2016 Year End Review

Visitors can now watch bison now roam over 1000 acres of restored northern Indiana prairie at the Kankakee Tract owned by the Nature Conservancy. Photo by author.

Brushing aside the small group of social media drama queens who are proclaiming “2016 is the worse EVER!” our rapidly-fading year was like every other in human existence: full of twists and turns, tragedy and triumph, frustration and fun. The Indiana outdoors scene was no different.

There has been equal measure of the good and bad across the state. Approaching the flip of the calendar, there are more public land and wildlife viewing opportunities yet we face growing challenges such as the deer tuberculosis situation in southeastern Indiana. Fortunately though, it would appear that Indiana’s outdoor recreation opportunities are strong, growing and waiting for you.

Here is our look back at the big Indiana outdoor stories for 2016.

Indiana Bear V2.0– The second Indiana bear in modern history is apparently enjoying his visit.

In July, a young male black bear was sighted all over southern Indiana. After swimming across the Ohio River from Kentucky he wandered in a loose circle around the Louisville/Jeffersonville area until ending up in Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, the huge fenced area of forest and prairie formerly known as Jefferson Proving Ground.

Since that time the bear has been seen only occasionally, including one memorable cell phone video captured by a hunter in Big Oaks during the deer season. Though no one is sure it seems likely he denned up for the winter in the Wildlife Refuge. If so, he would be the first wintering bear in Indiana since the mid 1800’s.

Kankakee Bison– Hoosiers can now watch the buffalo roam across the northern Indiana prairie.

While the herd is actually confined with fences, the pure-bred bison that were introduced onto over 1000 acres of restored prairie on the Nature Conservancy Kankakee Sands tract between Lafayette and Merrillville. Even better, the Nature Conservancy is very accommodating and has built a large viewing area and making the bison a “must-see” for any Indiana wildlife lover.

Bovine TB– This story flew somewhat under the radar but has the potential to affect every Hoosier.

In short, after deer and cattle in Franklin County tested positive for bovine TB, special hunting regulations were enacted in Fayette, Franklin and Dearborn counties to monitor and contain the disease. Unfortunately another herd of cattle has recently tested positive, creating the potential for more problems and regulations for 2017.

Donald Trump– What more can (or should) be said about our controversial president-elect aside from the fact that no one really knows yet how his presidency will affect the outdoors and environment. We certainly don’t have any special insight on the matter but will boldly and publicly state that his actions may or may not affect the outdoor community for better or worse.

Deer Rifles– In 2016, deer hunters had the option to use common high-powered rifle cartridges for deer hunting on private land. While there were all sorts of doom-saying before the season, things turned out pretty much as we expected: no big deal.

Question 1– On November 8, 2016, Indiana voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the Indiana State Constitution stating that Hunting and Fishing is a constitutionally-protected activity. Most experts agreed that the amendment was pointless and set bad precedent for Indiana’s constitution but it does demonstrate that Indiana voters clearly support the harvest of fish and game.

Chinook stocks cut– Due to the changing ecosystem of Lake Michigan, the Indiana DNR announced earlier this year that it was cutting Chinook (or King) salmon stockings in the lake. This follows concerns that the big predators are eating themselves out of house and home and could potentially cause a situation much like the collapse of the salmon fishery in Lake Huron. Salmon catches have already dropped somewhat, especially for Kings, but fortunately there are still plenty of silvery bruisers cruising the waters off northern Indiana.

Bicentennial Nature Trust– A land conservation project launched by the DNR and the Lilly Endowment, the program’s goal is to celebrate Indiana’s 200th anniversary by protecting unique lands across the state.

With $20 million from the DNR and $10 million from Lilly, the program has already protected over 13,000 acres in 63 counties with properties ranging from a single acre to over 1000 acres. Currently over 150 projects have been funded with another 30 under consideration.

Of all the other big outdoor stories in 2016, this might ultimately have the largest impact on Hoosiers as we enjoy thousands of acres of new public land.

Snake Dance– One of Indiana’s most active, widely-read and quite frankly, handsome outdoors writers finally published a book. Snake Dance, The Outdoor Misadventures of Someone With Poor Balance, became available this month.

In case you were wondering, this final entry is a shameless plug for my new book. But it’s a pretty good read and you might enjoy it. For more information, visit snakedancebook.com

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Brent Wheat
A well-known and award-winning writer/photographer/radio & television talent/speaker/web-designer/media spokesperson/shooting instructor/elected official/retired police officer/bourbon connoisseur/cigar aficionado/backpacker/hunter/fisherman/gardener/preparedness guru/musician/and jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none, Brent Wheat is the editor and publisher of WildIndiana.com

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