Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 64

T

What's Normal?

HE THOUGHT occurred to me that I'm seeing fewer groundhogs. My daily
routine, to the extent I have one, takes me through lovely rural reaches
of western Pennsylvania. Much of that country is hilly woods and bottomland
pasture, veined by light-duty township roads. It's ideal for encountering our
familiarly grizzled marmot.
Lately, though, fewer chucks have rumbled across the roadways. I've missed
them, too, charging roly-poly down the shoulder to dive into a ditch as my tires
crunch by on the gravel. And there's an absence in the pastures.
It's natural to suspect coyotes as the cause of a groundhog
crash, if there is one. Our coyote is clever and groundhogs
would be a natural staple for a big canid in this landscape.
What about disease? Always adapting and evolving itself,
disease has a way of erupting when numbers of anything -
human beings or green beans in my garden - crowd to great
enough numbers within a particular space.
Maybe "clean" farming is finally catching up with groundhogs as it did quail
and pheasants? It's a thought but these hills are not exactly intensively tilled.
I read a persuasive article in Scientific American that warned of steep declines
in the world's 15 marmot species from climate change. Most vulnerable are
those using specialized, high-elevation habitats. The author, though, allowed
that because our Marmota monax is more of a generalist than, say, the Vancouver
Island marmot, it will not likely suffer in the short term.
Consider, though, a gradual change in landscape. In 1960, Greene County
was 19 percent forested. Today woodland covers 60 percent of the county, about
the same proportion as the state as a whole. Maybe there was a point along
that shift that was precisely the right ratio of woodlot to pasture for groundhog
proliferation, and the balance has tipped beyond the optimum.
If that is so, then certainly there was a time before Greene's old-growth forest
was first denuded when chucks were scarcer than their peak I perceived a few
years ago - a bell curve lived out by whistlepigs.
But if this gut sense about groundhogs is valid, it's more likely that a range of
things are pushing down on them. That's how nature generally works, a number
of simultaneous forces rather than one standout cause.
Is this perceived scarcity normal? That last question doesn't even feel like
the right one to ask. To consider any particular condition "normal" at a point
in time has always seemed a haughty way to view nature. Our familiar wildlife is
always in flux. An unavoidable truth is that we see but a snapshot in time.
64

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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014

Contents
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - Intro
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - Cover1
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - Cover2
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - Contents
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 2
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 3
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 4
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 5
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 6
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 7
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 8
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 9
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 10
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 11
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 12
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 13
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 14
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 16
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 18
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 21
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 27
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 28
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 30
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 33
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 34
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 35
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 36
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 37
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 38
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 40
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 41
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 42
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 53
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Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 61
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 62
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 63
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - 64
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - NS1
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - NS2
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - Cover3
Pennsylvania Game News - June 2014 - Cover4
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