Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Environmental Justice and hunting groups together? Why not!

These two groups are about as far from each other on a traditional political spectrum as can be, but the political spectrum is irrelevant to conservationism. First, a little background:

By "hunting groups", I mean to include those organizations whose original impetus for creation came from hunting. In my mind, this includes folks like The Wild Turkey Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the California Waterfowl Association, etc. These groups are largely made up of older white males, people who care deeply about hunting as a tradition and the wild as a necessary component to humanity. These are people who often cradle baby chicks in their hands, understand animal husbandry as well as shooting, and think hard about a conservation ethic.

By "environmental justice groups", I mean to include those organizations whose original impetus for creation came from an outrage against pollution in their immediate communities. This includes groups like Citizens Against Waste, the Coalition for Clean Air, the Verde Group, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, etc. These groups are largely made up of poor and disenfranchised folks who have organized out of a sense of outrage and a desire to protect their towns, neighborhoods, and children. These are people who see lung cancer rates in some places at 1,000 times the national average, folks with a quarter of their kids suffering from asthma, people who are literally fighting to keep other people's poop from being dumped on them.

Now, these two cliques, as radically different as they seem on the surface, share some remarkably deep traits. Both grew out of battles against huge businesses and business trends, fighting and beating major corporate interests. Both have a deep sense of conviction and an evangelical streak when it comes to their passion. And both serve large, more socially conservative constituents who enjoy the outdoors.

Hunting groups tend to forget just how radical were their ideas when first proposed: Huge tracts of land taken completely off the market, owned and managed by the government or quasi-governmental institutions and run by volunteers, not profit; species and entire habitats protected from hunting; water quality improvements forced on major companies. Many hunters can, with pride, talk about the conservation efforts of the hunting community and our conservation forefathers like TR and George Grinnell, but doing so means that we are proud to support government efforts that curbed business interests for the greater common good.

On the other hand, many EJ groups represent constituents who trend more socially conservative than the typical environmental policy analyst. EJ communities tend to be deeply religious, are usually one generation or less from the farm or the wilds, and carry a strong fishing and hunting tradition. Today, many folks who live in EJ communities can be found fishing local ditches for carp and bass, hunting the National Forest and BLM lands for deer, squirrel, and quail, and, increasingly, showing up at the local wildlife refuges for ducks and geese.

Now is a great time for these two communities to get into active conversations and cooperative arrangements, and two places where this seems a natural fit are in community/youth outreach, and work on public policy. Both groups are fighting to stay relevant to young people, and each group has something to offer the other - they both currently cater to very different people, yet these people could mesh well. Setting up information booths at each others' outreach events would be a great start, with each group bringing their strength: EJ groups, bring the kids, urban youth, and their parents, who know how to hunt and know the land; hunting groups, bring baby birds, bring recipes and sausages and video of ducks and deer. Heck, bring guns - people like to shoot guns, it's fun.

The political policy realm may be a bit trickier for these two groups, as they tend to fall on different sides of the political spectrum, but there are many common goals, and their political tendencies can result in some major victories. My recommendation? Work on a local public lands access issue or clean-up effort. These make for good media, and can bring together pretty diverse people for a common, and reachable, goal.

In our current economic climate, conservation efforts are going to take a hit, both at the public policy and individual levels. Cooperative efforts are vital at this point, and they are also vital in the long run. These two groups have important things to share, and their cooperation could take the establishment by surprise and by storm. It would be just in time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Making Lemons out of Lemonade

I don't normally post about my hunting experiences, per se, but I thought I should mention that I've had about the driest hunting year of my entire life. Five (count 'em, five!) days in blinds over rice fields has led to two shovelers, one wigeon, and one mallard. I was only able to dove hunt for two hours or so, and took two doves. My deer hunting was a complete bust (with the exception of seeing a gopher grab a tall, slender grass stalk and suck it into the ground), my pheasant hunting for six hours yielded me zero birds. However, these numbers, though frustrating (especially since I'm hooked on Hank Shaw's blog, and now I'm always hungry) are not depressing or sad. But, I have had a more depressing season, and it's my human experiences that have been different.

My one chance at taking geese this year came crashing down with a great crescendo when a newbie in my blind thought he knew better than the more experienced of us, and jumped up early without being told by the caller (me), shooting at birds at least 80 yards out. If you have never tried calling in birds, it can be tough. If you have never been in a goose or duck blind, then please take this away: You do whatever the caller tells you to do (if she says to balance an empty shotgun shell on your head and dance a jig, do, and ask about it later), and, in every instance, in every case, every time, you wait for the caller to tell you to, "take 'em!" My other human events include a depressing hunt for planted birds, and coming upon some free, public land that had been trashed with washing machines and 12 gauge shells, but yesterday at Yolo Bypass takes the cake.

Upon walking into the office at the hunting entrance to Yolo, I asked about an afternoon hunt. The young attendant, disgracing his DFG uniform, talking while eating nuts and rarely taking his eyes off the basketball game, made a sideways remark to me that they don't allow any more hunters after 3. It was 3:15. His callousness, disrespect and indifference was completely unnerving. Though pretty mad at the apparently arbitrary and capricious rule (because he couldn't tell me why it was when I asked him about it), I'm beyond sanity about the treatment. The young man made no attempt to help out, to at least act apologetic or sympathetic, or to talk about the opportunity for future hunting there. When I asked about the pheasant hunting this year, his response (again, while wearing the DFG uniform): "It sucked A$$." As I started to talk about my one experience last year, he cut me off - "no, no, no. Last year it just sucked," (toss in mouthful of almonds, stare up at the TV), "this year it sucked A$$."

What a horrible experience.

One bright spot: One other man was getting crappy treatment, too. Justin, with Drake the giant german wirehaired pointer, was writing his name down for tomorrow's chances to get in, said we could try a spot just outside of town, and that I could follow him to it. I did, and had a nice walk with a new hunting bud. My ten-year old mutt, his 4-year old GWP, and us men had a good ending to a horrible afternoon. No birds, but a great view and a new place to walk.

As a community, to continue and pass on our traditions, we need more of the latter experiences and fewer of the former. The value of exposing new and returning hunters to a good human experience is not incalculable; it shows up in license and stamp sales, in excise taxes collected and revenue on fairly expensive gadgets and gear. It also shows up in numbers of people understanding, appreciating, and fighting to protect and promote habitat, wild lands and fair access. We as hunters need to insist upon getting respectful treatment, in trying our best to inculcate new hunters about the traditions and respect for those who have been there before, and to work for better hunting lands and better management and treatment of those lands.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On salmon

A striking image, and as my first attempt for a photograph for my blog, probably not the most uplifting one... but, wait. What you see here is a salmon on the Feather River in 2002, during one of the largest runs in the Sacramento river system's history. This powerful being was probably three years old, had been born in the Feather River, floated and dodged all the way out to the Pacific Ocean, to return and bring the nutrients it had gathered from the deep up to our land.

As a flyfisherman for kings and as a paddler, I've done a lot of contemplating about salmon. Biologists tell us that no tree in B.C. is free of their mark, as the bears and wolves and eagles and ravens and so many other creatures that consume enormous amounts then spread the wealth through the forests. The amount of sustenance that come as a tidal wave of beautiful bodies is near-to-unfathomable, and I've sat at the gravel bars on the Lower American and among the second-growth redwoods of Santa Cruz and wondered what our state must have looked like when we had the salmon and the bears. In a previous post, I've pondered the effects of wild pigs on our land, comparing them to bears that we've extirpated, but I know that they don't pull up the gifts of the ocean and carry them throughout the land, like Ursus horribilis did (for the bio. folks, I know that's the old name, I just prefer it).

About two weeks ago, then, I was attracted to a lecture by a geologist at the California State University, Sacramento. Professor Tim Horner has worked on salmon habitat research and restoration efforts on the American River for at least five years, and the insights he brings to the current salmon runs is fascinating and important for us all.

His general conclusion as to California's current salmon crisis is that food sources in the Pacific Ocean are either disappearing or fluctuating dramatically. As he pointed out, about 1% of the world's ocean habitat supports about half of all fish species, and most of this occurs in places where upwellings occur, like our own Monterey Bay. When he mentioned this, I immediately remembered that, as a Park Interpreter outside Santa Cruz, I experienced two summers without upwelling events, and the subsequent starving birds and shifts in the migratory patterns of different animal species. These occurred two years and three years ago, when the kings now returning to spawn should have been voraciously feeding.

However, Dr. Horner did talk extensively about current fish habitat and habits, and methods of restoration to help returning kings effectively spawn. He spoke of the increases in water exports (to Central and Southern California) from the Delta,and the shifts in tidal flow that they cause. And he spoke of the effects of dams and water management on the fishery. He had good, solid insights and data, and overall I was impressed with his presentation.

Two Sundays past, I stopped by the DFG hatchery at the base of Nimbus Dam on the American River, outside of Sacramento. The lady at the information desk told me that they had pulled just over 500 hen salmon and taken about 4 million eggs. For a comparison, they would have seen, I believe, about 30,000 hens by that time, about five years ago.

The next couple of years will be vital to returning salmon runs to our rivers. Initial numbers show that we expect an uptick in returning fish next year, but getting them out to sea in as large and genetically diverse numbers will be crucial to the long-term survival of the runs. For those of you who have stood hip-deep in waters, watching these giant forms swirl and lunge protecting their redds, smelling the rotting fish in the water, and watching the buzzards and crows feasting, you understand the power, emotion and reflection that these beings can arouse in us: noble sentiments and impulses, a greater understanding of the nature of sacrifice, a sincere awe. And if you haven't had this blessing, then head up to the hatchery at Nimbus Dam, or in Oroville on the Feather River. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

In honor of Patrick F. McManus

No, he didn't die. However, after 28 years at Outdoor Life magazine, he is being let go for budgetary reasons. The man is 75, and has recently published another book (he has many), so it's not the most horrible thing, but it is the end of an era. No longer will young boys be flipping through OL on a whim while Mom is shopping for groceries, and discover this man writing in the back of the magazine. Now, McManus is officially something we fans need to pass on as tradition, and I'd be hard-pressed to find a worthier one.

If it is possible to be one without ever meeting your pupil, McManus is a mentor of mine. Beyond my family's tolerance for my early love of hunting, McManus taught me about the outdoors, taught me to appreciate the outdoors as a thinking man.

So, in honor of Patrick McManus' storied career of stories, and (to make this an ethics and environment post) to follow the advice of Norman Maclean that, "agony and hilarity are both necessary for salvation", I officially make my first reader request: Take a moment to write something, or dredge up an older writing, that is just fun or funny. I got this inspiration after reading NorCal Cazadora's recent blog.

I'll get back to my serious, snooze-inducing commentary on the problems of our times soon, but first, here is my attempt at preparing some novice hunters for their first trip after wild chukar in Northeast California:


Lady & Gentlemen,

It is with great satisfaction & anticipation that I send forth this First Letter of the 1st Annual Upland Game Bird Safari. You have each been chosen to embark upon this journey due to your adventurous spirits, your genteel, civilized natures, your zeal for the hunt, and your skills with smoothbore and knife. The tangential fact that one of you happens to be married to me and the other two are now relatives has in no way influenced this invitation.

The following letter hopes to accomplish two tasks:
1) To inform you of the nature of Our Prey and Environs;
2) To provide a list of suggested gear and requirements of the local and state constabulary.

Our Prey:

Our Prey is as wily and powerful (pound-for-pound) as any you will ever encounter. The 'Ghost of the Rimrock' has outwitted, outrun, and outmanuevered many a breathless and frustrated hunter and dog. And we have no dog. We have Irma, a dog-shaped person who may or may not walk behind you while making noises.

Chukar utilize a variety of techniques to avoid capture. As a covey, they begin by 'chucking', a sound not unlike a soprano chicken, but much shorter in duration. The purpose of the 'chuck' is twofold: To increase the adrenaline level of potential predators, that they may use up this valuable asset before the pursuit; and to increase predators' anticipation and frustration, as the birds remain well-hid on the absolutely barren hillsides. It is deadly effective. Next, as the hunters approach, the birds run up very, very Large Hills, into the exposed rocks at the top (the
'Rimrock'). Once there, the covey feels safe, as only a Great Fool would dare scale such a precipice in pursuit of such tiny portions.

As one approaches the top of the Hill, it is advisable to listen carefully to one's own heartbeat, to identify any abnormal palpitations. This should not be difficult to do. In fact, it may be rather difficult to carry on normal conversations at this point, due to the incessant racket your heart insists on putting up in your eardrums. You will also find here a disconcerting lack of oxygen, due not only to the elevation of the Hill, but also the selfish nature of your compatriots, who will attempt to suck the atmosphere with impunity.

It is true that one may track chukar. Novices invariably express doubt as to this claim, contemplating the prey's tiny feet, but the degree of incline of the typical hill in chukar country decreases the proximity between the earth and one's eyes to a sufficient degree (see 'moleskin' in the equipment list).

Now, it is well believed that the birds always run to the top of the Hill. This is not the case. Typically, the birds will sit tight at the exact spot where one loses oneself in a dream of owning the passing jetliner, or in the curiosity borne of the leak in the oil pan caused by the boulder on the
drive in, or where one sets one’s gun down to wipe one’s brow (at this point in the climb, two hands are necessary to wipe one's brow). Thankfully, usually just a few carry out this heartless, brutal act ('a few' ranging from three birds to seventy).

Upon reaching the Top of the Hill, birds will issue forth from the Rimrock and associated brush at the rate of one every time you look away or stop paying attention, one every time you set your sights on the other one, and one when you stop to relieve yourself.

Chukar take to the air not unlike a jet-pack laden pheasant, achieving speeds only slightly past sound. They also jump with a noise similar to a small surface-to-surface missile. Upon regaining one's composure and picking up one’s shotgun, it is customary to shoot in the direction of the now-imagined bird, a gentleman's note to fellow hunters that you haven't hit anything.

Items of Interest:

Below you will find a list of suggested items for the trip and the hunt. If I have forgotten anything here you think I should bring, please inform me and I shall consider it.

Long-sleeved clothes (it very well may drop below freezing)
Short-sleeved clothes & sunscreen (it very well may reach 100 F)
Moleskin (while climbing hills, some hunters find this helps prevent scratched noses)
Shotgun (please do not forget this, it looks bad)
Heavy Game load or High Base sizes 9, 8, 71/2, 6, 5, 4, 3, & BB in the gauge of your gun
Upland Hunting Vest or lanyard for holding birds (hope springs eternal! Also, you may hold your sandwich and water bottles)
Seven (7) water bottles
Hunting license & Upland Game Bird Stamp (see note for shotgun above)
Approximately 25k Calories of foods high in fat and carbohydrates
Whiskey (antiseptic. Please bring at least 2 pints - there are many sharp rocks)
Knife (in case you slip on the hillside, it may be used as an anchor)
Binoculars (you will really want these, the place is gorgeous, and Big Country, and watching fellow hunters on opposing hillsides has its merits)
Camera (some fellow hunters may find themselves in compromising situations)
Chukar call (For fooling and annoying fellow hunters)

It will be a pleasure to hunt together.



Saturday, December 6, 2008

The heating climate around the, uh, heating climate

Back at this blog's first post, and in a few others, I've pointed out schisms in the conservation-environmental community. Now, the purpose of highlighting all the breaks in ideas, directions, and actions within our community is not to destroy us, nor is it to sell (you'll notice at this website that I'm not selling anything); the purpose is to illuminate the ethical reasons behind our positions and decisions, and to therefore make us stronger. If we can see where we disagree, we can, hopefully, weed out the bad ideas while increasing tolerances for each others' divergent views. At the same time, we can hopefully strengthen our defense of the wild. The ultimate goal here, then, is greater protection, and I follow a mantra when it comes to that goal, one I learned as a park interpreter: Through education, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.

With that in mind, let's turn to a a major conflict within the community, over how to curb carbon emissions. Last week in, of all places, Washington D.C., this conflict came to a head when a number of environmental justice groups took over the D.C. office of Environmental Defense (article here). Right now, there are two competing views on how to begin curbing carbon emissions, a "carbon tax", or cap, and the creation of a carbon market with caps, or "cap & trade."

This disagreement is primarily between the traditional environmental groups and the environmental justice groups. The former has, for the most part, come down in favor of a market, and the latter in favor of a cap with no market. Personally, I'm on the fence, and so I feel I can adequately provide the arguments for and against both concepts.

First, a quick description of cap & trade: Most simply put, it is the creation of a market for the sale of carbon and other greenhouse gasses (GHG's). Really, though, let's start with the goal, to cut GHG emissions from as many major sources as we can. Right now, people emit GHG's into the atmosphere willy-nilly, as a byproduct of combustion, and nobody wants to own these emissions. As you probably remember from your high school econ. class, all markets require scarcity, demand, and supply. Government creates the demand & scarcity by capping the total amount of GHG's allowed per year below current emissions, and then allowing the GHG's below the capped amount to be traded among emitters (hence the term 'allowances'). Over time, it is expected that government will continue lowering the amount of GHG's being traded, either by lowering the cap, or by buying up allowances in the market, effectively removing them from play. Being a market, it quickly gets more complicated from there, but that is the basic model.

Proponents of cap & trade argue that effective markets have been created to deal with other pollutants, notably SO2 (an acid rain component). They argue that the funds created through an initial sale of allowances (to kick-start the market) can be used by the government to mitigate climate change effects on areas that are hardest hit by climate change and/or the market (say, poor communities, habitat, the state of Florida). They also argue that, since CO2 is not a pollutant that hurts people locally, but is instead a global problem, then it doesn't matter where it gets capped, and so there will be no direct local pollution problem to worry about. Last, they argue that by allowing the market to function on a larger scale, then economies of scale, innovations, and money will drive down GHG emissions, while encouraging corporate buy-in, rather than causing foot-dragging and litigation to slow down emissions cuts.

Opponents argue that contrived markets are easy to game, that the market won't work quickly enough to actually curb GHG's, that compromises with industries for a market will probably exclude the initial sale of allowances, and that the market will affect poor communities the most in a number of ways. This last is the biggest concern of EJ groups, because companies with the worst pollution records operate in their communities, and the co-benefits of having to curb GHG emissions will almost certainly also cut other, more dangerous local emissions. For example, if you cut your CO2 emissions, you also usually cut your ozone emissions, and ozone is a cause of asthma attacks. 1 in 5 children in San Joaquin Valley have asthma, so you can see that communities in SJ Valley have a high stake in seeing these emissions cuts be local.

Instead, opponents argue for an across-the-board cap on carbon emissions through a GHG tax. Each emitter will have to account for their emissions, and if they run over their cap, then they must pay a cost-prohibitive tax for additional carbon. This would require all sources to account for and cut emissions.

Of course, major corporations would prefer nothing, but that is long gone, so they are pushing hard for a cap & trade market with free allowances to start, and to include many offsets, which are carbon trapping mechanisms, like forests, in their GHG totals. So, for example, a company may purchase some allowances, purchase some offssets, and cut whatever is left.

The legal grenade thrown into this? Last year, courts ordered the EPA to regulate carbon as a pollutant.

The incoming Obama Administration has a lot to work on.