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MassWildlife Monthly January 2017

Get the latest news and seasonal updates from MassWildlife.

Brief Seasonal Announcements
Remembering Peter Mirick
How to Tell if Ice is Safe
Water Flowing at McLaughlin Fish Hatchery
Report Winter Fish Kills
Black Bear Preliminary Harvest Report
Thank a Landowner
Upcoming Events and Meetings


Brief Seasonal Announcements


Remembering Peter Mirick

With deep regret, we share that our friend and colleague Peter Mirick, retired editor of Massachusetts Wildlife magazine, avid sportsman and herpetologist, passed away on December 19 from cancer. Pete began his career with MassWildlife in 1977 as a staff writer for the magazine and served as an assistant biologist before becoming the magazine editor in 1981. During his time with the Division, he earned a Master’s Degree in Biology from Worcester State College. Pete was an avid herpetologist, conducting research on the endangered Black Rat Snake and assisting with projects related to other reptiles and amphibians. During his career, Pete was active with professional organizations including The Wildlife Society, New England Outdoor Writers Association, and the Association of Conservation Information. He received a number of awards for his writing and editing and was the lead editor of the “Trapping and Furbearer Management in North American Wildlife Conservation” publication, which is used by state conservation agencies across the country. He also authored the recently published “Massachusetts Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles.” Pete was a strong believer in educating people, particularly youth, about wildlife conservation and was a passionate advocate for hunters, anglers, and trappers. He will be greatly missed by many, including his friends and family, his MassWildlife "family", natural resource professionals, naturalists, and sportsmen and women.


How to Tell if Ice is Safe

If you’re an ice angler, ice skater, and other winter adventurer, check the ice carefully before venturing out on ice-covered waters.  In general, clear ice that is 4 inches thick is safe for foot traffic, but there are no guarantees. The following tips will help you stay safe.

Always consider ice to be potentially dangerous. Evaluate ice condition by using an ice chisel or auger to chop a hole in the ice to determine its thickness. Since ice thickness is not always uniform, continue to test the ice as you go further out onto the pond or lake. The thickness of ice on ponds and lakes depends on water currents, depth, and the presence of springs or submerged stumps or rocks. Daily changes in air temperature cause the ice to expand and contract, which affects its strength. Don't walk on to ice-bound rivers or streams because the currents make ice thickness unpredictable.

What if you fall through the ice? As with any emergency, don't panic. Briefly call for help. The cold water will quickly begin slowing your physical and mental functions, so you must act quickly. Air will remain trapped in your clothes for a short time and can help keep you afloat. Kick your legs while grasping for firm ice. Try to pull your body up using ice pins or picks that should be hanging around your neck. Once your torso is on firm ice, roll towards thicker ice – the direction from which you previously walked. Rolling will distribute your weight better than walking. After you reach safe ice, you need to warm up quickly to prevent hypothermia. Go to the nearest fishing shanty, warm car, or house. Don't drive home in wet clothes.

If a companion falls through the ice remember the phrase “Reach-Throw-Go.” If you are unable to reach your friend, throw a rope, jumper cables, tree branch, or other object. If this does not work, go for help; do not risk becoming a victim yourself. Pet owners should keep pets on a leash. If a pet falls through the ice, do not attempt to rescue the pet; go for help. Well-meaning pet owners can easily fall through the ice when trying to save their pets.

Ice Thickness and Strength

Ice Thickness (inches) Permissible Load (on new* clear**, blue ice on lakes or ponds)
2" or less STAY OFF!
4" Ice fishing or other activities on foot
5" Snowmobile or ATV
8"-12" Car or small pickup truck
12" - 15" Medium truck
*New ice is stronger than older ice.  **White ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice. Double the above thickness guidelines when traveling on white ice.


Water Flowing at McLaughlin Fish Hatchery

On Thursday, December 22, officials turned on the water pipeline at the McLaughlin Fish Hatchery in Belchertown. Construction began in June 2016 on the nearly mile-long water pipeline and hydropower turbine that will supply six million gallons of water daily to the hatchery, produce renewable energy, and reduce the hatchery’s electric demand.

McLaughlin Hatchery, built in 1969, is located in Belchertown near the Swift River and is the largest of MassWildlife’s five trout hatcheries. This hatchery is responsible for half of the state’s entire annual trout production, approximately 225,000 pounds, with a “retail value” exceeding $2 million dollars. Fish raised at McLaughlin Hatchery are stocked in nearly 500 rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds throughout Massachusetts.

The water pipeline project taps water from the Chicopee Valley Aqueduct and provides the McLaughlin Trout Hatchery with a reliable, gravity-fed source of cold water, eliminating the environmental and biological risks associated with the water withdrawal from the Swift River. The result will be an energy cost savings of $60,000 per year. The project also includes installation of a hydropower turbine on the pipeline. The construction of the building for the hydropower generator is well underway and the hydropower generator has been delivered to the site. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) has received a grant to fully cover the cost hydropower unit which will generate almost $53,000 in annual revenue for the MWRA. This project is a win – win scenario for the MWRA, the hatchery, and the Commonwealth.


Report Winter Fish Kills

The majority of the fish kills reported to MassWildlife turn out to be natural events not caused by pollution. During the winter, ice and snow cover can cause low dissolved oxygen levels in ponds. Ice and snow can limit light the amount of light that reaches the water column and interfere with photosynthesis and decomposition of organic matter, which in turn can decrease the amount of oxygen available to fish. These conditions may result in winter fish kills. Weedy ponds that are less than 15 feet deep are particularly vulnerable.

Ice anglers may encounter signs of a low oxygen environment when they drill through the ice and notice the smell of rotten egg or observe sluggish or dying shiners. The odor is hydrogen sulfide gas which is a natural byproduct of low dissolved oxygen environments, and is not likely the result of pollution. Oxygen levels will be return to normal shortly after the ice melts in the spring.

If you observe dead fish, contact the Environmental Law Enforcement’s 24-hour radio room at (800) 632-8075. A MassWildlife biologist will review each situation to determine whether the kill is natural or requires a site investigation. 


Black Bear Preliminary Harvest Report

Furbearer and Black Bear Project Leader Dave Wattles reports that a new record of 283 bears were harvested over the three 2016 seasons. The previous record harvest of 240 bears occurred in 2014. During the first season, 190 bears were taken, 46 were taken in the second season, and 47 were harvested during the shotgun season. Learn more about black bear hunting.


Thank a Landowner

Private landowners are responsible for many of the hunting and fishing trips taken by members of the sporting community every year. By granting access to their property, private landowners help make these and other wildlife-related experiences possible. Access to fishing, hunting, hiking, or wildlife watching is a privilege and it’s a great time of year to say thank you. You may also wish to thank land trusts or other private conservation land holders who have been host to your outdoor experiences. MassWildlife offers the following suggestions for thanking private property owners:

  • Be thoughtful and personal in expressing your appreciation.
  • If you are mentoring a new or young hunter, angler, birder, or naturalist, include him or her in the process.
  • Visit the landowner to express your appreciation in person; if possible, provide him or her with some of your fish and game harvest, share images, or a list of the wildlife you observed on their property.
  • Send a personal note thanking the landowner for the opportunity to use their land. Consider giving a small gift such as a certificate to a local restaurant, a gift basket, or a subscription to Massachusetts Wildlife magazine. In the case of a non-profit landowner, make a donation or join their organization.
  • Offer to assist with tasks around the property.
  • Assist the landowner in protecting the property by documenting and reporting suspicious or illegal activities to the Environmental Police at (800) 632-8075.

Take a few moments to reflect on our outdoor traditions, including the importance of access to private lands in maintaining these traditions. What can you do in 2017 to ensure that these recreational opportunities will continue to be available to you and future generations of outdoor users?