit will be two per day. The purpose of the season, which is held earlier than the regular waterfowl hunting seasons, is to help control Vermont’s resident Canada goose population prior to the arrival of Canada geese migrating south from northern Canada. “This September goose season is prescribed for resident Canada geese that have built up a sizeable breeding population here in Vermont,” said State Wildlife Biologist William Crenshaw. Vermont’s youth waterfowl hunting weekend will be held September 25-26, 2010. Hunters under age 16 may hunt ducks and geese statewide during this season while accompanied by an adult 18 or older. Both must have Vermont hunting licenses. The adult may not hunt or carry a firearm. Neither the youth nor the adult is required to hold a state or federal duck stamp on this weekend. This year, as in 2004, the September Canada goose season and the Youth Waterfowl Hunting Weekend will overlap by one day, Saturday, September 25. On this day the daily bag limit for Canada geese will be the same as the September Canada Goose Season. On Sunday, September 26, the daily bag limit will be three, the same as the late (October-November) Canada goose season.

Finally! The VT F&W Department is planning on reducing the cormorant population on Lake Champlain. This invasive species that found its way inland from its natural habitat of the Atlantic Coast has destroyed numerous islands on the Lake and decimated the perch and smelt populations. Current estimates of cormorants run from 14-16,000. Although most fishermen and hunters would like to see them exterminated entirely, VT F&W Commissioner Wayne LaRoche said that he would prefer to see the population reduced to about 3,300 birds or roughly 3 per square mile. Laroche said “We should be fairly aggressive. We know they are doing harm, because they are destroying those islands and negatively impacting other colonial water birds.” This dilemma developed because of disagreements about their impact and their value as a species between The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and New York and Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Departments as well as the US Fish and Wildlife. Being a migratory bird they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and thus, it would take a cascade of scientific evidence to set a plan in motion, so we did what every bureaucracy does. We “studied it” for 10 years while the population got out of control. The challenges came primarily from TNC because they owned the islands known as the Four Brothers Islands which were the primary nesting colonies for the cormorants. The 3,300 target set by LaRoche may not come to be. The agreed upon number will be a compromise from all parties and most likely be based on data gathered on Lake Huron in Canada and Oneida Lake in NY. The goal will be to reduce the birds to a number that will allow the lake to support a strong fishery. They found that a “density range” of 3 birds per square kilometer had a “measurable” effect on the fish and that 6 birds per square kilometer had a “significant” impact on fish populations. Interpreted to Lake Champlain, this would be a total of 3,300 -6,800 birds.

The winners of Vermont’s 2010 moose hunting permits were determined July 9 at a lottery drawing in Waterbury. The computer-generated selection process randomly picked 765 winners among more than 12,000 people who applied this year. People who applied last year and didn’t get a permit were given a bonus point, increasing their odds of winning a permit in future moose permit lotteries. In addition to the regular lottery drawing, a “special priority drawing” was held for five permits to go to applicants who have received, or are eligible to receive, a Campaign Ribbon for Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan). Valid applications were received from 63 people. These five permits were drawn first. The unsuccessful applicants from the Iraqi-Afghanistan drawing were included in the larger regular drawing that followed. All applicants for both drawings who did not receive a permit were awarded a bonus point to improve their chances in future moose permit lotteries. “Today’s lottery drawing helps celebrate one of Vermont’s successes in science-based wildlife management,” said State Wildlife Biologist Cedric Alexander. “Vermont’s moose management program has worked well since the first hunt in 1993, when 25 moose were taken with 30 permits issued. We expect 400-450 moose will be taken this fall in a carefully regulated hunt.” Winners of this year’s moose hunting permits are posted in a searchable database on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s website (www.vtfishandwildlife.com). Click on “Hunting and Trapping” and then on “Lottery Applications and Winners.” Permit winners will purchase resident hunting permits for $100 and nonresident permits for $350. Ten percent of the permits go to nonresidents. Payments for the hunting permits must be by money order, bank check or credit card. Personal checks are not accepted. Payments must be received in the Waterbury Fish and Wildlife office by July 26, 2010. Those who didn’t win in the lottery may bid in a sealed-bid auction for five moose hunting permits. To receive a 2010 Moose permit bid kit, contact the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, 103 South Main Street, Waterbury, VT 05651-0501

Bradley Carleton owns Champlain Valley Guide Service, which specializes in waterfowl. He is an outdoor writer, speaker and educator. Bradley can be reached by email through champlainvalleyguide@gmavt.net.


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