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Date: 10-25-2017

Three new nature preserves totaling 2,000 acres on Pine Mountain in Letcher County will connect the Kingdom Come State Park to the Hensley-Pine Mountain Wildlife Management area, and the E. Lucy Braun State Park Nature Preserve to the Kentenia State Forest.

The connections will create 7,000-acre and a 6,000-acre protected areas respectively, and will make available almost 50 percent of the land needed for the Pine Mountain Trail.The connections will create 7,000-acre and a 6,000-acre protected areas respectively, and will make available almost 50 percent of the land needed for the Pine Mountain Trail.

The connections will create 7,000-acre and a 6,000-acre protected areas respectively, and will make available almost 50 percent of the land needed for the Pine Mountain Trail.

The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, which buys property from private owners to preserve it, announced the purchases last week. The land includes 27 separate tracts.

Hugh Archer, executive director of the land trust, said nearly all of the land is on the North face of the mountain in Letcher County. The largest individual tract, in which the trust bought a one-quarter share, is on the South side. Archer said that share was bought from Kentucky River Properties, which had bought it from a member of the Eversole Family, which owns the remainder of the tract.

“It’s the first land they (Kentucky River) have sold in 100 years except for a couple of horse farms” in central Kentucky, Archer said.

The purchases cover about nine miles of Little Shepherd Trail from U.S. 160 at Hurricane Gap (Sand Hill) to Eddie Saltess Overlook on the Devil’s Backbone section of Little Shepherd Trail. The land is on both sides of Kingdom Come State Park, and includes more than 100 cave openings, some only large enough for bats, but other large enough for a person. He said while the bats will be protected, the caves will not be completely off limits to people.

“ We’re not going to gate them,” Archer said. “We’ll probably enlist the local cavers to help manage them.”

The caves include Crystal Cave and the Linefork Caverns, Archer said. He said the Eastern section of the purchase also includes a small section of uncut forest at least 125 years old. The Eastern Section begins at Creech Overlook and goes toward Whitesburg.

“This has been my most important target in the 25 years I’ve been working on it,” Archer said.

The Pine Mountain Trail will eventually run from the Breaks of the Big Sandy at Elkhorn City to Pineville Jellico, TN Pine Mountain Trail Conference president Shad Baker said he was pleased that the KNLT was able to buy the property.

“I think it’s wonderful news for the trail,” Baker said. “It’s all property that the trail runs alongside or through.”

Pine Mountain Trail is part of the larger Great Eastern Trail, a planned 1,800- mile wilderness trace that will run from New York to Alabama, roughly parallel to the Appalachian Trail.

Archer said with the old-growth forests and rare plants, the Pine Mountain Trail will be the “prettiest section in the whole 1,800 miles.”

Pine Mountain is home to at least 100 rare and endangered species of plants, fish and animals, one-seventh of all of the monitored plants and animals in Kentucky, Archer said. Blanton Forest alone, in Harlan County, is “only equaled by one other site in the world, and that’s in China,” he said.

The three preserves created by the new purchases will be called the Linefork Preserve, the Hurricane Gap Preserve, and the Kingdom Come Preserve.


By Sam Adams
The Mountain Eagle

October 19, 2017

We have recently received several inquiries about the Low number of squirrel in the Louisa-Lawrence county area this year so we sent a message to the Ky. Fish and Wildlife Resources center in Frankfort.

 

Ky. F&W,

I have been getting calls to my website (thelevisalazer.com) asking about why there doesn’t seem to be many squirrel in our county this year. Is it related to the Blue Tongue disease in deer?

Also, I would like to have the name and contact info for the Conservation officer for Lawrence County.

Thanks in advance,

Mark

Eastern Grey Squirrel Eastern Grey Squirrel

The following message came back today explaining what the state F&W folks think may be the problem; 

 

Dr. Grayson,

We have also had some reports of locally low squirrel populations in E KY, and some of those were as early as last fall. It’s not unusual to go through highs and lows of small game species like squirrels. There is no known connection between EHD (blue-tongue) in deer and squirrel populations.

At this time, we don’t believe there is reason for great concern, but we will be monitoring the situation. Last fall was exceedingly dry (spurring all the wildfires), and this likely had a negative impact on squirrel survival (drought not the fire). The drought likely aborted hard mast production which is a critical component of a squirrel’s diet in the fall and winter.

For those that survived, their reproductive success was likely adversely affected. So, you can see a multi-year carryover from unfavorable weather conditions. Please don’t hesitate to send any additional questions my way. If you are receiving reports of observations of dead squirrels, then please send them my way as well.

Thanks for the inquiry!

John J. Morgan, Certified Wildlife Biologist
Small Game Program Coordinator
KY Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
#1 Sportsman's Lane
Frankfort, KY 40601

 

(NOTE: BTW, there is no Conservation Officer stationed in Lawrence County at the present time.)

 

Date: 10-18-2017

The biologist overseeing the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife’s deer and elk program said the Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, or EHD, outbreak could possibly result in more hunting restrictions next year in Floyd County.

Fish and Wildlife Biologist Gabe Jenkins said the outbreak has slowed down recently and he expects it to end soon, but officials won’t know exactly how it has impacted the county’s deer population until later this winter.

“The end is in sight,” he said. “We were getting reports of 700 to 800 a week. But for the past couple of weeks, it slowed down to half of that statewide.” 

Floyd County has been at the top of the list of counties statewide in the number of deer that have been reported to have EHD. When the outbreak started in July, officials described several Floyd County
communities as the “epicenter” of the outbreak. The number of cases in Floyd Country doubled and tripled almost weekly since the department started issuing reports, but the number has increased only by four since Oct. 3. 

As of Oct. 10, there were 429 reports of the disease in Floyd County, and the county had the second highest number of cases reported, with Pike County having 563. 

Jenkins said Fish and Wildlife officials take these EHD reports with a “grain of salt” because they do not have the staff to “ground truth” them, and it’s likely some deer with EHD have been reported more than once while others have not been reported at all. Because of that, he said the number of EHD cases are likely higher than reported. 

As of Oct. 10, there have been 4,288 EHD reports statewide — around the same number of cases reported during the state’s last significant EHD outbreak in 2007. Jenkins said there were only 12 reports of EHD in Floyd County that year, which is why the outbreak is so devastating to the county’s deer herd this year. 

Deer can survive EHD, and when they do, they can pass that genetic resistance to their offspring. Jenkins said since Floyd County did not have a large number of EHD cases previously, the county’s deer herd is more susceptible to contracting it now. 

The EHD outbreak has spawned several conspiracy theories from residents and hunters, including allegations about the outbreak being purposely caused to reduce the number of vehicle crashes caused by deer or to make more room for elk to roam in Eastern Kentucky.

“I read it all over the Internet. It cracks me up, but there are conspiracy theories,” Jenkins said. “I guess the odd thing for folks there who are in the know of EHD is that we really weren’t in drought conditions this year in the eastern part of the state, and that’s usually how EHD gets started.”

The midge, or gnat, that transports EHD lives near shallow water, and drought conditions that leave muddy areas around water holes create a good breeding ground for the insects. Jenkins compared EHD to the flu virus, explaining that people can take a flu shot for one strain of the flu, but still get another type of flu that season, at the same time that they are resistant to the strain in flu shot they received. 

He then talked about EHD in Harlan County, which, on Oct. 3 and Oct. 10, only had nine reported EHD cases and is the only Eastern Kentucky county with fewer than 10 EHD cases. 

“For the longest time we had no reports in Harlan County,” he said. “So I looked into it. I wanted to know why Harlan County was its own island down there. I called the staff there and nobody had reports. Then I went back through our data and I saw that Harlan County had an outbreak in 2015 as well. So, some of the deer there died in 2015 with EHD, but a lot of them were exposed and survived. So, that group of deer in Harlan County is less susceptible to EHD than those in Floyd County.” 

He doesn’t yet know how the EHD outbreak has impacted the overall number of deer in Floyd County. He said the number of deer harvests reported during archery season, which is already underway, are usually lower than gun harvest reports, so the archery harvest data is not a good indicator of how many deer have been killed. Fish & Wildlife will compile data from the gun season harvest, as well as data from the EHD reports if changes need to be made to Floyd County’s hunting season next year.

“It is possible,” he said, when asked if EHD will cause more hunting restrictions for Floyd County next year. “We’re not going to change anything that is in place for this season ... We’ll let the outbreak run its course and, if we need to make restrictions or reduce the hunting season, then we’ll make that decision.” 

He said he will analyze the number of deer harvested and the deer deaths related to EHD while also comparing the number of does and bucks impacted. He’s most concerned about the number of does that have died because “they drive the population.” He said the decision about next year’s hunting season won’t come until later this winter after gun season is over. 

He said outbreak is heartbreaking, particular because state officials were considering increasing the deer hunting opportunities in Floyd County.

“That area has been growing significantly in deer population,” he said. “We were hoping to increase hunter opportunities by moving the hunt up, but now, we don’t know if that is possible ... You went from, 20 years ago, harvesting a couple of hundred deer to harvesting almost 1,000, so the herd has grown significantly.” 

Floyd County’s herd is estimated at 9,000 deer. 

Jenkins also confirmed reports that scavengers like coyotes won’t eat deer that have died of EHD. 

“It’s something that’s ingrained in nature,” he said. “They know that this thing died from a sickness, so it’s something they will not eat, so the deer just lie there and rot.”

He reiterated comments the department previously made about deer that have survived EHD being safe to eat, talking about a deer that survived EHD in 2015 that he harvested the following year. 

“In 2015, I had a deer that definitely had EHD, but he survived. He had it pretty rough, but he survived,” he said. “I harvested that deer in 2016 and I never thought twice about feeding it to my family.” 

He encourages hunters not to harvest deer that appear to be sick and asked them to be mindful of the EHD outbreak if they chose to hunt this year, particularly in areas like Floyd County that have had large numbers of EHD cases.

He said, “The biggest thing I’m trying to tell, especially to our hunters, if you’re in area that has a bad EHD outbreak, I would say if you’re feeding your family with venison, then by all means, take a deer, but if you’re shooting deer for antlers or a trophy and don’t need it, then practice little self-restraint and hold back, especially on those does. The bucks will be okay, but the does, they’re the ones that drive the population.” 

Local residents are encourage to report suspected EHD cases by visiting the department’s website, fw.ky.gov.


By Mary Meadows
Floyd County Chronicle

 

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