Conservation Versus Conservation



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.

California Fundraising Tag

There are many fundraising tags made available by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). These tags are a product of legislation passed by the California legislature and signed into law by the Governor.

Many conservation organizations supported the creation of these tags including, for one, The Mule Deer Foundation (MDF). So it’s appropriate that I made my fundraising tag purchase at MDF’s Santa Rosa banquet last weekend.

CDFW made the tag available and authorized that MDF Chapter to sell it at the banquet. My high bid was $10,500. Five percent will go to MDF to cover the cost of selling the tag and the remaining 95 percent goes to the Department to be used as funding for deer-related conservation and associated expenses.

Now for the good part. The tag, called an Open Zone Tag,  is basically a season pass to hunt for deer during California’s numerous seasons. With that tag in hand, I can hunt any of the hunts that I’ve drooled over for years.

For about two hours this morning I looked over old California Big Game Booklets and listed the places I’d like to go. And, I can go to many of them if I don’t pull the trigger too soon.

Yes, I could have kept on putting my name in the hat for these tags, but at my current rate of success I would probably have died without hunting any of them. Finally impatience won out.

Or, I could have made trips and photographed deer without a tag, but that wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.

I plan to set my sights high and pass up a bunch of bucks before I pull the trigger. However, I’m not passing up Mr. Big even if he’s the first deer I see.

I’m making my list which will likely include hunts in X2, X5, D6, X9a, X6 and maybe even a B zone. In search of nostalgia, I’ll probably visit a few of my old haunts. I’ll probably hunt a couple zones during the August archery season while also scouting the country  in preparation for the late season opportunities.

This is a very full plate of activities, so we’ll see how much I can actually pull off, but I’m not making other plans. I’ll likely hunt with my bow, muzzle-loader and rifle before it’s done. The early archery seasons start in mid-August and rifle opportunities continue almost to the end of December.

I plan to keep notes and post them here. That will be part of the fun.





Three Centuries of Conservation

Yesterday’s hunt with my friend Jeff Kerry was thought-provoking. As is usual when we hunt together, we spent much of our time discussing waterfowl and waterfowl conservation. We are both very concerned about the future of waterfowl and waterfowl hunting.

Jeff and I met because we are both real estate brokers and hunters. Our first interaction was in a real estate transaction where he represented the seller and I represented the buyer of a grasslands duck club. We had so much in common that it was natural for us to become friends.

There is nobody who I know of who is more passionate or knowledgable about duck clubs in California than Jeff. He has the hands-on knowledge of managing habitat and experience dealing with people in both the private and public sector. One thing Jeff and I agree on is that we have spent much of our life trying to make a difference in conservation and we both have the feeling that we have not been able to make a significant difference.

The forces of politics, economy and the human expansion are too overwhelming for most individuals to deal with.

When I looked up Conservation in North American on Wikipedia (, I came upon some familiar names and some unfamiliar. But I believe that for the purposes of discussion, it is helpful to break conservation in North America into three centuries.

The first century included developing an awareness of the impact of man upon nature.

As a hunter, my view of conservation is slanted towards those who laid groundwork for and development of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Two of the most prominent individuals in that arena are Aldo Leopold and Theodore Roosevelt.

Among non-hunters two of the most prominent people I have been aware of are Henry David Thoreau and John Muir. Hunters or not, the emphasis on their work is oriented to habitat conservation and environmental health.

The men mentioned above, and many others, established principles that guided the creators of many modern conservation organizations – organizations that helped determine the theme of the second century of Conservation. A few examples of these groups are The Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The Wildlife Society and The Boone and Crockett Club.  These are some of the organizations that I grew up hearing about.

Legislation that has greatly impacted conservation at the beginning of the third century of  North American conservation is the Endangered Species Act of 1973. (

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has become the most powerful wildlife force in modern conservation. The reason it is powerful is because it gives the government teeth so the law can be enforced. Like all legislation that expands the powers of government, the ESA is  like a double-edged sword. It cuts in both positive and negative directions.

The way all this relates to yesterday, is that my discussion with Jeff yesterday often clarified some of the negatives of the ESA and how those negatives  impact waterfowl and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

As I’ve pointed out before, I believe that one of the crucial weak links in the ESA is that is too strongly protects the life of individual animals. By so strongly defending the “take” of an individual, wildlife managers are ham-strung while managing for all species. This greatly impacts waterfowl managers. For example,  plowing, mowing, predator management and herbicide use are all important aspects of successful waterfowl management. However these activities are most often precluded in areas managed for endangered species such as snakes, frogs and salamanders.

As more and more resources are dedicated to, or impacted by, management of endangered species, waterfowl species are declining. Sometimes this is due to an inability to manage effectively for waterfowl. Marsh intended for but not properly managed for waterfowl has little benefit to the birds.

Another problem is efforts to offset carbon emissions (, such as the prototype program at Mayberry. Our Mayberry duck club is being managed for carbon offsets (another form of conservation authorized by Cap-and-Trade legislation) and also as a way of preventing subsidence (ground settling due to oxidation of highly organic soils). It is my belief that this prototype is too radical and those who support it are too single-minded. Mayberry was more environmentally sound before it was converted to growing cattail. The duck club was offsetting carbon emissions and subsidence before it was converted and it was also having a tremendous benefit for waterfowl.

Today Mayberry probably produces greater carbon offset and subsidence prevention than it did as a duck club, but it has almost no benefit to waterfowl. Not only is the benefit for migrating waterfowl in winter gone, but the expected benefit to nesting waterfowl in spring has proved to be negligent.

The next phase of the Mayberry prototype is to expand it to other areas. The success of the Mayberry prototype is that it has proved that this type carbon-subsidence project can be better provided by the benefits of traditional waterfowl habitat and this radical program should not continue in its current form.

In this photo from 2010, Rob and Wes are plucking ducks facing the Mayberry Marsh as it was in 2010.

In this photo from 2010, Rob and Wes are plucking ducks facing the Mayberry Marsh as it was in 2010.

In 2011, work began to rebuild to create a permanent marsh designed for carbon offsets and subsidence prevention.

In 2011, work began to rebuild to create a permanent marsh designed for carbon offsets and subsidence prevention.

Mayberry 2012 is a paradise for fish, blackbirds and cattail, but not waterfowl.

Mayberry 2012 is a paradise for fish, blackbirds and cattail, but not waterfowl.

Over time, conservation efforts take dips and turns and not all of our ideas result in a net gain. Before taking actions that penalize one species for the benefit of another, we need to be sure it’s worth it. And, before we go berserk worrying about global warming, we need to carefully evaluate programs like Cap-And-Trade – which will have many unintended and sometimes destructive, consequences.

Larry Potterfield, MidwayUSA and MDF

I don’t know Larry Potterfield, but today I know a little about him. He was the Key Note speaker and Sponsor for MDF’s Saturday night event during the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo. And, did he ever lay it out. Here’s a man who understands the meaning of walking softly and carrying a big stick.

He also addressed the MDF volunteers at the Volunteer Recognition and Life Member brunch earlier in the day. Some of his messages: Work hard, have a good business strategy, foster teamwork, reward your workers, create a model that works and have confidence in your plan.

Larry Potterfield delivered his message to MDV Volunteers

And, the volunteers were interested in what he had to say.

 He spoke about MidwayUSA’s “Round up for NRA” program where they raised millions of dollars by taking donations 50 cents at a time and also about the local cocktail party at his home that evolved into the “Friends of the NRA” one of the most successful fundraising programs around.

He spoke of the Potterfield Family Foundation and his desires to expand their financial support for hunting and fishing, especially youth programs.  

What a nice combination – Larry Potterfield and The Mule Deer Foundation.

Missing the Point About Conservation

For many years I’ve supported conservation organizations and believed that I was making a difference by doing so. Like most of my friends in conservation I have done so without really worrying about what I was getting in return. I’ve believed that the cause helped wildlife and helped to minimize attacks on hunting
Recently I received an email that made me wonder about some of my hunting brethren.
Here’s what (name deleted) had to say. 
“My Friend and I are Traditional Archery Hunters and interested in becoming members of MDF, we are both retired and belong to the Diablo Bowmen Archery Club in Clayton California.
I live in Discovery Bay, and (also deleted) lives in Magalia near Paradise.
For years I have belonged to Phesants Forever, Doves & Quail Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, North American Hunting Club, California Deer Assoc. California Wildfowl Assoc., none of which has ever helped me in my quest for hunting property access. All they seem to do is ask me for more money and support, but they have never ever enabled me to get hunting access.
So why am I writing to you? I’d like to be up front and ask if joining MDF will lead to us being able to gain access to hunting areas either open to members of MDF or Public Access ? This may sound a bit selfish but to tell you the truth every one of the “Clubs” organization I listed above have just been a magazine subscriptionand a junk mail source, to which I “donated” moneies not recognized by the IRS as donations.
As I am now retired, I like to gets some return on my investments.
So bottom line should we join?

(name deleted)”

Needless to say I responded with a “no.” Based upon this man’s statement, he will be no happier with MDF than he has been with the other groups he has previously joined. This man does not understand that we need to conserve our resources in order to enjoy them.

He should have read the mission of each of these organizations and if he had, he might not have sent this email.

By putting money and effort back into the resource we are making an attempt to assure our activities produce a net gain for wildlife. We could do nothing, but over time the resource would dwindle until neither hunters or anybody else would be able to enjoy the pleasure of viewing, hunting and eating wild game.

Access would be worthless if there were no game animals to hunt.

It would be hard to feel good about ourselves if we did nothing but take and never gave back. For me, giving back is an important part of feeling valued and happy.

We’ll never know for sure the effectiveness of our efforts, but at least we know we tried and for me that’s good enough for me.


Sportsmen Testify Before State Senate Appropriations Committee on Behalf of SB1172

SB1172 creates California Fish and Game Commission oversight over expenditure of funds generated from sale of all tags and stamps issued for take of big game animals in California including funds generated from Fundraising Tags, deer, elk, bear, sheep, antelope and pig tags as well as upland game bird stamps.


This video shows the testimony of Senator Dutton who authored the bill, Mark Hennelly of COHA who sponsored the bill and various conservation organization representatives who testified on behalf of the bill. Since this hearing the bill has passed through the Senate and will soon be tested in the Assembly.