Whether you are a hunter, angler, boater, wildlife photographer or other outdoor enthusiast, you can help “keep Idaho wonderfully wild” by participating on May 7th in Idaho Gives, a statewide day of online giving. Donors can learn about and designate funds to benefit wildlife management and conservation programs at http://www.idahogives.org/Idaho-Fish-And-Wildlife-Foundation. Gifts made between 7 am and 6 pm could qualify for additional awards to the organization. Help us to keep Idaho wonderfully wild!
If you have been reading the newspaper headlines from across the country, you know better than to venture outside in Eastern Idaho without an umbrella. Dead snow geese are falling from the sky! It started when one reporter took an off-the-cuff comment during a news interview about some dead snow geese and turned it into a headline and national sensation. While true that about 1500 dead snow geese—killed by an unknown agent—have been collected and incinerated by wildlife professionals, many of the facts were twisted or misconstrued, leaving the public wondering about just how safe they really are from wildlife disease.
Disease is a natural part of any wild population of animals. I define disease fairly broadly here to include bacterial, fungal and viral infections. However, I exclude parasites and poisoning that is man-caused, such as DDT, rodenticide or even moldy grain. Poisoning is a societal choice or the result of poor judgment and is not part of this discussion.
Diseases such as tularemia, epizootic hemorrhagic disease, plague, avian cholera, avian flu and botulism, are always present in the various wildlife communities. Typically, they are at low levels that cull weak and injured animals.
However, there are times when an “outbreak” occurs and large numbers of otherwise healthy animals are affected by a naturally occurring disease. In recent past, epizootic hemorrhagic disease killed hundreds of white-tailed deer in North Idaho. Botulism killed over 10,000 waterbirds of all kinds on American Falls Reservoir, and most recently, an undetermined killer slew the 1500 snow geese at Mud Lake, Market Lake and Camas NWR. However, none of these resulted in population level declines.
There are no natural defenses against introduced or non-native pathogens and their impact on populations can be more devastating. These diseases include: white-nose syndrome in bats, West Nile Virus in birds, brucellosis (a European cattle disease) in elk and bison, and Bd chytrid fungus in amphibians. In fact, some scientists consider infection from the Bd chytrid fungus, likely started from worldwide distribution of the African clawed frog for use in human pregnancy testing, to be the worst infectious disease ever experienced by vertebrates.
These outbreaks flare up when environmental conditions swirl like a perfect storm. Almost always, concentration of animals is part of the equation. In the case of the white-tailed deer, drought concentrated them at available springs where the knat that carried the disease also thrived.
Some wildlife diseases can be transmitted to humans, but most are not human diseases. Humans can’t get sick from most avian flu strains or avian cholera. The trick is telling the difference between an animal sick with a transmittable disease and one that is not. The advice to NEVER handle any animal that looks sick or injured is wise indeed. It could be innocuous, but it could also be plague or rabies.
There is only one solution to wildlife disease: leave wild animals sufficient habitat to stay naturally dispersed. I hope we can do that.
Terry Thomas is a wildlife biologist with 27 years of experience. Opinions expressed are his own.
The female northern flicker gathered sunflower seeds from beneath my feeder as she had done for a month.
Her appearance agitated a sliver of a memory long since suppressed.
I closed my eyes and drifted back through 30 years of haze. Once there, I saw another female flicker, a beautiful bird about the size of a mourning dove. Her splendid spotted breast, black bib and barred wings and back were accentuated by a beautiful orange hue underneath.
She was so beautiful and hard to dislike, but she had one annoying habit: She liked to peck at the stucco on the house. This time, she had created a hole through the gable and was now collecting material for her nest inside the attic. She likely considered it the perfect nesting site because no cats or squirrels were likely to bother her babies.
Her plans put us on opposite sides of a .22 rifle loaded with birdshot.
As a brand new homeowner, I was intolerant of home invasion of any sort. I could not appreciate her beauty or her cleverness. She had violated my home and that was that. I planned to resolve the issue the same way Grandpa handled cherry-thieving robins. I was even using the same gun.
When I poked the rifle barrel through the attic access, I could see her silhouetted by the light streaming in through the hole she had made. The tiny pellets in the birdshot did their job, and I retrieved the body of the feathered interloper without remorse, patched the hole to discourage others and hurried off to class to learn about wildlife management.
The flicker under the tree flew off when a fox squirrel bounded across the snow, and the motion brought me back to the present.
I thought about how I had changed since that time when I demonstrated intolerance and poor judgment. My wife and I now count flickers as one of our favorite birds and would go out of our way to not offend one.
My new friend has tested the vinyl siding of our current home in several places but has apparently not found it to her liking.
If she did, this time around I would search for a more amicable solution but would not interfere with her until she had raised her brood and moved on. In fact, nowadays I might actually recognize a unique photo opportunity and document the entire process with a remotely triggered camera and thank her for sharing the event with me.
It seems to be a reverse evolution where skills and physical prowess slowly but steadily decline. But if increased tolerance for sharing this world, even my personal space, with the other creatures of this planet is a function of that same process, then I would have to say that getting older is at least truly making me wiser.
Terry Thomas is a wildlife biologist with 28 years’ experience. Opinions expressed are his own.
The Idaho Fish & Wildlife Foundation is soliciting applications for its 2015 grants cycle.
The Foundation’s grants program provides funding on a competitive basis to nonprofit organizations, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and tax-exempt organizations for projects that sustain, restore or enhance understanding of Idaho’s fish and wildlife resources and are aligned with the Foundation’s mission. Grants are limited to $5,000 per project.
To qualify for grant support, projects generally address one or more of the following areas:
• Habitat Conservation: Projects that aid in the protection, restoration or improvement of habitats.
• Fish and Wildlife Management: Projects that apply management principles to protect or enhance fish and wildlife.
• Education and Outreach: Projects that help educate Idahoans of all ages about the state’s wildlife resources.
Click here to download the application and guidelines. The deadline for applications is May 1, 2015.
It is anticipated that awards will be announced August 31, 2015, for projects to be completed by December 31, 2016.