Here are some wildlife-related stories that made news in Kentucky in 2011:
Kentucky’s first hunting season for sandhill cranes in modern times opened Dec. 17 and will continue through Jan. 15, 2012, or until the season quota of 400 cranes is reached.
A total of 332 hunters, 96 percent of whom are Kentucky residents, were selected by lottery drawing to participate in this inaugural season.
Hunters with experience in waterfowl hunting will have their skills tested. Decoying sandhill cranes into shooting range is considered the ultimate challenge of migratory bird hunting as sandhill cranes are extremely wary. The daily behavior of sandhill cranes is similar to Canada geese. They like to roost and loaf in shallow water and on mudflats and feed in agricultural fields.
The sandhill crane is a transient visitor to Kentucky whose numbers have increased dramatically since the 1970s. A recent count of the eastern population numbered about 72,000 birds.
Last season, 13 states in the western U.S. and three Canadian provinces had sandhill crane hunting seasons.
The dates and bag limits for all migratory bird hunting seasons are approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Sandhill cranes migrate through Kentucky twice a year along a corridor bounded roughly by Henderson in the west and Lexington in the east. In fall, the birds that stop over in Kentucky are migrating southward to their wintering grounds in southern Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.
“Kentucky is a return stop on the sandhill crane’s migration back to its breeding grounds,” said Rocky Pritchert, migratory bird program coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Hunting activity in December and early January will not affect wildlife viewing opportunities on Barren River Lake in early February, when the largest number of birds stop over in Kentucky.”
Major roost areas of Barren River Lake have been closed by regulation to sandhill crane hunting to maximize wildlife viewing opportunities.
In April, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome in a bat residing in a cave in southwest Kentucky’s Trigg County.
White-nose syndrome was first detected in New York in 2006. It has since killed more than one million cave-dwelling bats in eastern North America. Infected bats have now been detected in 16 states, mostly in the eastern U.S., and three Canadian provinces.
Anticipating the arrival of white-nose syndrome in Kentucky, biologists have taken exhaustive measures to limit its spread.
Kentucky was the first state to develop a response plan to the disease. White-nose syndrome is transmitted primarily from bat to bat, but fungal spores may be inadvertently carried to caves by humans on clothing and caving gear.
Turkey Harvest in Wet Conditions:
Despite the wettest April on record in central Kentucky and flooding of many of the state’s major rivers, hunters took 32,193 wild turkeys during the 2011 spring season.
“To harvest over 30,000 birds for the second year in a row, especially considering the weather, says a lot about the size of our flock, and the dedication of our hunters,” said Steven Dobey, wild turkey program coordinator for the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Hunting conditions were the worst in memory, as a parade of storm fronts dumped heavy rains and spawned high winds.
The National Weather Service reported 14.0 inches of rain in Louisville and 15.9 inches in Paducah for the month of April – more than 10 inches above average in both cities.
In central and western Kentucky, it rained three of the four weekends of the spring season that ended May 8. Only extreme northern Kentucky and some counties in southeastern Kentucky escaped the torrential rains.
The weather cleared the first week in May and hunters ended the season with exceptional harvest numbers. Hunters took 3,195 turkeys on the final weekend of the season. The harvest for the last seven days of the spring season surpassed the record set in 2010 for the same time period.
White Crappie in Kentucky Lake:
The white crappie (Promixis annularis) is making a comeback in Kentucky Lake.
The aging of the lake, combined with clear water conditions and poor white crappie spawns from 2005 through 2007, helped black crappie numbers increase in recent years.
“The 2009 white crappie spawn was exceptionally strong, the best in a long time,” said Paul Rister, western fisheries district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We bought a deep water trawl to assess the numbers of young crappie in the lake. It looks promising for the future. The white crappie fishery is coming back.”
Rister said they captured many two-year-old, 8- to 9-inch white crappie in their population sampling along with healthy numbers of white crappie born in 2010 and earlier this year.
“The crappie population in Kentucky Lake is extremely cyclic,” Rister said. “We are just riding the wave. In 4 or 5 years, it could be glory time for crappie fishing on the lake.”
Ohio River Largemouth Bass Stockings:
Anglers are catching more largemouth bass from the Markland Pool of the Ohio River thanks to a supplemental stocking program, now in its fifth year.
“In a recent bass tournament 48 percent of the fish weighed in were fish we had stocked,” said Sara Tripp, Ohio River biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We plan to continue the stockings for another four years.”
Heavy silt loads and wildly fluctuating water levels in the spring hinder bass spawning success.
The fisheries division stocked bass at 100 fish per acre until this year. In 2011 and for the next four years, the stocking rate will vary from 50 to 100 fish per acre.
A major goal of the program is to compare survival, growth rates and body condition of stocked versus fish spawned in the river.
“Largemouth bass in the Ohio River reach harvestable size after two years,” said Tripp.
Cumberland River Trout Stockings:
In March, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources made its initial stocking of 13,000 brook trout in the Cumberland tailwaters, the state’s premier trout fishery.
“The brook trout are being stocked from Helm’s Landing to Burkesville,” said Dave Dreves, fisheries research biologist for the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources. “These trout are the Owhi strain, the same kind that they stock in tailwaters in Arkansas. They’ve had brook trout grow up to 5 pounds in a tailwater environment in other states.”
Anglers may only keep one brook trout daily; there is a 15-inch minimum size limit. All stocked fish are 9 inches long.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife also stocked an additional 45,000 quick-growing sterile rainbow trout in Cumberland River this year, following a stocking of 18,500 last December. These rainbow trout grow larger because energy normally expended by reproduction goes into body growth.