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September 13. 2014 9:47PM

John Harrigan's Woods, Water & Wildlife: On apples, bears and unlimited cod


DON'T ASK a question unless you want an answer, and that's what happened with last week's question about why apple crops, both domestic and wild, are so spotty. The easy answer is always frost and bees, but those don't seem to apply.

I received so much feedback that I have to defer it to next week to give myself time to try to make sense of it, and when I can enlist experts more savvy than I am.

How I wish I could just digress to the old story (mine) about sallying forth with shotgun in hand to come home with a couple of birds (partridge, grouse, take your pick) and wild apples, to be stuffed with bread crumbs and onion and butter and thyme into a foil pouch, and roasted for 35 minutes until laid alongside a nice esker of wild rice.

Bear hunting is on, and a longtime bow-hunting friend is hunting my woodlot in Pittsburg. He is among the patient and persistent ones (the hunter, but maybe too the bear).

The bear is at the highest end of the food-chain here and in much of the Northern Hemisphere. This status puts it at the center of the never-ending anti-hunting debate. There is no doubt that New Hampshire's population allows for a sustainable hunt. But should it?

But who else, and at what price, would keep a check on the bear population? All is not rosy, bluebirds-in-the-air, frolicking bear cubs here.

Bears do real damage to crops and, because of careless and loutish people, some of whom actually feed bears to indulge themselves in backyard delight, at the expense of neighbors and everyone else down the line, become a too-familiarized menace and have to be trapped and hauled away, all too often a euphemism for "put away," as in "down."

A fed bear is a dead bear, the axiom goes. Is the bow hunter in a stand or blind over bait such a worse scenario here?

Cheryl Kimball switch-hits with longtime "Nature Talks" columnist Stacy Cole in the Saturday Union Leader, and had a captivating column last week on passenger pigeons.

During colonial times these birds staged flights estimated in the billions, often dimming the sun, and so crowded roosting trees that branches cracked under their weight. Early histories of towns all over New Hampshire contain accounts of people harvesting them simply by walking along low-hanging limbs and cracking them behind the heads with a stout stick.

Cheryl wondered: "Is an animal that congregates in the billions ever far from extinction?" This of course brings to mind the buffalo, or American bison.

Once discovered as a supposedly inexhaustible food source for humans, both species were market-hunted to near extinction, or in the case of the passenger pigeon, total extinction. Buffalo hides and tongues were all that could survive the preservatives and distances of the times, and pigeons were packed by the billions into hogsheads for city-dwellers' culinary delights. "Hunting," as we know it today and nurture the habitat to support it, did not even enter into the picture.

But I also think about the cod fishery, the supposedly never-ending fish that Portugese fishermen caught on the Grand Banks and dried and salted in the estuaries of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and the St. Lawrence, way before the 1492 we've all been brainwashed to believe, denying Columbus the intelligence of this, all the while reporting cod as being so thick that one could walk ashore on their backs.

Write John Harrigan at or Box 39, Colebrook NH03576.

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