ROANOKE, W.Va. — Wild critters in West Virginia, which rely on nuts as their primary food source, are likely going into the winter in good shape. The 2018 mast survey published by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources reflects a strong year for hard mast species.
“White oak is one of the most important trees we have,” said Chris Ryan, one of the co-authors of the survey. “Production is very similar to last year–and last year was really good. There is going to be a lot of white oak out there and chestnut oak is very similar.”
Both the white oak and chestnut oak acorns are up slightly from 2017, but are up more than 40 percent over the long term average of the survey. The mast survey is now in its 47th year.
One part of this year’s publication however may actually be inaccurate, not because of any mistakes, but according to Ryan a natural anomaly has happened in the past month.
“We tell our surveyors to do their checks in August–I personally do mine the third week of August,” explained Ryan. “I walked by a lot of red oak and black oak trees and there were no acorns on them, a month later there are acorns as big as a marble on those trees.”
Ryan theorized the reason for the unusual and sudden onset of acorns where they didn’t exist six weeks ago has been the recent rainfall. According to the National Weather Service some places in West Virginia have received 20 inches or more of rain and all time records for rainfall have fallen during the month. The weather, by default, created an extended growing season.
“We have all that rain, then it gets sunny and warm–then it will rain and get sunny and warm,” Ryan explained. “If you notice everything is still growing. I think a lot of those red and black oaks sucked up that moisture from the ground and put it into acorn production.”
So acorns are running a a near record high in 2018, hickory nuts and walnuts are also above average which will be a big hit for squirrels.
However, the soft mast fell short for this fall and probably isn’t going to be the sweet draw for wildlife which it normal becomes.
“Cherry did not do very well. It’s down 31 percent from last year and down 22 percent over the long term,” said Ryan. “If you find three or four trees, one of them will have fruit the rest won’t. Apple is about the same, down 32 percent from last year and just eight percent above the long term average.”
Ryan noted it’s possible to have some fluctuation in the mast production levels in certain pockets of the state since the index is an overall average of the entire state, but for the most part the index is a good assessment of conditions anywhere in West Virginia.
The survey, which comes with a hunting outlook as well, is traditionally done by the first of October. Historically that would be ahead of all hunting seasons, but the modern modifications of hunting have expanded those opportunities back into the month of September. The data however still holds up and the patterns, especially for deer, typically change when the rut begins.