By Dan Armitage, host of Buckeye Sportsman, Ohio’s longest running outdoor radio show
The 2020 acorn abundance survey conducted on 38 wildlife areas throughout Ohio shows an above-average year for red oaks and a below-average year for white oaks, according to the Ohio of Wildlife (ODOW). This is important. Ohio’s fall acorns are an important food source for more than 90 forest wildlife species, and mast crop distribution can influence hunting plans. The acorn mast crop is the number of nuts collectively produced by trees.
Division of Wildlife employees scanned the canopies of selected oak trees on wildlife areas to determine the percentage of trees that produced acorns and the relative size of the acorn crop. The results showed that an average of 27% of white oaks and 70% of red oaks bore fruit this year. Over the past five years, acorn production has oscillated. For the second year in a row, red oaks were well above the 16-year average, while white oaks were below average.
In addition to determining the presence or absence of acorns, ODOW observers estimated the percentage of each tree’s crown that was covered with acorns. Average crown coverage of acorns for white oaks was 6%, slightly above the 2019 total but below the long-term average of 9%. Average crown coverage for acorns for red oaks was 32%, an increase from last year and well ahead of the long-term average of 20%.
Of interest to me and my fellow hunters is the fact that wildlife prefer white oaks because red oaks acorns contain a high amount of tannin and taste bitter. Whitetailed deer, wild turkeys, and squirrels concentrate near areas with heavy crops of white and chestnut oak acorns.
As a whole, acorns are an important food source for many forest wildlife species, with studies linking the abundance of mast crops to body condition, winter survival, and reproductive success of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, black bears, gray squirrels, and ruffed grouse.
Savvy hunters use mast information to key in on areas to improve their hunting success. In those areas where acorns are an important part of the deer’s diet, mast availability can affect deer movements and ultimately hunter success. In poor mast years, where deer are forced to use other food sources, travel distances between feeding and bedding areas may be longer and more predictable, making deer more vulnerable to harvest. As such, this year’s mast crop may translate to relatively high hunter success rates in those areas where white oaks dominate.
This is the 16th year the Division of Wildlife has completed the acorn production mast survey. The results, including tables and historical numbers, can be found at wildohio.gov.
New regulations passed
Speaking of deer hunting, the Ohio Wildlife Council at its recent meeting passed a slate of new rules and regulations of interest to the state’s hunters, anglers and aquaculture interests. One affecting whitetailed deer carcass taxidermy and processing regulations takes effect Nov. 1; other rules that take effect on January 1, 2021 include new walleye and catfish daily limits as well as changes to aquaculture production.
The Council approved a six-walleye daily limit across Lake Erie from March 1 to April 30, 2021. A separate walleye daily limit for the Sandusky River and Sandusky Bay from March 1 to April 30 has been rescinded. This change aligns the walleye daily limit with the rest of the Lake Erie Sport Fishing District.
The vote also removed the six-fish daily limit of channel catfish on inland lakes and reservoirs less than 700 acres. The statewide daily bag limit of one channel catfish 28 inches or larger remains in place. The statewide changes do not include Hoover Reservoir, which has site-specific regulations. Removing the channel catfish bag limit on smaller lakes and reservoirs increases angler opportunities, promotes harvest, increases the growth rates of the remaining fish, and improves the overall health of these populations.
A third change allows certified Ohio taxidermists and venison processors to accept legally harvested out-of-state white-tailed deer and other cervid carcasses. Information about properly handling cervid carcasses will be distributed to certified taxidermists and processors to limit the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal disease that affects deer and other cervids. This change takes effect Nov. 1.
A final regulation change affects how American bullfrogs, green frogs, and their tadpoles are handled at aquaculture facilities. This regulation defines the American bullfrog and green frog as Class A aquaculture species, allowing the aquaculture operation to take naturally occurring bullfrogs, green frogs, and tadpoles for sales, propagation, or rearing. Tadpoles of these species are required to originate from the aquaculture facility and may not be taken from the wild.
Wetlands projects announced
Governor Mike DeWine joined the ODOW and Ducks Unlimited recently to announce the development of a new H2Ohio wetlands project in Wyandot County. The wetlands will be located near the Andreoff Wildlife Area in the headwaters of the Blanchard River which ultimately flows into Lake Erie.
“We’re excited about these new wetlands because they’ll help naturally improve water quality by trapping, filtering, and removing excess pollutants and nutrients, like phosphorus, from the water before they flow into Lake Erie and contribute to harmful algal blooms,” said Governor DeWine. “One of the long-term goals of the H2Ohio initiative is to prevent algal blooms on Lake Erie through projects like this.”
H2Ohio funding was granted to Ducks Unlimited to purchase 278 acres in Wyandot County directly to the east of Andreoff Wildlife Area where the new wetland complex will be built. The wetlands will utilize drainage from surrounding agricultural fields as a water source. The water will feed into the wetlands via a system of pumps and tiles designed to control flow for maximum nutrient and sediment reduction.
In addition to their water quality benefits, wetlands provide excellent wildlife habitat for uniquely adapted plant and animal species, many of which are considered in peril. The public, including birders, anglers, and waterfowl hunters, will have access to this property once wetland construction is complete, as part of the Andreoff Wildlife Area complex.
This wetland project joins several others that already have broken ground as part of the H2Ohio initiative including: the Fruth Wetland Nature Preserve in Seneca County, the St. Joseph Confluence Reconnection in Williams County, the Van Order Wetland and Forest Restoration in Henry County, and the Forder Bridge Floodplain Reconnection in Paulding County. The H2Ohio initiative currently has 26 wetland projects underway. These projects are being completed in collaboration with the Black Swamp Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, and various county and metropark systems, among other partners.