Public urged to report hellbender sightings

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hellbender

HAYESVILLE, NC – The eastern hellbender is North America’s largest salamander. Living in clean, swift-running rivers throughout the eastern United States, the reptiles spend their entire lives in water. Also known as snot otters and devil dogs, a decline in the hellbender population is causing concern for scientists and wildlife management officials. The U.S. Forest Service is requesting the public’s assistance through its “Don’t Move the Rocks!” campaign. Signs can be found in national forests where hellbenders are known to dwell and reproduce.

Furthermore, biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) are asking the public, in particular anglers, to report any sightings of hellbenders to the agency. Sightings are an important part of a long-term inventory and monitoring project for hellbenders that agency staff, along with partners, began in 2007. NCWRC hopes to learn more about where hellbenders are located and how the population is coping.

hellbender

A sign posted by the United States Forest Service.

Hellbenders were once common, but have disappeared throughout much of their habitat, mainly due to declining water quality and habitat degradation, and to a lesser degree to persecution from anglers who mistakenly think that hellbenders decrease trout populations. Although they may occasionally strike a trout on a line or stringer, looking for an easy meal, hellbenders eat mainly crayfish, explained Wildlife Diversity Biologist Lori Williams, who has done extensive work on hellbenders. “They may also eat unsuspecting minnows and scavenge for dead fish, discarded bait or other dead animals,” Williams said. “However, fish can be bigger predators of young or larval hellbenders than hellbenders of fish.”

Hellbenders are found in fast-moving, clean mountain streams in northern Georgia and western North Carolina. Because they breathe through their skin, hellbenders are sensitive to poor water quality. The reptiles are considered a “bioindicator,” or a species that can tell biologists about degrading environmental conditions when conditions begin changing.

“When Clemson University master’s student Lauren Diaz set out to study the ecology of hellbender salamanders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) in the streams of western North Carolina, she anticipated some challenges,” Mary Bates, a freelance journalist with TheScientist.com explained. “Although they can grow to two feet long, hellbenders…are difficult to find in the wild due to effective camouflage and their habit of hiding under rocks. And it’s not unusual for the nest boxes that researchers install as habitat for the amphibians to get washed away or blocked by sediment. But last spring, Diaz made a startling discovery when she went to check on the animals. Although all of the nearly 100 boxes she’d installed several months earlier in the Little Tennessee River watershed were still in place, not one housed a hellbender. Closer investigation revealed the population was gone.

hellbender

Map provided by Research Gate

“Hellbenders inhabited these streams as recently as 2015. Nobody knows exactly when they left or why, but Diaz fears they died out. Because hellbenders only live in fast-moving, clean mountain streams, she speculates that changes in land use around the Little Tennessee River might be affecting the water quality, although she hasn’t yet tested that hypothesis.

“This population’s disappearance is just one of the latest blows for the salamanders, whose numbers are believed by researchers to be in decline across their range from New York to Alabama and Mississippi and as far west as Missouri,” Bates wrote. “To the surprise of many biologists and conservationists, however, the US Fish and Wildlife Service in April denied the eastern hellbender federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The agency cited a paucity of data: there wasn’t enough information available about the past and current status of hellbenders to make an informed assessment.”

Anyone who finds a hellbender is asked to leave it undisturbed. Note the location (physical location or GPS coordinates) and take a photo, if possible. Email information to Lori Williams at lori.williams@ncwildlife.org.

In addition, citizens can call the Commission Wildlife Interaction Helpline (866) 318-2401 and provide details of the observation.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-487-9027 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com --- News tips will be held in strict confidence upon request.

Wild hog sightings continue at Towns County campground

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Wild hogs

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Visitors at Chatuge Woods Campground, a 30-acre county operated tract located on the banks of Lake Chatuge, have reported a wild hog frequenting the area, and Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw wants area newcomers to be aware of the presence of the invasive species.

Bradshaw explained that the nuisance notoriously increases during the summer months due to wild hogs venturing down mountain slopes to secure an available food source. “There’s always more than one, but we’ve only seen one so far,” the commissioner told FetchYourNews, referring to the recent campground sighting. Bradshaw reported that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has installed a trap in the area to capture the creature, and it will be returned to the wild if the catch proves successful.

The swine sighting follows FYN’s recent reports of Towns County Fire Chief-Coroner Harold Copeland receiving a $330 fine from the United States Forest Service for shooting a wild hog on federal land. While there is no hunting season for wild hogs on private property, the animals can only be eliminated with proper weaponry during open hunting seasons for other wildlife on national land.

Copeland received overwhelmimg community support as a result of FYN’s initial coverage.

“Feral swine were first brought to the United States in the 1500s by early explorers and settlers as a source of food,” the United States Department of Agriculture states on its website. “Repeated introductions occurred thereafter. The geographic range of this destructive species is rapidly expanding and its populations are increasing across the nation.”

A conservative estimate of the cost of wild pig damage to agriculture and the environment in the United States currently stands at $1.5 billion annually.

Towns County residents can report issues created by the wild hogs to DNR at 706-379-2040.

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-487-9027 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com --- News tips will be held in strict confidence upon request.

USFS fines Towns County fire chief-coroner for out-of-season hog hunting

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wild hog hunting

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – FetchYourNews (FYN) reported Friday, July 19, that the United States Forest Service (USFS) had launched an investigation into an incident which occurred Tuesday evening, July 16, during a FireWise Communities meeting at Towns County Fire and Rescue Station 6, off State Route 288, situated in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. According to meeting attendees, which included federal employees, gunfire erupted outside of the county facility while the meeting was in progress, the result of Towns County Fire Chief-Coroner Harold Copeland’s decision to shoot a wild hog that had wandered nearby.

Federal investigators with the USFS visited the site of the shooting over the weekend, and determined with metal detectors that the shooting had occurred on federal property. Copeland was fined $330 for the violation. While there is no hunting season for feral hogs on private property, the wild hogs may only be taken on forest service land with proper weaponry during an open hunting season on other wildlife.

Copeland told FYN on Friday, prior to receiving the charge, that he believed that the incident had occurred on property belonging to Towns County Clerk of Court Cecil Dye, located adjacent to the federal jurisdiction. Dye confirmed that he had, in fact, given the fire chief-coroner permission to eliminate the “invasive hogs” on his land in the past.

FYN spoke with Copeland Monday, July 22, following the conclusion of the USFS investigation. “It wasn’t a good decision,” Copeland said. “But today is another day, and life goes on.” Dye, who visited the scene, estimated the distance of the shooting at approximately 75-feet from his property line. “I believe it was because there was a meeting going on at the time, that’s what caused the investigation,” Dye told FYN, sympathetic to Copeland’s plight. The court clerk added that his property is “overrun” with feral hogs, causing widespread damage to vegetation.

Copeland received an abundance of community support on social media, following the release of FYN’s initial report.

Related Archive

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-487-9027 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com --- News tips will be held in strict confidence upon request.

Towns County fire chief-coroner under investigation after killing wild hog

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USFS enforcement

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The United States Forest Service (USFS) informed FetchYourNews (FYN) Friday, July 19, that an active investigation has been launched due to an incident which occurred outside of a local Firewise Communities meeting Tuesday, July 16, involving a fatal encounter between a wild hog and Towns County Fire Chief-Coroner Harold Copeland.

Firewise Communities – a coalition which includes local, state, and federal fire managers – held its regular meeting Tuesday evening at Towns County Fire Station 6, located off State Route 288. The county fire station is situated on federal land within the boundaries of the Oconee-Chattahoochee National Forest.

According to individuals in attendance, gunfire erupted outside of the fire station as the meeting took place, the result of Fire Chief-Coroner Copeland’s decision to shoot a wild hog that had wandered toward an undisclosed area beside the facility. A member of Towns County Fire and Rescue stated that the hog’s carcass had been removed from the area and disposed of by the department at Copeland’s request.

FYN spoke with Copeland July 18, offering an opportunity to explain the situation. Copeland stated that Towns County Clerk of Court Cecil Dye had given the chief-coroner permission to shoot wild hogs on the court clerk’s property, an area which borders the federal land. “I killed it in the woods,” Copeland told FYN. “It was on Cecil Dye’s land.” Dye confirmed with FYN that he had, in fact, given Copeland permission to hunt “invasive hogs” on his property in the past.

While it is unknown if the dually appointed fire chief-elected coroner will be charged with a violation, hunting out-of-season on federal land and discharging a firearm within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site, or occupied area is illegal in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

UPDATED: Wild hogs may be taken on forest service land with archery equipment during archery deer season, with deer weapons during firearms deer season, with turkey weapons during turkey season, and with small game weapons during small game season. There are no restrictions on private property, however.

FYN will continue to follow developments, reporting updated information as it becomes available.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-487-9027 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com --- News tips will be held in strict confidence upon request.

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