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Dordan: Nature adapts to WNV
By TERRY DORDAN — Wet 'n' Wild

OK, bird lovers everywhere, relax. Whether you like to watch birds through binoculars or over the barrel of your favorite scatter gun, we are not losing our birds to West Nile Virus. It seems someone came across a report that pheasants have been diagnosed with WNV and the rumors erupted that a Silent Spring is just a season or two away. Allow me to allay your fears.

Yes, pheasants, and in fact probably all birds, are capable of contracting WNV. A study conducted last fall by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine found nearly 20 percent of rooster pheasants they had examined tested positive for WNV. This was from a study where 80 hunter-shot roosters were examined from across the state. Indications are that similar birds such as quail and turkey are also exposed and highly resistant, as well. In fact the study confirmed the WNV present in 138 species of birds and some popular game animals such as squirrels and deer. The 2003 death toll for humans in Iowa has been set at five.

So what does this say about the future of our bird life or any wildlife since it appears in most mammals? What it tells me as I look around is not to worry as nature has pretty well adapted to this imported virus. I’ve heard the reports and gotten the phone calls from interested folks who have worried they are not seeing a variety of birds. As I’ve explained here before, that’s just the way things are in nature at this point in time. Last winter I had few cardinals at the feeders and other folks told me they were covered up by them. Up until the first of July, we had blue jays everywhere in our woods and yards. They’re gone now but I’ll bet they’re around somewhere. With the local mulberry and raspberry crop gone, I’m sure they found a new place to eat is all. A client told me last week he hasn’t seen any crows. I’m tired of listening to them as they harass our barred owls every evening before going to roost. Sure, WNV kills birds, after all that is where it was first found out east. When it hit here three years ago, there were far more dead birds found with it being the cause. Notice hardly any have been found this year? Nature adapts.

In any event, with squirrel hunting season kicking off Sunday, Aug. 1, it is something to be aware of to the extent it is present in the environment. That’s why you use insect repellent with reckless abandon. Can one get WNV from infected squirrels? Technically you can be infected if blood from an actively infected squirrel enters through a cut or break in the skin, but the chances are extremely low. It’s most likely to happen when dressing out the game. Hey, that’s one reason they make latex gloves and you should always have some on hand near your cleaning table or on you if you field dress your game.

As for the rest of you folks who just like to watch wildlife, relax, as this Iowa study shows WNV is not going to kill off all your songbirds and other wildlife. Consider that the study showed WNV was present across the entire state and yet less than 20 percent had contracted it, and even though they had, they survived. Remember, these were hunter-shot birds that were tested. Believe me, Iowa is one of the top pheasant states in the nation. Turkey populations are at an all-time high even with WNV found in the species. In fact, no birds are suffering low populations due to WNV. Habitat destruction is far more damaging.

Wasting away?

Hey, speaking of diseases, is it just me or are there more deer around this year? You don’t suppose this Chronic Wasting Disease game agencies are so worried about is much ado about nothing? As I have always stated, it has been present in the Rocky Mountains since the 1960s, probably earlier, it just wasn’t diagnosed until then, and elk and mule deer populations don’t seem to be affected. Once again, there is more of a problem due to habitat loss.

What a tangled web

Speaking of pheasants and habitat loss, I guess the tie-in here is if you want to head out this November for a chance to shoot a few birds and be guaranteed a chance to actually work your dogs and shoot your guns, the state-controlled pheasant hunting areas are your best chance. Unfortunately, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, while doing a good job of providing some areas to hunt, are now planning to turn it into a rich man’s game.

Permit reservations for controlled pheasant hunting at nine IDNR sites will be handled through an Internet-based reservation system again this year. Find it at to see all the instructions. Reservations will begin being accepted Monday, Aug. 2, at 8:30 a.m. Three two-week drawing periods for permit reservations are scheduled. Permit cost is $15 with transaction fees between two and four dollars, depending on the number of reservations requested. Take note, the Illinois Youth Pheasant Hunt is still being held with no cost to the hunters. I won’t get involved with all the specifics, as they are too involved. Head to the Web site if you’re interested.

Therein lies the problem I have with this. The IDNR is opening this program up to only those with computers. If you don’t own one, tough. They just tell us to tell you to go find a friend with a computer or go to the library and use theirs. I realize many households have computers. However, there are those I’m sure that don’t. No sportsman should be limited from using land he bought with his tax dollars or license money because he doesn’t own a computer or, like me, does not care to learn to use one. They are being denied use of the Controlled Pheasant Hunting Program as readily as if they were told they cannot hunt because they don’t use over/under shotguns or German shorthair dogs. Maybe they can borrow an O/U shotgun or find someone with the right dog, but why should they have to? If I want to hunt with an old single-shot shotgun, without a dog, using a permit I filled out by pen or pencil and mailed in with a 37-cent stamp, I should be able to. I see this as blatant discrimination and the continuation down the road of the end of free hunting in America. Just another step whereby only the rich will be able to hunt.

As an aside, if you feel lucky, the nine state sites will have a portion of their daily hunter quota set aside for standby hunters. On top of that, four other controlled pheasant hunting sites are available. They are run by a private contractor and offer different programs. One can read about these at the same Web site or contact the concessionaire, T. Miller at (217) 793-6146 if you are like me and want to talk to a human. Finally, daily controlled pheasant hunting is available at Johnson Sauk Trail State Park. Hunters must check in for the daily drawing at 8:30 a.m. each hunting day.

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