posted Sept. 8, 2006
In an unprecedented executive decision dealing with wildlife issues, Idaho Gov. Jim Risch signed a "shoot to kill" order Thursday declaring open season on about 160 trophy elk that escaped in recent weeks from a private game farm near the Wyoming state line and only 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park.
In his action, Risch authorized the "immediate destruction" of the domesticated red deer, an elk subspecies, by state Fish and Game and Department of Agriculture agents.
He also has asked the Idaho Fish and Game Commission for an emergency ruling allowing hunters and private landowners to shoot the animals before they can breed with wild elk as rutting season approaches.
"I don't think we've ever had an escape like this before. This is serious business," Risch told The Associated Press.
The immediate concern of biologists is the spread of wildlife ailments such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), tuberculosis and brucellosis by the domestic elk to the wild herds, as well as potential negative effects interbreeding would have on the genetics of Rocky Mountain elk in the region.
Idaho Fish and Game Director Steve Huffaker called the elk breakout "the train wreck we've seen coming for a long time."
Adding to the gravity of the situation is the fact that the escape of the herd was not immediately reported to authorities as required by law. As a result, the animals have had time to disperse over a wide area.
Wyoming Game and Fish Director Terry Cleveland said the European elk subspecies "would clearly impact the gene pool of native Rocky Mountain elk in the (greater Yellowstone area) and in Wyoming."
The owner of the elk, Rex Rammell, has a checkered history with the state of Idaho and agriculture officials. He was once fined $750,000 for failing to apply blaze-orange ear tags to his herd, although the amount of the fine was substantially reduced by the Idaho Legislature.
Prairie-dog management now a blast in Colorado
OK, maybe it's not as sporting as using a scoped .243, but the Colorado Wildlife Commission voted yesterday to allow ranchers and others to use explosive gas and igniting devices to kill prairie dogs and rid rangelands of the critters' expansive domiciles.
Besides the tried-and-true shooting technique, landowners in the West also use methods like poison, drowning and vacuum-and-relocation.
With yesterday's commission action, they'll be permitted to use hand-held, commercially produced devices bearing descriptive names like Rodenator and Varmitgetter that ignite explosive gases to collapse the burrows.
Use of the devices was requested by ranchers, farmers and organic-produce growers, many of whom did not want to use poison where they grow feed or produce, said Joe Lewandowski, a state Division of Wildlife spokesman.
While the action drew predictable moans from the animal-rights crowd, at least one farmer was thrilled with the commission vote.
Matt Fickes, who raises cattle and pigs on a 60-acre spread near Sterling, Colo., said he can't wait for things to start booming at his place.
"I'm losing the battle," Fickes said. "The prairie dog is a rat with a shovel. I would rather blow them up than poison them."
And, in the ESPNOutdoors.com News Hound Quote of The Week, Fickes compared his varmint infestation to "Star Trek."
"Ever see that 'Star Trek' episode, 'The Trouble With Tribbles'? It's like that," he said. "They are born pregnant."
posted Sept. 7, 2006
Stars and Stripes squirrel
I pledge allegiance, to the squirrel's nest, in the big tree at the Forest Hill Cemetery.
In recent weeks, the groundskeepers at an Eau Claire, Wis., cemetery have been baffled by the disappearance of dozens of flags that usually mark veteran's graves there.
But at Forest Hill Cemetery, all that remains of the small, waving Stars and Stripes are the tiny staffs to which they were once attached.
Some believed that pranksters or vandals were snatching the flags that was until the other day when Eau Claire Parks and Recreation Department's Dave Ender looked up while he was cutting grass on his riding lawnmower.
"I was mowing, looked up out into the distance, and something caught my eye," the groundskeeper said.
Ender drove his riding lawnmower to a nearby tree, where he discovered a massive red, white and blue squirrel nest.
While no one in the neighborhood has reported seeing a bushy-tailed bandit carrying Old Glory in its mouth, it is obvious that at least one critter in Eau Claire is squirreling away more than just acorns this year.
Six hurt in Canadian wolf attack
A brutal and unrelenting attack by a lone gray wolf in a Canadian park Monday left six people, including several young children, wounded, bleeding and shaken.
The wolf reportedly made three separate attacks on individuals enjoying the long, holiday weekend at Ontario's popular Katherine's Cove beach on Lake Superior before the animal was shot and killed by park authorities.
The Canadian Press reported today that the animal tested negative for rabies.
Examination of the remains revealed that the wolf had a broken jaw and tooth, which may explain its unusual aggressive behavior, according to Bob Frattini, an inspector with the Algoma Health Unit.
"Wolves work in packs and not individually, and it was probably ostracized," Frattini said.
Brenda Wright said the wolf nipped the ankle of her 13-year-old nephew, Jake, then clamped down on her 12-year-old son Casey's buttock, carrying him several feet before dropping him and lunging at her.
The wolf bit Wright on her hands and legs, then ripped the scalp of her teenage daughter, Emily.
The same wolf later attacked and terrorized a couple and their 3- and 5-year-old grandchildren after they stopped for a picnic at Lake Superior Provincial Park.
In a third incident, a woman became the sixth victim of the marauding canine before park authorities caught up with the animal.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it would conduct further testing on the wolf carcass to try to determine other possible causes for the attacks.
While attacks by wolves on humans are indeed rare, the incident may likely be used to support arguments for those opposing the predator's reintroduction in parts of the West.
posted Sept. 6, 2006
New zippered waders: "Only leaks when you want to"
Flyfisherman and other wading anglers take heart: technology has finally reached the highly advanced stage in its evolution where space-age materials have thankfully made it possible to "go where no man has gone before," so to speak.
That's right, there are now fishing waders equipped with waterproof zippers.
Several manufacturers of high-end breathable waders exhibited their zippered products during Denver's recent Fly Fishing Retailer World Trade Expo.
Ed Dentry, the venerable outdoor scribe with the Rocky Mountain News, writes that earlier attempts to put zippers in the neoprene waders of the 1980s and '90s proved far from reliable.
"It's been done, but poorly," Dentry writes. "Now it's being done again, and this time the trend might stick. Thanks to better technology, a trip behind the tree may never be the same."
Simms, Hodgman and Italy's Sir-Francis Co. were among the wader makers showing products that will have you fishing for your fly while flyfishing.
What a concept!
Dentry says that retail prices for the high-end zippered chest waders for 2007 are expected to range from $700 for the new Simms G4 model to $425 for the Sir-Francis Evolution.
The G4's marketing slogan?
Intersex bass: Hormones gone haywire?
A front page Washington Post story reports today that largemouth and smallmouth bass that possess both male and female characteristics are being found in increasingly high numbers in the Potomac River and its tributaries across the mid-Atlantic region.
Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say that male bass are developing immature eggs inside their sex organs, raising concerns that pollution in the river is altering fish hormonal systems.
The first intersex fish in region were discovered in 2003 in West Virginia's South Branch of the Potomac, about 200 miles upstream from Washington, D.C. In 2004, more abnormal bass were discovered in a section of the upper Potomac near Sharpsburg, Md.
Beginning last fall, federal and state researchers studied smallmouth in Potomac tributaries, including the Shenandoah River in Virginia and the Monocacy River and Conococheague Creek in Maryland.
Because there are no smallmouth bass in the Potomac itself, researchers examined largemouth bass.
Vicki S. Blazer, a fish pathologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said more than 80 percent of all the male smallmouth bass they studied were growing eggs, including all of the fish caught at four of the seven survey sites.
The Post reports that the results seem to indicate that the Potomac watershed has a problem with "endocrine disruptors," or contaminants that interfere with hormonal signaling.
"What we're seeing now is that it's definitely not a problem just in the South Branch," Blazer said. "There is this sort of widespread endocrine disruption in the Potomac, but we don't know still what are the causes." FORUM | MAILBAG
posted Sept. 5, 2006
Judge: Feds violated law in refuge-hunting expansion
Just chalk it up as another attempt to trump wildlife law and scientific game management by using the judicial system.
In a case that is likely far from over, a federal judge ruled last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal law by allowing or expanding hunting opportunities at 37 federal wildlife refuges since 1997.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina agreed with the litigants, the Humane Society of the United States, that federal wildlife officials have a responsibility to look at the effects of expanded hunting on a systemwide level.
The case seeking to ban hunting on 39 units of the 100 million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System was originally filed in 2003 in the Washington, D.C. Federal District Court by the anti-hunting group Fund for Animals, which has since merged with the Humane Society of the United States.
The case claimed that the USFWS, which manages the refuges, failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires extensive Environmental Impact Statements, prior to establishing hunting programs.
In September 2005, Judge Urbina granted a motion for partial dismissal of the anti-hunters' case, ruling that since the goals outlined in the USFWS strategy are not final agency action there was no need for comprehensive environmental studies.
While Urbina said in Thursday's ruling that wildlife officials violated the law, he stopped short of overturning the current hunting regulations on the refuges in question
The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a national hunting advocacy group, has called for the USFWS to appeal a judge's decision.
The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance notes that Congress has expressly recognized the legitimacy of hunting on units of the refuge system and the USFWS is directed to facilitate and increase these opportunities whenever they are determined to be compatible. FORUM | MAILBAG
Jail, fines for hunter harassment
A longtime animal activist and director of the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance was sentenced last week to 40 days in jail for incidents taking place during New Jersey's 2005 black-bear hunting season.
According to the case, former state park officer Walter Sanford accompanied two veteran hunters along a trail in Wawayanda State Park, where they were harassed, yelled at and cursed by Angela Metler and three accomplices.
Metler, along with Albert Kazemian, Theresa Fritzges and Janet Piszar, were subsequently arrested for hunter harassment, resisting arrest and other charges for confronting the trio.
A story in the New Jersey Herald, reports that Judge C. William Bowkley Jr. reviewed a video of the incident recorded by the activists and determined the footage served as "both a benefit and detriment" to the defendants.
On tape, hunter Bill Devine said the activists were "circling them again," supporting the judge's opinion that the defendants were guilty of hunter harassment.
Throughout the case, the activists maintained they were at the park with cameras to document the aftermath of the hunt.
"I don't buy it," the judge said. "I think these statements under oath were in fact lies. I think they were out in the woods for one purpose."
In the end, it was Metler's notorious record that landed her in jail.
The activist was arrested in 2004 for locking herself in a state game agency's bear trap and she was previously charged with hunt disruption in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In addition to her jail sentence, she received $1,815 in fines, costs and payment to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board.
Piszar and Fritzges each received $910 in fines and court payments, while Kazemian was ordered to pay $2,720 for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and hunter harassment. Penalties were stayed pending appeals. FORUM | MAILBAG
posted Sept. 1, 2006
Pot roast lures bears into Colorado kitchen
A 72-year-old Vail, Colo., woman was fortunate to receive only minor scratches yesterday when she surprised a black bear in her kitchen that had evidently been lured by the aroma of her pot roast.
In a classic case of "it's hard to tell who was more surprised," Vail police Sgt. Dan Torgerson said the unidentified woman walked into her kitchen and suddenly found herself standing six feet away from the adult bruin.
The bear reportedly hissed at the woman and swatted her chest and arm, giving her some minor scratches. Unfazed, the woman then shooed it out a side door by yelling loudly and clapping her hands.
"If the bear was trying to hurt her, it very easily could have," the officer told the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. "I think it was just surprised."
The woman also found the bruin's offspring, a young cub, which she pushed out the door behind its mother.
Colorado Division of Wildlife officers believe the bear and cub are the same ones that entered another Vail home earlier in the day and ate food off a kitchen counter.
California microstamping bill shot down
As the clock ticked away on the final day of California's 2006 legislative session late last night, the General Assembly failed to pass the controversial bill I blogged about earlier this week that would have mandated microstamping of handguns and allow for the future mandatory bullet serialization of all ammunition, including shotgun shells.
The bill, AB 352, was touted by its supporters as a method of helping police track criminals who use firearms.
Microstamping is a process that laser engraves the firearm's make, model and serial number on the tip of the gun's firing pin so it imprints the information on cartridge casings.
The legislation failed in the Assembly on a 38-34 vote. It needed 41 votes to pass.
In a press release, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, hailed the failure of the bill's passage as a major victory.
"We are thankful that common sense and sound public policy prevailed," said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel.
"This legislation would have forced an unproven, costly and easily defeatable technology upon both firearms consumers and taxpayers, and would have resulted in a ban on all ammunition in California."
Among other things, the NSSF claimed that independent research has shown that the sole-source microstamping process does not function as advertised by the patent holder. Further, tests showed that micro-laser engraving could be removed in seconds using common household tools. FORUM | MAILBAG
posted Aug. 31, 2006
Florida: Squirrels gone wild!
No, it's not the title of a new Florida spring break movie showing naughty college girls and risqué activity.
It's about squirrels acting, well, nutty.
Each year about this time the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission receives calls from folks who report seeing squirrels rolling on the ground, leaping wildly in the air and generally going berserk.
Concerned Floridians are told the rodents haven't gone bonkers, but rather are likely hosts to a parasite that causes them some temporary discomfort. The parasite generally is not fatal.
Southeastern gray squirrels, other rodents and rabbits are common hosts to bot fly larvae that cause irritating lumps or "subcutaneous warbles" on the animal's skin.
Adult female flies deposit eggs in the immediate vicinity of the hosts' nests or dens, where the host comes into contact with the eggs.
In gray squirrels, larvae are most abundant in late summer and fall, which is why people are seeing the lumps right now, according to state wildlife biologist Paige Martin.
She said most of the squirrels suffer no permanent effects from the parasite; however, a few may become debilitated by heavy infestations.
Martin noted that some hunters unnecessarily discard squirrels with pronounced skin warbles, wasting perfectly edible meat in the process.
Because there is no health threat to humans or pets from carriers of the parasite, state officials say the best course of action is to simply let nature take its course.
Knot not for naught
Despite a broken rod and a cut line, Dan Toomey was still able to land a 422-pound salmon shark while fishing on Alaska's Prince William Sound last week a fish that eclipsed the world record by more than 50 pounds.
However, because of strict International Game Fish Association regulations about how fish must be landed to qualify for record status, Toomey's catch won't see the record book.
Craig Medred, the fine outdoor writer for the Anchorage Daily News, reports this week that the IGFA, the main organization certifying world records, bans anglers from switching rods or obtaining help from others while fighting a fish. Unfortunately, Toomey needed both.
A half-hour into the battle when Toomey's rod failed, Tom Konop, skipper and owner of the charter vessel Miss Brizz, alertly grabbed the line, wrapping it around his safely gloved hand. He instructed deckman Tom Robertson to cut the line and to tie it to another rigged rod.
"We were lucky," Konop said. "The line didn't break, and I had on leather gloves."
Not to mention that Robertson, who works in a store that sells fishing gear, is a knot expert.
"It was a uni-knot to uni-knot splice," said Robertson, who Toomey later referred to as "Magic Fingers."
Despite the obvious disappointment, Toomey remained positive. He told the Daily News' Medred that the IGFA rules make sure the playing field remains level for everyone.
And besides, he added, his hooking the fish that would have broken the record was such a random event that it's hard to think he should own the title anyway.
posted Aug. 30, 2006
Ne'er-do-wells firing guns to scare off crowds in Oregon forest
A national forest ranger district near Eugene, Ore., has opted to prohibit the discharge of firearms in certain parts of the forest except for those "engaged in lawful hunting within the area."
The ban affects all target shooting and sighting-in of firearms.
It seems that some bottom-feeders are using random, rapid-fire gunshots to intimidate campers and frighten recreationists into leaving the popular area so the woods aren't so crowded.
"Frequent use of firearms for the purpose of intimidating other recreating public around heavily used recreation sites has become a problem," according to a news release from the Willamette National Forest's Detroit Ranger District.
Forest recreation officer Rodney Stewart said there is no indication that the offending individuals are practicing or shooting at targets and he believes it is being done strictly because they "would just as soon have the area to themselves."
"We go into those sites and find a lot of shotgun shells, a lot of brass," but no evidence of targets, he said. "It's just general gunfire at weird times of the day and night."
The activity of a few irresponsible hoodlums is especially bothersome because of the negative light it can cast upon hunters and responsible firearms users.
While it probably won't happen, I'd like to see the USFS and the media use this story as an opportunity to inform the general public they have nothing to fear from hunters and legitimate recreational plinkers on public land and that hunting remains one of the safest activities that one can enjoy in the outdoors.
Deer impact Wisconsin oak regeneration
An interesting piece by the Wisconsin State Journal's Jerry Davis contends that the single largest factor affecting the regeneration of the state's oak forest is the overpopulation of whitetail deer that over-browses young trees, preventing them from maturing.
While the factors affecting oak regeneration are many including invasive species like garlic mustard, diseases like oak wilt and timber sales without professional guidance the single largest issue in getting oaks to regenerate in southern Wisconsin is whitetail deer, according to Tom Hill, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources forester in Iowa County.
"If the deer were cut back to a normal level, seedlings would have a chance even with these other problems," Hill told the Madison newspaper.
Davis writes that instead of straight, fast-growing red, white and bur oaks, southern Wisconsin is plagued by scrubby oaks that look more like bushes than trees.
John Nielson, state forestry area leader in southern Wisconsin said oaks are apparently the only dwindling tree group in the area.
"Many people don't make the connection between high deer numbers and lack of oak regeneration," Nielson said. "Good stands of oaks we see were regenerated during low deer years."
Many hunters are aware of the integral connection between oaks and deer, as well as the tree's beneficial impact on game species such as wild turkeys, squirrels and ruffed grouse.
In kind of a Catch-22 in reverse, with an overabundance of deer literally destroying tomorrow's oak trees, fewer oaks and their acorn byproduct could have a devastating affect on tomorrow's deer herd. FORUM | MAILBAG
posted Aug. 29, 2006
Hunters told to watch out for pot-growing operations
It's an unfortunate sign of the times, but as hunters prepare to head afield for early archery deer and elk seasons on public land, in some parts of the country they're being warned to be on the lookout for clandestine drug-making and marijuana-growing operations where a desperate criminal element may pose a significant danger to life and limb.
In September 2005, gunfire was exchanged between hunters and individuals believed to be part of a pot-growing camp in Arizona. When he accidentally stumbled onto a marijuana field near Queen Creek, a hunter made a quick retreat, but not before several shots rang out.
"We think there were three to five shots, one hit in front of him and sprayed dirt on him," said a spokesperson with the Gila County Narcotics Task Force.
According to the Payson Roundup newspaper, a series of eight raids executed by agents in central Arizona forests since July 11 have destroyed approximately 60,000 marijuana plants.
A single raid taking place in the Mazatzal Wilderness area last week netted 8,439 plants, some of which were six to seven feet tall.
Farther west, authorities a California report that most pot-growing operations there are being run by the notorious Mexican drug cartel, using illegal aliens to guard and maintain the fields.
An article appearing this weekend written by my good friend Tom Stienstra, outdoor scribe at the San Francisco Chronicle, noted that about 90 percent of the illegal groves are on public lands, usually at parks, open space reserves and national forests, with the hottest spot appearing to be the west slopes of the Sierra Nevada east of Fresno.
Mike Ferry, supervising ranger at Henry Coe State Park, told Stienstra that he and his crew recently found and removed 8,000 marijuana plants in two parcels.
"At these gardens, we've found dead animals and birds, ammonia sulfate, pesticides and herbicides, ponds and creeks lined with plastics, and garbage all over the place," Ferry said. "The environmental damage is huge."
Hikers, bikers, 4-wheel-drivers, off-highway-vehicle riders, equestrians, anglers and hunters can wander into an operation or see evidence of one. One common episode is for anglers, fishing a remote stream, to spot a plastic pipe irrigation line. Another warning sign is to see a van, filthy from being driven on remote dirt roads, filled with workers if you see such a vehicle, take down the license number and report it.
Microstamping measure returns to California Assembly
Unprecedented legislation that would mandate microstamping of handguns and allow for the future mandatory bullet serialization of all ammunition, including shotgun shells, passed the California Senate last week and awaits action in the General Assembly.
Microstamping is a patented process that laser engraves the firearm's make, model and serial number on the tip of the gun's firing pin so it imprints the information on discharged cartridge cases.
Firearms manufacturers and law enforcement groups represented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation say the dubious technology is unproven, unreliable and would add as much as $150 to every handgun sold in the state.
The NSSF reports that independent research has shown that the sole-source microstamping process does not function as advertised by the patent holder. Further, tests showed that micro-laser engraving could be removed in seconds using common household tools.
In its present form, AB 352 allows the Attorney General to require future bullet serialization of all ammunition including shotgun shells a move that could potentially prevent ammo makers from selling their products in the state because of greatly increased production costs. FORUM | MAILBAG
posted Aug. 28, 2006
The toughest man in Alaska
Zaz Hollander of the Anchorage Daily News brings us one of those "only from Alaska" stories about a black-bear hunter whose planned one-day foray into the mountains near Wasilla, Alaska, turned into a five-day ordeal last week after heavy rains brought flash floods to the area.
It was already raining Thursday when Mike Jennings, a 34-year-old ex-Marine, headed into the canyons near Denali National Park with a day pack and a .308 rifle. This was before flood warnings had been issued.
He finally emerged on Monday, four days overdue and a day after Alaska State Troopers' began an aerial search for him.
In the interim, according to accounts from Jennings and folks he encountered during his adventure, the hunter fell into a flooded creek and floated downstream while clinging to the body of a large black bear he'd shot earlier.
After landing on a sandbar in the dead of night, he defended himself from another bear that he couldn't see in the darkness.
In the morning, the waterlogged Jennings chained the dead bear to a tree and slogged back up the creek and located a cabin where he met several prospectors, who were also stranded by the floodwaters. The men offered him soup and dry clothes, which he greatly appreciated.
With dry clothes and sustenance, Jennings trekked back downstream to retrieve his bear and take it to his parked vehicle. Then, on an hour's sleep, he turned right back around and took some cigarettes back to the three stranded prospectors just because he promised he would.
"He is probably THE toughest man in Alaska. I am not exaggerating," said Tom Marshall, one of three prospectors at the cabin where Jennings stopped before walking out.
Fear of fly-tying unfounded
The Associated Press reports this week that some avid fly anglers who tie their own flies are exhibiting concern about the safety of commercially produced feathers.
Internet fishing blogs and specialty flyfishing shops are increasingly asked about the Asian bird flu and whether it poses any health risk for those who handle feathers especially from chickens.
Questions like: Do you need to wear a mask when tying flies? Will I get bird flu if I lick the hackles to get them to stay down? Do I need to wash my hands after handling feathers?
The answers are no, no and, decidedly, no.
"I thought people were smarter than that," said Karl Schmuecker of Wapsi Fly Inc., a wholesale distributor of fly-tying materials in Mountain Home, Ark.
"It's impossible. The virus has to have a live host. You can't even get it off the skins. None of the product here in the U.S. even had a chance to be infected, so it's pretty ridiculous."
The article notes that loose feathers and strung hackle feathers that are plucked and sewn back together can still be imported from other countries after being steamed at high temperatures to kill the virus.
Further, the USDA bans the importation of feathers still attached to the skin from the three dozen or so countries where the dangerous H5N1 bird flu has been confirmed.
Tom Whiting, a Coloradoan who raises chickens for the fly-tying trade, says that there's nothing to fear.
"Nothing has been more scrutinized or is being monitored more intensely than this avian influenza, ever in the history of poultry," Whiting said.
About the author: J.R. Absher shares his perspective while blogging about hunting, fishing, shooting sports, sportsmen's issues and the occasional offbeat outdoor tale. In more than 30 years of writing and a lifetime of enjoying the outdoors, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, photographer, mule wrangler, wilderness packer, magazine editor, political consultant, hunting-equipment copywriter, public-relations director and sportsman's advocate. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.