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Ohio Wildlife Population Status Report and Hunting Forecast: 2004-2005
WHITE-TAILED DEER-Ohio’s first modern day deer hunting season was held in 1943. Since that time, season closure, either-sex, buck-only, antlerless-only, and multiple bag limit regulations have been used to manage our deer herd. While deer harvests and populations have grown and management strategies and landscapes have evolved since 1943, the goal of our deer program has remained the same- a deer population that maximizes recreational opportunity including viewing, photographing, and hunting while minimizing conflicts with agriculture, motor travel, and other areas of human endeavor. In short, we attempt to provide enough deer to hunt and enjoy, within limits defined by the habitat, but not so many that they cause undue human hardship. This is accomplished by annually comparing a county’s deer population status with its corresponding population objective, or target level. Consistent with the Division of Wildlife’s (DOW) deer management goal, these target levels represent minimum conflict levels, derived from either deer-vehicle accident (DVAs) rates in urban counties or farmer tolerances in rural counties.
Population and Harvest Surveys
Because of the secretiveness and mobility of the white-tailed deer, which varies both seasonally and with the age and sex of the animal, harvest and DVA data are used in place of actual counts to monitor deer herd status. While we must assume that changes in these two indices reflect actual changes in the size of the deer herd, this may not always be the case. Therefore, trends in aerial counts (in select areas) and crop damage complaints also are used to monitor deer herd levels. Collectively, these data provide a reasonably accurate picture of the status of each county’s deer population.
Harvest - Since 1962, Ohio hunters have been required by law to register their deer at an official check station where information such as date, county of harvest, sex of deer, hunting implement used, and permit type is recorded. A total of 197,790 deer was harvested during the 2003-04 hunting seasons, nearly 3% less than the previous season. Hunters harvested 116,236, 50,564, and 24,230 deer during the 2003-04 gun, archery, and statewide muzzleloader seasons, respectively. For historical deer harvest data see Publication 304.
Deer Age, Sex, and Condition Data - Each year during the gun season, DOW personnel will age approximately 5-7% of all deer harvested. Typically, this amounts to between 6,000-8,000 deer. A total of 8,337 deer was examined at 22 check stations in 2003. For historical deer age-sex-condition data see Publication 304.
Deer-vehicle Accidents - Because they represent a significant cost to the public, the DOW has monitored DVA trends since the 1940s. Additionally, if changes in traffic volume can be accounted for, and there is little annual variation in reporting rates, DVA trends should be a reflection of changes in the actual size of the deer herd. For historical deer-vehicle accident data see Publication 304.
Deer Crop Damage Complaints - Because target levels for most of Ohio’s counties are based on farmer tolerances, the likelihood of widespread agricultural problems should be minimal when deer populations are at or near these target levels. However, some localized crop damage is still likely to occur and in these instances, producers may be eligible for a Deer Damage Control permit. For historical deer damage complaint and kill permit data see Publication 304.
The ruffed grouse, an inhabitant of extensively forested areas, is a long time Ohio resident dating back to the Ice Age. Prior to European settlement, both forests and grouse occupied about 95% of Ohio's land surface. Clearing of forests for agriculture and human settlement greatly reduced grouse populations in eastern Ohio and eliminated them completely from western Ohio by 1908. By 1940, forest land had been reduced to 12% of Ohio's land area. Abandonment of hill farms in eastern Ohio during the 1930s and 1940s resulted in the gradual reversion of farmland to brush and forest. This reforestation helped bring grouse populations back so that today they can be found in 40 eastern Ohio counties.
Grouse abundance, while fluctuating dramatically, has generally been declining since the early 1970s. From 1983 to the present, grouse abundance has been consistently low and averaged well below the long-term mean. The reason for this decline is thought to be loss of quality habitat. A rapid increase in quality grouse habitat occurred in eastern Ohio through the early 1970s as abandoned farms reverted to brush. Since then, good quality grouse habitat has declined as brushland has grown to more mature forest. U.S. Forest Service inventories show a 50% decline in the seedling/sapling (brushland) size class from 1968 to 1991. Overall, timber growth exceeds harvest in Ohio's grouse range and timber harvesting has been insufficient to halt the successional trend away from quality grouse habitat and toward more mature forests. This, coupled with possible regional influences (grouse populations in neighboring states exhibit trends similar to Ohio's), is probably responsible for the consistently low abundance experienced since the early 1980s.
The Ohio DNR, Division of Wildlife participated in the Appalachian Cooperative Grouse Research Project during 1996 - 2000. This multi-state research project was designed to investigate the ecology of ruffed grouse throughout the Appalachian mountains to better understand reasons for declining grouse numbers in the region. Specific objectives of the project included determining the impacts of hunting on grouse populations, estimating reproductive success and chick survival, and describing habitat needs. The final report was published in 2004 and provides an overview of the results of all aspects of this monumental study. See a 4-page summary of this report, or the full 33 page final report as a PDF.
Population and Harvest Surveys
Roadside Drumming Counts - Survey routes consist of 10 listening stops spaced at least 0.5 mile apart. Routes are run on two non-consecutive days between one-half hour before and one hour after sunrise. Observers record all grouse heard and/or seen as well as the total number of drums heard during a four-minute listening period at each stop. In order to minimize the effect of weather, the survey is not conducted during heavy rain or when the wind exceeds 8 mph. Routes are conducted in 35 counties and results are summarized range wide as grouse heard per 100 stops. Historical data can be found in the Grouse Spring Population Table.
Grouse Hunter Cooperator Results - Approximately 300 cooperators are mailed a "Grouse Hunting Diary" just prior to the Ohio ruffed grouse season. The list of cooperators remains quite constant from year to year, although a few new cooperators are added annually to replace those no longer wishing to participate in the survey. Hunters are instructed to keep a record of their grouse hunting trips by recording the date, county, hours hunted, grouse flushed, and grouse harvested in their hunting diary. Hunters are also instructed to not count reflushes or birds flushed by others in their hunting party. Immediately following the close of the grouse season, cooperators are sent a diary recall notice. Those not responding to the initial recall are sent a second notice after approximately three weeks. Summaries of total gun hours, flushes per hour, and harvest per hour are obtained for county, region, and total occupied range. Detailed information and historical data can be found in the Grouse Fall Population Table.
Cooperative Grouse Observation Reports - Ruffed grouse were added to the wild turkey observation report cards in 1999 to obtain an index of reproductive success. June, July, and August observations are summarized by county and township, observation date, and number of adult and young grouse. Data collected since 1999 can be found in the Grouse Summer Population Table.
Black bear remains have been recovered from Indian mounds and other excavations throughout Ohio. Historical records from settlers and early naturalists also indicate widespread occurrence of bears before 1850. Bears were still reasonably common in southern Ohio in 1820 with 46 reported killed in Athens County during that winter. Continued habitat destruction resulting from human settlement accompanied by shooting and trapping of bears to protect crops and livestock resulted in their extirpation from Ohio. The last bear reported from southern Ohio was from Jackson County in 1831. In northern Ohio, the last bear reported was killed in Paulding County in 1881. Occasional reports of black bears occurred in the early-mid 1900s. Beginning in the 1980s, sightings of black bear in northeastern and eastern Ohio became more common as bear populations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia increased in abundance and expanded westward.
Black Bear Observation Survey - Since 1993, the Division of Wildlife has formally documented black bear observations in Ohio. This procedure provides for standardized documentation of bear observations as bears travel and establish residency in Ohio. Division employees are to investigate and attempt to confirm reported bear sightings and then complete a “Black Bear Observation Report.” The report includes the following information: date of sighting; location; initial observer; number of bears; their age, gender (if known), and estimated weight; behavior; last known fate of the bear; and whether the report could be confirmed. A confirmed report is defined as tracks, sightings, or other reliable evidence which provided the DOW investigator with reasonable assurance that a bear was present. A code number is assigned to the initial observation. All subsequent reports of what are believed to be the same bear are given the code number of the initial sighting. Black bear sighting data collected since 1993 is presented in the Bear Population Table.
Bobcats were found throughout the Ohio country in early settlement times. They were concentrated primarily in the large, lowland areas of the north and unglaciated Allegheny Plateau region of the southeastern portion of the state. As forests were cleared and swamps and lowlands drained to make way for settlements and cropland, the bobcat population declined. By 1850, bobcats were considered extirpated from the state. From 1850 through the 1960s, there were occasional reports of bobcats, mainly in eastern Ohio. Since 1970, verified (i.e., positive identification via road kill, incidental trappings, etc.) reports of bobcats have been somewhat more frequent. Currently, the bobcat is officially classified as an Ohio endangered species and provided full protection under the law.
In 1997, a project was initiated by the DOW to systematically monitor the status of bobcats in Ohio. This project consisted of two main elements: (1) initiating surveys to monitor the current status and distribution, and (2) continuing to investigate and record verified reports of bobcats as they are received.
Verified reports - These reports represent positive identification of a bobcat usually as a result of the animal either being killed on the road or incidentally trapped. In situations where the bobcat carcass is available, the age, weight, reproductive status of females, and various body measurements are obtained. If available, the skull and associated information are entered into the Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity. There have been 60 verified bobcat reports since 1970, with 51 of the reports since 1990. There were 10 verified reports in 2003. These verified reports have been received from 31 counties.
Unverified reports - Five procedures have been established to monitor the current status of bobcats as follows: (1) The “Bow Hunter Observation Record” is a survey conducted by the Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station. In November cooperating deer archery hunters report their observations of various wildlife including bobcats while deer hunting. Approximately 50,000 observation hours are logged annually. (2) Reports of bobcats from successful spring and fall wild turkey hunters are obtained when they register their turkey. (3) A “Bobcat Sighting” form has been included in the brochure that all spring turkey hunters receive when they purchase their hunting permits. Turkey hunters have been targeted as a good source for bobcat sightings because bobcats will occasionally “come in” to the hen calls made by turkey hunters when trying to lure a gobbler within shooting distance. (4) Observations of bobcats by fall squirrel hunters are obtained during hunter surveys. The squirrel hunter survey is conducted the first three Saturdays of squirrel season by Wildlife Officers and by wildlife management personnel. (5) Incidental reports of bobcats from members of the Ohio State Trappers Association, as well as those received from citizens on Endangered Species Report Cards, are logged and investigated as they are received. Since 1970, a total of 255 unverified bobcat sightings have been reported from 61 counties. In 2003, 32 unverified sightings were received. See Bobcat Population Table for historical data on unverified reports.
GRAY AND FOX SQUIRRELS
Prior to settlement, the gray squirrel was abundant across the entire state. Gray squirrels were apparently so numerous and such a menace to crops that taxpayers were required to pay a quota of squirrel scalps in addition to their regular taxes in 1807. By 1940, Ohio’s forests had been reduced from 25 million acres to 3.7 million acres. The gray squirrel, which requires large, relatively unbroken expanses of forest, was virtually eliminated from the western and northeastern portions of the state where forest land had been reduced to small, isolated woodlots. Today, primary gray squirrel range is limited to the unglaciated hill country.
The fox squirrel is not native to Ohio, but historically occurred in the oak savannas of the humid prairie region. However, as early settlers cleared forestland in Ohio, they created a patchwork of agricultural fields and small tracts of timber (woodlots) favorable to fox squirrels. As settlement expanded westward across Indiana and into the humid prairies, fox squirrels moved eastward into this new habitat. Fox squirrels first occurred in western Ohio about 1830 and reached the eastern boundaries of Trumbull and Ashtabula counties about 1885. Today, the fox squirrel is found in all of Ohio’s 88 counties. In primary gray squirrel habitat, fox squirrels represent approximately 15% of the total squirrel population.
Oak-hickory forests are capable of supporting the highest densities of squirrels in Ohio. Densities in these habitats average about one squirrel per acre in mature timber stands and are due primarily to the abundance of favored squirrel foods, especially acorns and hickory nuts. Other forest types are capable of supporting both squirrel species, but at lower densities. The amount of forested habitat in primary fox and gray squirrel ranges increased markedly in the past century, but the total acreage of oak-hickory forest has remained unchanged since 1979. Concerns over the conversion of oak-hickory stands to forests dominated by maple and tulip poplar have prompted research into new silvicultural systems that provide for oak regeneration in Ohio forests.
Population and Harvest Surveys
Squirrel Hunter Survey - Squirrel hunter surveys are conducted from opening day through the second Saturday of the season. Field personnel place postage-paid postcards on the windshields of vehicles of persons thought to be out hunting. Hunters are asked to record the number of hours hunted, number of squirrels bagged, and evaluate the strength of the mast crop. With these data it is possible to estimate range-wide hunter success rates and squirrel population status. Despite annual fluctuations, long-term harvest trends suggest that Ohio’s squirrel population has remained relatively stable across both the primary fox and gray squirrel ranges (see Squirrel Harvest Table). However, squirrel hunter numbers have declined approximately 20% since the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The wild turkey once inhabited forested areas in every Ohio county and was an important food source for the early settlers. Extensive loss of forest, coupled with unregulated hunting, led to the extirpation of the wild turkey in 1904.
By 1950, large tracts of forest land had returned to southeastern Ohio. From 1952-1957, the DOW reared 1,400 game farm turkeys and released them in several southeastern forests. Attempts to establish a turkey population using game farm birds failed. From 1956-1963 wild turkeys trapped in West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Florida were transplanted into Ohio. In state trapping and transplanting of wild turkeys was conducted from 1963-2004. In spring 2004, Ohio's wild turkey population was estimated to number 170,000 birds. Wild turkeys are present in all of Ohio's 88 counties.
Population and Harvest Surveys
Spring Turkey Harvest - Since the first spring turkey hunting season in 1966, Ohio has used a mandatory registration system to determine hunter harvest (see the Turkey Spring Harvest Table). Checking stations are established in each county and hunters are required by law to register their bird by 2:00 p.m. on the day of harvest. Check station data provide relatively precise information such as total harvest, harvest by county, harvest by permit holder type, proportion of juvenile and adult turkeys in the harvest, daily and weekly distribution of harvest, and hunter effort. These data are used to determine turkey distribution and abundance, evaluate success of stocking efforts, evaluate performance of hunting regulations, and provide the basis for future hunting season recommendations.
Fall Turkey Harvest - Fall either-sex wild turkey hunting was initiated in 1996. Counties with at least 20% forest cover, a spring gobbler harvest of 200 or more birds for at least two consecutive years, and adjacent to at least two other open counties are open to fall turkey hunting. Historical fall harvest data are presented in the Turkey Fall Harvest Table.
Roadside Gobbling Counts - This annual survey provides an index to breeding abundance of turkeys throughout Ohio's occupied range. Routes consist of 10 listening stops spaced at least 0.5 mile apart. Routes are repeated on two non consecutive days between one-half hour before and one hour after sunrise. Observers record turkeys heard and/or seen as well as the total number of gobbles heard during a four minute listening period at each stop. Additionally, turkeys seen between stops are recorded. In order to minimize the effect of weather, the survey is not conducted during heavy rain or when the wind exceeds 8 mph. Historical data are presented in the Turkey Spring Population Table.
Cooperative Turkey Observation Reports - Since 1962, wild turkey observation cards have been distributed to Division of Wildlife personnel, park rangers, foresters, and other interested individuals frequenting Ohio's turkey range. Reports are summarized by county and township, observation date, and turkey sex and age. June, July, and August observations of hens and young are summarized to provide an annual index (young per hen) to reproductive success. Historical data are presented in Turkey Summer Population Table.
Approximately 175 bird species nest in Ohio and about 100 of these species are dependent on some stage of forested habitat. Changing patterns of land use have altered the distribution of forested habitats and the abundance of forest nesting birds in Ohio. Forest fragmentation has been associated with reductions in abundance and distribution of birds throughout the Midwestern United States. Species restricted to the interiors of mature woodlands may disappear from fragmented forests or suffer high rates of nest predation or parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird. Species dependent on early successional habitats have declined as Ohio’s forests have matured into sawtimber size classes. Various other factors, including West Nile Virus, extreme weather conditions during the nesting season, and loss of habitat on the wintering grounds, continue to influence population levels of forest birds.
Ohio’s forest bird species are monitored by the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). This continental survey is cooperatively coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Data have been collected in a standardized manner on nearly 3,000 routes since 1966. The BBS is a roadside survey conducted on permanent routes annually in June. Routes are 24.5 miles long and have 50 stops spaced at 0.5-mile intervals. Surveys start one-half hour before local sunrise and last for 4 to 4.5 hours. All birds seen or heard during a three-minute observation period at each stop are recorded. Data are summed over all stops for each route by species. Representative forest songbirds with reasonable data for Ohio include the cerulean warbler, scarlet tanager, Acadian flycatcher, yellow-breasted chat, blue-winged warbler, and field sparrow.
Source: Department of Natural Resources Ohio
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