Rifle season: Mild winters may lead to higher success rate


Makenzie Smith, 10, of Irasburg shot her first buck, an eight-pointer weighing 164 pounds, during Youth Weekend — in her secret spot!  Photo courtesy of her very proud Grampa Brent Shafer

Makenzie Smith, 10, of Irasburg shot her first buck, an eight-pointer weighing 164 pounds, during Youth Weekend — in her secret spot! Photo courtesy of her very proud Grampa Brent Shafer

copyright the Chronicle November 12, 2014

by Paul Lefebvre

Between sunrise on Saturday, opening day of rifle season on deer, and closing day at sunset on November 30, hunters will lose roughly 30 minutes of hunting time.

That’s because they can hunt deer from 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset during the 16-day season.

But sunrise on November 15 comes at 6:45, or 19 minutes earlier than it does on Sunday, November 30 — the last day in the season.

A comparable loss in time occurs at sunset. On Saturday the sun will set at 4:21 compared to 4:10 on the last day of month. Added together and that’s a loss of 30 minutes in real time.

Will it make any difference in hunters’ success rate? Probably not.

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Hunting with drones likely to be banned


Noah Menard of Barton poses proudly with the spikehorn he shot in 2013 in Barton.  He and his father, Nathan, stopped by the Chronicle for a photo before having the deer weighed, but his first buck, taken at a distance of 55 yards, was big enough to put a smile on the eight-year-old’s face.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Noah Menard of Barton poses proudly with the spikehorn he shot in 2013 in Barton. He and his father, Nathan, stopped by the Chronicle for a photo before having the deer weighed, but his first buck, taken at a distance of 55 yards, was big enough to put a smile on the eight-year-old’s face. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle September 24, 2014 

by Tena Starr

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board will hold a public hearing next month on a new regulation that would prevent people from hunting with drones, or any other aircraft.

The rule is being considered more as a precaution against future problems than a remedy for any existing one.

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Wildlife management area created as working dairy farm is saved

Bill and Ursula Johnson sold their landmark dairy farm in Canaan, Vermont, creating a wildlife area at the same time. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 8-8-2012

CANAAN — A landmark working dairy farm here has been sold to a young farm family while a new wildlife area was created, protecting six miles of frontage on the Connecticut River and ensuring public access for fishermen, campers, and bird watchers.

It was a complicated deal and one lots of people wanted to celebrate at the Bill and Ursula Johnson farm on Friday, August 3.  About 70 people attended, including the heads of several state agencies, plus local legislators — Senator Bob Starr and Representative Bob Lewis.

Secretary Deb Markowitz of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources said the Johnsons’ sense of civic duty in wanting to make the whole thing happen was laudable.

“This is just one more example of what it means to be a Vermonter,” she said.

Secretary Chuck Ross of the Agency of Agriculture said when he was approached about this idea that it was so clearly a wonderful project that it was a “no-brainer.”

Vermont Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Pat Berry said the project is unusual because it brings together three of Vermont’s top values:  working lands, conservation, and public access.

“Look around you.  This is a big deal,” he said.

Bob Klein of the Nature Conservancy agreed.  “What makes Vermont so special is the integration of those things,” he said.  “Every project is a manifestation of a collection of values.  Conservation isn’t something somebody else does.”

The deal took more than two years to put together.  The Johnsons sold 849 acres, of which 583 is being kept in farming, with conservation easements.  The remaining 266 is being made into a state-owned Wildlife Management Area (WMA).  The property and easements cost $1.45-million, according to Tracy Zschau, regional director of the Vermont Land Trust.

She said the first step was to buy the conservation easement, which was about $450,000 of the total cost.

The first main funding source was the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund.  Representatives of the fund put up the money for the easement plus the additional $1-million to buy the property, with the understanding that VLT would find others to help share the cost.

In the long run, Ms. Zschau said, other funding sources agreed to help, and the New Hampshire group ended up paying under $500,000.

Funds came in from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Nelson family bought the working dairy farm.

Cy and Andrea Nelson bought the 583-acre working farm, with easements in place, for $965,000.  The Nelsons will also have a free lease on 50 acres of land within the state-owned WMA in exchange for allowing public access to the river.

Mr. Nelson said he was glad to have the opportunity.  It was not a simple decision though.

“It was a big commitment financially and for our family in general,” he said.  Cy is the son of Doug Nelson, who was also on hand for the celebration.

“I’ve worked for him on the family farm since I was a kid,” he said.  Now he and his wife, Andrea, have a two-year-old daughter of their own, named Sloan.  They are expecting again soon.

Mr. Nelson said the Johnsons helped make the transition very smooth.  The Nelsons are employing the same five workers the Johnsons did, which they said has made a big difference.  Some of the employees live in housing on the farm.

Cy and Andrea Nelsons have 215 milking cows in Canaan and 250 in Coventry.  He said the river-bottom rock-free land on the Johnson farm is ideal for farming, and the corn is doing extremely well this year.

“I think we’re as good as anything,” he said.

“The dairy industry is a pretty unique industry.  Our profits are always fluctuating.”

Bill and Ursula Johnson have retired as farmers, but Mr. Johnson still serves the area in the state House of Representatives.  Mr. Johnson represents the towns of Brighton, Canaan, East Haven, Lemington, Newark, Norton, and Westmore.  Ursula Johnson worked in the field of conservation.

Over and over again in the course of the day, officials remarked on what a wonderful job the couple had done keeping the land in great shape.  Where many farmers would have drained a lot of the wetlands in order to make more pasture or hay land, the Johnsons kept a lot of it intact, and as a result there is a tremendous abundance and variety of birds and wildlife.  On Friday, people saw half a dozen great blue herons, a northern harrier (marsh hawk), and several other species of birds.

After the speeches, people were invited to take tours of the farm or two parts of the WMA.  One was north of the main barn, and the other was south into part of Lemington.

“There’s not a written plan for this area yet,” said Fritz Gerhardt of Beck Pond LLC, a conservation scientist who led the Lemington tour and pointed out some highlights in the farm land and wetlands.  The WMA plans for the whole state will be discussed at a public hearing in Montpelier on August 21.  People who have ideas for what should be done with the property will have a chance to give their opinions.

Joan Allen of The Nature Conservancy, Ms. Zschau and Jane Lazorchak of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department were credited as being the three masterminds behind the complicated project.

“This is exemplary by national standards,” said David Govatski, president of Friends of Pondicherry, based in New Hampshire.  Mr. Govatski did a bird survey for the land trust that showed 89 species, some of them rare.  He said the wetlands are home to hundreds of wood ducks, American bitterns, and purple sandpipers to name a few.  Of the species found in the survey, 30 species of special concern to conservationists were noted.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Vermont Trappers Association holds annual rendezvous

A stream of black powder sparks follows the ball out of Gilbert Patnoe’s flintlock rifle. The Fletcher marksman was one of many black powder enthusiasts who tested their skill at the trappers’ rendezvous Saturday. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 9-12-2012

BARTON — The Vermont Trappers Association’s annual rendezvous, held at Roaring Brook Park here Saturday and Sunday, brought out trappers from all over the state.  They swapped stories, shopped for lures and scents, and gathered information.

One group spent the day testing their marksmanship with black powder rifles, many of them flintlocks.

In what is Floral Hall during the Orleans County Fair, a man wearing a green Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department shirt stood at a table behind two mounted cats.  One, rounded and built low to the ground, stalked with bared teeth.  The other, leggy and lean, peered alertly with its big front paws perched on a mossy rock.

The shorter of the pair was a bobcat, the taller a lynx.  The man was Chris Bernier, a Fish and Wildlife Department scientist.

Fish and Wildlife Department scientist Chris Bernier stands between a pair of mounted cats at the Vermont Trappers Association Rendezvous Saturday. The one to his left is a lynx, distinguishable in the wild by its tail’s all black tip. To Mr. Bernier’s right is a bobcat, whose tail flashes white as it runs through the woods. Photos by Joseph Gresser

A steady stream of trappers waited to speak with Mr. Bernier about lynx, which have been making an appearance in the area.

The cats are more often found farther north, Mr. Bernier said, but Vermont is part of their peripheral habitat.  An individual lynx can travel long distances, he said, pointing to a map of Maine.  There, a study of radio tagged lynx showed one female roamed over 300 miles, he said.

The lynx is designated by federal authorities as a threatened species.  Now that their presence in Vermont has been officially noted, Mr. Bernier said, the state is obligated to protect them, something it would want to do in any case.

Mr. Bernier emphasized that the Fish and Wildlife Department is not planning to put any new rules in place right now.  The state does plan to study the numbers of lynx and set a population baseline.

With that tool it will be possible to determine over time whether the presence of the cats is a short-term phenomenon, or if they will be a permanent part of Vermont’s wildlife community.

Mr. Bernier said the study can then be repeated in ten years to see if the lynx population is the same, larger or smaller.

“We don’t want to put regulations in for creatures that might not be here in ten years,” he said.

Most of the best lynx sightings have occurred in Essex County, according to a map that Mr. Bernier brought with him to the rendezvous.  But they are seen elsewhere in northern Vermont.

The mounted lynx had been shot in a Newport henhouse.

“Feathers were flying everywhere,” Mr. Bernier said, and in the confusion the chickens’ owner shot to protect his flock without realizing it was a lynx that was raiding the coop.  No charges were filed against the shooter.

To one trapper, who wondered what he should do if he accidentally caught a lynx in one of his sets, Mr. Bernier advised, “Take a photo, free the lynx, and call the game warden.”

The trapper looked dubiously at the size of the lynx mount, and said he would be more likely to call the warden first and let him free the trapped cat.

Mr. Bernier told other curious trappers that they’re not likely to see lynx in southern Vermont.  The cats subsist on snowshoe hares, he said, and are almost always found near their favored prey.

Lynx favor snowy areas and are well designed for that environment.  Mr. Bernier pulled out a sheet of photos showing lynx tracks in the snow.

The oversized paw prints appeared to be less than an inch deep in the powder snow of a Maine woods.  Mr. Bernier said he was wearing snowshoes when he snapped the pictures and still was standing in snow up to his waist.

One is most likely to see lynx in the winter.  An easy way to tell them from their more common cousin, the bobcat, is by looking at their tails.  The lynx’s appears to have been dipped in black ink, while the bobcat’s is dark only on the top.  As the bobcat moves, an observer will see its tail flashing white.

Mr. Bernier said the lynx is leggier than the bobcat, but noted that his mount was slimmer than most of its species — hence its ill-fated trip to the henhouse.  While lynx will feed opportunistically on mice, rodents and other creatures, they are rarely seen apart from hares, he said.

In Vermont history between the 1700s and the 1960s, only four mentions of lynx show up in the records, Mr. Bernier said.  “In 1998 we started getting a spattering of sightings,” he said.

Now fish and game scientists are trying to get a handle on how widespread the cats have become.

Forester Luke Hardt of Irasburg told Mr. Bernier that he thinks he’s seen evidence of lynx in the Albany area.  He said he was out surveying a sugar bush and as he returned to places he had flagged he spotted what he thinks were lynx tracks.

Mr. Bernier said it’s quite possible.  “Cats are very visual,” he said.  It’s very likely that they would be attracted to investigate the pennants blowing in the breeze.

Mr. Hardt encouraged Mr. Bernier to survey Albany and Lowell for lynx.

He expressed interest but said he needs to have access to a large area of land, and get the landowners’ permission to do the work.

Essex County is easier, he said, because of the large amount of federal land and because Plum Creek, a major landowner, is also is willing to allow access to its property.

Mr. Bernier also fielded other questions, many about an entirely different cat — the mountain lion.  He said his office is on track to receive about 100 reports of mountain lion sightings in the state, many, but not all, of which are probably accurate.

“If they were all good sightings, we’d be overrun with mountain lions,” he said.

Mr. Bernier said the mountain lion that got killed on a Connecticut highway last year showed that the large cats can be found this far east.  He pointed out that DNA testing showed that the Connecticut mountain lion had traveled 1,500 miles from the Black Hills of South Dakota.

He said he doubts there are currently any breeding pairs living in Vermont.  Were they here, he said, he would expect to see more concrete signs, such as road kill or killed domestic animals.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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