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MassWildlife Monthly February 2018

News from MassWildlife

Extended archery deer season proposed

A public hearing to extend the archery deer season in eastern Massachusetts will be held March 7, 2018 at 7 p.m. at the MassWildlife Field Headquarters, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough, MA. The proposal is to open the archery deer season two weeks early in eastern Massachusetts (Wildlife Management Zones 10–14). Click here to find more information about the public hearing, learn how to provide a public comment, and read proposed regulatory language.

The current archery deer season opens across the state six weeks before Thanksgiving and closes the Saturday after the holiday. The proposed change opens the archery deer season in WMZs 10–14 eight weeks before Thanksgiving. In WMZs 1–9, the archery deer season would remain the same, opening six weeks before Thanksgiving. The proposed season change will increase hunting opportunities in a region where deer numbers are above management range goals. No changes were recommended for WMZs 1–9; deer numbers in those zones are within management range goals. Click here to learn more about deer management.

The Fisheries and Wildlife Board will accept written public comment on the proposal at any time prior to the public hearing and for an additional two weeks after the hearing. Written and oral comments are accepted at the public hearing. Comments (both oral and written) must focus on the proposed regulation. Written comments can be mailed to:

Chairman, Fisheries and Wildlife Board, c/o MassWildlife Director
Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough, MA 01581

Public comments by e-mail may be sent to, Attn: Fisheries & Wildlife Board.

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Go wild on your taxes this year

Tax season is here, meaning it’s a great time to help keep Massachusetts wild! One easy way to help endangered animals and plants in the state is by donating on your state tax return. Simply fill in the amount you would like to donate on Line 33A for Endangered Wildlife Conservation. All the monies donated go to the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Fund, a fund dedicated specifically to the conservation of rare species. This Fund supports MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, responsible for the hundreds of species that are listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern in Massachusetts.

Despite its status as the nation’s symbol, Bald Eagles were targeted and killed for the better part of a century. This intentional killing, coupled with habitat loss and pollutants like DDT, caused breeding Bald Eagles to disappear from Massachusetts in the early 1900s. Beginning in 1982, MassWildlife and its partners began to relocate young eagles from Michigan and Canada to an area overlooking the Quabbin Reservoir in efforts to reestablish breeding pairs in the state. These relocated eagles were raised by a wildlife management practice known as hacking, in which young birds of prey are raised in an outdoor cage with no direct human contact and later released into the wild. The eaglets came to view the area around the Quabbin as their home turf and when they matured, some of the hacked eagles established breeding territories at the reservoir. In 1989, eight decades after the last historic Bald Eagle nest was observed in Massachusetts (on Snake Pond in Sandwich), three chicks fledged from two Quabbin nests. Fast forward to 2017, when 68 territorial pairs of Bald Eagles were observed in Massachusetts—this is the highest number of territorial pairs since their reintroduction.

While Massachusetts has made considerable progress, 427 plants and animals are still recognized as rare in the state. MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program is the first line of defense for Massachusetts’ most vulnerable plants and animals. Donating to the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Fund ensures continuing conservation for these rare species.

Already filed your taxes, but still want to donate? Contributions can be made directly by sending a check made payable to “Commonwealth of MA—NHESP” to MassWildlife, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough, MA 01581.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed thus far!

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Preliminary deer harvest report shows record year in 2017

The preliminary statewide deer harvest for 2017 is 13,220 – a new record high. Archery and primitive firearms seasons also saw record harvests. The preliminary harvest figures by season are as follows:

  • Youth Deer Hunt Day (Sept. 30): 109
  • Paraplegic Deer Hunt (Nov. 2–4): 4
  • Archery Season (Oct. 16–Nov. 25): 5,191
  • Shotgun Season (Nov. 25–Dec. 9): 5,162
  • Primitive Firearms Season (Dec. 11–Dec. 30): 2,754
2017 harvest by Wildlife Management Zone (WMZ map)


Adult Male


Button Buck


















































































While total harvest by zone can be informative, it doesn’t provide the complete picture for monitoring trends in deer density because total harvest is influenced by antlerless deer permit allocations in each zone as well as annual changes in hunter effort, weather, etc. The MassWildlife Deer Project Leader analyzes harvest, biological, and hunter effort data, along with hunter success rates, female versus male harvest, and other factors to manage deer populations in each zone. An analysis of this information is now underway for the annual spring deer management review. A complete harvest summary will be posted on the MassWildlife website shortly after the annual deer review, so please check back in June. Click here to learn more about deer management in Massachusetts.

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Winter birdwatching

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a critical piece of legislation that protects birds that migrate beyond US borders. To celebrate this occasion, MassWildlife joins National Geographic, the National Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to celebrate 2018 as "The Year of the Bird." Birders can start the Year of the Bird off right with some unique winter birdwatching opportunities here in Massachusetts.

In the winter, interesting seabirds that spend most of the year as far north as the Arctic seek out the Massachusetts coast for milder temperatures. Among the birding community, certain coastal areas in Massachusetts are nationally known for the winter seabird flocks cruising the coast at this time of year. Some birders make an annual trek to the Massachusetts coast in winter to see colorful Harlequin Ducks, striking black-and-white patterned Eiders, Golden- eyes, Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks (aka Oldsquaws), aerobatic Gannets, diving Dovekies, Guillemots, and even Bald Eagles!

If you, your family, or friends want to give winter birding a try, connect with a bird club from your region by visiting There you will find the websites of most of the birding clubs in Massachusetts with information on bird walks, events, and meetings. Most of these walks are free or very low cost.

In February and March, check out these two coastal birding events on the North Shore. Bring binoculars if you have them. There will be birders willing to let you peer through their binoculars and spotting scopes as well.

  • Join Mass Audubon and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge for the Merrimack River Eagle Festival in Newburyport and Amesbury on Saturday, February 17, 2018. This family-friendly event focuses on eagles, but you will see many other kinds of seabirds in the designated eagle spotting areas around the Merrimack River and Plum Island. Sign up for an eagle tour with bird experts who will help identify the birds you spot, engage in some special family activities, and see a live raptors presentation! Admission and most activities are free.
  • Join the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce for a Winter Birding Boat Trip on Saturday, March 10, 2018 from 8am­–12pm. Come aboard the Privateer IV with 7 Seas Whale Watch for a chance to see loons, grebes, scoters, eiders, and other avian delights of the season along Cape Ann’s spectacular coastline. This is a wonderful opportunity for bird-lovers of all levels to visit Gloucester and to brave whatever weather winter brings. Participants may also be lucky enough to see some marine life as well! MassWildlife will be providing checklists of birds and some other wildlife related materials for participants. Space is limited so sign up now! Admission is $75.

If you do try winter birdwatching, be prepared for the cold! Winter wildlife watching is a great activity for friends and family, but it won’t be fun for long if you’re cold. Consider the old adage: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” Always prepare for the cold coastal temperatures and wind by dressing in layers of fleece or wool, wearing warm, sturdy boots, and ensuring your final outer layer provides wind protection such as rain or wind pants and jacket. Don’t forget a scarf, neck or face mask! Sunglasses (or clear safety glasses if it’s overcast) also provide wind protection. You may be totally unrecognizable, but you’ll be warm and comfortable as you search the curling waves and coastlines for birds and seals.

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How wildlife handle winter

The winter cold might have you worried for wildlife, wondering where they go or how they find food in harsh conditions. Wildlife in New England have survived cold winters for many thousands of years, with a host of different adaptations to survive cold temperatures, scarce food supplies, and deep snow. It’s important to remember wild animals have survived over time without the help of people and will continue to do so. Although most people who feed wildlife have good intentions, they may not realize providing food for wildlife often does more harm than good by disrupting natural behaviors. Next time you think you should interfere to “help” wildlife in the cold, rest assured that fish and wildlife are well suited to naturally cope with Massachusetts winters using some of the following techniques.

Fattening up: In fall, many animals go on a feeding frenzy, fattening up in preparation for the cold winter weather; acorns, beech nuts, and other fatty foods will be consumed by bears, squirrels, deer, and chipmunks. Seals and other marine mammals have blubber to protect them in the cold ocean. A solid layer of fat also protects ducks and geese from cold.

Finding food: The animals that are active and on the move during winter need to keep on eating; coyotes, fishers, and bobcats, as well as hawks and owls, will hunt for food or scavenge on carcasses of dead animals. Deer and moose undergo a change in their digestive system to feed on twigs, buds, and bark. They, as well as turkeys, will dig through the snow looking for nuts and acorns from the previous fall. Chickadees, woodpeckers, sparrows, and finches inspect the ground and crevices in tree bark for overwintering insects, seeds, and lichens.

Staying warm: Mammals grow a thick, dense winter coat to cope with cold temperatures. Coyotes and raccoons appear to be much larger in winter due to their thick winter coats. Aquatic mammals like otter, beaver, mink, and muskrat have a double layer coat with extremely dense fine hairs near the body, protected by the visible longer guard hairs. These animals waterproof their fur by regularly rubbing body oils on the fur—allowing water to slide off instead of soaking in. The winter coats of deer and moose have hollow hairs, which trap air, adding a layer of insulation. You can see its effectiveness when you see snowfall building up on their backs instead of melting. Birds will fluff their feathers out more, trapping air which acts as insulation, much like a down jacket. Ducks and geese not only have down feathers to protect them, they too rub oils on their feathers to keep water sliding off their back instead of soaking in close to their body.

Conserving energy: Deer will limit their travels to conserve energy and fat reserves. They naturally seek out areas near food and water with tree cover, which offers shallower snow, milder temperatures, and less wind. Because fish are cold-blooded, they don’t have to worry about generating heat or staying warm. Fish do slow down in winter and find habitat that doesn’t require them to swim hard or move fast. The two main concerns for fish in the winter are rapid changes in temperature and running out of oxygen. Fish can’t regulate their body temperature like mammals, so if the temperature rises or drops too quickly, they can suffer mortality. Additionally, thick ice and heavy snow cover can block sunlight from reaching water, decreasing oxygen levels and causing a natural winter fish kill.

Hibernating and sleeping: Bears typically enter their winter dens between November and mid-December, and exit between March and April. Bears commonly den under brush piles, in mountain laurel bushes, or under fallen trees or rocks. The snow cover acts as another layer of cold protection. If food is available, bears that are not pregnant may remain active throughout the winter. Frogs, turtles, and other reptiles and amphibians will burrow into the pond mud—they may still “freeze” but have the ability to thaw out for the spring. Chipmunks and woodchucks are “true” hibernators, meaning they go into a torpor that lowers their body temperature, which conserves energy as they slowly burn through their fat in the long months of winter. Skunks will sleep through much of the winter, but when temperatures go above freezing, they may wake up and move about looking for food.

Tunneling in: Ruffed grouse will tunnel into the snow during the night, making their own shelter to stay warm. Mice, voles, and other small mammals will create tunnel passages through the snow, serving several purposes—insulation from cold, escaping detection from predators, and feeding on grasses and seeds from the past year's growing season.

Defying the ice: In fall, beavers cut down trees to sink a large pile of branches in the water as their winter food pantry. Their iced-over lodge made of sticks, mud, and rocks have only an underwater entrance, providing protection against predators. When it's time to eat, beavers slip into the water, swim over to the "pantry" and bring back branches and twigs, peeling and eating the bark with their sharp teeth and munching on twigs.

Now that you know how wildlife copes with the cold, remember the best way to help them make it through the winter is to step back and allow their instincts to take over.

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Nominate a great environmental education program for the Excellence in Energy & Environmental Education Awards

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) announced it is now accepting nominations for its annual Secretary’s Awards for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education until March 30, 2018. EEA Secretary Matthew Beaton will present awards this spring to Massachusetts teachers and students involved in school-based programs that promote environmental and energy education.

“The Baker-Polito Administration continues to promote hands-on environmental and energy education in order instill in our youth an appreciation for the natural world,” said EEA Secretary Matthew Beaton. “I encourage residents and educators to nominate any outstanding school programs and teachers that are working to engage students in today’s critical environmental and energy challenges.”

All public and private Massachusetts schools (K-12) that offer energy and environmental education programs are eligible to apply for the Secretary’s Award. In 2017, 33 schools and nonprofit organizations across the state were recognized for their work on issues including air quality, energy conservation, renewable energy, ocean science and wildlife conservation.

The Secretary’s Advisory Group on Energy and Environmental Education will review applications at the beginning of April 2018. Qualified entrants are invited to attend a formal award ceremony with Secretary Beaton at the State House later in the spring.

Click here for application.

For questions contact Meg Colclough at 617-626-1110 or

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Stay safe on the ice this winter

It's wintertime in Massachusetts and residents will begin to venture out onto the ice for fishing, skating, or other winter activities. Stay safe this winter by taking a few moments to review these ice safety tips and ice thickness guidelines.

How can you tell if ice is safe?

There are no guarantees. Always consider ice to be potentially dangerous. You can't judge ice conditions by appearance or thickness alone; many other factors like water depth, size of waterbody, water chemistry, currents, snow cover, age of ice, and local weather conditions impact ice strength.

Ice tips to remember:

  • New ice is stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly formed ice may support one person on foot, while a foot or more of old, partially thawed ice may not.
  • Ice doesn't freeze uniformly. Continue to check ice conditions frequently as you venture out onto the ice.
  • Ice formed over flowing water and currents is often more dangerous. Avoid traveling onto ice-bound rivers and streams, as the currents make ice thickness unpredictable. Many lakes and ponds may contain spring holes and other areas of currents that can create deceptively dangerous thin spots.

Before heading out onto the ice

  • Tell someone your plans, including where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • Come prepared. Carry a cell phone in case of emergency. Always carry ice picks and rope with you on the ice. In case of emergency, drive the nails into the ice and pull yourself to safety while kicking (see tips for falling in below).
  • Wear your life jacket. If you fall in, a life jacket will keep you at the surface and can provide insulation against the effects of cold water.

Ice thickness guidelines

The guidelines below are for clear, blue ice on lakes and ponds. White ice or snow ice is only about half as strong as new clear ice and can be very treacherous. Use an ice chisel, auger, or cordless drill to make a hole in the ice and determine its thickness and condition. Bring a tape measure to check ice thickness at regular intervals.

Ice Thickness (inches)

Permissible Load (on new clear/blue ice on lakes or ponds)

2" or less



Ice fishing or other activities on foot


Snowmobile or ATV


Car or small pickup truck


Medium truck

Falling through the ice

If you fall in:

  • Don't panic: Call for help if there are people nearby.
  • Don't remove winter clothing: Air trapped in your clothes can provide warmth and help you float.
  • Turn the direction you came from: Ice you previously walked on should be the safest.
  • Place your hands and arms on an unbroken surface and kick your legs: If you have ice picks or a pair of nails, use them to pull yourself up onto the ice while kicking.
  • Lie flat and roll away: Once your torso is on firm ice, roll toward thicker ice to distribute your weight.
  • Find shelter and get warm: Change out of wet clothing and find warm, dry coverings. If you are in a remote area, get to or start a campfire. Otherwise, get to a car or house. Seek medical advice from your physician on medical attention.

If someone else falls in:

Remember the phrase "Preach-Reach-Throw-Go."

  • Preach: Call 911 if you can. Shout to the victim to reassure them help is on the way.
  • Reach: If you can safely reach them from shore, extend an object like a rope, jumper cables, tree branch, or ladder to them.
  • Throw: Toss one end of a rope or something that will float to the victim.
  • Go: If the situation is too dangerous for you to perform a rescue, call 911 or go to find help. Untrained rescuers can become victims themselves.

If a pet falls in:

Do not attempt to rescue the pet, go find help. Well meaning pet owners can easily become victims themselves when trying to assist their pets. Remember to always keep pets leashed while walking on or near ice.

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MassWildlife proposes dog leash and waste removal regulations

Westborough — MassWildlife is proposing leash and waste disposal regulations for dogs on Wildlife Management Areas. A public hearing has been scheduled for February 6, 2018 at 7 PM at the MassWildlife Field Headquarters, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough, 01581.

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) has a long tradition of welcoming dogs on Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), and dogs are still welcome on WMAs under this proposal.

MassWildlife proposes to take this action due to repeated complaints from WMA users about negative and unsafe encounters with unleashed dogs and issues with dog waste. MassWildlife protects and manages these areas to sustain wildlife abundance and diversity and provide wildlife-related recreation, including hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching, while at the same time providing a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience for all visitors. Therefore:

1. The proposed regulations require leashing dogs and other domestic animals on WMAs. Dogs may be off-leash only when hunting or hunt-training with licensed hunters under existing regulations, or if they are participating in retriever or bird dog trial events that have been permitted by MassWildlife. Leashing dogs decreases conflicts with both people and other dogs, resulting in a safer and more positive experience for everyone.

2. The proposal also requires dog owners to pick up dog waste and dispose of it offsite. Removing dog waste reduces nuisance and protects the safety and health of dogs and other pets, people, and wildlife.

Information on the public hearing, public comment process and proposed regulatory language is posted on MassWildlife’s website at

The most common complaints detracting from visitors' recreational experience and the wildlife MassWildlife works to protect are:

  • Dog attacks and bites on other dogs (both off- and on-leash) and people
  • Piles of accumulating dog waste – nuisance and health concern for pets, people, and wildlife
  • Unleashed dogs interfering with other Wildlife Management Area visitors

Other incidents and complaints from WMA users include: user conflicts between loose dogs with hunters, birders, field trial dog participants, naturalists and hikers; observations of dogs harassing or chasing wildlife; dogs chasing or killing livestock on abutting property; chasing/harassing neighboring property owners and families; dogs spooking horses, resulting in injuries to riders or horses; dogs trampling through posted endangered species restoration projects or newly planted agricultural crops.

Many municipalities have leash or animal control bylaws, but those bylaws and ordinances do not have legal standing on state lands. The proposed regulations address this circumstance. Enforcement of these proposed regulations, as with all Wildlife Management Area Regulations, are handled by the Massachusetts Environmental Police. State and municipal police departments also have the authority to enforce Wildlife Management Area regulations.

Originally published January 2, 2018. Updated January 16, 2018.

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