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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Black Helicopters and 18-Wheelers, or Manifest Destiny?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., Feb. 18, 2006.)
Among several explanations for how the coyote
arrived in Penn's woods, the most difficult to
believe is that the Game Commission, or the timber
industry, or insurance companies stocked them.
No black helicopters. No 18-wheelers unloading coyotes on timber company land. No auto insurance companies conspiring to reduce the deer population. Nobody's wife's co-worker's brother-in-law's neighbor shot a coyote with an ear-tag or a tattoo disclosing the coyote's origin from a breeder or trapper in Montana or Wyoming. None of this has happened. To anyone who says otherwise, I say "Show me!"

But if coyotes were not stocked in Pennsylvania, where did they come from? In an October, 2005 column I promised to answer that question.

Coyotes now reside in every state except Hawaii. To anyone claiming that coyotes were stocked in Pennsylvania, I ask "Who stocked them in Ohio, New York, Michigan, Virginia, Maine, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alaska? Coyotes now live in every state and Canadian province. How did they get there?"

It is documented that coyotes populated Alaska when men chased gold there in the late nineteenth century. One historian says that coyotes "followed the trail of dead horses" to Alaska, scavenging what man left in his wake as he blazed a gold-fever trail to the Yukon. No one in Alaska claims anything else, and no one accuses the Alaska Department of Fish and Game of a secret coyote stocking program.

I've been asked, "Back when you began hunting, did old-timers ever talk about coyotes?" The answer is no, but that does not mean that coyotes did not exist in Pennsylvania. In fact, they have existed in Pennsylvania for more than 65 years, and the proof is in the pictures published in the March 1941 issue of Pennsylvania Game News. In January of that year hunters in Venango County killed several after discovering them during the 1940 deer season.

No one knows when the first coyote arrived in Pennsylvania. One theory is that they have always been here -- that the wolves we had in colonial days were "brush wolves" or coyotes that were never completely extirpated, and that they have made a comeback from a few remaining isolated pockets.

Others believe that the timber wolves of early Pennsylvania were eliminated, opening the door for the smaller canine cousin. Coyotes were occasionally brought into southern states as a target animal for hunters using foxhounds. Perhaps the few that weren't killed in the chase established populations in other states east of the Mississippi. Others possibly walked across the Mississippi on bridges to states east of the great river.

But the best explanation for the origins of the eastern coyote, the subspecies that inhabits Pennsylvania, is found in the research of Gerry Parker, a wildlife biologist from Nova Scotia, in his book, "Eastern Coyote: The Story of Its Success".

According to Parker, coyotes were a western resident at the time Europeans began to colonize North America. As civilization moved westward, coyotes spread eastward and northward. As man reduced or eliminated wolves and mountain lions, he creating a niche for a large canine predator that could live in an uneasy harmony with man.

Parker shows through historical and scientific research that coyotes moved from upper midwestern states across the Canadian border. He compiled records of sightings and killings that shows a gradual expansion north of the Great Lakes, eastward into the Maritime Provinces, and down into New England and the eastern United States.

Parker also notes that the eastern coyote is larger than its western cousin, and theorizes that the early migrants into Canada had difficulty finding mates. Consequently they took opportunities to interbreed with wolves, resulting in a larger, more vigorous strain than was known in the American west. The theory of interbreeding has been buttressed through DNA studies. Perhaps also the coyote of the east is larger because it is better nourished, finding eastern prey animals in greater abundance.

No one should think that wildlife exists in a static environment. Animal populations of all species rise and fall with food supplies. Changes in habitat are another external factor that helps determine the ability of animals to populate an area. And for almost all animals we have today, one key to survival is adapting to the presence of man.

Thus among several explanations for how the coyote arrived in Penn's woods, the most difficult to believe is that the Game Commission, or the timber industry, or insurance companies stocked them. No evidence for that exists, but plenty of evidence exists that coyotes found their own way here. The term "manifest destiny" has been used as an explanation for man's persistent and thorough impact on the entire North American landscape. The same term can be applied to our canine cohabitant, the prolific song dog we call the coyote.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

It's Showtime For Outdoorsmen!

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., February 4, 2006.)
Sportsman's shows are a virtual cabin fever festival.
Right around Groundhog Day, winter begins to infect the outdoorsman with a bad case of cabin fever. One cure is to grab a friend and head for one of our area outdoor sport shows. It's good medicine, and easy to take.

Pennsylvanians are well positioned for "show season". We have easy driving access to some of the nation's top shows where you can attend some seminars, see new products, and rub elbows with countless professionals involved in hunting and fishing. It's an opportunity worth taking.

If you're planning a hunting or fishing trip in the near future, sport shows are the place to begin investigating your options. Guides and outfitters are there to sell their services, and want to sign up clients. But it's also a public relations game for them, so their time is your time.

Even if that hunting or fishing trip is not on your calendar for a few more years, you'll take an important first step by collecting some brochures, and listening to the questions other hunters ask. You'll learn what to look for, and what to look out for. You'll pick up lots of pointers on what to ask when it's time to get serious about planning your own trip of a lifetime, and figure out what realistic expectations are.

Representatives from national conservation societies also populate the booths at outdoor shows. They're signing up new members and promoting the worthy goals of their clubs. You can also learn about state and regional organizations. Take some of their literature and read it while you wait for turkey and trout openers.

Big manufacturer's representatives as well as small but creative entrepreneurs will keep your attention as they demonstrate their products. If there is piece of equipment you've been thinking of adding to your personal inventory, the shows are a good place to see it, hear it, touch it, and maybe even smell it. The latest camo, game callers, bows, and scents are just a few of our favorite things that are plentiful at the shows. In fact, it's a good idea to take along a shoulder satchel -- and a little money to spend on things to put in it.

The BIG show starts today in Harrisburg and goes until February 12. That gives you plenty of time to get there, but give yourself plenty of time once you are there. The Eastern Sport and Outdoor Show is the largest of its kind anywhere in North America, and it fills the huge State Farm Show Complex. Guides and outfitters from around the world come here. If you want to see everything and get a feel for the things that interest you, plan on spending the better part of two days -- because it's "gi-normous"!

Programs at the Eastern Sport Show include "The Great Elk Tour," the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's premier traveling conservation exhibit. It showcases mounts of the largest and most unusual bull elk in the world, and it's a must-see if you're interested in big elk.

Seminars and contests are available, along with activities for children. You'll have the chance to acquaint yourself with what goes into great taxidermy, and pick the brains of experts in virtually every kind of hunting and fishing. In one word, EVERYTHING is there. To plan your visit around the activities you want to see, check out the details at www.EasternSportShow.com.

The big one isn't the only show around. You can also make one-day trips to nearby Erie (March 3-5) and Hamburg, New York. (March 9-12). Here is an opportunity to see the NRA Great American Whitetail Collection, watch or participate in a NWTF sanctioned turkey calling contest, or attend one of several seminars. Going online at www.SportAndTravelExpo.com gets you information on these two.

The last two shows I'll mention (although there are several more available) are the Allegheny Sport Show (February 15-19) at the Monroeville ExpoMart and the Cleveland Sport, Travel & Outdoor Show (March 11-19) at the I-X Center. The sheer number of seminars at these shows are worth many times the single admission price. Check out what's in store for you at www.SportAndTravel.com.

Sportsman's shows are a virtual cabin fever festival. They offer a wholesome change of environment that does the body, mind and spirit good. Just the anticipation helps keep you from going stir crazy. So, attend one of our area sport shows and chase away the winter blues.