By: Dallas Ingram, Georgia DNR wildlife biologist
Wildlife biologists with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division recently completed breeding bird counts on several wildlife management areas (WMAs) and private properties that are part of Georgia’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) focal landscapes. Biologists listen for male bobwhites and other species that use the same habitat as quail. These birds include Bachman’s sparrow, painted and indigo buntings, loggerhead shrike, prairie warbler and field sparrows.
Male birds call during the spring and summer in order to attract mates and announce their territories. Calling males are counted from designated locations and these numbers are used to generate a population index which allows biologists to track long term population trends.
In the video below, from the Albany Nursery WMA, you can hear two field sparrows and a male bobwhite quail. These birds were located along a fallow field border (comprised of native grasses/weeds/briars/shrubs) intentionally established along the edge of a crop field that’s managed for mourning doves. Management for bobwhites and many other game and nongame species can be successfully integrated into working farms and forests through planned management. Landowners can receive technical guidance and detailed management plans through BQI which is solely funded through the Bobwhite Quail license plate. For more information on Georgia’s quail focal areas, monitoring or how to manage for quail and other species on your property, go to www.georgiawildlife.com/bobwhite-quail or contact a WRD BQI biologist within BQI’s East Region (706-554-3745), Central Region (478-296-6176), or Southwest Region (229-420-1212).
By: Elliot Ambrose, Georgia DNR Public Affairs Intern
The war on Georgia’s invasive species: Part I
There are invaders among us. Large and small, they have infiltrated and spread, displacing native inhabitants and upsetting the natural balance. The culprits are known as invasive species, and they pose a real and significant danger to environmental, economic and human health.
Some have been here for years; others have only recently made an appearance. Even more have the potential to become problems in the near future. Whatever the case, invasive species can have wide-ranging and long-lasting impacts if not addressed.
One invasive that exemplifies this problem is the feral hog.
A prolific and destructive species, feral hogs have been in Georgia for centuries. In the last several decades, however, pig populations – and the cost of damages they cause – have skyrocketed.
The pig problem
Introduced by Spanish settlers in the 1500s, feral hogs have increased their range, and their impact, significantly in Georgia over the last 50 years. Spread in large part by people illegally moving them to other areas, the species now occupies more of the state than ever and is having a devastating effect on native plants and animals and their habitats.
According to Charlie Killmaster, state deer biologist with the DNR Game Management Section, feral hogs threaten some native species by excluding them from valuable food sources.
“It’s another big animal out on the landscape that’s requiring a lot of resources to keep going,” Killmaster said. “The fact that they can out-compete a lot of our native species is causing a problem.”
On Ossabaw Island, where feral hogs have flourished in near isolation for hundreds of years, the threat to native species is even more direct. In the early 2000s, hogs destroyed nearly 70 percent of loggerhead sea turtle nests laid on Ossabaw beaches. In a DNR effort started in 2006 with State Wildlife Grant funding, systematic shooting and trapping has shrunk the predation rate to 10 percent. But keeping it there requires relentless work.
“If we stopped hunting them, it would get out of control quick,” said Cody Elrod, a DNR wildlife technician in his sixth summer on Ossabaw.
Wild hogs can begin breeding at 6 months old and give birth to eight to 26 piglets a year.
Feral pigs will also eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds, including shorebirds, turkey and quail. As they search for food, wild hogs use their snouts and tusks to root through the soil, a destructive behavior that can severely impact native plant communities and reduce the total number of plant species in an area. Declines caused by extensive rooting can also lead to infestations by invasive plants such as Chinese tallow, particularly in wetlands and other sensitive habitats.
In addition to environmental impacts, feral hogs also wreak economic havoc, particularly for farmers. Hogs destroy acres of farmland by rooting up crops and recently planted seeds. Their foraging creates uneven, dug out areas that can damage large farm equipment. Feral hogs are also carriers of diseases, such as swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, which can be transmitted to domestic pigs.
The cost of the damage is uncertain, but a University of Georgia survey of landowners in 2011 estimated the total at more than $81 million.
Georgia’s least wanted
The voracious feral hog is just one invasive species causing concern in Georgia.
Known as “the seventh worst weed in the world,” cogongrass was documented at fewer than 10 sites in Georgia in 2004. By 2012, this Asian grass variety had spread to more than 600. Now covering 1.25 million acres of the southeastern U.S., cogongrass is more widespread than kudzu, the region and state’s most infamous invasive. Fortunately, all known cogongrass sites in Georgia have been mapped and treated.
A more recent arrival in Georgia, the emerald ash borer first appeared near Atlanta in 2013. The small green beetle native to Asia and east Russia is widespread throughout much of the Northeast, and has killed tens of millions of ash trees. The emerald ash borer is viewed as one of the most destructive forest pests ever seen in North America, making it a top priority for state and federal agencies.
Control efforts in Georgia are focused on containing the infestation, including through raising public awareness about how the insect is spread, typically through transporting contaminated firewood.
As is evident with the efforts to control feral hogs on Ossabaw, managing invasive species requires persistent effort. And because many exotic invasives spread rapidly and are difficult to eliminate once established, the focus is usually on management and control, rather than eradication.
There are a number of ways the public can help in the war on invasives. Learn to identify the invasive species found in your area to keep tabs on potential problems in your neighborhood. Take care to clean your gear and equipment before leaving outdoor areas and never release pets into the wild. When landscaping or gardening, consider choosing native plants instead of exotic varieties that may spread beyond your yard and put pressure on native species.
(Editor’s note: This is the first post in a multi-part series on invasive species in Georgia. Up next: Watch what you plant! Explore the benefits of “growing native” and how to avoid exotic invasive plants.)
Help with hogs
- Georgia lawmakers further relaxed restrictions on hog hunting this year, allowing for more options and opportunities to harvest wild pigs
- Hunters Helping Farmers, a private lands initiative by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and DNR, connects farmers and landowners with a pig problem to hog hunters in their area.
- The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service offers the Feral Swine Damage Management Program, a national initiative to reduce wild pig populations and their impacts. The program is the first federally authorized feral hog management effort and involves coordination between federal, state and local agencies.
Key offenders, plus some lesser knowns
Hemlock wooly adelgid: Native to Asia, this small, aphid-like insect feeds on the sap and inner bark of hemlock trees. First reported in Virginia in the early 1950s, it is now established in several eastern states and has affected more than 50 percent of the geographic range of the eastern hemlock.
Chinese wisteria: Brought to the U.S. from China as a garden ornamental in the early 1800s, the woody vine is capable of reaching a height of 40 feet. This invasive displaces native vegetation and kills trees and shrubs by girdling them.
Kudzu bug: This stink bug family member was discovered in the U.S. in October 2009 and has since spread through the Southeast. A native of India and China, it has become a nuisance pest in Georgia, damaging soybean crops and overwintering in houses.
Cuban treefrog: With a wide diet and the ability to deter predators with noxious mucus, this large treefrog is highly adaptable and believed to have a detrimental impact on native species. First recorded near Savannah in 2009, Cuban treefrogs have established large colonies in Florida and are widely available for purchase as pets.
The Statewide Invasive Strategy
The focus of Georgia’s invasive species strategy is preventing the introduction of new invasive species and minimizing the spread of existing populations and their impact on native species, the economy and environmental and human health.
This goal is achieved through early detection and rapid response programs, cooperative management activities, and public outreach and education. The strategy also includes monitoring and research of invasive species to determine key management priorities, as well as designing and proposing legislative or regulatory measures.
The invasive strategy was called for in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy guiding DNR and partner efforts to conserve Georgia’s native wildlife and natural habitats. That plan is being revised, yet will continue to emphasize controlling exotics.
Thanks to a hard-working group of elementary school students at Reese Road Leadership Academy in Muscogee County, Georgia has an official state mammal.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 70 into law on April 30, 2015, recognizing the white-tailed deer as our state mammal (keep in mind, Georgia does have a state marine mammal, the North Atlantic right whale).
It all began last year with a simple question from a curious Boy Scout named Kevin Green. “Why doesn’t Georgia have a state mammal?” asked Green, a fourth-grader at Reese Road Leadership Academy.
Green’s question led a group of first-graders at the Columbus school to take on the task of making a recommendation to state legislators. The students worked with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division to choose a mammal that would represent Georgia well. The white-tailed deer had all the characteristics they were searching for: It is easily recognized by most Georgians, found throughout the state (there are about 1 million deer in Georgia) and sports a tremendous economic impact through hunting.
On Feb. 11, the students visited the State Capitol to present their information and recommendation on the white-tailed deer to a House subcommittee. Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus) was on hand for the presentation.
“It’s great to see students have the opportunity to work with our state agencies and legislators. It was such a positive experience for everyone involved, and these students should feel a great sense of accomplishment for the rest of their lives knowing that they had a direct impact in designating the white-tailed deer as the official state mammal of Georgia,” said Hugley, who sponsored House Bill 70.
The students saw their hard work pay off when Gov. Deal signed the legislation, sealing an accomplishment that will last more than a lifetime. Georgia DNR and all those involved in the process are proud to have worked with this outstanding group of students. Thanks to their efforts, the state can finally claim the white-tailed deer as the state mammal of Georgia!
To learn more about the white-tailed deer, check out this fun video from the first-graders at Reese Road Leadership Academy.
By James Tomberlin, Georgia DNR Wildlife Biologist
The northern bobwhite quail occupies a prominent place in Georgia’s wildlife heritage. In fact, the Georgia General Assembly formally designated the bobwhite as the official Game Bird of Georgia in 1970. During the 1800s and through the mid 1900s quality early succession habitat occurred throughout the state as a by-product of the extensive, low-intensity agriculture and forestry practices. This resulted in widespread bobwhite abundance and earned Georgia the reputation as a premier quail hunting destination. However, since that time bobwhite populations have experienced severe long-term declines – more than 90 percent since 1966.
This decline is an indicator of a dramatic ecological change with widespread economic and recreational impacts. Bobwhite hunters in Georgia have declined by more than 80 percent since 1964, with a similar decline in hunter harvest. Across much of Georgia, bobwhite densities have fallen below levels needed to attract and sustain hunter interest. In some landscapes viable bobwhite populations are no longer apparent.
Due to the severity of the bobwhite decline, a grassroots effort through the Georgia General Assembly and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Board led to the development of the Wildlife Resources Division’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) in 1998. BQI is a proactive effort to restore and maintain bobwhite habitat on private lands across Georgia’s Upper Coastal Plain.
An important objective of BQI is to increase recreational opportunities primarily through improved quail hunting. BQI cooperators have worked with WRD to voluntarily host half-day or full-day quota youth quail hunts during the wild quail season. These hunts have provided many youths with their first opportunity to experience wild quail hunting, which is paramount to sustaining this part of Georgia’s wildlife and hunting heritage. The 2015 hunts were graciously hosted by Lee Harris of Red Hawk Plantation in Pulaski County and Tom Bradbury of Whitehall Plantation in Bleckley and Laurens Counties. The hunts gave Zachary Shumate of Fort Valley, Brian Massey of Thomaston, Chad Shelton of Thomasville, and Ethan Canaday of Loganville, accompanied by a parent/guardian, to pursue wild bobwhite quail for the first time. Both hunts were a success, with great fellowship and multiple coveys encountered and each hunter harvesting at least 1 quail.
Since its inception, BQI has advanced bobwhite restoration in Georgia and across the Southeast and revealed:
- Within appropriate landscapes, bobwhite numbers can be increased through judicious habitat restoration across working farms and forestlands
- Landowner demand for bobwhites is high but adequate levels of financial incentives and qualified technical staff are essential for success
- Habitat restoration must be focused into spatially explicit landscapes to produce and sustain a bobwhite population response.
The Altamaha Waterfowl Management Area is ready for the 2014-2015 season. Ducks have shown up in good numbers in the impoundments and hunters are excited about the season which begins this Saturday, Nov. 22 and runs through Nov.
30 before starting up again on Dec. 6. Butler Island is quota only and is open on Saturdays, Champney Island is open for walk in hunters Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays, while Rhetts Island is boat access only and is open Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays. Outside of the impoundments the rivers and swamps offer great hunting as well. Shooting hours are until noon. Please print out the late-season migratory bird seasons and regulations guide athttp://georgiawildlife.com/Hunting/Waterfowl for more information on the waterfowl season, and check out the information below for waterfowl hunting on Altamaha WMA.
There are three islands that are made up of impoundments on Altamaha WMA, Butler, Champney, and Rhetts Island. Butler Island is a quota hunt that is offered every Saturday during the waterfowl season until noon. There are 25 blind areas ranging from 4 to 16 acres in size that are randomly selected through a lottery style drawing. Each week, there are 25 blind areas reserved for the quota hunters. Stand-by hunters draw for the blinds open by quota hunters that do not show up at the hunt. These blind areas do not have physical duck blinds but are rather a mix of open water, potholes, emergent grasses, and trees. Hunters use the natural cover to hide themselves from approaching waterfowl.
Hunters on Butler Island should arrive at the check station, located one mile South of Darien, Georgia, between 4:30 and 4:45 a.m. Quota and stand by hunters will need to go inside the check station and sign in with Game Management personnel upon arrival. Drawing for blinds for the quota hunters will begin at 5 a.m. The stand-by hunters will then be given the opportunity to draw for the remaining blind areas. Once the blinds are selected, hunters and their gear are loaded onto trailers pulled behind pick up trucks and are taken out to the hunting area. Hunters are dropped off at their blinds, where they will find a small boat. This boat is designed exclusively to get hunters and gear across a narrow perimeter ditch. Once this ditch is crossed, hunters can get out of the boat in waders and wade through the blind area. Water levels are normally between 8 and 24 inches deep in the impoundment. Hunters can put out decoys and hide in the natural cover in the blind area. Large decoy spreads are not needed on Butler Island. 6 to 12 decoys is appropriate. Pack wisely to minimize extra gear and bulky decoy bags. Other hunters on the trailers will appreciate it and it will make the walk easier when packing gear in and out of the blind areas.
Hunting ends at noon. Game Management staff will drive around the dikes and pick up hunters at 9 a.m. and noon. Hunters can also walk to the cross dike. This is a central location in the center of the impoundment where the trailers are parked. Maps of this area are located in the check station. For those wishing to hunt until noon, DNR will pick those hunters up at their blinds where they were dropped off that morning.
Champney Island offers hunters a walk-in hunting opportunity on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays during waterfowl season until noon. This is a first come first serve area that can be very productive. Hunters will often try and draw a stand-by blind on Butler Island, but keep Champney Island as an option in case they are not drawn.
Champney Island is broken up into three huntable impoundments, New Snipe, Old Snipe, and West Champney. New Snipe and Old Snipe pools can be accessed from Champney Road or Massman Road, while West Champney can only be accessed by Massman Road. A canoe or small boat can be useful to get into the impoundments and to move around within the impoundments. Similar to Butler Island, hunters need to wear waders and can expect water levels to range between 8 – 24 inches across the impoundment.
Rhetts Island is boat accessible only and is open to hunting Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays during waterfowl season until noon. It is a large impoundment broken up into three pools. Pool 1 is the western most pool and Pool 3 is the eastern most pool. Pool 1 has two access points into it from the Champney and Butler Rivers. The pull over sites allow hunters to cross the perimeter dike with a small boat to access the impoundment. Because the Champney and Butler Rivers are tidally influenced, there can 6-9 feet of difference between high and low tide depending on moon phase and wind. This can create a large mud flat in front of the pull over sites, so be aware of the tide stage when planning your trip. A push pole is a great tool to help navigate through the soupy mud that leads up to the pull-over points.
Consistent with the other impoundments, Rhetts Island has a perimeter ditch around each pool and water depths in Rhetts Island range from 8 – 24 inches deep. Hunters can hunt out of waders or out of their boat using natural cover in the impoundment as camouflage. Hunters are strongly advised to scout Rhetts Island in the daylight prior to making a trip over in the dark the morning of the hunt. This will help increase your chances for a safe and successful hunt.
Check out this video for the 2014-2015 forecast:
By: Adam Hammond, GA DNR Wildlife Biologist
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division has been working to make improvements to many of our wildlife management areas. Here’s a look at some of the improvements being made to WMAs in northwest Georgia.
Game Management recently renovated the exterior of the Holly Creek Check Station at Cohutta WMA. Additionally, damaged wood has been replaced at the weigh shed, a hand rail to the steps has been added, and the exterior wood siding has been stained. Similar work was done recently to the check stations at Rich Mountain WMA and on to the West Cowpen Check Station of Cohutta WMA. Among the improvements is an updated WMA entrance sign for Rich Mountain WMA which was installed on the Owltown Tract.
Cohutta WMA is over 96,500 acres of land that is managed cooperatively with the U.S. Forest Service as part of our WMA system. Cohutta WMA is over 150 square miles in size and is larger than three of Georgia’s 159 counties! The WMA is approximately 98-percent national forest land (part of the Chattahoochee National Forest) and 2-percent privately-owned land that we lease. Cohutta WMA is located in the Appalachian mountains of north Georgia in Fannin, Murray, and Gilmer counties.
Rich Mountain WMA consists of nearly 23,000 acres of land in Gilmer and Fannin counties in the north Georgia mountains. The Owltown and Cartecay tracts are state-owned lands located just outside of Ellijay totaling 5,062 acres. The Cartecay Tract is an archery-only tract just south of HWY 52 along the Cartecay River. The Owltown Tract in combination with approximately 18,000 acres of land that is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, make up the remainder of the Rich Mountain WMA.
By: Wildlife Biologist Bobby Bond, and Wildlife Technicians Randy Wood and Tommy Shover
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division has made some recent improvements for hunters on Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area.
- There is a new kiosk at the fork coming into the WMA. This makes picking up a map or a copy of the Hunting Regulations more convenient if you’re not stopping by the check station. This was completed for an Eagle Scout project with the Boy Scouts of America.
- The cut-through road has been re-opened for the first time in nearly a decade …
- … with repairs made to the breach in the crossing with a new culvert.
- Rusted out culverts on the Loop Road at the Big Grocery crossing have been replaced.
- The campground has been expanded and improved.
- Some roads that have been closed to vehicle traffic for years have been opened and graveled.
- New permanent firebreaks can be used for hunter access and areas to hunt.