Backcasts archive: Through May 16, 2008

Blog calendar: May 15 | May 14 | May 13

posted May 15, 2008

(Sea) lions and whales and bears, oh, my

Time to tie up some loose ends on marine mammals of concern, an update we'd like to call (sea) lions and whales and bears, oh, my.

One amazing polar bear fact is that it can swim more than 100 miles from land.

Well, it better tread water a whole lot longer, as the decision yesterday by the U.S. Interior Department to list the bruin as threatened apparently will do little to address the decline of its hunting grounds on Arctic sea ice due to global warming.

So, just one of those good news, bad news deals.

The polar bear is protected under the Endangered Species Act and the feds must now draft a recovery plan. But Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has made it inherently clear, according to the New York Times, it would be "wholly inappropriate" to use the listing as a tool to reduce greenhouse gases, as environmentalists had intended to do.

In fact, the Interior Department adopted the bear's new status only with seldom-employed provisions that will allow oil and gas exploration and development to proceed in the very areas the majestic animals call home, the Times Web site reports.

To our way of thinking, the new bureaucracy smacks of irony: The polar bear is threatened, but its territory can be exploited – in and of itself a counterproductive means to the animal's recovery – for fuel resources that ultimately will melt all that much faster the sea ice they need to survive.

Indeed, the government is prone to make contradictory protocol (think military intelligence).

The stipulation in the Endangered Species Act that permits for such actions as moving ahead with drilling in polar bear habitat falls under the so-called 4(d) rule, according to the Times. And it gives rise to the quote of the day:

"The administration acknowledges the bear is in need of intensive care," Kassie Siegel, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Times.

"The listing lets the bear into the hospital, but then the 4(d) rule says the bear's insurance doesn't cover the necessary treatments."

Well stated, Ms. Siegel, very well stated.

You may recall the banter from last week over the deaths of six federally protected sea lions trapped in floating cages that were designed to reduce the number of the salmon-plundering pinnipeds below Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

After initially suspecting the sea lions were shot, then calling the deaths a mystery, government wildlife specialists have concluded upon the review of the necropsies overheating killed the meddling mammals, the Associated Press reports from Portland, Ore.

Predictably, the Humane Society of the United States has called foul on the findings that suggest the 60-degree weather was to blame.

Despite their protests, the antis have come out on top, for now, in the great Northwest debate over sea lions vs. salmon.

Consider this tale of the tape from the wire service:

The service's initial reports about the deaths raised intense interest in the long-running dispute over the sea lions, which prey on protected salmon, and as a consequence, the government and the Humane Society made an agreement to suspend trapping and removing the sea lions this year.

We've been keeping you posted on the plight of the rogue American Indian whalers in western Washington facing sentences of illegally killing a gray whale despite their treaty-protected right to do just that.

The bummer, of course, is that the five whalers of the Makah Nation harpooned and shot the whale during an unauthorized hunt in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the Olympic Peninsula in September.

And now, it seems, in spite of guarantees of tough prosecution, a tribal judge won't try the whalers since he wasn't able to empanel a jury, according to the Seattle Times, because just about everyone was either related or said they had strong feelings about the case.

Federal charges are still pending against two whalers, and three others took plea bargains. All are set to be sentenced in federal court next month, at which time they'll face fines and possible community service but very likely no jail time, according to the Seattle Times.

And we say good. Get this case over with, slap the whalers on the wrist and move on to the pressing matter of drafting a federal environmental-impact statement that will allow the Makahs to legally whale, under their treaty, as is their want and right.

To learn more about the environmental-impact statement, visit www.nwr.noaa.gov/. The comment period closes July 8.


posted May 14, 2008

The latest invasive species we have to deal with? Try giant Burmese pythons

Forget about snakes on a plain.

We've been dealing quite adequately with those dusty dwellers for eons, thank you very much.

No, what we've got to worry about now are snakes – big, fat invasive species – in the Everglades, arid locales and, perhaps, the entire southern third of the United States.

Indeed, the U.S. Geological Survey is convinced giant Burmese pythons, which can reach 30 feet and 200 pounds and swallow deer and alligators whole, could live comfortably in a range from southern California to Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley and up the Eastern Seaboard to Chesapeake Bay, Fox News reports.

The mammoth serpents already have made a home for themselves in the Everglades, where approximately 30,000 of the slitherers thrive, thanks in large part, according to a profile on FoxNews.com, to thick-headed pet owners who've released them into the swamps when they've grown too large to keep at home.

Ah, problem pets. We've heard this with exotics before. But the influx of live Burmese pythons is staggering. Consider:

One million live Burmese pythons were legally imported into the U.S. between 2001 and 2006, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, of which half came in through Miami and almost all ended up as pets, the broadcast TV news service reports.

In what may be an empty gesture (read: too little, too late), Fish and Wildlife officials are considering regulations to prohibit the import of Burmese pythons and their transport across state lines.

Kinda makes you wonder why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey didn't consult one another about potential consequences before the latest million Burmese pythons reached our shores. What a sham, er, shame.

Instead, now we're learning that temperature and rainfall in the bottom third of the continental U.S. are ideally suited for Burmese pythons because they closely match climates where the pythons originate in Southeast Asia, India and China.

In the Everglades, where five years ago biologists confirmed Burmese pythons were breeding, it was originally assumed alligators, the top-dog predator, would keep the big snakes in check, Fox News reports. Turns out it's been a push. And now the legless reptiles have moved down to the Florida Keys, where they consider the endangered Key Largo wood rat a delicacy.

So, with no checks and balances coming in the form of natural predators it's apparently on us to put the clamps on the invasive species. That's not surprising, considering the U.S. Geological Survey has scrapped its removal campaign for a management program (read: don't release pet pythons in the southern third of the Lower 48; not much of a plan, if you ask us).

"We don't have tools that are sufficient to control them on a continental scale," Fort Collins (Colo.) Science Center invasive snake expert Gordon Rodda told Fox News. He was the lead author of the Geological Survey study determining the extent of the snake's possible range, so he oughta know.

Seems to us hunting the oversize varmints may be a next logical step.

In some states only a basic fishing license is required to hunt reptiles. Go figure.

Wonder what kind of hunting category these big serpents would fall under? What will be the size and bag limits? And just how would you target them? Gun? Bow? Snare? Net?

Expect more details as more Burmese pythons show up in swimming pools, under garages and alongside air-conditioning units.


posted May 13, 2008

Tiny stretch of Colorado water holds some of the planet's biggest, fattest trout

We hinted last month we'd be hearing more from former ESPNOutdoors.com contributor Mark D. Williams, so here is an encore excerpt from the Lone Star State author's latest book, "So Many Fish, So Little Time" (HarperCollins Publishers; $19.95):

Taylor River
Location: Southwestern Colorado

What you fish for: Rainbow and brown trout

Highlights and Notables: The tiny stretch of river holds some of the biggest, fattest trout on the planet, with world-record sizes.

I'm one of the legion of anglers who have never caught one of the gargantuan trout on the Taylor River tailrace. These fish hardly even look like trout. They are fat, fat, fat, deep and broad and fat. The Nutty Professor's got nothin' on these whoppers.

Oh, I've hooked two big ones, long and big-headed and with shoulders as wide as Orson Welles, but lost both of them. Each had to be over 15 pounds or bigger. I've caught both a cutt and a rainbow that each went 7 or 8 pounds from this fly-only section, but they are just minnows on the Taylor. I suspect the Taylor has the biggest, fattest trout of any river in the southwest. And the techniques border on insane.

One fine day I got tired of casting size 18 patterns and changing flies to size 20 and changing flies to size 22 and going down to 24 mysis shrimp patterns (these tasty morsels make these trout porcine).

I went old school and tied on a Gray Ghost. I had tired of the size-24 game where, in plain sight, these monstrous trout would feed in a lane, and when my offering came by, perfectly presented I might add, they would nod disdainfully in my direction as though saying "C'mon, fella. Gimme a break."

These are easily the most-educated, dismissive trout of any I've ever fished and that includes Henry's Fork and Silver Creek and the Test.

We had waded upstream closer to the dam. Beside a boulder the size of a bison, I could see a trout nosing up every so often, feeding. He was bigger than any trout I'd ever knowingly cast to. He looked as big as a king salmon, give or take 10 pounds.

I cast up and over, stripped it across at a 45-degree angle and the nosey trout hit it like a redfish. Freight train. Zipped out line through the run, up a pool, across some riffles and ducked under a rock overhang. Then the fish stopped and waited for me to reel in my line, walk through the run, wade through the pool and stand quizzically over the overhang pool wondering how to raise this monster.

Kenny and David came over to puzzle with me. The fish was on the bottom, resting, waiting me out. I tightened the line, bent the rod over like my grandpa, then let it go slack hoping to move the trout. Nothing.

The three of us laughed, nervously. Kenny splashed his rod tip in the pool to shake the fish up. Nothing. David waded deeper in, but the dropoff was too steep. Another Grendel's underwater cave.

Out of nowhere, there was a pop, the line snapped. Game over.

Don't make a trip to go to the Taylor near Gunnison as your sole destination unless you are a masochist and you don't have much to do. There is precious, little public water, here but that doesn't stop eager anglers from shouldering up in the six-tenths of a mile of perfect water. The fish, while piggish, are also defiant.

The last few state records have come from the Taylor, 23 inches long and 32 inches in girth. Or maybe it was the one that measured 40¼ inches long with a 29-inch girth. I don't know any more. This place is more like a freak show.

Nice work, Mark, and while this is the final chapter for the book on Backcasts, here's to hoping there will be more titles to come.

Contact Mark D. Williams at mdwtrout@gmail.com.

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    About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site. He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade, including stints at the Los Angeles Daily News and Seattle Times. The Evergreen State is where he now makes his home. Click here to email him.

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