So many of the changes in wildlife and fish populations around the Palmetto State are largely beyond our control, but it’s good to know that, occasionally, sportsman can do something that can directly help the patchwork quilt that is their home woods and waters.
Deer and turkey harvests have been falling for 10 years or better, but they appear to be largely beyond the control of hunters. The loss of habitat or changes in habitat have accounted for the drop in deer numbers, but at least the drop appears to be of a cyclical nature — driven by the way pines were planted back in the 1980s and a 25- to 30-year timber-cutting rotation.
Hunters are doing their part by increasing pressure on predators like coyotes and the wild pigs that are key destroyers of wildlife habitat.
Weather has always played a huge role in how well wild turkeys do — drought and rain can both have negative impacts on how well gobblers and hens get their springtime reproductive “job” done. It appears that has taken a big chunk out of the turkey flock and harvest in recent years.
Last month, there was word from SCDNR that the long-term drought the state experienced over the past decade appears to be the prime suspect in the decline of the Santee Cooper lakes’ blue catfish populations. Unusually low water levels over a long period of time contributed to an overall failure in reproduction among blue catfish, biologists suggest.
SCDNR has met with stakeholders around the lakes to discuss how to best attack the problem from a harvest standpoint: creel or minimum size limits may change to take the pressure off the fishery until reproduction kicks back into high gear and speeds the recovery. The success that SCDNR and stakeholders have had in the recovery of the lakes’ striped bass population points to similar success with blue cats because of the willingness of user groups to sacrifice for the greater good.
Sportsman around the Santee Cooper lakes can take a big step toward helping out all of the lakes’ fisheries at the end of waterfowl season early next year. SCDNR has received permission from the federal government to allow for a 60-day hunting season on cormorants — avian predators that have flocked to the lakes by the tens of thousands.
A Clemson study has documented that cormorants are preying on the baitfish that are a key to the health of gamefish at the top of the food chain. That led the feds to allow for hunting of cormorants, which are normally protected, along the same lines as depredation permits issued to landowners whose property is damaged by wildlife. Let’s make sure we take advantage of this opportunity to have a real hand in solving this problem.