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Outdoor Enthusiast

Cobb's column focused on hunting, conservation

Submitted photo Kenneth Cobb was a member of the Mountaineer Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America and a longtime volunteer for JAKES Day events.

ELKINS — Kenneth Cobb, who served as an outdoor columnist for The Inter-Mountain for 13 years, passed away July 11 at the age of 75.

He began writing his column, “Outdoor Hunting Activities & Adventures,” for this newspaper in 2007. Through the years he also contributed many articles and photos, many of them regarding the outdoors, hunting and conservation.

He served as a medic in the Vietnam War, and later worked in the healthcare industry for many years. He was an avid sportsman and conservationist, and was a member of H.W. Daniels Post 29 American Legion, the West Virginia Railroad Museum, the Mountaineer Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Rifle Association, and a former member of the West Virginia Highlanders of Davis & Elkins College.

In his honor, The Inter-Mountain is presenting a sampling of his work as a columnist, including several representative columns about the outdoors, an opinion piece from 2018 that was shared by the West Virginia Press Association with newspapers throughout the state, and his final column from this April.

Residents should leave young wildlife alone

April 13, 2013

We are now well into the month of April, and the weather has changed radically in the past two weeks.

On March 30, there was snow on the ground throughout Elkins. Last week, I could see plenty of snow on Rich Mountain West from the top of Wilson Hill.

Spring is also the time of the year when the fields and woods will be full of new and/or young wildlife. This is a great time for everyone to view and enjoy these young critters.

It is also important for everyone to realize and understand this is something people should only look at, but don’t touch.

In addition to being harmful to the young animals, there is also the possibility of a person being exposed to various wildlife-associated diseases like rabies, skin parasites (lice or ticks) and intestinal parasites like flat and round worms.

People make poor substitute parents for wild animals. Yet each year the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources receives numerous calls from well-meaning residents that they have picked up an abandoned fawn or cub and what should they do to properly take care of it.

Everyone needs to know that state laws prohibit the possession of wildlife during the closed seasons without a special permit. The fines for illegal possession of a fawn, bear cub, baby raccoon, squirrel, or any other species range from $20 to $1000, plus court costs and/or up to 100 days in jail.

The DNR would like for everyone to enjoy watching young wildlife. This might be a good time to take the kids out for a camera safari. They could enjoy the woods and see wildlife while having a good time.

For the health and welfare of the young animals, and people as well, wild animals should be left alone and kept in the wild.

Historic, useful tree making a comeback

June 3, 2017

I started doing this weekly outdoor column in 2007. One of my first stories was about the “loss of the chestnuts” and the effects of this loss.

The American chestnut was a tree that was a giant in the forests of the eastern United States. I don’t know how many times my mother would tell me when she was a little girl about seeing chestnut trees that were so large that it would take three-to-five people to reach around.

The American chestnut was one of the best trees in the nation for timber and the nuts it would yield. A typical mature American chestnut tree would often be 100 feet tall with a diameter of up to five feet. Such a tree would be branch-free for the first 50 feet. Loggers from the early 20th century would often tell stories about loading an entire railroad boxcar with lumber that was cut from only one American chestnut tree.

In 1904, the chestnut blight struck. It was first noticed in the Bronx Zoo of New York City. This fungus-type tree disease spread rapidly. By 1950, approximately four billion (not million) American chestnut trees were destroyed because of this blight. Researchers estimated that the total area affected by the chestnut blight was larger than the state of Texas. The American chestnut blight is considered by some to be the largest ecological disaster of the 20th century…

Despite this decimation of a valuable lumber and nut-producing tree, the American chestnut is not extinct. In the past 50 years, several individuals, organizations and universities have attempted to reintroduce the American chestnut to the nation’s Eastern forests. West Virginia University is participating in this program.

Various cooperators have attempted to breed surviving American chestnut trees with experimentally grown American chestnut seedlings. Another technique, called back crossing, is being used by the American Chestnut Foundation in an attempt to restore the American chestnut to its original habitat. The results have been somewhat limited, largely due to the lack of knowledge about the chestnut blight.

While these massive efforts to resurrect the American chestnut are underway with the long-term goal of returning this once giant of a tree to its original range, it is going to take years, decades and maybe centuries to achieve. The goal to breed trees that are essentially American chestnut, but blight resistant, is going to take time, patience and plenty of expertise. The researchers are not trying to replace the American chestnut — they want to develop a blight-resistant tree to where it has the ability to survive and reproduce in its own forest environment.

Nature itself is going to kill the blight that destroyed the American chestnut trees in the first half of the 20th century, but this could be several hundred years down the road. In the meantime, anyone who would like for this magnificent tree to make a comeback would do well to consider planting American chestnut trees sometime in the future. Such seedlings are affordable and can be purchased at several sites online.

Opinion: Responsible timbering in WV state parks makes sense

Feb. 11, 2018

Improving the health of West Virginia’s State Parks is the objective of Senate Bill SB270 and House Bill HB4082. Gov. Jim Justice appears to be in favor of this legislation.

According to State Park officials, West Virginia’s 81,000 acres of forested land within all of the parks are in need of at least $40 million worth of improvements and repairs. At the present time, there has been no timbering or logging in any of the state parks or forests for more than 80 years, with the exception of Kanawha State Forest. In a situation like this, the forest or woods have just overly matured.

The impassioned ecologists in West Virginia are highly appalled with this idea of logging in our state parks. They are now using all sorts of twisted truths, untruths and “fake news” — in my opinion — in order to frighten the general public into believing this will be another clear-cutting operation.

Friends of Blackwater’s executive director said, “People who came to the parks don’t want to see any logging taking place …” It is very true the West Virginia code prohibits logging in state parks, except to clear land to build something. Therefore, in order to change this, it will require an act of the state legislature.

A diverse forest is a healthy forest and letting forested acreage go for 80-to-100 years with no cutting at all does not always promote good forest health.

I can remember a former State Commissioner of Agriculture in the 1980s make a statement before a large group of people: ” . . . in certain situations, it is a bigger waste not to timber than it is to timber . . .” From the reports I have checked out, several of our state parks are now facing this kind of a dilemma.

There must be thousands of acres of high quality timber in some of our large state parks. It only makes good sense to sell some of this timber and use the money generated from such timber sales exclusively for improvements, maintenance, etc.

Yet many still argue, “let nature take its course.”

In our state parks, this kind or type of reasoning is absolutely senseless. It almost reminds me of the small group of people who want to abolish all sport hunting nationwide. This is their idea of what conservation should be. They just don’t seem to realize that timber is a renewable natural resource.

Deer harvest shows another decrease

April 18, 2020

The leave of absence I had to take from this “Outdoor Column” was longer than expected due to complications that occurred after surgery on Nov. 6, 2019. I had to have two additional surgeries in December and ended up being in a recovery rehabilitation center for nearly three months.

This past Monday, I got a copy of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Big Game Bulletin for 2019. There was a nice increase (19 percent) in black bear from the bear harvest in 2018. The total wild turkey harvest (spring gobbler and fall) was down to 8.7 percent. The total wild boar harvest was 88. This was down from the 137 total wild boar harvest in 2018.

The total white-tailed deer harvest for 2019 was 99,437. This is a 9 percent decrease from the 108,856 total harvest in 2018. The last time the statewide total deer harvest was below 100,000 animals was back in 1985, or more than 30 years ago.

Even with this decrease, the 2019 total deer harvest was the 35th largest on record in West Virginia. The record deer harvest year was in 2002 when sportsmen and women took 255,356 white-tails.

The 2019 traditional two-week buck-only gun season harvest was 36,472. This is an 18 percent decrease from the 2018 harvest of 44,599. With this sharp decrease, there were still nine counties that had increases over their 2018 buck harvests. Five of these nine counties are located along the Ohio River, where there are large concentrations of deer.

The statewide archery (bow/crossbow) harvest was 29,537. This was an 11 percent increase over the 2018 harvest of 26,636. It is also the 11th highest on record and 10 percent above the five-year average of 26,837.

The 2019 muzzleloader harvest was 5,092. This is almost a 5 percent increase from the 2018 harvest of 4,870. The 2019 muzzleloader harvest includes 570 deer that were taken with side lock or flintlock muzzleloaders during the Mountaineer Heritage season held in January 2020.

The antlerless deer harvest was 28,336. This is down 13.5 from the 2018 harvest of 32,751. To some extent, this was expected. The harvest of antlerless deer the leading factor to healthier and more reproductive deer. There are natural limits to the number of deer any tract of acreage can support and it is not always the same every year.

This past week, I have talked to several of my friends that includes some who don’t hunt. All of the individuals agree that the one reason why the harvest has decreased is because there are less hunters going after the deer than there were 20 to 25 years ago.

It is a well-known fact there are not enough youth hunters replacing the senior hunters who are retiring from this noble sport for one reason or another. This is not only a problem in West Virginia, but nationwide as well.

Some of my hunting friends are telling me that the mast distribution was very uneven in this area last year. I am somewhat in agreement with this. During the little bit of squirrel hunting I did in October, I saw some acorns, but very little of anything else in the way of mast. Large amounts of acorns are great for deer and wild turkeys, but they are nowhere near to being a squirrel’s favorite food.

Other factors that need to be taken into consideration for the decline in the total deer harvest is the way people are hunting. For example, when I started deer hunting in this area in 1972; there were very few people who would hunt from a tree stand. Today, the number of hunters who chose to hunt from a tree stand is approximately 50 percent. This means there are less hunters moving the deer around. When hunters hunt from a stand, they will have absolutely no freedom of movement.

Another hunter says, “There is a lot more posted acreage now than what there was 20 to 30 years ago from all of the hunting clubs that have acreage leased out.” The rules from each club vary considerably. Some clubs forbid any member to take a buck that is less than six points. This means that young bucks, like spike or three to five point, will not be harvested.

I say the deer are out there. The increases from the archery/crossbow and muzzleloader seasons clearly indicate this. However, some of the fewer younger hunters don’t want to venture very far from their vehicles, nothing like one to two miles. I would do this when I started deer hunting in 1963.

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