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A Cautious Congratulations To CA Hunters – Anti-Houndsmen Bill Fails To Pass Assembly

June 28, 2012

This is a couple of days old, and I apologize for not keeping on top of it.  I expect ya’ll don’t rely on me for breaking news anyway, so I don’t feel too bad.  However, I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t at least mention the successful efforts of CA hunters to band together and fight this bill.  This is what we need more of, both in CA and across the country.  We may not all be houndsmen, but we are all hunters. 

The reason this is a “cautious congratulations” is that the bill only failed by a single vote.  It’s far from dead, as it can easily be reintroduced for another vote.  Don’t lose focus now in the rush to pat one another on the back.  Maybe the CA hunting community is finally generating a little synchronous momentum.  Let’s keep it going!

Interesting Discussion Of Hunting And Fishing Ethics – Encyclopedia Of Environmental Ethics And Philosophy

June 27, 2012

I haven’t had a ton of time for surfing around my blog roll these days, and even less time for reading some of the more in-depth discussions.  One blog I often enjoy is Fair Chase Hunting, even though I may not always agree with what I find there.  Actually, the fact that the site offers food for thought and discussion is probably the main reason I go there.  Like many of my other favorite blogs, respectful and thoughtful discourse is encouraged here.

At any rate, I made time to pop over early this morning, and found the current post that links out to an online encyclopedia… The Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy.  In particular, the post links to the discussion of hunting and fishing in this encyclopedia… including a fairly comprehensive look at the issues of hunting and fishing ethics. 

The blog post includes a snippet of the encyclopedia entry, but the link to the full entry is where I found a real treasure of information.  However, I had to choke down my initial prejudices to read the whole thing… so I’d suggest that you be prepared to do the same.  Once you get into the body of the piece, it’s a very balanced and neutral look at most of the key discussion points on both sides of the hunting ethics argument.  It doesn’t make any particular case one way or another, of course, because it is an encyclopedia.  It’s not an editorial. 

If nothing else, the entry provides food for thought, as well as a pretty solid grounding in the arguments surrounding hunting and fishing, both on the pro and the con side (and points in between).  I definitely recommend giving it a read.  And if you haven’t visited the Fair Chase Hunting blog before, take a little time to look around. 

 

Once Again, Lead Ban Advocates Only Telling Half The Story

June 26, 2012

It pisses me off. 

Honestly, that’s the only reason I’m even bothering to write this post, and that’s probably a bad reason to do it.  “Keep a level head,” I try to remind myself.  “Reason it out.”

Maybe I will by the time I finish writing this… or maybe not.

But right now, I don’t care about reason or logic.  And why should I, when the anti-lead campaign can apparently promote half-truths and pure speculation as fact in our major media outlets?  Does it matter if I’m doing my damnedest to dig into the issue and learn all I can before I spout off, when apparently the newspapers are perfectly happy to present a one-sided argument to the readers?  Just run with the press release.  Change a few words and add a byline.  What the hell?

The source of this morning’s rant?  This piece of crap article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Condor’s Comeback Imperiled by Lead Poisoning, once again, dumps the plight of the condors on the front steps of the California hunter.  Nowhere in the article does it provide the evidence that supports the writer’s (the Chronicle Science Editor, for god’s sake!) claim that the continued lead poisoning of condors is coming from hunters’ bullets.  There is no examination of the fact that lead ammo has been banned in an area that encompasses not only the condor’s current range, but their HISTORIC range! 

Here’s a little snippet…

Today, recovery efforts by determined conservationists have returned the condor population to more than 400.

Captive breeding programs, hatcheries for eggs gathered from abandoned nests in the wild and many other conservation efforts have been hailed as great successes in saving the condor from extinction.

But the analysis by Finkelstein and her team shows that nearly half the California free-flying condors have suffered from chronic lead poisoning in the past 10 years – many of them poisoned repeatedly during that time. Blood tests show that 20 percent are exposed to lead each year, but few die.

First of all, let me be clear.  I do not deny that there is a link between lead ammo and condor mortality.  I have spent enough time reading documentation, and in conversation with knowledgeable people to have a clear understanding of the potential danger, and the extent of that danger.  It’s also true that the California lead ammo ban has only been in effect since 2008, so in the 10-year period mentioned above, it’s not unlikely that lead ammunition played some part in the lead poisoning statistics.  I would think that’s a point worth pointing out.

Reports from the CA DFG show pretty much 100% compliance by hunters in the field with the lead ban.  Of course, I know (and most of you hunters do too) that compliance isn’t 100%.  Besides poachers, I expect there are plenty of ranchers and landowners down there who will do what they want and the law be damned.  More than once while guiding, I had pig hunters show up with lead ammunition (intentionally or accidentally), and while we always made them switch ammo or use our guns, I don’t doubt that some other operations may not be as careful to check.  The truth is that no one is ever going to be able to bring that kind of thing to a halt.  It’s a fact of life.  So there will probably always be a scattering of lead-killed carrion out there for the birds to eat.  This simply has to be part of the equation when the condor restoration folks are planning their program.

Nevertheless, given the large number of law-abiding hunters who have complied with the ban (and I would argue without statistical proof that this is the vast majority), there should be a dramatic decrease in the rates of lead poisoning.  If that’s not happening (the article isn’t clear on whether there’s an increase or a decrease and no one asked… a shocking lack of curiousity for a “Science Editor”), then the logical thing would be to launch an intensive search to identify the sources.  There are only 400 birds in the state, and the researchers have a very good picture of where they are almost all the time.  It seems to me that if as much effort was put into finding the actual lead sources as there has been to throw out blanket condemnations of hunters and our ammunition, then maybe some progress could be made toward alleviating (not eliminating) the problem. 

And what then?

According to the researcher quoted in the article, Myra Finkelstein, unless all of the sources of lead are eliminated from the condor range, there is no way to develop a self-sustaining, wild population of condors.    And even that may not be enough…

Finkelstein and her colleagues have made a population study of California’s remaining wild condors and found that without continued treatment for lead poisoning, the population will never increase, and probably even decline.

Well that is problematic, isn’t it? 

It seems to me that someone missed a fairly important factor in their plans to reintroduce the condor.  Someone apparently failed to consider that some of the same environmental challenges that brought these birds to the brink of extinction still exist out there.  To get the reintroduction program going to this point, and then suddenly “realize” that lead poisoning will defeat their plans seems like an awfully sophomoric miscalculation. 

That doesn’t change the fact that it’s happened… is happening now… and it’s become the leading edge of a national assault on lead ammunition.  But it also takes me sort of full circle in my thinking about this whole thing.

First of all, if all lead ammunition were miraculously removed from the US tomorrow, would condors be able to return to a self-sustaining, wild population?  Or would one issue simply turn into another?  Today it’s lead ammo, tomorrow it’s microtrash… or powerlines… or vehicle collisions… or contaminants in marine mammals.  According to the research I’ve been reading, lead poisoning is primarily an issue for adult condors.  The nestlings face myriad other challenges, particularly the ingestion of micro-trash (small bits of metal, glass, cloth, fiberglass, etc.) that is actually being fed to them by their parents.  According to documents from the American Ornithologists Union (AOU), without ongoing nest monitoring and intervention, condors will not be able to successfully raise wild broods.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with ammunition (although it’s interesting to note that in several cases of nestling mortality, one of the listed toxicants was copper!).

Secondly, is it worth it?  I know, that’s a politically incorrect question to ask, but I’m really beyond political correctness right now.  According to some old documentation (2009 or 2010), the condor program is going on at the cost of about $5 million per year.  While much of that comes from private organizations, a good chunk comes from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Other agencies on the state level are also on the hook for associated costs.  Those costs have likely increased, and will certainly go up as the population grows. 

At the same time the costs are going up, a contingent of the condor recovery advocates are pushing for a national ban on the sale and manufacture of lead ammunition.  This is something that will impact an entire industry, the participants in all shooting sports (not just hunters), and law enforcement agencies across the country.  It is no small thing, despite constant, misleading comparisons to the bans on lead shot for waterfowl.  Their argument is that lead will continue to be a problem for condors as long as it is available anywhere in the country.  And in some ways, maybe they’re right.  With the poachers, scofflaws, and hardheads out there, as long as there’s lead ammo, someone will probably be using it… and one fragmented, 150 grain bullet can (theoretically) poison an entire flock of condors.  There is simply no way to completely enforce a ban on the use of lead ammo, so the obvious alternative is to make it disappear.  (Of course this is just as flawed as the argument that outlawing guns will put an end to gun-related crime.  I wonder as well, how long would it take, post ban, for all of the existing lead ammunition to be used up?)

And all for what?  What do we get in return?  A really cool carrion-eating bird who has outlived its ecological niche?  We get to “save” a creature from extinction?  Maybe.  Because it’s entirely possible that the bird won’t survive even if lead ammunition suddenly ceased to exist.  So what we really get for all the expense and drastic change to the shooting and hunting industry is a big, fat, MAYBE. 

I don’t want to make light of it.  Extinction is a kind of serious thing.  But honestly, it’s been going on forever, way before humans ever appeared on the scene.  And I grok it… if it weren’t for humans, maybe this bird and several other creatures would still be doing fine.  But that’s a ridiculous argument because there is no “if it weren’t for humans”.  We’re here.  Reality doesn’t move that way.

Then again, I don’t think letting the condor go extinct is necessarily the answer either.  It doesn’t have to be that way, obviously, because the restoration folks have already proven that they can bring the birds back in some form.  I do, however, think it’s time to reevaluate the strategy and long-term goals of the condor program. 

In the AOU’s report on the condors, one recurrent theme really stuck with me.  The gist of it is that, unless something can be done to remove all toxic lead and all microtrash from the condors’ habitat, the whole program will be dependent on continued monitoring, health care, and management.  The West will, to all effects, become a giant aviary for these birds. 

So maybe that’s the answer right there.  $5 million a year isn’t all that bad, relative to the costs of some other programs.  Hell, how much has been spent on the lead ammo ban campaign by people and organizations that have nothing to do with the condor?  How much has been spent fighting it?  In the meantime, continue to educate hunters about lead ammo and potential effects on non-target species, and continue to encourage alternatives and mitigation behaviors (burying carcasses, removing gut piles from the field, etc.).  And in the long run, work toward equilibrium.

Maybe, over time, the lead ammo issue will become less politicized.  The distrust between hunters and condor advocates will diminish as there is less of a perceived threat to the shooting sports.  The hangers-on, such as HSUS who are just using the condor as a means to advance their larger agenda, will drop off and find other rallying flags.  The ammo industry has already made huge strides in providing lead-free alternatives, but there is still a very long ways to go before this stuff is truly “readily available” for all hunters and shooters.  And truthfully, there’s probably no real reason that all hunters and shooters should switch anyway. 

Yeah, maybe we’ll never see truly wild condors plying the western skies from Mexico to Oregon, or across the western deserts in Utah and Arizona.  But we’ll see condors that are, to all intents and purposes, wild enough.  Those who pay careful attention might notice that there are teams of dedicated people on the ground, checking nests, providing medical care, and tracking the movements of each bird.  Does that diminish the bird, or the quality of seeing a group circling high on the thermals? 

I’ll stop now, before I break into a John Denver song or something…

A Little Warm Out

June 25, 2012

Not much to post today.  Hanging close to the refrigerator and the AC.

That thermometer isn’t dead-on accurate, but it’s close enough.

Battle Brewing Over Auction Tags For Conservation Organizations

June 22, 2012

I couldn’t think of a better title for this post, so bear with me.  The issue is much more important than my choice of a headline.

I have been sort of following along with this issue as it developed, but I can’t say I’ve been deeply involved in the discussion.  Hell, I haven’t even been shallowly involved.  As usual, I’ve kept my opinions to myself because I’m still watching and learning as the facts are exposed and the arguments are made.  I think there have been valid points made all around, but I think I’ve learned enough now to lean to one side.

In a nutshell, here’s the deal.  Many states, especially in the west, provide a certain number of special or limited big game hunting tags to conservation organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and North American Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF).  The organizations can then auction these tags off to generate funds to support their various projects.  Because the tags are for premium hunting opportunities, they usually demand very high prices at auction.  For example, California has a number of “Golden Opportunity” deer tags, which basically entitle the holder to hunt any of the zones or seasons around the state… including premium trophy deer zones like Goodale and Round Valley.   I saw this tag sell for $15,000 at a banquet, and that was when the economy was bottoming out.  The average hunter could put in for the rest of his life and never draw one of these tags in the regular lottery; so, for those who can afford it, it’s an opportunity to take the hunt of a lifetime. 

So far, so good, right?  I have always felt like this is a great program because it provides a real fiscal shot in the arm, not only for the big and well-established organizations, but especially for some of the smaller groups who are doing great work on a more localized basis.  Along with their regular donations and volunteers, the groups are able to do a lot more work to benefit wildlife and hunters alike. 

But what’s happening now is that there appears to be a growing call for states to provide more tags to conservation organizations to auction off.  So far, the number of special tags has represented a tiny percentage of the total tag allotment.  The average hunter can still, usually through the lottery process, put in for and draw these premium tags.  So (theoretically) every limited entry tag that’s pulled for auction represents one less tag that’s available to the public.  When you’re talking about hunts that are limited to a dozen tags or less, this is sort of a big deal. 

The implication is that, as more tags are relegated to auction, then only hunters who can afford to pay the high auction prices will be able to take those hunts.  With those tags often selling for over five figures, those hunts essentially become the realm of the rich… something of a “european” model.  As you might imagine, this isn’t setting well with those guys who’ve been putting in their lottery entries for years in hopes of drawing one of these tags.  For that matter, the idea doesn’t sit well with me and I don’t really put in for premium tags (except CA tule elk). 

As this discussion has gone on, the RMEF recently produced a press release calling for the organizations that utilize these tags to provide disclosure and transparency in how they’re using the funds they receive from the auctions.  Part of the argument is that conservation organizations should be doing conservation work, not supporting themselves through the proceeds of auction tags.  Otherwise, the path is rife with opportunity for abuse of the system… abuse that may already be happening.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much more background on this aspect of things yet, although I’ve been reading up.  Randy Newberg, host of the On Your Own Adventures tv show (and website), has been pretty wrapped up in all of this.  You can learn a lot more over at his site, or by following him on Facebook.

The Swine Invasion – Control Efforts And Research Continue

June 21, 2012

The pigs are coming!  The pigs are coming!

As the wild pig issue becomes a wider concern across the U.S., it’s pretty important for wildlife managers and agricultural interests to come up with more effective and efficient ways to control the spread.  Hunting has a place, but it’s not the only (or best) solution.  Here’s an interesting clip that discusses some of the other methods under consideration, particularly contraception.  Take a look, and tell me what you think.

 

Game Cam Updates From The Manor

June 20, 2012

So I’ve kept my game cameras running full-time since I first got them earlier this year.  It’s pretty cool to start to identify specific deer, and to see how the herd is changing as the year goes by.  When I got back down here Sunday, I pulled the images down onto my tablet and spent the next day or so going through them.

As you might expect, most of them are fairly repetitive shots of the same deer.  There are also plenty of shots of ears, backs, and butts.  But mingled amongst the blurred and blank frames are a few that definitely spiked my interest.  Here are a couple worth sharing…

Did you hear something? I thought I heard something?

There’s a clown in every crowd…

This buck is pretty young, but shows good potential. If he makes it through the season…

Related to Funkhorn? Not sure, but with lots of growth to go, it’ll be interesting to see.

Busy night at the Hillside Manor Cafe.

Anyone want to hazard a Pope & Young score on this one?

Made it.

June 18, 2012

Yupp.

 

Heading Back To Texas… And While I’m Gone, A Caution

June 15, 2012

After an almost interminable two weeks in CA, I’m heading back to Texas.  Hopefully this will be my last round trip.  Next time I drive down, that should essentially be it.   Color me stoked! 

At any rate, before I go, I wanted to pass along a little cautionary note. 

Star targets are available at places like Cabelas. There are many other brands, and some folks have learned to make their own.

There’s a hot new product out there for target shooters…  exploding targets.  They are usually composed of tannerite, which is basically ammonium nitrate with an aluminum powder catalyst.  Separately, the components are inert and harmless.  However, once you mix them you get an explosive.  The friction of a high velocity bullet causes the mixture to explode with pretty spectacular results. 

These things hit the market last year, and they’ve become really popular.  I have to say, they are pretty damned cool.  They can really add a whole new dimension to a range session. 

It shouldn’t take a ton of common sense to recognize that something like this comes with a few caveats.  For one thing, when the target blows up, it sends small fragments flying at pretty high velocity.  I’ve seen one blow a big chunk out of a dead tree, and the shrapnel destroyed a paper target that was set up about five feet away.  You wouldn’t want to be shooting these things at close range (such as a pistol range). 

It also shouldn’t require a genius to understand that the explosion is caused by the target components’ rapid combustion… aka, burning.  Even though it only lasts a second, the fire is pretty hot and can easily ignite dry grass, leaves, or other flammable material.  There are warnings on the package to this effect, but apparently some folks just aren’t getting it.  According to this article in the Idaho Statesman, at least four wildfires have been attributed to exploding targets already, and it’s likely that there are going to be more. 

It’s summer time, which equates to fire season across the country.  In particular, the west is really drying out fast, and major wildfires are already in the news.  Blowing stuff up can be a lot of fun, but that fun needs to be tempered with some common sense. 

Be careful out there.  Please.

Hat tip to Jesse’s Hunting and Outdoors for posting this up on Facebook.

HR4089 – Bane Or Benefit To Outdoorsmen?

June 14, 2012

There’s been a lot of press lately concerning HR4089, AKA The Sportsman’s Heritage Act of 2012

In a nutshell, the act is intended to ensure continued opportunities for hunting, shooting, and fishing on federal lands.  The act is, in part, a response to multiple recent efforts by environmentalists and anti-hunters to close some federal lands to hunting and target shooting under the arguments that these activities infringe on the experience of non-hunting visitors (backpackers, bird watchers, etc.), present a safety hazard to other visitors, or that they present a danger to protected species (such as the desert tortoise or California condor). 

I’ve been following the story, sometimes casually and sometimes quite closely because I’m honestly trying to understand both sides of the argument.

On the one side, we have opponents of the bill.  Their arguments boil down to:

  • The bill would open “all” federal lands to hunting
  • The bill would open wilderness areas to vehicular traffic
  • The bill would create a dangerous environment for non-hunters
  • The bill would open wilderness areas to logging and mining

On the other side, the arguments focus on things like:

  • The current loss of access for hunting, shooting, and fishing
  • The decline in the number of hunters, shooters, and fishermen
  • The potential loss of tax and fees as less people hunt, shoot, and fish
  • The efforts by non-hunting and anti-hunting organizations to close more public lands to hunters, shooters, and fishermen

There’s a lot more going on in the debate, but these seem to be the key discussion points.

So where’s the truth?  Personally, I’m pretty cynical any time politicians start cooking up laws with attracive names (Sportsmen’s Heritage Act… really?).  I get even more suspicious when they start trying to sneak the bills in on the coat tails of other bills (in this case, they’ve attached it to the new Farm Bill… which is a monstrosity in its own right).  At the same time, I’ve lost all faith in organizations like Center for Biological Diversity and others who call themselves “conservationists”, but tend toward the extremes when it comes to environmental and animal rights issues.  The CBD, in particular, has really stooped to new lows in misinformation and even downright lying to fatten the donation coffers and push their various agendas. 

To begin my personal quest for elucidation, I read HR 4089.  I recommend this course of action to any interested parties.  The actual text provides a pretty solid baseline from which to launch into interpretation and dissection.  I’m tempted to post the bill in its entirety, but I think it’s probably more reasonable to provide a link directly to the US Government Printing Office, where you can review a certified (unadulterated) copy.  This way, you can be sure that I haven’t made any alterations to support my own arguments.

Let’s be clear here, in case there’s any doubt.  I am not a lawyer.  I am not a politician.  I’m just a guy with reasonable intelligence and a lot of questions.  I am a lifelong hunter, shooter, and fisherman, so I admit that I may have a bias in this issue.  However, I think people who know me, and maybe those who’ve read my writing over time, would agree that I usually take a pretty balanced point of view when it comes to sorting out this kind of thing. 

Also, I recognize that documents drafted by lawyers and politicians can carry layers and layers of nuance. It can be dangerous to take these things at face value, and that a layman’s read of these documents may have little relationship to what it’s really saying.  But then again, words can only be twisted so far.  I believe a logical and careful reading can expose most of the sneaky stuff.

So here’s my take, after reading through the document a few times.

First of all, the bill’s language takes pains to make two things clear.  One is that nothing in the bill changes existing laws, regulations, or policies that relate to the prohibition or allowance of hunting, shooting, or fishing on federal lands.  If a place, like a national park, is closed to recreational hunting due to existing rules, then it stays closed.  If a wilderness area is closed to vehicular traffic in order to preserve the habitat and wilderness environment, it will stay closed to vehicular traffic.  No matter how I tried to twist the language, I couldn’t make it spell out a requirement to build roads, quad trails, or anything else in existing wilderness areas.  It does, however, clearly state that providing access for hunting, shooting, and fishing should be a priority on lands where such activities are not otherwise prohibited.  That is, indeed, the stated purpose of the bill. 

The second thing it clarifies is that any new changes to prohibit or restric hunting, shooting, or fishing on federal lands that are currently open must be justified by legitimate considerations such as safety, scientifically proven environmental sensitivity, or national security.  These restrictions must then be revisited and approved on a regular basis. 

The bill also makes clear that management of the public lands, whether National Parks, BLM, or National Forest remains in the hands of the current managers.  These managers are still authorized and charged to develop and implement land management decisions… including hunting, shooting, and fishing access.  However, decisions that restrict those uses must meet the above requirements, and must be reviewed regularly.  It’s clear, by the way, that public safety is both a legitimate and reasonable rationale for restricting hunting and shooting in some places.  It is also clear that the bill will require the land managers to justify their decisions to prohibit hunting, shooting, or fishing and that future management plans must address these uses.  After the issue in the Los Padres National Forest last year (or was it 2010?), I have to agree that this level of accountability and oversight is necessary and good.  It may place a little additional burden on the land managers, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

There were a couple of points in HR4089 that I found intriguing.  The first was the stipulation that, even on public lands closed to hunting, volunteers could be utilized to manage populations (e.g. elk, deer, and feral hogs).  This is already in practice in some places (Rocky Mountain National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, etc.), and if I understand the bill correctly, this would extend to any federal land where such a program could be safely utilized.  I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all.  The other interesting addition was the section that apparently seeks to clarify the language in the Toxic Substances Control Act that prohibits the EPA from regulating lead ammunition and fishing tackle.  This is clearly an effort to head off the assault by the CBD and associated organizations to force the EPA to ban lead ammo and fishing tackle.  I don’t know if it’s really warranted, but I don’t see it as a harmful addition.

What I really don’t see here is anything that specifically does any of the things the bill’s opponents are claiming.  In fact, to my eyes, the bill addresses most of these concerns directly. 
Am I missing something?  I don’t think so, but I’m open to other perspectives.

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