SALEM, Ohio – During floods, blizzards and sweltering heat, the men and women of the U.S. Postal Service deliver mail in communities everywhere. And throughout Ohio, they also play an important part in determining small game hunting regulations each year.
For nearly four decades, rural mail carriers have voluntarily assisted the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in monitoring a variety of wildlife populations, including rabbits, ring-necked pheasants and bobwhite quail.
Old concept. “In essence, these citizen volunteers are helping us while they’re doing their jobs,” said Dave Scott, Division of Wildlife researcher. The concept has been in place since the 1960s and is used in several states, he said.
Nearly 1,200 routes participated this year, representing over half a million miles of Ohio roadways. The surveys are conducted twice yearly, in early April and August, when animals are more easily spotted and on the move, Scott said.
Mail carriers complete report cards detailing the number of animals observed in the 12-day period and submit them to the ODNR. In turn, Division of Wildlife researchers calculate a statewide index of the small game population using a complex formula, which includes observations and route mileage.
Rough estimate. “The formula isn’t going tell us exactly how many rabbits are running around in a certain area, but it gives us a rough estimate of what we’re dealing with,” Scott said.
The indexed data matched from year to year for specific routes shows trends and determines bag limits for hunters, Scott said.
Between 800 and 1,000 routes surveyed this year were also observed last year, and are included in the index calculations.
Results. Data shows a “readily stable rabbit population,” but numbers vary from year to year due to weather and food, Scott said.
Fewer sightings of both pheasants and quail have been recorded and a lower population exists due to habitat loss, he said.
“Trends in grassland habitats, like less pasture and hay crops in several parts of Ohio, mean less nesting areas for the birds,” Scott said. He also credits the blizzards during the 1970s for the decline in number of quail.
“We all know that a lot of the wildlife got killed off during the snow, but the good news is that populations are starting to grow again in southwest and south central Ohio,” he said.
Wildlife programs to increase populations are showing success, he said, but quail hunting is still limited to the areas “where numbers show the population can withstand a harvest,” he said.
Out there. Randy Leienberger of Ashley, Ohio, has participated in the counts for more than 20 years.
“You know the animals are out there, the trick is seeing them,” said Leienberger, a central Ohio rural route carrier.
The division also provides photos of each species to help route carriers recognize the birds more easily.
“During the heat of the day, especially in August, there aren’t many out moving that we can count,” Leienberger said. “I don’t think I’ve ever counted any quail.”
“Unfortunately, our guys see a lot of road kill,” said Dan Sullivan, Ashley postmaster. However, those numbers are not tabulated in the final data.
Enjoyable task. Two route carriers for the Ashley post office participate in the yearly count, Sullivan said, as a public service to the state.
“It also gives them something else to look out for, and I think they kind of enjoy it,” he said.
“It’s not a tough job,” Leienberger said. “We’re already out there on the roads, so we try to help out.”
(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)