December 29, 2012

Outdoors 2012: The drought dominates

There was no shortage of outdoors-related news in 2012. Here’s a look back at what I rank as the top stories.Ongoing drought

There was no shortage of outdoors-related news in 2012. Here’s a look back at what I rank as the top stories.

Ongoing drought

The worst drought in at least 60 years was the hands-down top outdoors story for 2012. Spreading in range and intensity, the on-going dryness impacted about all kinds of wildlife and nature-related activities.

Kansas’ two world-class wetlands, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms, were all but dry the last half of the year, robbing millions of migrating fowl of resting and feeding areas.

Many birders and hunters normally dependant on the marshes did poorly this year.

Water levels at many lakes and reservoirs dropped to levels that made boating hazardous and some were without functional ramps much of the year.

Thousands of miles of creeks and many private impoundments were bone dry. Places with water were often tainted with toxic blue-green algae as the heat and drought robbed the waters of the fresh inflow needed to combat the algae.

Many forms of wildlife really took it on the chin.

Following the best pheasant season in more than 25 years in 2010, the 2012 season is the worst in memory for many because of two years of drought.

Deer numbers took a sizable hit in many areas. The drought directly claimed many fawns.

Serious outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, which is carried by insects that thrive in stagnant waters, reduced herds significantly, especially in northeast Kansas.

The drought could well be the top outdoors story in 2013, too. The severe dry pattern shows no signs of breaking. Also, much of the rural countryside has been grazed or hayed by desperate ranchers needing to feed cattle. That has left very little cover and food for wildlife through the winter and going into next spring’s reproductive seasons.

The drought has also locked down most of America’s northern prairies, where most of the ducks and geese migrating through Kansas are hatched. Season lengths and bag limits could be greatly curtailed for years to come if waterfowl numbers begin to plummet.

Cancer-fighting plant

Researchers announced a common Kansas plant, the wild tomatillo, could provide a major medical breakthrough for fighting cancer.

The joint study by the Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas School of Pharmacy and the University of Kansas School of Medicine identified at least 15 compounds within wild tomatillos not previously known to science.

Several of those compounds have been working well against breast, skin, thyroid and brain cancer in a variety of studies, including human cancer cells and infected laboratory mice.

Wild tomatillo plants, also known as ground cherries, are abundant on pristine and disturbed prairies.

Scientists say clinical trials on humans could begin within two years. Wild tomatillo-based drugs could possibly hit the market within about seven years.

It’s hoped the discovery will prompt more research into prairie plants, and provide more reasons for preserving natural grasslands.

Senior licenses

After being exempt for more than 40 years, Kansans 65 to 74 will have to purchase hunting and fishing licenses in 2013.

The regulation change passed through the Kansas legislature and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism commission this year.

Wildlife and Parks requested the exemption be stopped because a growing percentage of hunters and anglers are now 65 or older. By charging seniors, the department will also qualify for more federal funds raised from excise taxes on shooting, hunting and fishing equipment. Such funds are shared with states based largely on their number of license holders.

Commissioners gave the qualifying seniors a price break at half-price for annual hunting and fishing licenses for about $12. A lifetime combination permit sells for about $42.

State parks leaders are also hoping to spur annual vehicle permit sales by offering parks passports when annual vehicle registrations are paid. It’s hoped the opportunity to purchase will encourage more Kansans to utilize the state parks.

The $15 permits passed through the legislature in the spring, and go on sale Tuesday. They’ll be valid one year from the date of purchase.

Poaching cases

Kansas continues to grab the national spotlight for major deer poaching cases.

In January, David Kent, of Topeka, arrived at a deer hunting show carrying world-class antlers that could have beaten a typical whitetail state record that had stood for nearly 40 years.

Kent claimed he shot the buck in Nemaha County during the 2011 deer season. Trail cam photos of the buck about 100 miles south of where he claimed to have shot it lead to Kent’s admission of shooting the deer out of season, with an illegal weapon and at night with a spotlight.

In Osage County, court Kent was sentenced to about $9,500 in fines and restitution, 30 days in jail and his hunting privileges were revoked for five years.

Federal investigators spent much of the year wrapping up Operation Cimarron, possibly the largest trophy deer poaching case in U.S. history.

About 30 men from Texas and Louisiana were sentenced because of a variety of poaching crimes committed while staying at a hunting camp in Comanche County.

Noted deer hunting celebrity William “Spook” Spann also pleaded guilty to illegally shooting a deer scoring about 230 inches on land not authorized by his hunting permit.

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