The following is reprinted from March 2013.
Like the water flowing in a stream or river, wildlife fluctuates according to conditions. During periods of dry weather and drought, water levels drop, and sometimes the smaller streams go completely dry then return to normal levels when rains come. When a well goes dry because of drought, it will recover when the drought ends, but if a spring dries up, it will never come back. The old folks said that the reason for that is the well water runs underground like a river, but spring water comes straight up from deep in the earth.
Wildlife populations change and are affected not only by the weather, but also by certain things that man does, some good, some bad. When man and his machines destroy a forest, the wild animals that lived there are driven away; animals such as deer, bear, owls, squirrels and bobcats.
In approximately three years where once stood tall trees, now grow vines, weeds, briars and other ground-growing vegetation that actually provide more seeds for wildlife than forest trees, and also, dense coverage offers better protection to more species of wildlife. The animals that come to live there are rabbits, red foxes, quail, small rodents and snakes. The Native Americans knew and understood that more wildlife live in briars and thickets than in forests, so they intentionally set forests on fire.
Long before the white settlers came across the Roanoke River from Virginia, it flowed wild and free, and it was said that the soil on the North Carolina side, which is now Warren County, was so fertile that no fertilizer was needed to grow crops. Turnips grew as large as a bushel basket. Not only was the land rich in nutrients, it also teemed with a variety of wildlife in substantial numbers. Whitetail deer, wild turkeys, quail, cottontail rabbits, gray squirrels, opossums and raccoons kept the people well fed, and the fur from otters, gray foxes, bobcats and muskrats kept them warm.
That area of the Roanoke River proved to be a godsend of a place to live, being situated roughly between the cold and extreme cold northern areas and the hot climates to the south. Also, the area was bypassed by most of the hurricanes and cyclones that passed to the south and by the snowstorms to the north. Because of the fertile soil, abundant wildlife and mild climate, Warren County prospered, and over the years, eventually became the wealthiest county in the South.
As a farm boy growing up in Warren County, I loved the land and the animals upon it, especially the Roanoke River with its waters, forests and low grounds.
Certain things created by nature serve as barriers to wildlife, things such as mountain ranges and rivers. That means that, in the case of a river, certain species of wildlife that cannot fly are found in the land on one side of the river, but are not found on the other side. Such was the case pertaining to the Roanoke. On the Warren County side, there were no groundhogs or skunks. In all of my years growing up on our farm and hunting throughout the land, I never once saw a skunk or groundhog. My daddy’s next oldest brother, my uncle John-D, owned a farm across the river near South Hill, Va., and his farm had skunks and groundhogs on it. Shortly after Kerr Dam was built across the river at Buggs Island, creating Kerr Lake, skunks and groundhogs began showing up on this side, and now there are no shortages of them throughout the county.
What are some of the species of wildlife that are found in and around Lake Gaston today that were not present before the lake was created? In addition to skunks and groundhogs, we now have nutria, coyotes, beavers and bald eagles.
In the 1700s, there was an animal here in Warren County and in areas on to the coast that has not been here for a long time, and that animal is the red wolf. At one time, at the Warren County Courthouse, a notice was posted offering a bounty on red wolves. This was sometime around the mid-1700s. Although the red wolf is the only wolf species to ever inhabit North Carolina, other species were plentiful in many areas of North America, species such as the grey wolf, timber wolf, Arctic wolf and Mexican wolf (lobo).
When the first settlers came to this country, including what is now North Carolina, one of the things that they brought with them was an inherited fear of wolves. In Europe and Old World countries, people were deathly afraid of wolves because of widespread belief that wolves were vicious, bloodthirsty creatures that attacked and killed people, re: “Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Even today in many parts of America, people hate and fear wolves. Some of those people are ranchers and cattlemen who sometimes lose a cow or calf to hungry wolves. But the wolves were here many thousands of years before people came and drove away the wild game animals and put cows in their place. Do they expect the wolves to starve to death?
Next week, I will take a look at other wildlife in and around Lake Gaston.
—Continued next week—