Different species bring different threats, especially in the Great Lakes where food supplies and sheer volume present big problems

Now I realize that the regular firearms hunting season for deer and bear opened yesterday all across the Finger Lakes region. And I also understand that, to many hunters and outdoors people, there is nothing, and I do mean nothing, more important than opening day for deer. 

But since I am writing this in Wednesday, and I do not have very much information on hunter success, and I do have lots of stuff on a really big potential threat to many bodies of water in this state, I’ll save what I do have on deer hunting for next week.

You see, we are (potentially) facing a disaster with respect to the aquatic ecosystems of many of our lakes, rivers and the entire N.Y. Barge Canal (Erie Canal) system. Asian carp are posing a real threat to the entire Great Lakes ecosystem. The term “Asian carp” is the collective name used for four non-native species of carp from Asia that are currently found in North America. 

And the biggest problem is that scientific modeling by the US Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that all of the Great Lakes are at risk of invasion from at least three species.

The four species of Asian carp are the grass, black, silver, and bighead carp. In the U.S., Asian carp are considered to be invasive species. The black carp is not a (known) problem and may have been extirpated from the North American continent. 

Not so for the other three. The Asian carp known for jumping out of the water and possibly injuring boaters is predominantly the silver carp. The species of greatest concern in the Great Lakes are silver carp and bighead carp, which are already well established throughout the Mississippi River drainage system and are currently in the Illinois River around the Chicago Area Waterways System that connects the river directly with Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes.

For the record, the grass carp is already present in small numbers in Lake Ontario. It was observed in both the Olcott harbor area of N.Y. and the Toronto area of Canada.

The primary concern regarding Asian carp in the Great Lakes is their impact on an already stressed food web. Silver carp and bighead carp compete with small forage fish and young sport fish for food. Grass carp eat the vegetation that provides prime wetland habitat. At the same time, Asian carp have few natural predators because they quickly outgrow native predator species, often within just one year.

Another major problem with silver and bighead carp is that, in many areas where they have become well established, they now make up more than 90 percent of the total fish biomass, essentially replacing by out-competing all native species for food and habitat.

If you want to learn more about this current and growing problem, the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network has released a comprehensive report on Asian carp in the Great Lakes region. It includes information on carp life history, movement and behavior, monitoring, control, ecosystem impacts and gaps in current knowledge. The report can be downloaded at ohioseagrant.osu.edu/p/eun0o. 

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I generally dislike receiving questions when I do not have a clue regarding the answer, and especially questions with attached photos. And that is exactly what happened to me a couple of weeks ago. 

The question was, “What is this bird?” And the photo was of the ugliest feathered critter I had never laid eyes on. I had no idea what the bird was.

Well, after some research I finally figured that it was a Northern bald ibis. And I discovered a whole lot more about this strange yet interesting critter. 

First of all, it is listed as critically endangered. That’s because there are probably no more than 600 of these birds to be found anywhere in the world in the wild. Actually, this ibis species has undergone a long-term decline over several centuries, due mainly to habitat loss and over-hunting.

Talk about “ugly” beautiful, that is the only description I can come up with for this very unique species. Adults display a bare “bald” head and neck, red in color with a black crown. Blueish-purple feathers cover the rest of the body and are long and glossy with a metallic green hue. Oh, and did I mention an extra-long curved “typical ibis” beak that is also reddish.

There is some hope for the survival of this very unique species. To stop the dropping numbers of the remaining survivors there is a semi-wild breeding colony in Turkey and two more in Austria. And there are more than a thousand breeding bald ibex in zoos across Europe, Japan and North America.

And I hope to never again get an e-mail asking “what is this bird?”

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This next tale is hard to believe, and yet it actually happened last week. It seems that Abby Wilson, aged 14 and fairly new to deer hunting on her own, saw a big brown deer with antlers. It was deer season, and she had a license, so she shot it with her rifle. One shot was all it took, and she quickly found the “deer.”

When she got to the animal she still thought she had just bagged a very large whitetail deer. So she called out to her dad who was hunting nearby, and he quickly arrived. He also observed that it wasn’t a buck deer. 

It was an elk. A 4X4 bull elk, to be exact.

Now what to do? Dad called the game agent in Boone County, Officer Adam Doerhoff, and said, “We think we just shot an elk.” 

But the officer, suspecting a case of species misidentifications, was not really concerned until Abby’s dad sent him a photo. Then it became very clear that yes, it was an elk.

Unfortunately for Abby, Missouri has no hunting season for elk. The Missouri Department of Conservation is in the process of reintroducing elk at the Peck Ranch Conservation Area. But that is 200 miles away from Boone Co. where the animal was shot.

Well, the mystery of where the elk came from is still ongoing. The MDC is doing a number of tests on the carcass. Biologists are checking for Chronic Wasting Disease, which elk have been known to carry, and a DNA test that might tell them where the elk came from. 

And since there were no reports of elk in that area. And, there was no evidence of any ear tags or collars on this critter. The mystery deepens.

And best of all, there will be no enforcement actions taken against Abby Wilson.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at lisenbee@frontiernet. net.