Hilton Head Monthly: The Coyotes of Hilton Head Island

I had a lot of fun writing and researching this story for the May 2014 edition of Hilton Head Monthly.

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If you believe the tales, coyotes are everywhere on Hilton Head Island. Until five years, it was mostly urban legend and many cases of mistaken identity. But a funny thing happened among all the storytelling. Coyotes literally made their way down U.S. 278 and on to the island. While we are far from an outbreak situation, experts caution that the migratory predator is here to stay, like it or not.

“They’re an incredibly adaptable animal, they adjust their feeding habits to the region and that makes them the type of animal that stays put once they’re there,” said South Carolina Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Jay Butfiloski. “They take advantage of lazy human habits. Pet food left outside, discarded food scraps, garbage. The more this stuff is left uncovered, the more coyotes will be around.”

The first known sighting of coyotes in the state happened upstate in the 1970s and have now spread to every county. Contrary to rumors, the DNR did not introduce coyotes into the state to help control the deer population. They migrated here from Georgia and the population grew when houndsmen illegally imported some. The first reports of coyotes on Hilton Head started around 2009 in Sea Pines.

Residents reported cats disappearing and coyote scat appearing in their yards. Security officials recall one resident reporting a lot of howling well after midnight. When security arrived, they saw an alligator staring down a coyote it had cornered. Soon after, the alligator retreated to a lagoon and the coyote stopped howling.

“That’s one thing folks need to remember. This is not an animal that loves interaction,” Butfiloski said. “They’re not looking to attack us. There has actually only been two known cases of coyotes killing humans in the U.S. They’re mostly a very shy animal.”

That said, coyotes can kill cats and smaller dogs. They’re not preying on the house pets, but if confronted, they will attack. Mostly, they’re looking for food. It’s why they’ve outlasted the wolves in these parts. Grey and red wolves used to be more prevalent but they are just not as adaptable and thusly, their populations waned. The coyotes took advantage of the vacancy.

“They will take advantage of our self-inflicted wounds,” Butfiloski said. “Leave your dog food outside after dusk, you’re inviting trouble. Leave your trash outside and not canned, get ready to see a coyote.”

This is exactly the repeated stories we heard from security officials and residents at Wexford Plantation, Shipyard Plantation and Palmetto Dunes. All cases involved food one way or another, 14 in all – 12 of them involving garbage broken into and two involving dogs and cats that engaged the coyotes. While there is plenty of fear from residents, security officials seemed more amused than anything. They have informed their residents well, using DNR guidelines telling us to be aggressive yet still if you ever run into one. Let the coyote know we’re not pushovers, but do not run.

“That triggers a response,” Butfiloski said. “If we’re running, that says to the coyote that we’re prey.”

The early 2009 Sea Pines reports were fairly innocent. While residents were scared, T-shirts that said “Save the Sea Pines Coyotes” started popping up all around the island – the product of The Salty Dog just as were the “Save the Sea Pines Deer” and the “Save The Forest Beach Chickens” T-shirts and bumper stickers. This isn’t the first odd wild animal on the island. The Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn has documented cases of bears, bobcats and diamondback rattlesnakes through the years. They all came and went. The coyote, on the other hand, is very likely here to stay.

“They latch on to an area and they rarely let go,” Butfiloski said. “We’re seeing it the migration all over the state.” Indeed, places like Mt. Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island and Myrtle Beach have had similar reportings and population growths. According to Sea Pines wildlife officer Lt. Todd McNeill, the sightings have decreased where it all began. Folks are still seeing the occasional coyote but the frequency of the reports have gone down.

“Guys on the midnight shift, they typically saw them from 2010 to 2013, but we’ve had no issues with pets or the deer population,” McNeill said.

That’s not to say the coyotes aren’t a problem. McNeill said there’s actually a new problem arising that is becoming a true issue.

“We have seen that the coyotes are getting more and more brazen about digging up and eating sea turtle nests,” he said. “We’ve traced the tracks and have it narrowed down to the coyote. So we’re taking action.”

McNeill said that wildlife biologist David Henderson has been in contact with town officials about setting up tracking cameras to get real proof before they start deterrent actions. With nesting season coming up, McNeill said that Sea Pines officials will get more aggressive in keeping the coyotes away this year. Butfiloski said that’s the right approach – know we’re not going to eradicate them, but work toward controlling the problem.

“We as a country have been thinking we can eradicate this animal since the early 1900s. It’s just not going to happen,” he said. “Focusing on getting rid of them is a lonely and costly road. The more we realize they’re here to stay and just focus on coexisting with them and minimizing them as a problem, the better off we’re all going to be.” 

 

Hilton Head Monthly: Charles Welzant profile

Here’s the link to this May 2014 feature for Hilton Head Monthly, on a hero on many fronts.

Here’s the text

Sticking up for the SOLDIERS

WEXFORD RESIDENT CHARLES WELZANT, WHO HAS THREE PURPLE HEARTS, BELIEVES INJURED VETERANS DESERVE MORE SUPPORT

By Tim Wood

The scars tell the story of Charles Welzant’s heroics more than words or his three Purple Hearts ever could.

There is the gaping hole near his tailbone, the shrapnel scar across his throat and then there are the knees — both gone at this point, the result of the one jump among the 1,000 he made during tours of Vietnam that went terribly wrong.

“Those are the most noticeable ones. I always seemed to get dinged when I was out in the bush, but you didn’t complain. It was badges of honor,” the 79-year-old said, sitting in his home office.

That one jump led to the end of his active military career, a three-decade adventure that had Welzant at the forefront of some of the most dangerous recon missions of the Vietnam war as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps First Force Reconnaissance Company.

He talks of his time in recon, many times on loan to the Central Intelligence Agency, with both pride and melancholy.

“Being forced into medical retirement, it broke my heart, but boy, I was proud to be part of it,” he said. “I was a dive master, a parachutist, I did it all, as much as they’d let me.”

That pushing of boundaries started for Welzant as a boy in Baltimore. He had always seeked out adventure and often scratched that itch with a lacrosse stick in his hand.

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The game was the true Friday Night Lights attraction in Maryland then and today. Though he also excelled at football, Welzant drew notice from both college and military scouts as early as his freshman year in high school.

He came from a “middle class family at best,” so when the Marines approached him about a military career and a full scholarship to play lacrosse at the University of Baltimore, it was a no brainer.

“Where do I sign? That’s about all the decision there was for me. They told me there were adventures ahead and they were looking for jock types,” he said. “I fit that bill and I treasured every moment of it.”

He earned two All-America and three all-conference nods during his time in college, the awards proudly displayed next to his various bachelor’s and master’s diplomas in his Wexford office.

During the summers he would do accelerated training with the Marines. The day after graduating from UB, he was off to Quantico for a year of training.

His dual degree in industrial management and labor relations made Welzant stand out as an asset with brains and brawn, first as a platoon leader in Lebanon in 1958, about the only kill-less mission he went on.

“We landed with submachine guns loaded, only to see beautiful bikini-clad women lining the beaches. It was a diplomacy mission,” he said with a smile.

Later, he earned higher ranks in Beirut and then in Vietnam, as a reconnaissance specialist, making frequent top-secret jumps into thick jungle vegetation.

“We worked 24 hours a day and didn’t even think about it. If you slept, you were a target,” he said. “I lived by a high code of morality and I all I knew was my kill ratio. It’s what kept me alive. Those jumps, it’s just hard to explain.”

He pauses to collect his thoughts — he explained multiple times over the course of our four-hour talk that he’s fighting off signs of dementia these days.

“The turbulence from the plane, it led to turmoil and fright, but that was soon replaced by no noise and complete calm as I floated down to Earth,” he said. “It’s as close to God as I’ve ever felt, being in those circumstances. My guys, they knew what it meant when I’d say I’d seen God again.”

In all, he did tours in Vietnam in 1962, 1966, 1970 and 1976. Welzant relished the opportunity to serve.

Even in that fateful jump in Vietnam, flying extremely low over the treetops to avoid detection, Welzant was heroic in his resolve to live.

His parachute didn’t open. Instead he freefell some 100 feet into the trees, bouncing from limb to limb until he was wedged in the canopy. Two hours later, a survival team came for him, but the rescue caused more harm.

“The crew chief came down with the hoist but I tried to wave him off. I knew the turbulence of the plane was going to do me more bad than good,” Welzant said. “I was pulled one way by the wind and the plane’s turbulence was pulling me in at the same time. I was nearly stretched to death.”

He was paralyzed briefly before regaining use of his legs. A year later, he was home in Virginia with his wife and two children after being medically retired from active duty. He began a new career as a civil servant for the Office of Personnel Management.

“My contemporaries, they made the rank of general. Folks I served with like Ollie North, they went on to fame. But I never look back with regrets,” he said.

It’s the kind of outlook that has earned Welzant many friends in the area, one of his biggest fans being Beaufort County councilman Stu Rodman.

“I find him to be such a fascinating individual,” Rodman said. “He’s one of those genuine American heroes, and now he’s a hero on another front.”

Off of Welzant’s office is the bedroom where his wife Cory lays in a hospital bed. Three days after moving to Hilton Head full time 14 years ago, she was rearended while driving on U.S. 278 on the North End.

Concussion symptoms quickly progressed into a catatonic state. Doctors have struggled to properly diagnose her through the years.

“She doesn’t have Alzheimer’s but she doesn’t have proper living function either,” Welzant said as he blew a kiss to his wife. “It’s been a rough path. So many people have wanted to force me to put her in a nursing home, but I’m Catholic and I made a vow before God and the church to care for her always.”

He smiles, leaning on his walker “They’ll have to take me out of here first,” he says.

He took out medical policies long ago on both he and Cory, but still struggles to keep up the bills for 24-hour care.

He’ll turn 80 in September and though his body is giving way, his mind is still active.

“I spend much of my day thinking, reading, remembering,” he said. And looking for signs of hope with Cory, once an accomplished Realtor, that isn’t coming. He has a faithful companion, a six-year-old Bichon Frise name Charlie.

Welzant turns serious when discussing immoral politicians — he has a hard time saying the word “Sanford” without using an expletive. And he has strong views about the plight of disabled veterans after nearly four decades of struggling with a disability that keeps him mostly homebound now.

“Listen, I’m honored to have had a chance to serve, so I try to temper my anger,” he said. “But it doesn’t end when we come home. And that level of federal support should never end. Soldiers, they don’t expect the injuries, they’re not asking for handouts. But there’s a long life and a lot of pain and veterans deserve financial support to get through that.”

He is glad his son, Chuck, served in the Marines but is equally glad he retired last July after 20 years at 47. His daughter, 50-year-old Karen, lives in Virginia.

Welzant is honored some see him as a hero, though his thoughts often turn to the aftereffects of war that kept him from being the father he wanted to be.

His first marriage could not survive those rigors. Now, he’s fighting to hold on to his second wife.

“Listen, I have my kids, I have Charlie and I have Cory,” he said with a smile. “I have a lot of memories. And I know I served to my fullest.”

Roger that, Colonel.

Oldie but a Goodie on Best SEO Practices and Writing For the Web

Just in the last two days, I have had two folks hit me up and ask me about best SEO practices. 

It’s the space I lived and breathed at Bleacher Report. They specifically asked me about a few blog posts I did for King Kaufman’s writer’s blog back in the day. 

Here’s the first one, on best practices for search optimization. 

Here’s the link, first off.

In case they take this off the site down the road, here’s the actual text.

I know nothing.

That’s what I learned 45 minutes into my first shift with Bleacher Report.

I came in thinking that with nearly two decades in the media business under my belt, headlines were my strong suit. I even have the AP awards plaques for headline writing to prove it.

You wanted snappy, funny New York Post-style attention grabbers, I was the guy. I’d immediately make my impact in this arena, I thought.

Editor-in-Chief Joe Yanarella had other ideas. I made my impact.

A big ol’ thud.

“Those are mighty cute headlines. Well done. Now write me something that will get results,” he said.

The more I learned from Joe, the more I realized that my previous experiences meant nothing in the world of search engine optimization. Now I find myself crushing the souls of other new recruits the same way Joe put me in my place.

Kidding aside, this need not feel like torture. That’s the first point we make with the writers on B/R’s Trends and Traffic instant analysis writing crew (TNT, for short).

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO

There are plenty out there who still see search engine optimization as a four-letter word, despite it being a mouthful to say. Shortened to an acronym, SEO, it’s still only three.

Traditional journalists—a label I’m not that far removed from—view SEO headline writing as a “black hat” practice. It’s voodoo, evil, and if they even make an effort there, they’re acknowledging that they are slaves to this nebulous machine of the future.

Web journalists know that SEO headlines are the very key to building their personal brand.

So what does SEO mean? It marries the concept of the snappy newspaper headline with the mind of the Internet surfer.

You have 10 words, 72 characters at most, to pull people out of the Interwebs and on to your article. To do that, you need to be clear on the point you’re trying to make and know the right way to phrase it.

The most effective pattern that we’ve seen to date is the Keyword: Hook structure.

The bigger-brain folks at B/R spend a great deal of time crunching analytics numbers to make sure we know how folks search for information so we can predict how they’ll do it in the future.

Those keywords are a huge part of it.

When I look for new writers for paid positions at B/R, knowledge of headline structure is one of the two keys that makes folks stand out. Ledes are the second and equally important factor, but that’s another blog post.

The sooner you can understand that you are a fisherman, the quicker you’ll be able to master headlines.

SEO expert Dean Hunt makes a great analogy here when he compares search knowledge to fishing. The best fishermen always seem to know where the fish are. It’s no coincidence. That’s because the best fishermen spend time getting inside the minds of the fish.

Sounds hokey, but in SEO terms, the more you understand how folks search for your work, the better chance you’ll have of getting them to your story without any help from front-page programmers.

There are no absolutes with keywords, but you can rarely go wrong if you take an event and add the year to it, like “Little League World Series 2011.”  If you’re focused on a player like LeBron James, make sure he’s the before-the-colon keyword.

Don’t be cute

As for the hook, don’t be cute. Here’s a recent example of a hed that came across my desk:

Barcelona-Real Madrid Fight Video: Watch Marcelo Almost Break Barca’s New Toy

Many of my friends loved this headline to describe the fight between Marcelo and Cesc Fabregas.  It gave me indigestion.

There are some signs of hope here. Overall, this is proper structure, yet there are little things, as in this case, that can make the difference between 5,000 reads and 100,000 reads.

First, Web searchers rarely type in hyphens. They will either type “Barcelona Real Madrid” or “Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.”  A little trick, but the Web really hates the hyphen.

That fixes the keyword. The real issue is with the hook. Folks will never search for “Barca’s New Toy.”  They’re searching for Cesc Fabregas. Get that in the headline.

And never give away the plot in the headline. Using “Almost” kills the suspense of watching the video.

So we corrected it to:

Barcelona vs. Real Madrid Fight Video: Watch Cesc Fabregas and Marcelo’s Battle

Elements of a great headline

So once you get past not being cute, what makes a great headline?

1)   Make it compelling. Ask a question, make a bold statement, set readers up for a strong and informed opinion.

2)   Keep it simple. If you’re trying to say LeBron James is the most overrated player in the NBA, say it. “LeBron James: Why He’s the Most Overrated Player in the NBA.”

3)   Pick a side. Fence sitters and wafflers will never build a brand. Don’t use words like “could,” “may,” “might” or “can.”  Be definitive with “will,” “won’t” and “can’t.”

4) Use buzz words. Again, this goes to being the fisherman. Bold predictions, expert picks, epic fails, worst ever in history. These are all great words, as long as you can back it up with your story.

5) Think forward. The Web is always thinking ahead, so you should too. Yes, breaking down history is an interesting read in its own right. But Web readers are more interested in what’s next. Don’t tell them why Donovan McNabb failed in Washington. Tell them why he’s going to be a success or even bigger failure in Minnesota.

I’m telling you to be brief and to the point with headlines, but I could go on for another 1,000 words. I’ll leave you with one more trick we often tell TNT writers.

When you’re wondering if you have a good headline or not, go to Google and type your topic in. If your headline is close to the results that came up on the first page, you’re on point.

And if not, don’t be afraid to borrow. You never want to copy a headline. Instead, examine the key elements of the headline that worked and tweak it to fit your cause.

Most of all, don’t think of this as a chore. Today’s successful Web writer knows he or she is more of a content packager.

Headlines just happen to be the most important and most fragile components of that package.