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DNR: Sandy's impact should be 'minimal'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hurricane Sandy dumped 2 to 3 feet of wet, heavy snow on West Virginia's high mountains earlier this week, but wildlife officials don't believe the blizzard will have any lasting effect on wildlife.

"I think the impact will be minimal, especially if the snow doesn't stay very long," said Paul Johansen, assistant wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources.

"It takes a while for that much snow to melt, but with acorns relatively abundant this fall, deer and turkeys and other animals went into the storm in pretty good physical condition. They should be fine for a few days while the snow melts."

Johansen said creatures that live in the state's highest elevations are accustomed to weather extremes.

"They're well adapted to conditions in the mid-Atlantic region, and those conditions certainly include high winds and snowstorms," he explained.

Hunters aren't nearly as well adapted to foul weather as their quarry. Johansen expects the snowstorm to affect both the deer archery harvest and the fall turkey harvest.

"The biggest impact will be on the fall turkey season," he said. "Hunters won't be able to get back into the woods to hunt. In those [mountain] counties, the opportunity to kill a turkey is proportional to the miles you're able to put under your feet. That kind of far-ranging search becomes really difficult when there's a lot of snow on the ground."

Most of the counties currently open to turkey hunting are the so-called "traditional" counties, and most of them lie squarely where the highest snows fell.

"If it had been a little bit of snow, it might have helped hunters locate birds," Johansen said. "But 2 feet of snow is a bit much. The storm definitely will have a negative impact on this fall's turkey harvest."

Snowfall also affected trappers who were hoping to kick off their winters by putting out a few sets during Saturday's trapping-season opening day.

"With that much snowfall, I don't think a lot of trapping got done," said Rich Rogers, the DNR's furbearer project leader. "It shouldn't have much effect on the number of pelts that get taken, but it did get mountain-county trappers off to a later start."

The impact on bowhunters should be minimal as well.

The bear archery harvest shouldn't suffer much, mainly because bears were already scattered widely through the woods and were difficult for archers to locate.

Decades' worth of DNR data have shown that bowhunters kill far fewer bears when mast is plentiful than when it is scarce. This fall's abundant acorn crop was depressing the bow harvest even before the snowstorm hit.

Johansen believes the deer archery harvest will be affected, but only a little.

"It will provide a short-term hindrance to hunters," he said. "Again, we don't anticipate the snow staying on all that long."

Had the storm come just a week later, during the run-up to the peak of the rut, Johansen might have had a different opinion. Coming when it did - just days after rutting activity began - the storm probably affected only those archers who are so diehard they spend every possible waking moment in the woods.

"Really, I don't think we should anticipate much of an effect on the deer archery kill," Johansen said.

Sportsmen probably won't know until January the full extent of the blizzard's impact on hunting. DNR officials usually release the results of the fall turkey harvest sometime in December, and the deer and bear archery results in January.


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