Wilson: Gray or fox, squirrels legal

Question: I used to have nothing but gray squirrels here in Placerville (about 2,000 feet elevation), but over the past two to three years my gray squirrels began disappearing and now I have the eastern fox squirrels living in the same trees. It looks like they ran the gray squirrels out. Are the fox squirrels more aggressive than the gray squirrels and are they expanding their habitat? Sure looks like it.

Which brings up another question: I've read they're good eating and am wondering if any considerations are being made for hunting them? If so, would they be included in the gray squirrel bag or is the Department of Fish & Game (DFG) considering a separate bag for them?

-- Bill K., Placerville

Answer: The western gray squirrel is native to California but the fox squirrel is an introduced species. According to DFG Environmental Scientist Jessie Garcia, the fox squirrel's natural range extends throughout much of the eastern United States, the southern prairie provinces of Canada, the Dakotas, Colorado and Texas. They have been introduced to both Northern and Southern California and there are reports of eastern fox squirrels displacing western gray squirrels in southern foothill habitats.

Gray squirrel population numbers fluctuate depending upon availability of food, incidence of disease, weather and other habitat conditions. Contributing factors such as heavy snowfall covering stores of buried food, increases in predators, loss of snags, duff, slash or oak trees, and scabies (mange) outbreaks may all be causes contributing to reductions in the local population and may be allowing fox squirrels to occupy this niche.

Tree squirrels (genus Sciurus and Tamiasciurus) are defined as game mammals and as resident small game in the Fish and Game Codes. This means that both eastern fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) and western gray squirrels (Sciurus griseus) can be hunted and are included together in aggregate to make up one squirrel daily bag and possession limit.

The bag limit is four squirrels per day and four in possession. Before hunting them, check the regulations for season dates, authorized methods of hunting and which areas are open and authorize their hunting.

Q: Since only tom turkeys are legal to take during the spring season, how do I prove the sex to an inquiring game warden? Must a wing be left on? A beard left on? Both left on? One or the other left on?

-- G.B.G.

A: Regulations are intended to require that only tom turkeys may be taken during the spring season, but the law specifically states that the turkey must be "bearded" (a bearded turkey is one having a beard visible through the breast feathers).

In most cases a beard will distinguish the animal as male, but in some rare incidents hens may also have them. Keep the beard attached to the carcass until you return home. You may pluck the bird in the field, but remember to keep the beard connected to the body.

Toms and hens can be easily determined by their significant head and wing color differences. If by chance you run across a rare bearded hen, even though the provisions of the law may allow you to take it, we strongly discourage it. Spring is the turkeys' primary mating and nesting period so hens may not be harvested in order to protect their production.

Q: Do blue catfish reproduce in California lakes? If not, why?

-- Mike M., Anaheim

A: Blue catfish can reproduce in lakes provided they have the right cave-type habitats, said DFG Senior Environmental Scientist Mike Giusti. Spawning blue cats make nests under overhanging rock ledges along deeply undercut banks and other sheltered places.

Q: I would like to get a clear answer regarding the "two-rod" stamp. I'm an avid surf fisherman, and I'm concerned with the use of two rods when fishing on the coast.

-- Joseph Y.

A: A second-rod stamp is only required when fishing in inland waters and may only be used in those areas that do not have special requirements where only artificial lures or barbless hooks may be used. You are allowed to fish with as many rods as you can manage while surf fishing. You can also use multiple rods for other ocean fisheries as long as those fisheries do not have hook or line restrictions (e.g. rockfish, lingcod and salmon have gear restrictions.)

Wilson is a biologist with the Department of Fish & Game. Reach her at: