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MassWildlife Monthly January 2018

News from MassWildlife

In this issue:

  • Public hearing on dog regulations
  • Stay safe on the ice this winter
  • Thank a landowner
  • Winter waterfowl survey
  • Calling all youth artists
  • Fire prescribed for habitat management
  • Wanted! Young outdoor writing contestants
  • 2017 black bear harvest report
  • Wildlife Habitat Management Grants awarded
  • Upcoming events
2018  fishing and hunting licenses are available now. View the new Guide to Hunting, Freshwater Fishing, and Trapping for 2018 season dates and regulations.


Public hearing on dog regulations on WMAs announced

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.


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.

Thank a landowner

Private landowners help provide 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, consider making a donation or joining 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 2018 to ensure that these recreational opportunities will continue to be available to you and future generations of outdoor users?


Winter waterfowl survey

Every 5 years, MassWildlife conducts a winter waterfowl survey of sites where people feed wild ducks and geese. While the feeding of wildlife is discouraged, there is no state law or regulation that prohibits feeding (though some municipalities do restrict or prohibit feeding). MassWildlife is asking the public’s assistance in reporting current waterfowl feeding locations for biologists to identify and count these birds.

The survey will be conducted statewide during January of 2018 and includes sites in urban, suburban, and rural areas near fresh, brackish, and salt water. Feeding sites range from municipal parks where many visitors come to feed the ducks to ducks in backyards feeding on spilled bird seed or handouts thrown out someone’s back door.

MassWildlife biologists will visit historic feeding sites from January 8 – 26, 2018. Because these locations can change over 5 years, public input is needed. If you know of a spot where waterfowl are being fed, please let us know by phone at 508-389-6321 or by e-mail at Please include the town and specific location where you’ve seen waterfowl being fed this January. If you are able, please also include the number of ducks and/or geese (preferably by species) that you see at a feeding site at one time. We are especially interested in detailed reports from Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

Mallards are by far the most common duck at feeding sites but other ducks may be observed as well. American black ducks are common and wood ducks, pintails, gadwalls, American wigeon, and hooded mergansers are seen on occasion.  Canada geese are common at many feeding sites.

MassWildlife’s survey started 45 years ago and documented the increase of mallards at feeding sites reaching peak numbers of over 20,000 mallards at 218 sites during the 1993 survey and declining thereafter. This decline can be attributed to more Canada geese utilizing the sites resulting in many areas being posted “No Feeding” because of the mess geese made. The last survey showed that the number of mallards was down to 9,700 at 139 sites along with nearly 1,600 geese (down from over 5,300 geese recorded during the 1998 survey).


Calling all youth artists

“There is still time to enter the Massachusetts Junior Duck Stamp (JDS) contest,” advises MassWildlife’s Wildlife Education Specialist Pam Landry. “Any student, from kindergarten through grade 12, regardless of whether they attend public or private school or are home-schooled, can submit original artwork in this fun and educational competition. Even if students do not enter the art competition, the related information can serve as a valuable resource in art or science classrooms.” The entry deadline is February 15, 2018.

The JDS program links the study of wetlands and waterfowl conservation with the creation of original artwork. Students in grades K-12 learn about the habitat requirements of various kinds of ducks and geese and then express their knowledge of the beauty, diversity, and interdependence of these species artistically, by creating a drawing or painting which can be submitted to the JDS art contest. The art is judged in four age group categories in a statewide competition; the entry judged Best of Show moves on to represent Massachusetts in the national JDS competition. Art teachers, science teachers, and parents who home-school can visit our website for an information packet and entry information.

Landry also noted that there are opportunities for aspiring artists to see artwork from last year’s contest. A combination of the top 100 pieces of 2017 JDS art will be on exhibit at the following locations:

  • Great Falls Discovery Center, Turners Falls – now through December 22
  • Buttonwood Park Zoo, New Bedford – January 8 – February 15
  • Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Milton – April 7 – 28

For more information contact Pam Landry at (508) 389-6310, or

Fire prescribed for habitat management

Prescribed fire is an essential tool for managing wildlife habitats and fire-influenced natural communities throughout Massachusetts. Plants and wildlife—including both game and non-game species—benefit from prescribed fires. Recreational activities, such as hunting, bird-watching, hiking, and nature photography are also significantly enhanced by prescribed fires. Prescribed fires are always performed with extreme caution by specially trained crews, when conditions are favorable, with safety always as top priority.

Recently, MassWildlife worked with prescribed fire partners to develop a Prescribed Fire Handbook and Policy. This past April, the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board approved the MassWildlife Prescribed Fire Policy. After prescribed burning this summer at important sites such as the Southwick Wildlife Management Area, field biologists have seen improvements to the treated areas, including increased germination of native warm season grasses and removal of thatch, improving habitat for birds to nest, rest, and forage for food.

Fire-adapted plants like low-bush blueberry grow more robust and produce more fruit in the years following a fire. Many wildlife such as black bear, white-tailed deer, and a variety of birds relish the increased berry production. Seeds of certain plants like wild blue lupine will germinate more readily after fire activity, producing many shoots—some of which will grow and increase flowering and fruiting, and some of which will provide essential food for declining animals like Frosted Elfin butterfly. Forty percent of animals and plants protected by the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act rely on habitat created by prescribed fires and over 200 Massachusetts Species of Greatest Conservation Need benefit from the fires. In addition to managing habitats, prescribed fires also help control natural fuel combustion. Essentially, trained prescribed fire crews perform smaller, prescribed fires to prevent larger, uncontrollable wildfires from starting. Natural fuels like dry twigs and woody debris, pine needles, and viney stems are burned and removed before they have a chance to spread and cause more extreme uncontrolled fire behavior.

Prescribed fires are just that, a prescription for the habitat where they are being performed. These fires are set and worked in a professional manner with a highly trained crew. Locations of burns and patterns of the actual fire are planned in advance. Weather and fuel conditions are monitored constantly in the days leading up to the prescribed fire and throughout the actual burn. Permits must be obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Air Quality Section and the local fire department to conduct open burning in Massachusetts.  While the reason for performing a prescribed burn is habitat management, the top priority during the act of the burning is safety. Multiple agencies, organizations, and private entities—including DCR’s Bureau of Forest Fire Control, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US National Park Service, Northeast Forest and Fire Management, and many local fire departments—assist MassWildlife with planning and execution of prescribed fire.

Through 2018, MassWildlife will continue monitoring habitat growth and usage at prescribed fire sites. Plans are in the process for prescribed fires on other Wildlife Management Areas and other agency properties throughout the state.

Wanted! Young outdoor writing contestants

The New England Outdoor Writers Association (NEOWA) is seeking submissions for their 2018 Youth Outdoor Writing Contest for young people from New England in grades 6-12. The deadline for submitting contest entries is Feb. 15, 2018. Story topics must relate to the outdoors, including but not limited to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, boating or nature observation. Submissions should be no more than 500 words, poetry or prose is accepted. Entries from contestants in grades 6-8 will be entered in the Junior Division; grades 9-12 will be entered in the Senior Division. Winners will receive certificates and cash prizes. First place $150, second $100, third $50, honorable mention $25. Winners will be announced in the spring of 2018. NEOWA reserves the right to publish the winning entries in their publications and on its website. In addition, MassWildlife will publish Massachusetts winning entries in Massachusetts Wildlife magazine. NEOWA is a New England-based professional outdoor communicators organization dedicated to promoting and supporting conservation, natural resources and our outdoor heritage. Further details on the NEOWA Youth Writing Contest can be found on line at


2017 preliminary black bear harvest report

During the three hunting seasons in 2017, a total of 268 bears were harvested. This represents the second highest total, just below the 283 bears taken in 2016. A breakdown by season is as follows:

  • First season (Sept. 5 – Sept. 23): 151
  • Second season (Nov. 6 – Nov. 25): 26
  • Shotgun season (Nov. 27 – Dec. 9): 91


Wildlife Habitat Management Grants awarded

Eighteen municipalities, organizations, and private landowners across the state have been awarded a total of $506,856 in grants for wildlife habitat improvement projects. The MassWildlife Habitat Management Grant Program was developed to establish partnerships between MassWildlife and private and municipal landowners to enhance habitat and increase recreational opportunities on properties across the state. This year, funds provided through the grant program will benefit 20 wildlife habitat improvement projects, totaling 950 acres in 19 Massachusetts communities. The projects will complement the ongoing habitat management efforts currently underway on state owned lands.

“The Habitat Management Grant Program is a great example of the strong partnership between the state, municipalities, private landowners and organizations working together to conserve land and wildlife,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “These grants are an important tool to help build upon the thousands of acres of important conservation land for wildlife and residents across the Commonwealth.”

“Massachusetts is home to an incredibly diverse array of protected natural resources and habitats that include saltwater marshes, mountain summits, and old growth forests,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “Habitat for common and rare plants and wildlife requires active and ongoing maintenance and management in order to thrive, and these grants will assist in those important efforts.”

The Habitat Management Grant Program is in its third year, and has now awarded over $1,215,000 in funding to 51 projects. The Program’s mission is to provide financial assistance to municipal and private landowners of conserved properties to improve and manage habitat for wildlife that has been deemed in greatest conservation need and for game species. Projects awarded with funds are also designed to expand outdoor recreational opportunities. The funds are provided through MassWildlife's Habitat Management Grant Program. This year, the Baker-Polito Administration increased the funding of the program by $200,000 utilizing environmental bond funds.

“Habitat management is key to benefiting birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians which depend on some less common habitats,” said Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Amidon. “I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to expand our habitat management footprint and improve recreational opportunities for sportsmen and women, birders, naturalists and other outdoor enthusiasts.”

“About 80 percent of Massachusetts’ lands where wildlife is found is owned privately,” said Jack Buckley, MassWildlife Director. “Therefore, as an environmental agency we should promote and apply science-based habitat management activities with committed municipal and private landowners, thereby protecting their investment in wildlife and habitat.”

This year’s awardees of the Habitat Management Grant Program:

Awardee: The Town of Barnstable
Community: The Town of Barnstable
Amount: $10,000
Project: To conduct prescribed burning in an effort to improve pitch pine/oak woodland habitat.

Awardee: The Berkshire Natural Resources Council
Community: The Town of Great Barrington
Amount: $36,500
Project: To conduct invasive species control at Housatonic Flats and Thomas and Palmer Preserves.

Awardee: The Franklin Land Trust
Community: The Towns of Heath and Plainfield
Amount: $16,675
Project: To enhance native shrub habitat on Crowningshield Farm (Heath) and Guyette Farm (Plainfield).

Awardee: The Town of Lenox
Community: The Town of Lenox
Amount: $36,630
Project: To conduct hardy kiwi invasive species control within Kennedy Park.

Awardee: The City of Marlborough
Community: The City of Marlborough
Amount: $44,500
Project: To create and improve young forest habitat in the Desert Natural Area.

Awardee: The Town of Mashpee
Community: The Town of Mashpee
Amount: $24,000
Project: To conduct prescribed burning to improve habitat within the Holland Mill Pine Barrens.

Awardee: The Nantucket Conservation Foundation
Community: The Island of Nantucket
Amount: $18,997
Project: To manage heathlands on the Head of The Plains properties.

Awardee: The Trustees of Reservations
Community: The Town of Newbury
Amount: $30,264
Project: To expand and improve grasslands at Old Town Hill Reservation.

Awardee: Fred Heyes
Community: The Town of Orange
Amount: $38,608
Project: To create young forest and shrubland habitat along the West Branch Tully River.

Awardee: Mass Audubon
Community: The Town of Sharon
Amount: $38,201
Project: To manage shrubland habitats and create young forest habitat at the Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary.

Awardee: Sheffield Land Trust
Community: The Town of Sheffield
Amount: $15,632
Project: To work to control invasive species at Ashley Falls Woods.

Awardee: The Nature Conservancy
Community: The Town of Sheffield
Amount: $20,503
Project: To create and improve old field and shrubland habitats at the Schenob Brook Preserve.

Awardee: The Cherry Hill Realty Trust
Community: The Town of Stockbridge
Amount: $15,500
Project: To remove the invasive hardy kiwi plant.

Awardee: The Town of Stockbridge
Community: The Town of Stockbridge
Amount: $20,905
Project: To treat invasive species at Gould Meadows and Bullard Woods.

Awardee: Mass Audubon
Community: The Town of Tolland
Amount: $24,493
Project: To create shrubland habitat at the Richardson Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.

Awardee: Mass Audubon
Community: The Town of Topsfield
Amount: $36,646
Project: To expand and improve shrubland habitat at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary.

Awardee: Brian and Martha Klassanos
Community: The Town of Ware
Amount: $4,859
Project: To create and improve shrubland and field habitat.

Awardee: The Westport Land Conservation Trust
Community: The Town of Westport
Amount: $12,783
Project: To improve shrubland habitat and conduct stream restoration work at the Dunham Brook Conservation Area.

Awardee: The Town of Wilbraham
Community: The Town of Wilbraham
Amount: $26,150
Project: To improve pitch pine habitat at Twelve Mile Brook Conservation Area.

Awardee: The Town of Yarmouth
Community: The Town of Yarmouth
Amount: $25,000
Project: To use prescribed burning to restore pitch pine/oak woodlands.


Upcoming events

January 10: Fisheries and Wildlife Board Meeting, Westborough – The December meeting of the Fisheries and Wildlife Board will be held at 1 p.m., at the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Field Headquarters, Richard Cronin Building, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, off North Drive, Westborough, Massachusetts.

January 11: Learn to Hunt Turkey Calling Workshop, Westborough – Join MassWildlife and experts from the National Wild Turkey Federation for a hands-on, one hour turkey calling workshop from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at MassWildlife Field Headquarters (1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough). New hunters will be able to practice box calls, pot (or slate) calls, and mouth calls. Practice calls will be provided for box and pot calls, or participants can bring their own! Space is limited and registration is required. Click here to register for the Turkey Calling Workshop. (Note: If you click to register and receive an error message, it is because the course is already full.)

January 16 & 18: Fly Tying Class, Sudbury – Learn the basic skills of tying your own flies during this free, hands-on, two-session course offered at the Assebet River National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center, 680 Hudson Rd, in Sudbury from 6:30–8:30 p.m. All tools and tying materials provided. *Open to the public, for beginning fly tiers only, minimum age is 15. Pre-registration is mandatory. Please contact Jim Lagacy to pre-register at (508) 389-6309 or

January 20: Create Your Junior Duck Stamp, Wales – Holland artist Marcia Beal will guide kids in grades 3 - 12 through this fun and creative process at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Wales.The artwork takes about an hour; all supplies will be provided. This is a free event, but advance sign-up will allow us to have enough material for everyone. Please call 413-267-9654 or email We will also have a pizza lunch, courtesy of the Norcross Sanctuary, where we will learn more about ducks, their habitats and how they fly!


See Calendar of Events