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All 5 of West Virginia’s ski resorts to open

The Free Press WV

All five of West Virginia’s ski resorts will be open this weekend in one of the earliest starts to the state’s winter sports season.

The West Virginia Ski Areas Association tells news outlets that this week’s cold temperatures and natural snowfall have helped resorts’ snow-making efforts, allowing one of their best season debuts in recent history.

The resorts have more than 800,000 visitors annually during the season, creating a $250 million economic impact and 5,000 jobs. The season traditionally begins late November and continues to early April.

Canaan Valley, Timberline Four Seasons, Winterplace and Oglebay will all be open by Saturday with some opening Friday. Snowshoe Mountain had opened for Thanksgiving.

U.S. national parks to slash number of free days for visitors

The Free Press WV

National parks in the U.S. will sharply drop the number of days they allow visitors to get in for free, a move that was criticized by opponents of the parks’ plan to raise entrance costs at other times of the year.

After waiving fees 16 days in 2016 and 10 days in 2017, the National Park Service announced Tuesday that it will have four no-cost days next year. They will be Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 15), the first day of National Park Week (April 21), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 22) and Veterans Day (Nov. 11.

This year’s free days included all of Veterans Day weekend and the weekends surrounding National Park Week. All of National Park Week and four days over the 100th anniversary of the Park Service were free in 2016.

The Park Service charges weekly entrance fees of $25 or $30 per vehicle at 118 of the 417 national parks. The Park Service has proposed raising the cost to $70 at 17 busy parks mainly in the West, including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Zion.

The agency estimates the increase would generate an additional $70 million to help address backlogged maintenance and infrastructure projects. Opponents, including attorneys general from 10 states, say the higher costs could turn away visitors and might not raise that much money.

The Park Service didn’t explain why it was cutting back on free days. An Interior Department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The days that we designate as fee-free for national parks mark opportunities for the public to participate in service projects, enjoy ranger-led programs, or just spend time with family and friends exploring these diverse and special places,” National Park Service Deputy Director Michael T. Reynolds said in a statement.

A group opposed to raising fees criticized the change.

“Not everyone can book a helicopter or charter a boat when they want to visit our national parks,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn with the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities in a release. “America’s parks must remain affordable for working families.”

Swarm chasers return wayward honeybees to hives

The Free Press WV

When half or more of your honeybees have deserted the hive and are lingering nearby, who ya gonna call? Swarm chasers can provide quick help to fellow beekeepers, keeping them from getting stung literally and financially.

“A swarm is the division of the honeybee colony into two parts,” said Donald Lewis, a professor and Extension entomologist with Iowa State University. “One part of the colony will stay where they’ll continue to grow, reproduce and make honey. The swarm leaves the colony in search of a place to set up elsewhere.”

Swarming generally occurs because the colony is crowded, or it could be caused by genetics, Lewis said. “There is a predisposition in some bee strains that makes it more likely for them to do that,” he said.

Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of a new queen pushing the old queen out. “The old queen would go with the swarm, taking half the existing colony and all the honey they can carry when they depart,” Lewis said.

“A swarm generally flies a short distance and then hangs out on tree limbs, stop signs, the side of a house or perhaps in a playground. They’ll wait for the scouts to return and tell them where their new location will be,” Lewis said.

The likelihood that a swarm can become a thriving feral bee colony depends primarily on where their new home is, Lewis said.

“Here in the Midwest, if the swarm cannot get inside a protected location, they’re not likely to make it through the winter.”

Beekeepers can prevent losing a colony by dividing it ahead of time; by re-capturing the swarm cluster and placing it in a new hive; or by buying a honeybee variety known for its low tendency to swarm, Lewis said.

If you’ve lost or simply spotted a swarm cluster, it may pay to find someone who, for a price or simply a new strain of honeybees, is willing to round them up.

Dan Maxwell, a beekeeper from Freeland, Washington, frequently responds to calls requesting help to remove swarms.

“I only work with honeybees,” Maxwell said. He won’t deal with swarms that have collected too high (15 feet or more) or that are enclosed in ceilings, crawl spaces and brickwork like fireplaces. Those cases are “too much work, and it can be messy with brood and honey,” he said.

Swarm clusters on limbs or branches can easily be dropped or shaken into a box, Maxwell said. He often uses a vacuum with an adjustable suction setting that doesn’t harm the queen or worker bees.

Unless provoked, bees seldom sting when they swarm, he said. “Swarms are usually not in the stinging mode because they have gorged themselves on honey to start the new hive.”

If you do see a swarm, don’t panic, throw rocks at it or spray it with an insecticide, Lewis said.

“These are beneficial insects,” he said. “You don’t have to needlessly kill them. Simply give them a wide berth and chances are, they’ll be gone in a day or two.”

60 more elk to be added by DNR

The Free Press WV

Division of Natural Resources workers will travel to Arizona in late January to assist with the capture and processing of up to 60 elk destined for the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County. Those elk will join the 22 the DNR acquired in 2016 from Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes Elk and Bison Prairie.

Paul Johansen, the DNR’s wildlife chief, said a private company with “vast experience in trapping animals, particularly [deer and elk],” will do the capturing. DNR workers will tag the animals, put radio collars on them, implant microchips in them, and take blood samples from them for disease testing.

Randy Kelley, elk project leader for the agency, said he was a little surprised when he was told it would take only three days to catch that many elk.

“I figured it would take about a week, but the company that will be doing the work is apparently really good at it,” he added. “The Arizona folks said they were able to capture about 20 a day when they were helping Kentucky with their elk reintroduction project.”

Kelley will head up a crew of four to five DNR workers who have experience at handling elk, which can weigh as much as 700 pounds.

“If [the contractor is] able to capture the animals that fast, we’re going to have our work cut out for us,” he said. “That means we’ll be working up two to three of them every hour.”

Each elk will receive metal ear tags, a microchip for identification and a radio collar, so the animal can be tracked after it is released in West Virginia. Blood samples will be sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Ames, Iowa, where they will be tested for bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis. DNR crews will also take DNA samples.

“As soon as the last elk goes into the holding pen in Arizona, a 30-day quarantine period will begin,” Kelley said. “We anticipate getting the test results back in three to seven days. If there are no problems, the elk will complete their 30-day quarantine.

“As soon as the quarantine ends, we’ll have a trucking company on standby to pick up the elk and transport them to West Virginia. If they drive straight through, the trip across the country should take 26 to 34 hours.”

Once they arrive, the elk will be offloaded into a 3-acre holding pen on the Tomblin WMA near Holden. They’ll be given some time to acclimate to their new surroundings before being released.

Kelley said the DNR will rotate the crews they send to Arizona so no one has to stay for a month or more.

Wildlife chief Johansen credited the Arizona Fish and Game Department for making the elk transfer possible.

“They have a highly professional staff out there, and they’ve bent over backward to assist us,” he said. “This is a classic example of one wildlife agency assisting another, and we very much appreciate the work they’re doing to make our elk reintroduction effort possible.”

If all goes as planned, DNR officials hope to release the elk sometime in March.

~~  John McCoy ~~

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