Day 1: Wildlife Management Field Course – Pymatuning Ecology Lab
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The reason for my hiatus from blogging is almost complete. I’ve been teaching a wildlife management field course for the University of Pittsburgh for the past 2 and a half weeks. The class concludes Friday, and it has been a whirlwind ride. Long hours and hard work, but great students and an excellent experience. For the foreseeable future, I’ll walk you day-by-day through the class curriculum by highlighting different species, different habitats, different field techniques, and different adventures that my students, my TA, and myself have experienced. All different facets, but all instrumental within wildlife management/science and conservation at large. The class has been a fire hydrant approach – information starts spraying and doesn’t slow until the final bell rings. My students have ranged in experience but clueless at best to intermediately familiar. A great range of knowledge, but all individuals eager and hard working in their own right…all relatively dry sponges to soak up as much of the skills, information, and experiences as possible.

Let’s get started.

Monday morning kicked off with orientation to the site – a beautiful housing site on the shores of Lake Pymatuning supplemented with a full complement of teaching facilities positioned near the state fish hatchery and famous “geese walking on fish [carp]” spillway (more on that later).

Once we delved into course material, I started in a logical place – explaining myself and how I got to where I am. After prodding the students for some of their background, we discussed much of the history of wildlife science and management.

From the failures of early over-exploitation of our natural resources…

to the differences between custodial, hands-off management…

and manipulative, hands-on, “sticking our beak intentionally into nature” management…

to the interwoven web of politics, economics, special interests, culture, tradition, sociology, biology, ecology, and science that drives how management decisions are made…

to the 5 basic tools of wildlife management as proposed by Aldo Leopold back in 1930s…

to the corny titled “10 Steps to a Successful Wildlife Study” talk.

We stayed in the classroom until noon before taking on the task of learning compass, GPS, and basic orienteering skills. After marching through the various skills involved and discussing things like true north versus magnetic north, we set out on a “Where’s Waldo” mission to locate cover boards placed a month earlier for herp (reptiles and amphibians) sampling. I gave the students coordinates and it was up to them to navigate to that location and check under the cover boards for whatever they might find.

The students found several redback salamanders of multiple color morphs and a single juvenile northern slimy salamander.

With one round of navigation under their belts, we grabbed equipment to establish pitfall traps (a buried bucket strategically positioned to catch creeping and crawling critters) at a different field site.

With 25 cover boards checked, 16 pitfall traps dug, and lots of navigational frustration behind them, the students finished up activities before dinner. A brutal afternoon that would ultimately become the worst of the entire course’s field conditions. A good tone setter if I do say so myself.

The evening was left for scratching bug bites and wondering what in the world they had gotten themselves into.

Book Review: Joe Pickett series by C. J. Box
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Less of a book review and more a novel series review…

I’m starting in on book #5 “Out of Range” since I discovered the series last October in a gift shop at Mammoth Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Based on a Wyoming game warden, it’s a crime mystery/thriller series based on, well…really bad stuff that might happen out West if you’re a game warden. The author does a great job of spinning his tales around relevant environmental issues of the day as well, endangered species, the wolf reintroduction, natural gas exploration, mineral rights, etc.

They are probably rated some version of PG-13/R, so have discerning eyes when reading, but it has become my go-to read when I just need something to exhale my brain at night.

Big fans here…actually-no clue if they are fans of the book, or if Joe Pickett is some guy they really like. Random Google Images search return.

Energy Development and Infrastructure Field Trip
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I’m launching into a new research project in the coming months here at Ohio State University. The project will focus on the large-scale, coarse-grain effects of things such as energy development and land use conversion on the wildlife habitat present (or absent as the case may be) within Ohio’s rural landscape. Warming to the task, I jumped at an opportunity to follow David Hanselmann’s Environment and Natural Resources “May-mester” course on a field trip to Harrison County in eastern Ohio in mid May.

We heard information about how above ground (for well pad and road construction) leases were obtained, how below ground (mineral rights) leases were obtained, standard protocol for below ground drilling, considerations of threatened and endangered species and sensitive habitats (wetlands), and some of the economics at play in the region. For the well pad, road, and pipeline construction, there is a big focus on ensuring dirt stays where it is supposed to in order to prevent water quality issues and soil erosion concerns.

Much of my fascination is with how post-construction practices can be modified in order to A) minimize negative impacts to local wildlife communities and habitat, B) provide maximum benefits to local wildlife communities and habitat, and C) maintain cost-effectiveness for energy industry companies and accompanying private landowners where oil/gas development is occurring. Perhaps the project vision is utopic at the moment, but I think there is tremendous potential for collaboration for parties who have been wrongly pitted as being “against” one another for far too long.

Wild Harvest Initiative – “It’s What’s For Dinner”
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Shane Mahoney’s conservation group called Conservation Visions is kicking off a 5-year look into the sustenance provided by wild proteins secured by more than 40 million North American sportsmen and sportswomen.

The Wild Harvest Initiative is really a spectacular vision to document what will undoubtedly be a hard-hitting acclaim: the wild protein procured by recreational hunters and fishermen offsets a tremendous amount of would-be calories generated by more modern vices such as intensive agriculture and domestic livestock production.

As founder, Shane Mahoney has spent a tremendous deal of his life’s time and energy promoting the North American model of conservation and justifying the role of recreational hunters and fishers in that context – he’s a tremendous spokesperson. However, many of the justifications that we [recreational hunters and fishers] have used also have decent counter-arguments. This is a good one though. Particularly in an era when the locavore and organic food movement has gained traction amongst previously disengaged segments of the American public, this argument will likely secure great traction and aid in keeping consumptive recreational activities firmly in place within the North American landscape.

Follow the link to their recent press release on June 8, and watch for more updates as this unfolds in the coming months and years.

Book Review: The Drunkard’s Walk (i.e., randomness)
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One of the more interesting books I’ve read in a quite while, but not exactly a curl-up-on-the-couch kind of book. Takes an engaged and active mind to really understand what the author is communicating through his many historical narratives, numbers-based mind benders, and statistical reasoning. I could take this review any number of ways, but this is a blog mostly about outdoor things, so I’ll try to keep my few observations as on topic as possible.

But heck, this is about randomness, so I’ll be random. My daughter scribbled this on her etch-a-sketch. It’s awesome…and random.

The odds of rolling two 6′s with dice is based on probability, it’s not random. But here’s a fallacy of throwing dice, if you throw 10 sets of dice and don’t get a 6, your odds are no better of achieving that 6 on your next throw. You’re never “due” as we like to say. Dice rolls are INDEPENDENT outcomes, which essentially means that the outcome of the last dice roll (or of the last 50 rolls) does not influence your next toss.

How does that apply to the outdoors? Well, I know a good many people who sit in the same deer hunting stand year after year after year, and proclaim that they are due.

For those who do this year after year unsuccessfully, maybe you should re-evaluate! But for those who are occasionally successful, the “I’m due” phenomenon is all too often mentioned. No, for your deer stand, there is a probability of annual success – let’s say it’s 16.67% (same as tossing a specified number with 1 roll of a die). This essentially means that you can expect to kill 1 deer every 6 years. Expect is the key word, 1 out of 6 doesn’t mean those are the results you will actually experience. You may get back-to-back success years, this doesn’t sentence you to 10 consecutive unsuccessful years in the future. One year’s outcome does not influence the next’s. Makes my head spin just thinking about it. If I was as good a writer as Leonard Mlodinow, perhaps this wouldn’t be so confusing.

The bell curve or normal distribution. One of the most frequent questions I got asked during my time in Alabama was this – “what is the antler score of the average mature Alabama buck?” They asked, so I’d answer, usually somewhere in the 110-120″ vicinity. Inevitably, they would bark at me that there is no way that’s the average because they just killed a monster 130″ buck just last weekend. Welcome to outliers in normally-distributed data. The shape of a bell curve is centered on the mean or average, and the spread or width or narrowness of the curve is based on the standard deviation. If you look at the %’s in the figure above, you can see that 95.44% of the bucks can be expected to score within +/- 2 standard deviations of the average. 100% – 95.44% = 4.66% leftover. By dividing that 4.66% by 2, we get 2.33% (roughly in 1 in 43). That means for every 43 bucks that are shot, you’re going to get a really low outlier (think 8 year old 4 pointer with 10″ spread) and one really high outlier (think 4 year 12 pointer with 19″ spread and grossing in the upper 160s).

Here’s a couple other examples:

The values on the horizontal axis represent the change in antler score from one year to the next for a mature whitetail buck in south Texas. “Let em’ pass this year, he’ll be way bigger next year.” Maybe, maybe not. The bell curve I’m staring at here suggests it’s a total coin toss. Some will blow up, note the 2 animals all the way at right that added 40″ of antler growth. Some will shrink drastically, look far left. A lot will experience menial/insignificant change.

I defend my answer for Alabama bucks. Here’s a chart based on deer from the Faith Ranch in south Texas, data courtesy of Texas A&M University folks. Go to south Texas to shoot a B&C buck right? Well, how’s 5 out of 251 mature bucks strike you? Dad and I saw this exact scenario play out back in 2007 when we went down to the mighty King Ranch to assist a helicopter deer capture operation for a couple days. We (our group collectively) handled 70 or 80 different bucks in that amount of time. 0 170″+ bucks. MAYBE 1 160″ buck. The King Ranch!!! Numbers don’t lie.

Back to random, my 3 years and 7 months old daughter (slightly older now) created this beautiful work of art.

Take a minute to “see” the horse and then marvel at her random work of art. Seriously, it’s random scribbling. Random, huh?!?!?! Kind of like seeing a Mother Mary apparition in a piece of French toast.

Back to the book “The Drunkard’s Walk”, I highly recommend it. It will alarm you how badly you understand probabilities, randomness, and numbers in general. It’s even more alarming to see how our lives might look very different if we did understand those things better. Very entertaining read with examples ranging from the New York Yankees to OJ’s murder trial to Vanna White to Hollywood movie producers. It’s eye opening.

Infolinks 2013