Just like the farmer eyes the progress of his cash crops, the outdoor enthusiast does likewise for Mother Nature’s annual output of the wild variety. We’re talking “mast” here, as in the highly anticipated combined production of outdoor fruits and nuts. The fruits in turn are broken down into the “soft” varieties of apples, blackberries and blueberries. The “hard” are in the form of walnuts, acorns and hickory nuts. At any rate, from the casual berry pickers to an army of some 300 folks out there taking official surveys, let the festivities begin!
Without getting too far ahead here, the unofficial reports from the berry pickers, my own outdoor shenanigans and others from the readers here and there are quite positive. Good thing for us but more importantly, this annual horn of plenty is of critical importance to our wildlife’s vitality.
First and foremost, the mast crop affects things all the way from deer winter survival chances to their antler growth and fawn production the following year. Black bears should stay out of backyards, dumpsters and cornfields. At least that’s what they’re supposed to do while fattening up on the wild victuals. Hunters can begin sizing up the local conditions of their favorite neck of the woods to key in on what’s feeding on what.
Multiple mast failures of the first decade of the New Millennium had major humbling effects on the West Virginia deer and turkey populations, causing some of the first ever downturns of the modern era. Black bears on the other hand took it on the chin and expanded all the while. The bruins may have just had more elbow room while the deer and turkeys had already topped out. At any rate and with thanks to a return of the outdoor goodies, things are looking better now for all wildlife.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) hosts one of the longest standing annual mast surveys in the country. This makes for great “trend” comparisons over the many decades to study current results in relation to the wildlife populations with particular reference to deer, bear and turkey. For a documented sampling of those results, this year’s abundant mast will work to the advantage of gun bear hunters and the disadvantage of archers.
Reason being, abundant wild foods spread the bears out and make them harder to “pattern” or pinpoint for the archer in contrast to when foods are concentrated. On the other hand, bears prolong hibernation when food staffs are plenty staying out and about feasting into December. This in turn makes them more vulnerable to the gun bear hunters then.
As for management implications, the number of limited quota “permit” bear tags to be issued concurrent with the West Virginia gun buck season won’t be determined until the current mast survey data is analyzed. For the 19 counties that get this spanking new crack at bear hunting, DNR would rather err on the side of caution the first go around. That is, they will issue fewer permits under the conditions of heavy mast.
The official surveyors comprised mostly of state conservation related employees are to have their forms in by September 1. Another new feature, this year’s data sheets are of the computer scan or readable format, which should speed up the analysis quite over the handwritten versions of the past. This means the bottom line should be out to the public prior to October 1. And that’s not to mention the fact that the mast skinny is needed to determine the number of and issue those special bear permits in October as well.
So please stay with us right here for the results of the famous statewide mast survey. And so as you don’t go nutty in the meantime, get out there and have a gander for yourself.