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Vermont Fish & Wildlife recommends taking down bird feeders now to avoid attracting black bears that are waking from hibernation.

Free intro to bass fishing clinic

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is hosting a free Introduction to Bass Fishing clinic on April 23, at the Kehoe Education Center in Castleton.

Open to people of all ages and levels of experience, including those who are completely new to fishing, the clinic will be led by department staff and instructors from the Let's Go Fishing Program.

"For folks hoping to learn the basics of bass fishing, particularly how to target and catch bass using artificial lures, this clinic is a great starting place," said Corey Hart, clinic coordinator with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. "We'll cover a range of topics including how bass relate to different types of habitat, what lures and tactics to use in different scenarios, knot tying, and casting techniques."

A Vermont game warden will also lead a fish identification component and a regulations review.

The clinic will start at 2 p.m. and run until 6:30 p.m. with the first portion at the Kehoe Education Center. The class will then travel to a nearby pond to try out the fishing skills learned earlier in the day.

Fishing equipment will be available for use, or participants can bring their own. Space is limited and preregistration is required. Participants will also need to provide their own transportation to the off-site fishing location.

To register for the clinic, email Corey Hart at Corey.Hart@Vermont.gov or call 802-505-5562.

Conservation camps still have openings


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There are openings in its summer Green Mountain Conservation Camp program for young people who want to learn about Vermont's wildlife and gain outdoor skills.

The one-week camp sessions are held at two locations -- Lake Bomoseen in Castleton and Buck Lake in Woodbury. Campers participate in hands-on learning about fish and wildlife conservation, ecology, forestry, orienteering, safe firearm and archery techniques, swimming, canoeing, fishing and more in an attractive outdoor setting. Natural resource professionals come to the camp during the week to share information on their programs and take campers out for field activities.

Conservation camps open June 19 and continue until August 19. Tuition is $250 for the week, including food, lodging and equipment.

Check the Fish & Wildlife website (www.vtfishandwildlife.com) for information, a weekly schedule with listed openings, and scholarship availability. You can also email fwgmcc@state.vt.us or call 802-828-1460.

"We have many openings during advanced weeks starting July 24 and July 31 for girls 16 and younger who went to Conservation Camp before," said Education Coordinator Alison Thomas. "Advanced week offers more in-depth learning about conservation subjects from the Fish and Wildlife professionals who are actually doing the work."

Vermont's conservation camp program is unique because it is sponsored and directed by Fish & Wildlife Department professionals -- the same people who manage Vermont's fish and wildlife resources. Working biologists, foresters, game wardens, and conservation educators teach young people about Vermont's forests, wetlands and wildlife.

The program's greatest strength is connecting young people to the outdoors. The camp program is sponsored in part through a grant from the federal Wildlife & Sportfish Restoration Program.

Turkey hunting seminars, April 2 and 3

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is hosting two free turkey hunting seminars this spring – one on April 2 in Barre, the other on April 3 in Hartland.

"Experienced and first-time turkey hunters will benefit from these seminars," said Hunter Education Training Coordinator John Pellegrini. "We still have openings for people who would like to attend. The training will cover safe hunting practices, special equipment, calls, site setup, and effective hunting strategies."

The seminars will be held 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The April 2 seminar will be at the Barre Fish and Game Club on Gun Club Road in Barre. The April 3 Seminar will be at the Hartland Fire Department in Hartland.

You may sign up by going to VT Hunter Education Seminars at: http://tinyurl.com/gr9csxh. Participants are encouraged to bring a lunch.

If you have questions, please call John Pellegrini at 802-272-2909.

Engaging educators and students with wildlife and forestry resources

Understanding how Vermont's fish and wildlife resources depend on our forested habitats to survive is important in order to ensure these resources are well-managed and conserved for the future.

On Wednesday, April 27, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Montpelier, conservation educators Ali Thomas from the Fish & Wildlife Department and Rebecca Roy from the Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation will train educators about wildlife and forestry topics that are addressed in the Project WILD and Project Learning Tree (K- 12) Curriculum Guides.

The workshop is an opportunity for educators to receive training in two nationally recognized curriculum guides that address wildlife management and forestry topics in an interdisciplinary, experiential format while aligning the lessons with current national standards and STEM education. All participants will leave with two free guides.

Ali Thomas understands the challenges facing educators when trying to get students connected to the outdoors. "Educators in schools, private organizations and clubs are increasingly pressured to align their curriculum with national and state educational standards. Project WILD and Project Learning Tree are fantastic guides because the standards are addressed in an engaging, active way that connects students and educators to the natural resources near their homes and throughout the state."

Helping students and educators become more knowledgeable about Vermont's natural resources through hands-on activities is the goal of these guides. "The health of wildlife populations and their associated habitats is intrinsically connected to quality forestry management. Training that highlights these topics equips educators with the knowledge, skills and tools to provide this information to their students," said Thomas.

Pre-registration is required. Openings are still available but it is filling quickly so register soon if you are an educator who would like to participate. To register, contact Alison.Thomas@vermont.gov. The workshop will be held at the Annex Building, 90 Junction Road, Montpelier.

It's time to remove bird feeders

Warm spring weather and melting snows are causing bears to come out of their winter dens early in search of a meal. The department recommends taking down bird feeders now to avoid attracting them.

Bears are very fond of suet and bird seed, especially black oil sunflower seed. Bringing feeders in at night doesn't work, because bears will still feed on seed that is spilled on the ground.

Bird feeders are just one of the things that can attract hungry bears. Other sources of food that bears find appealing are: pet food, barbecue grills, garbage, household trash containers, open dumpsters, and campsites with accessible food and food wastes.

Purposely feeding a bear is not just bad for the bear, it's also illegal.

Vermont law also states that residents must take reasonable measures to protect their property from bears before lethal force can be taken. Some of these measures include:

• Keep chickens and honeybees secure within an electric fence or other bear-proof enclosure.

• Never feed bears, deliberately or accidentally.

• Feed your pets indoors.

• Store trash in a secure place. Trash cans alone are not enough.

Fish & Wildlife urges Vermonters to remember nongame wildlife fund tax checkoff

Vermonters with an interest in conserving wildlife should consider making a donation to the Nongame Wildlife Fund on line 29a of their state income tax form this tax season. The fund helps to conserve some of Vermont's most threatened wildlife species such as bald eagles, lynx, and turtles, in addition to helping many of the state's imperiled pollinators such as butterflies and bees.

Past donations to the Nongame Wildlife Fund have helped recover peregrine falcons, osprey, and loons in Vermont. They have also helped recovery efforts for Vermont's bat species that were recently hit with a devastating fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome.

The donations are leveraged by a match from a federal grant, meaning that a $50 donation brings up to $150 to wildlife conservation in Vermont.

"The Nongame Wildlife Fund has been responsible for some of the great conservation success stories in Vermont," said biologist Steve Parren, who manages nongame wildlife projects for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. "Thanks to the generous donations of thousands of Vermonters, we are working to restore many of the iconic species of our Green Mountain State."

Parren works on the recovery of Vermont's rare turtle species, including the state endangered spiny softshell turtle. He monitors and protects the turtle's nests, and each winter he raises dozens of baby turtles in his own living room before releasing them back into Lake Champlain in the spring.

"It's clear that Vermonters care deeply about wildlife," said John Buck, a state wildlife biologist who works to recover the state's endangered bird species. "These donations demonstrate that the people of our state share a strong commitment to conservation."

In 2015, Vermont added three bumble bee species to the state's endangered species list, amid nationwide concerns about the decline of pollinator species. Bees, moths, and butterflies are responsible for pollinating everything from farm crops to the trees in the forest, but many of these species are in decline lately due in part to the use of pesticides. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is working to protect pollinators with financial support from the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

Be on the lookout for frogs, salamanders along roads

One of the great wildlife migrations is happening right now in Vermont, and it is taking place right at our feet.

You may have already heard the spring peepers or wood frogs calling in your backyard. Or perhaps you've noticed salamanders crawling over rocks in a nearby stream. Amphibians are on the move, but their spring breeding migration can too often become deadly.

Amphibians migrate by the thousands each spring in search of breeding pools. This migration frequently takes them across roads and highways where they are killed by cars, which contributes to the species' decline in Vermont, according to biologist Jens Hilke with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

"Frogs and salamanders become active on rainy spring nights, which will likely be happening earlier this year with the warm weather we've been experiencing," said Hilke. "On these nights, drivers should slow down on roads near ponds and wetlands, or try to use an alternate route. These amphibian 'hotspots' can lead to the death of thousands of animals on a single night."

Hilke is asking drivers to report these hotspots, or areas with large numbers of frogs and salamanders that cross the road all at once. They can contact the Vermont Reptile & Amphibian Atlas by emailing Jim Andrews at jandrews@middlebury.edu.

"We work hard to identify these hotspots and to mitigate the problem whenever possible to help give these animals a better chance of survival," said Hilke.

The Fish & Wildlife Department is working with the Vermont Agency of Transportation to include culverts and wildlife barriers in road construction plans to allow wildlife, from frogs to moose, to more safely cross the road. The town of Monkton has completed a highway project that is aimed at providing amphibians with a safe way to cross under the road.

Conservation officials and volunteers also work together on rainy spring nights to slow traffic and manually move amphibians across the road.

Vermonters who want to contribute to the Fish & Wildlife Department's work to help amphibians and other species can donate to the Nongame Wildlife Fund on line 29a of their state income tax form.

Hammond Cove Shooting Range opening April 1

The Hammond Cove Shooting Range in Hartland, Vermont will be re-opening for the season on April 1 at 10 a.m.

The range underwent several upgrades in 2015, including a new berm for the pistol range, improved acoustic tiling in the covered shooting ports, the installation of security cameras, and access road work.

The range will also be operating under new rules set forth by The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Range users will be required to sign in with an onsite range officer and have a valid Vermont hunting or fishing license or be the guest of someone who does. A reminder for users regarding hours of operation and range rules are listed below.

Range rules include:

• A Vermont hunting or fishing license is required for users 15 years and older.

• License holders can bring one guest, but after three visits that guest must purchase a license.

Shooting more than one round per second is prohibited.

• Shooting long rifles or shotguns from the pistol bench is prohibited, as is shooting pistols from the rifle benches.

• Unless otherwise posted, the range will be open April 1 to December 14, Thursday through Monday.

• On Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the range hours will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

• On Sundays, the range will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• The range will be closed from December 15 through March 31 and on all Vermont State and Federal Holidays, except for special events approved by the Commissioner.

To ensure these rules are followed, a range officer will be present when the range is open.

Before using the range, shooters are urged to review the range rules on Vermont Fish & Wildlife's website: www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

"Vermont has some of the safest and most conservation-minded hunters anywhere," said Vermont Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter. "They need a publicly accessible place where they can sight in their rifles and practice their shooting skills. Hammond Cove Range provides that. The updates to this facility and our new range rules also reflect the need to be good neighbors and careful stewards of this facility. We appreciate the tremendous community support we've received for this project."

Grants available to improve shooting ranges

Vermont Fish & Wildlife is offering shooting range improvement grants to create more access to safe places to shoot.

Developed last year to encourage upgrades of shooting ranges to enhance their safety and operation, the Shooting Range Improvement Grant Program seeks submissions from shooting clubs, sportsmen's groups and government agencies involved in the operation of shooting ranges, including archery ranges, until 4:30 p.m. on May 16. The grant period begins July 1.

Eligible projects include shooting range re-development, noise abatement structures, safety berms, shooting pads and stations, and the construction or improvement of access roads and parking lots. Grant money can be also used for lead mitigation, such as recycling, reducing range floor surface drainage or liming range property.

A total of $40,000 is available this year. These funds are derived from federal excise taxes on hunting and shooting equipment.

Ranges that receive one of these grants must provide at least 20 hours of public use per month when in operation, and be open at reasonable times to hunter education courses.

For further information or to download an application packet, visit the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department website at www.vtfishandwildlife.com. Click on "Hunt," and then on "Shooting Ranges." Or, contact Daneil Pieterse at 802-272-6923.

Fish & Wildlife announces 2015 master anglers

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has released its annual Master Angler program report and 35 Vermont anglers have garnered "Master Angler" status for 2015.

"2015 was another strong year for the Master Angler program as we saw over 700 trophy fish entries from more than 200 anglers," said Shawn Good, fisheries biologist and Master Angler program coordinator with Vermont Fish & Wildlife. "In the end, 25 adult anglers and 10 youth anglers completed the challenge and became 'Master Anglers' for 2015. This is not only a great accomplishment, but also a testament to their passion for fishing in Vermont."

In order to achieve "Master Angler" status, anglers must enter trophy fish of a minimum length for at least five different species. Anglers are required to submit a photograph of their fish, along with accurate measurements and catch data including when, where and how the fish was caught. Anglers must also indicate if the fish was harvested or released.

"The entries we saw were representative of the incredible diversity of fish species we have here in Vermont," said Good. "Of the 33 species eligible for entry into the program, only 3 did not have entries for 2015."

Additional highlights from the 2015 Master Angler program include:

• Three trophy fish entries which also became new all-time state records for Vermont. These include record fish for the species of yellow perch, cisco and redhorse sucker.

• Thirteen adult anglers and five youth anglers earned "Master Angler" status for the second year in a row.

• Trophy fish entries were received from 85 waters throughout the state.

• As in the past, the most entries (366), came from Lake Champlain.

• Fifty-eight percent of trophy fish entered were released to continue to grow and potentially be caught another day.

Good also said results of the program year in and year out demonstrate the exceptional quality of fishing opportunities around the state.

"There's an amazing amount of opportunities on waters of all sizes to catch trophy sized trout, bass, pike, perch and all the favorite sport fish of anglers around the state," said Good. "However, when you thumb through the Master Angler report, you'll quickly see a number of fish species you maybe have never caught yourself like bowfin, sheepshead, redhorse sucker and fallfish, among others. I'm a big advocate of encouraging anglers to try something a little different once in a while, instead of always fishing for the same thing. The Master Angler report and the website help anglers learn about all the different species you can catch in Vermont, and where. You just need to figure out the 'how'!"

The traditional Master Angler program will continue for 2016, but department officials have also added a new "Bonus Challenge" to continue to test participants' angling skills and fish knowledge. To complete the "Bonus Challenge," anglers must enter trophy fish for the categories of coldwater, warmwater, panfish, and alternative, plus one "wild card" species.

The 2016 "Bonus Challenge" species are: Lake Trout, Chain Pickerel, Fallfish, Yellow Perch and White Sucker.

In its sixth year, the Master Angler program was developed to recognize the achievements of anglers who catch trophy-sized fish from Vermont waters and celebrate the growth and survival of such fish.

The program also aims to encourage anglers to improve their knowledge of fish habitat and behavior, and develop the skills required to target and catch a wide variety of fish species.

To view the full 2015 Vermont Master Angler program report, browse past fish entries or enter a trophy fish, visit www.vermontfishandwildlife.com.