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New regulations sought as state wrestles with a wildlife problem
A house-hunting opossum got the boot along Kennett Pike on Tuesday. In Dover, beavers flooded streams and felled saplings.
Across southern Delaware, farmers are losing to migratory snow geese that pounce ravenously on their fields of struggling winter grains. Statewide, some 31,000 deer roam woods, fields and backyards.
From red foxes and groundhogs to raccoons, wild things are returning to Delaware, despite its status as the eighth most densely populated state in America. The burgeoning populations, often frisky in the spring mating season, create headaches for some and sporting opportunities for others.
"I think in general we have a lot of species that are doing well," said Greg Moore, Wildlife Section manager for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
"They're probably all thriving just because they can adapt more easily to the changing landscape in Delaware than some other species."
At Critter Control, a wildlife removal service near Newark, office manager Lori Beth Masters said her company's usual concerns are less exotic but potentially more frantic.
"We get calls about squirrels, raccoons, bats. It's just the time of year for them to be breaking into homes. It's springtime. They're going to start having their babies in the next couple of weeks, and they'll get in through louver vents, eat holes in eaves and soffits, and try to make their way into an attic."
Nick Hackney, a removal specialist for Critter Control who was called to handle an opossum problem Tuesday, said raccoons and other wildlife tend to "go a little crazy" as spring progresses and young animals become rambunctious, alarming
States and counties across the country are wrestling with similar problems. Mercer County in New Jersey is considering use of a federally approved wildlife contraceptive to hold down deer herds. Indiana environmental officials recently issued advice to the public on coexisting with coyotes. Montana recently began giving out "Living with Wildlife" grants for projects aimed at human-wildlife conflicts.
Wildlife regulators want to loosen some of the regulations that protected many animal populations in the past. DNREC plans a final workshop Tuesday for a new 10-year plan for managing statewide deer populations in the face of a decline in hunter ranks. A separate public hearing is planned for March 25, meanwhile, on new hunting rules and new regulations for managing a wide range of wildlife.
The new regulations will give the crossbow equal status with the regular bow. Both would be legal for use from September through January, far longer than firearm deer-hunting seasons. Officials hope the change will open deer season to more hunters.
Pellet rifles, more suitable for young hunters, would become legal weapons for taking gray squirrels. And a new hunting season for red foxes would be authorized, making targets of a secretive creature once thought to be in serious retreat.
Near Milford, lawmaker and poultry farmer V. George Carey said Tuesday that he recently saw graphic proof of wildlife's resilience despite decades of habitat loss and suburbanization.
On a farm field not far from his home, Carey spotted a handful of bald eagles settling down to dine on a young red fox that trotted into the open and onto the birds' menu.
"It used to be you could hardly see a fox or a bald eagle, even around here," Carey said. "Now they're talking about a hunting season for fox, and there are quite a few eagles."
In fact, DNREC recently counted a record 120 bald eagles across the state.
Ken Reynolds, a DNREC Fish and Wildlife program manager who fielded two complaints about beaver dam-building hijinks in Kent County on Tuesday, said that wild animals are surprisingly quick to exploit a new habitat or food source, including garbage and cat food in suburban developments.
"There are some animals that are more adaptable to humans: raccoon and deer," Reynolds said. "Then you get some species like bobwhite quail, and it's not doing very well at all, although we still have a few local populations."
Secretive beaver, in contrast, are causing more trouble across the state, Reynolds said. Complaints about backed-up streams and ditches have come in recently from Dover, Magnolia and Laurel, and from New Castle County golf courses in the past.
DNREC has a $25,000 budget for beaver trapping, under a program that once relocated the creatures but now allows them to be taken for pelts and meat.
"We have run out of places where the animal is welcome, unfortunately," Reynolds said. "In some ways, in the right situation, they can provide some very nice habitat for other wetland species, whether it be ducks or frogs or turtles. But once they start flooding somebody's basement or cutting down trees that people just planted the day before, they quickly wear out their welcome."
Other species cause bigger problems.
"For a while, deer in some parts of the state were becoming a nuisance to some people. We saw an increase in accidents, in crop depredation, an increase in deer eating lawns, ornamental plants and flowers," DNREC's Moore said.
State officials countered with liberalization of hunting rules for farmers, and changes in management plans aimed at keeping herds healthy but manageable in size.
"Deer are a continuing problem, and in some spots are much worse than others, often either close to marshes or large tracts of forest land," said state Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee.
Geese have created similar problems, sometimes turning fields into mudflats.
"Snow geese are a problem, too, and now that the snow is melting, they're kind of hungry," Kee said. "They see those small grains, wheat and barley, that's been under the snow and they're getting kind of aggressive."
Other troubles could lie ahead, Moore added. State officials are considering a plan to manage coyote populations after tests of road kill carcasses and eyewitness accounts confirmed that the creature has set up in all three counties. And Maryland officials nabbed a black
Credits: By Jeff Montgomery - The News Journal - DelawareOnline.com