Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Can Coal Mining Be Good for Habitat?

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 25, 2013.)

What words come to mind when you think of coal mining? Probably not “good wildlife habitat” – not unless you’ve seen what I’ve seen.  

Last week I was invited on a combination turkey hunt and “energy tour” in the southwestern corner of the state. (Yes, I scored on my #2 gobbler of the season, with daggers for spurs, but that’s a story for another day.)

We tend to think of malls and parking lots 
as some of the chief destroyers of habitat, 
but it hasn’t always been that way.

Our small group hunted and toured for three days, and one of the places we visited was a site where long-wall mining caused the ground to sag about 4½ feet after the mining was finished. It’s called “subsidence,” and you’d think it was an ecological disaster. But through cooperation between the Pennsylvania Game Commission and CONSOL Energy, facilitated by the National Wild Turkey Federation, a big pile of rotten lemons were turned into refreshing lemonade for many wildlife species.

We tend to think of malls and parking lots as some of the chief destroyers of habitat, but it hasn’t always been that way. For decades, most people thought swamps were wasteland, and draining them was good. In fact, the federal government actually paid farmers to drain wetlands to put more land into production. Even our government failed to see the value of wetlands as wildlife habitat. Consequently, we don’t have the wetlands we once had, and it’s the most needed type of wildlife habitat in Pennsylvania.

Wetland acreage is at an all-time low, and many wildlife species are desperate for wetlands. Doug Dunkerley, Southwest Regional Land Manager for the Game Commission, says, “Of the 36 threatened and endangered species in Pennsylvania, 71% of them require wetlands at some time during their lifecycles.” Without wetlands, they become extinct.

One stretch of mine subsidence. In 2010 it was sunken ground. Today it’s valuable wetland.

How do you reclaim wetlands? Most of the time you don’t, and the cost can be astronomical – up to $100,000 per acre. But mine subsidence is an opportunity to make new wetlands, which is what CONSOL Energy is doing in cooperation with the Game Commission.

In the past when long-wall mines subsided, outdated science said to fill in the holes, compact the ground, grade it, throw down some topsoil, and plant fescue, white pine and locust to mitigate erosion. It amounted to putting cosmetics on dead land. It would be green, but it wouldn’t be wildlife habitat.

The role of the National Wild Turkey Federation in this is primarily to be a facilitator. Jay Jordan, NWTF's Energy for Wildlife coordinator, says. “What many people consider damage to the landscape is better thought of as impact, and impact can be good.”

With the guidance of the proper consultants in biology, geology and hydrology, the coal company financed the project and turned the land over to the Game Commission in 2011. It has been transformed into wetlands, and already teeming with wildlife. “Everybody wins,” says Dunkerley. “Countless wildlife species benefit, not just game species. You'll see more wildlife here than you will most places – ducks, geese, bats, swallows, tadpoles, aquatic insects, and a lot more.” 

On this particular site in Greene County, the Game Commission received 212 acres from CONSOL in a trade for 55 acres elsewhere. All totaled, CONSOL has donated or traded properties to add roughly 44,000 acres to the wildlife habitat managed by the Game Commission.

Can mining be good for wildlife habitat? You bet it can.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Spring Morning in the Life of a Gobbler

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 11, 2013.)

At 5:38 AM on May 3, a gobbler pulls his head out from under his wing. He listens. Songbirds. Then a few crows squawk. He strains to hear that soft, seductive voice of a pretty hen. In a nearby tree another gobbler utters a low yelp, almost imperceptible. That’s all he hears.

Both turkeys stand up and stretch their wings. They fan out, but only for a second, then fold up to lay every feather perfectly in place. More than 20 minutes pass in silence. The gobblers stretch their necks to peer at the ground. A deer drifts by. Then a skunk. 

At 6:01 AM the sun is about to peek over the horizon, and the gobbler is overdue for a morning shout-out. “Gobbellobbelll!”

His proud call is met with silence. Minutes pass. 

One big bird pitches to the ground, then the other. Both gobblers patrol the area of their roost trees, but only one has anything to say today. “Gobbellobbelll!”

A few hens were in the vicinity yesterday. Maybe they’re in the field. So, the gobblers walk across a ravine and snake through the berry bushes at the field’s edge, and into the green, luscious grass. Hen’s love it here. This early in the morning the wet grass provides moisture and the cool temperature slows the bugs that live there. It’s an easy, succulent breakfast. “Gobbellobbelll!”

“Yelp, yelp, yelp. Cluck. Cluck.” There she is, still over in the woods, across the ravine but downhill from our roost site. “Gobbellobbelll! Here we are, come on over! Gobbellobbelll!”

Maybe if we fan out she’ll see us. “Gobbellobbelll!”

“Yelp, yelp. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Cluck. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

She’s not coming yet, but she will. I’ll fan out again.  “Gobbellobbelll!” I’m irresistible. She wants me.

Though the gobbler can’t count the minutes that pass, his ears are tuned for more yelps. They do not come. She must be on her way over here. 

The 19-pound gobbler that didn't
survive the morning of May 3.
A few minutes later, “Yelp, yelp. Cluck. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

She hasn’t moved. “Gobbellobbelll!” His proud call is met with silence. Minutes pass again.

“Yelp, yelp. Cluck. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr.” She’s staying put.

A few minutes later a cacophony of inharmonious sounds surge across the ravine. High pitches. Low pitches. Sweet. Raspy. Hard clucks and loud, rattling purrs. A bunch of hens. They’re all over there, and they all want me. I’ll head on over. Maybe they’ll meet me halfway.

The gobblers saunter to the edge of the field and stop to listen. The loud hen voices erupt again. They haven’t moved. They’re still over there. The gobblers step into the woods, head toward the ravine, and pause at the brink to listen and watch. The hen chorus bursts forth a third time, and the gobblers hurry across.

The first head pops up from the ravine; he knows right where the hens are. A few more steps and he stops to look. They’ve gone silent, but they can’t be far away. The second gobbler catches up, and turns sideways. A 9-inch beard juts from his chest.

Boom! A thunderous noise. The second gobbler flops and is still. The blast shocks the first into sounding off. “Gobbellobbelll!” A man stands up where those hens were supposed to be. Muscular wings thrust the gobbler out over the ravine. Every beat pumps nearly twenty pounds of turkey toward the treetops.

The man straddles the gobbler on the ground. The gobbler kicks and tries to spread his wings, but his strength is reduced to uncoordinated impulses.

Somewhere, down in the valley, a gobbler glides to a landing and folds his wings. He stands as still as a statue for five minutes before walking away.

Life goes on. Tomorrow will be another new day, and he’ll greet it with another throaty gobble.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Sorensen wins "Best Magazine Feature"!

Steve Sorensen, outdoor columnist for the Warren Times Observer (Warren, PA), was an award winner at the annual Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association Conference on May 4, held in Franklin, PA. Sorensen received the award for an article called “The Deer Scrape and Old Spice,” which appeared in the September 2012 issue of Deer and Deer Hunting magazine. Outgoing President Richard Faler presented the award.
Steve Sorensen (right) receiving the award for “Best Magazine Feature” from Richard Faler, President of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.
Sorensen’s newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter® is also featured in the Forest Press (Tionesta, PA). Sorensen is the editor of the Havalon Sportsman’s Post, and a field editor for Bear Hunters Online. He also freelances for many magazines, serves as pastor of Pine Grove Christian Fellowship in Russell, PA, and speaks frequently at sportsman's events.