A Time to Speak

Much of my most serious time in the woods is done while hunting. That’s when I’m as quiet as possible. Often that is so quiet that a stick rubbing against my cap makes me jump.

Sometimes the woods are so quite that I stop and notice wheezing emanating from my own lungs or the pounding of my own heart.

The sounds of my trousers rubbing against brush or the snap of a twig, are not foreign to the woods. They could be produced by a number of critters or physical events.

On occasions, I have been so silent in the woods that special things have happened.

A little over 35 years ago I arose early during an archery back-pack deer hunt on a mountain in the California coast range. It was August and the trails were covered in two or three inches of dust. At first light, I moved cautiously and slowly along one such dust-covered trail not far from the top of a ridge that led to the mountain top.

The area was perfect deer habitat and I was feeling optimistic as everything seemed to be falling into place and the possibility of sneaking up on a buck was quite real.

Then a deer snorted from about 75 yards away uphill from me. “How could he have smelled me?” was my first thought.

Then another deer snorted and I heard it run off.

“So close, ” I thought to myself, not knowing what could have gone wrong.

I remained absolutely still as I stared up towards the ridge top.

I was standing in slight depression created by a minor drainage. The drainage led directly up the hill and my line of sight while watching was directly up said depression.

Then I caught movement about fifty yards up the hill. Something was coming down the drainage. It was a lion, a male lion with a very square head. He was lying low, but moving fairly quickly. I had little time to react before he would be right on top of me.

Obviously he had no idea I was there. Within seconds he was only 20 yards from me and still coming in a silent, slinking but ground-covering way.

I could only react. “That’s close enough pussy cat,” I heard myself say.

Stupid? Maybe, but that’s what I said.

In a flash the cat was out of sight. He covered the 10 yards between him and the closest thicket in almost no time at all. I never saw him again and I was thankful for that – except that the minute he went out of sight, I was somewhat terrified because I had no idea what he was doing.

I moved down the trail expeditiously and I believe he did the same. Neither of us wanted to become better acquainted.

Now, more than 30 years after that event, it is clear to me that the human voice is a valuable defence mechanism. Virtually all wild animals that live with humans are afraid of them. Sometimes our best defense is the sound of our own voice.

 

 

 

Conservation Versus Conservation

 

mayberry-feb3-026-mallard-flock-cropped

This great mallard habitat on Sherman Island is no more.

Our duck club, on Sherman Island in the California Delta, was some of the greatest seasonal marsh on earth. In winter, ducks, geese, shore birds, raptors, river otters, beavers, muskrats and many more critters thrived in that habitat.

It was great hunting.

After the California Department of Water Resources purchased the duck club from us, we continued to manage the property as a seasonal marsh. Then California decided that the property needed to be turned into a conservation experiment.

The primary goals were to reduce subsidence and sequester carbon. This was a prototype project. Unfortunately, the goals of the experiment conflicted with the existing use.

In order to test the hypothesis, the existing seasonal marsh would have to be replaced by permanent ponds.

DSC_0056 ducks

Our Sherman Island duck club was converted from seasonal to permanent marsh. It is no longer managed for waterfowl.

Having sold the property to the State, we were in no position to oppose the program. The rest is history. Although ducks and geese still migrate to Sherman Island, they avoid the permanent marsh in favor of the remaining shallow-flooded pasture that surrounds the property we used to own.

It’s easy to see the effects to waterfowl when you observe our property. It’s more difficult to quantify the effects this change had on the California waterfowl population, but when combined with other similar projects, it could be substantial. We’ll never know.

This was a situation where one form of conservation conflicted directly with another.

Conservation comes in many forms and we see conservation activities frequently, but underlying conflicts are usually invisible except to specialists who manage wildlife or wildlife habitat.

Ongoing are changes to wildlife preserves and refuges on public lands. Where lands are dedicated simply to wildlife, there is competition between thriving species and threatened species. Should endangered or threatened status always trump thriving or common?

Where land is purchased for and dedicated to a certain species or group of species, one would expect management of that land to be managed for that species. Is that always the case?

Take, for example, land purchased with Federal or State Duck Stamp money. Duck stamp funds are raised by our government agencies specifically to purchase habitat for migratory waterfowl. Hunters purchase these stamps with hopes that there will always be waterfowl to hunt.

California has a long list of threatened, endangered and special-concern plants and animals. What is the ultimate “trump” species? Can habitat for a threatened species displace waterfowl habitat on dedicated land?

garter snake on log

Sometimes habitat is designed by the forces of nature. Other times man redesigns land to favor one species or another.

Habitat can be converted by applying water. Timing of the water application is crucial. When water floods fields in winter and is left to dry during the spring, the habitat favors migratory birds. When farmers use water to irrigate, farming can create food for many species including waterfowl.

When land is flooded and water covers the land during spring and/or summer, it is beneficial for numerous species and sometimes waterfowl can nest there, but usually not.

When land is permanently flooded, it favors primarily fish species but there is little food to attract waterfowl, especially dabbling ducks.

We must not kid ourselves about permanent marsh. It may attract golf course Canada geese, but it is not important to migratory waterfowl.

It would be nice to think that conservation always benefits all things, but it’s not that simple.

Western Hunting and Conservation Expo 2018

The Western Hunting and Conservation Expo was a great show and gathering spot for a multitude of Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) members.

When the counting is over, the result will be that a great deal of money was raised for conservation – millions.

Many exhibitors went home happy with their decision to attend. The wait-list for booth space will continue to grow.

And, mule deer conservation received support from the Trump administration. Here’s a quote from the MDF news release:

Secretarial Order 3362 was signed today by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo, the annual convention of the Mule Deer Foundation. The order outlines the Department’s intent to work closely with the 11 western states to enhance and improve the quality of big game winter range and migration corridor habitat on federal lands that the Department manages.

Corridors and migration routes are a critical element of mule deer habitat. Improvement of forage and cover is important.

Where migration routes are blocked, deer herds dwindle. Some of California’s largest herds have been decimated by segmented range where freeways have made migration nearly impossible.

The best example of a severed migration route that I can think of is Interstate 80 between Truckee and Reno. On many other highways automobile collisions take a huge toll on mule and black-tailed deer – not to mention autos and their drivers. Highway 395 between Reno and Susanville is a good example.

Hopefully, this order will allow wildlife supporters to get out in front of any new efforts to bisect habitat. The best (and safest) time to do that is before a road is built.

Why a Habitat Committee to Oversee Public Hunting Areas?

IMG_3909 Sunrise from Blind 2bWetland management is a combination of science and art. A habitat committee should be run by an individual with many  years of experience in wetland development and maintenance.  A year or two of experience is nice, but marsh environments are dynamic. Weather is one of the major contributors to how a marsh grows and weather changes are dramatic and inevitable.

The more years one observes and manipulates marshland, the more they realize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for creating and maintaining a marsh. The managers of individual public hunting areas should welcome advise and consultation with experienced marsh managers in the public and private sector. Marsh managers cannot rely on one technique applied over and over again when managing a wetland.

The habitat committee must be made up of individuals who are passionate about habitat and who are able to work with other people for the greater good. The leader of the habitat committee must be able to nurture a teamwork environment with participants in the agency and public sector.

The major marshlands of the California refuge system are located in areas critical to migratory waterfowl. Intertwined with these public wetlands are many private wetlands and related agriculture. Initially, the California wildlife refuges were created expressly to reduce the impact migratory waterfowl were having on farmers crops.

IMG_4054 December sun burning through fog

Ag lands like corn and rice provide short term food for waterfowl, but a seasonal marsh provides longer-term food as well as other habitat values.

The extent to which the initial motivation for public hunting areas has evolved can be argued. However the existence of private waterfowl hunting areas is a given and how the public areas are managed, especially regarding water and irrigation, has a major impact and direct impact on nearby private lands. This is another reason for a habitat committee with members with varied backgrounds.

One thing that is very clear to me, is that management of public hunting areas is a job that requires an understanding of hunters and the hunting culture. The passion of the hunter cannot be emulated or described by somebody who does not hunt.

The habitat committee should make sure that managers of public hunting areas understand that, for the most part, habitat on public hunting areas is there because of hunters and as a result, hunters want opportunity.

It’s always nice to be able to take photos of sunrises and decoys or observe seagulls, snipe, sandpipers, avocet and stilts, but a marsh without ducks and geese has no use for hunting.

We need a habitat committee in California. Tell the California Fish and Game Commission today. Sign the petition.

Here’s the link: http://chn.ge/2BfeLpd

 

 

 

California’s Public Waterfowl Hunting Areas

California is blessed with numerous public hunting areas. Many of those are waterfowl refuges where acquisition and management of the land has been and continues to be funded primarily with money garnered from sales of federal duck stamps or taxes on firearms and ammunition. This means primarily duck hunters.

In California you can break down the refuge system into four distinct areas. Northeastern California, the Northern (Sacramento River) portion of the Central Valley, the Southern (San Joaquin) portion of the Central Valley and the Imperial Valley of southeastern California.

State Wildlife Areas are managed  by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and National Wildlife Refuges are managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). With a couple exceptions, the hunting program on all public hunting areas is managed by the State.

Currently there is a petition being circulated by Jeff Kerry, a very dedicated hunter and developer of duck habitat and also good friend of water-fowlers. He is seeking support for a plan to create more oversight by public hunting interests on the lands managed by CDFW and USFWS. A petition for a show of support is being circulated. I have personally signed on.

A few years ago, the California Waterfowl Association supported legislation requiring the CDFW to accommodate a Habitat Conservation Committee to provide public input into how the habitat on hunting areas is managed.

The effort met with resistance from the CDFW staff and an alternative solution was negotiated. The current system requires CDFW to hold meetings for hunters each year prior to the opening of duck season. Although these meetings may be productive in other ways, and they should not be abandoned,  it is unlikely that they will result in improved habitat conditions.

A habitat committee would review plans for annual planting, manipulation and flooding. The committee would be advised as to water allotments and how they would be applied as irrigation is the most important aspect of wetland management. Water is the difference between a seasonal marsh and just plain upland. Water is important before, during and after duck season.

Based upon the information I’ve gathered, I am now even more convinced that a Habitat Management Committee is needed to review how California hunting areas are managed. The committee needs access to management plans and the areas themselves.

I’m continuing to urge public area hunters to sign the petition. More to come as I continue to investigate.

Go to: http://chn.ge/2BfeLpd