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Conservation Spotlight: Predators in the Virginia Mountains

Recent studies in Virginia have taken a deeper dive than ever before into the habits, food preferences, and range of local predators. These were funded in part by SCI Foundation with matching grants from the local SCI Chapters (Mid-Atlantic Bowhunters, National Capital, and Washington Metro Chapters) and funding from the Hunter Legacy Fund. SCI Foundation also took a boots-on-the-ground approach by visiting one of the collared black bears in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. This research, conducted by Virginia Tech and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, will have important implications for hunting and conservation of predators and prey alike. 

The native predators in Virginia are the black bear and bobcat, and the coyote has expanded its range to the area in recent decades. While all of these have deer as some part of their diet, the research in part aims to find out just how much and to get a better sense of the pressures on the deer population. With lower harvest rates in recent years, it seems that the added pressure has meant fewer opportunities for hunters.  

Over the course of the research, 17 coyotes, 21 bobcats, and 22 bears were GPS collared and tracked. The data was used to determine where the carnivores spent significant amounts of time and to determine potential kill or scavenging sites. The data analysis is still ongoing, but results on bobcats have recently been published: Influence of forest disturbance on bobcat resource selection in the central Appalachians and Sex-specific effects of reproductive season on bobcat space use, movement, and resource selection in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.

The most unique project was the equipment of some of the collared black bears with GoPro cameras. The camera was set up to take 20 seconds of video every 20 minutes to get a long term “day in the life.” This first-of-its-kind research has given an on-the-ground look at every aspect of black bears’ lives, of which very little was previously known. The footage is fascinating – read more here and here and be sure to check out the videos! 

This research is important for hunting and conservation and will help determine hunting seasons and quotas for deer and predators alike. Understanding behaviors, range, and diet is essential to effective management of populations, especially with the increasing interactions between humans and wildlife. Not only do hunters give more to conservation than anyone else through excise taxes on firearms and ammo and through the purchase of licenses, etc. but they also provide direct funding to support scientific research and informed management. 

Stay tuned for further updates on the project! SCI and SCI Foundation will continue to fight for the rights of hunters and their role in conservation. To get involved in the latest hunting issues, visit https://safariclub.org/hunter-advocacy-action-center/.

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