Sunday, May 29, 2016

Creating an Impact in a World of Fauxtrage and Faketivism

I'm one of those people.  I read Supreme Court oral argument records.  I read science journals and business journals.  I read things I don't agree with, and discuss them (sometimes in person - gasp!) with people who don't agree with me (which means sometimes I learn my opinions are incorrect).   I visit my elected officials to tell them what I think.  I donate to charity.  I'm more involved in "how decisions are made" than about 80% of Americans.    But I would never call myself an activist, or a warrior, or even a true patriot.  I am a citizen, doing basic things that citizens are supposed to do.  Things that don't cost any money, save my donations to charity that usually range from $25 - $100 per year, per charity.     In other words, I - one of those people, am really the bare minimum (and less than that, on many days).

About 30 times per day, I come across a "poll" or a "petition" to "boycott XX company until they promise to make their stores safe to families!"    The hilariousness of this line in 2016 is that there's no way to tell whether it's left wing fanatics trying to get a company to "ban guns" (as if criminals will respect a gun ban), or it's right wing fanatics trying to get a company to "ban transgender bathrooms," as if child predators are daft enough to show up in obvious cross-dress attire in order to attack our children in a retail bathroom.    The bad guys are usually pretty adept at not overtly looking and acting like the bad guys- that's what we really know.   Legislating it, or making a company pass a "policy" that may or may not be illegal and may or may not be enforced, is just window dressing on our cultural fear of analyzing and discussing our very real problems with guns,  inequality, education, faith, persecution, public safety, children's safety, and so on and so forth.

That's depressingly good fun in and of itself, but what is more distressing is the endless geyser of feigned outrage expressed on social media and people referring to themselves as "activists" because they are willing to bully other social media users into removing or changing online content.    Let me spell it out here.   You do not have "outrage."  You are not an "activist."   You have risked nothing - not a job, not your reputation, not your lifestyle, and not your freedom.   To risk things would require outrage.   To risk things *might* make you an activist.    Don't send me another petition to "send a message!" because it is generally horse shit, and you know it.

So in case you're feeling really confused right now, here are some real activist things to do: 

1.    Get your ass to Washington DC or at least to your Congress Critter's district office in your home town.  Sit down and tell them what you think, and what your community needs.   See what happens next.    Feed that part of your humanity. 

2.  What is the current legal issue of greatest importance to you?  School funding? Gun rights?  Inequality and inclusiveness?   Avail yourself of "the internet," you know, the home of most of the world's recorded knowledge, and find out what federal, state, and local court cases are driving the current policy.  Are any cases pending in the courts?  Follow them for occasional updates.    Know what these cases are about.  Share what you learn (not just reposting what someone else reposted, who reposted it from a lobbyist).   We are a society of laws, after all.

3.   Volunteer your money or your time to something local that makes a small difference.    Unless you are at home with two toddlers all day, every day, with no support from partner or family, you have a little bit of spare time.   If the kids are at least 4 years old, bring them along.  I don't care that you might be working to support an issue that I totally disagree with.  Go do it.  It's good for the soul.    Doesn't matter if it's just planting one tree or folding 3 church bulletins before you have to go back to work.  

Here's the bottom line: if you are engaged, we can talk about important things and have an educated discussion.  We will see the look on each others' face and we will likely have some empathy for those with whom we disagree.  Sometimes, my position will be revealed to be wrong, or at least to be "less right" than yours.    The opposite will also happen.    Doing that makes us part of humanity.  And it makes us educated.    Don't be like so many who are trapped by thinking that "Hit 'Like' if you love the children, Hit 'Share' if you care about the children!" is some kind of action that makes a difference in others' lives.   "Likes" and "Shares" don't make us activists.  They merely make us scared of each other's shadows.

Monday, May 16, 2016

What's Up in the Rainy Mid-Atlantic Outdoors?

So apparently changing all of one's computers, cell phones, and office address in a 90 day period is not helpful for the production of digital content.   Check.

It has been an interesting spring for Mid-Atlantic Outdoorsmen and women.   

  • The oft-maligned EPA Clean Water Rule has survived several Congressional attacks and awaits a federal lawsuit in the 6th Court.
  • USACE v. Hawkes, a Clean Water Act case focused on whether citizens have the right to administratively appeal federal agency actions, is before the US Supreme Court, with a decision (anticipated to be against USACE/EPA) due in June.
  • Kolbe v. Hogan (Maryland Assault Weapons Ban) is before the 4th federal circuit *again*, this time en banc.  Decision anticipated in late 2016.  
  • Virginia failed to repeal or restrict hound hunting, while states to their south took direction actions to do just that. 
  • December 2015 and March 2016 were record hot weather months, while May 2016 is a record cold weather month already. 
  • 2015 was a banner year for aquatic grasses in the Chesapeake Bay.  

April was cold and rainy and afforded few times to go fish.  However, we did fly south and get offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, a report I look forward to sharing with you. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Does Virginia HB1329 Mean for Virginia Houndsmen?

Last week, Virginia House Bill 1329,  expressly penalizing those hunters who intentionally release hounds on "prohibited lands" - land where they have no permission to hunt - sailed through the esteemed Virginia House of Delegates with a 99-0 vote.   A companion Senate Bill will be proffered in the next week or so, and is expected to sail on to similar success in a rather atypical wave of uncontroversy.

Virginia property rights advocates, long tired over the 30 year history of unenforced hound trespass on rural lands, have bemoaned HB 1329 because it includes the word "intentionally."   Citizens testified to have the word stricken, to no avail.  And that word is important when creating a punitive statute, because it conveys intent.  In our legal system, intent is important.   At first glance, the wording seems to favor sloppy houndsmen who operate "right outside the law" by releasing hounds on a small parcel with the unstated intent to have those hounds hunt other "prohibited" properties nearby.   I'd wager that a large percentage of the rapidly growing number of annual complaints about deer hounds surrounds this type of hunter.   And if my hunting, my food plots, my peace and quiet, or my livestock were impacted by hounds in that scenario, I'd be mad too.

But I think these angry landowners, many of them becoming engaged in the legislative process for the first time in their lives (look out, hound lobbyists!),  are missing the point in their depression and frustration over HB 1329's wording around criminal intent.   These folks, new to politicking, think that "long term" means a 2017 or 2018 revision to this soon-to-be-law, ostensibly to muddle the "intent" phrasing.   And that's fairly likely to happen.

I propose a deeper and more long term view, though.    Virginia's hound lobbyists have promised for decades that their heritage and their way of hunting could not be undone.  That their hunting practices, not unlike Yankee fox hunts in DuPont country of eastern Pennsylvania, will simply never need to comply with "the laws of man" regarding private property rights.    The leaders of Virginia's hound hunting community don't want to compromise and don't believe they need to compromise.  For decades, they experienced great success in legislatively obtuse behavior toward this end.    But that changed in the last five years.

In 2013, Virginia became the 45th state to enjoy limited Sunday hunting for deer, waterfowl, and small game, over the intensive lobbying of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, the houndsmens' premier lobbyist organization.  It should be noted that VAHDA's lobbying was noted openly - and with great approval - by animal rights organizations.  The houndsmen didn't care - they couldn't lose.  But they did.

In 2014,  those same animal rights organizations brought national funding to Virginia to ban fox pens, which were a keystone in Virginia houndsmens' culture.   The houndsmen again brought great resources to bear, ultimately to see a state-wide permanent ban on new fox pens enacted, and a 2054 deadline to close all existing fox pen operations, statewide.   Hound lobbyists tried in vain to call this compromise a "success" for hunters.   But in reality, the houndsmen lost big in Richmond, for the second year in a row.

Which brings us to 2016, and HB 1329.  Houndsmen have laughed off this law while lightly opposing it, because many of them are law-abiding hunters, and a good percentage of others are savvy enough to work around the "intent" wording of the law, so "who cares?" As I mentioned above, the indignation hasn't escaped the ire of landowners, which is (legally) meaningless for the moment.   But come July 1, it will be the law, and for the third year in four, laws specifically targeting hound hunting's special privileges (fox pens, lack of still hunters in the woods on Sunday, lack of penalties for obvious, intentional hound trespassers) will be passed into law.

Prior to 2015, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries did not track citizen complaints specific to "deer hounds," so deer hounds represented less than 1.5% of game warden responses in 2014.  At the request of landowner advocates, that has now changed, so deer hounds represented almost 5% of game warden responses in 2015.    Depending on whose lobbyist you're listening to, it either means that "it's just a small problem," or "the problem increased 300% in one year."

As landowner rights lobbying and continued media attention (on all sides) continues to shine light on the conflict of hunting dog heritage in a quickly suburbanizing countryside, more laws will come.  None will favor houndsmen.   And I suppose this is the take-home lesson for HB 1329.  It's a small law with limited consequence, on the heels of two big laws with enormous hound hunting consequences in 2013 and 2014.  

I'm not sure I embrace the theology of the Church of the Holy Virginia Landowner, but I'd recommend that local hound hunting leaders be ready to come to the Church's pot luck dinner and be ready to talk about compromise in a pretty big hurry.  Because the Church's next fundraiser will be a doozy, and it'll be at deer hounds' great expense.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bigger and Better: My Changes for the 2016-2017 Archery Season

2015 was truly the year that I fell in love with archery.  All it took was the right bow and some patience.  I say those two things like they were simple, but they were not.   While I saw fewer total deer in the woods in 2015-2016 than I did the previous hunting season, I generally saw more quality deer this year.   While the harvest didn't meet my expectations, my enjoyment and overall better odds in the woods were a result of:

  • hunting solely in the tree stand, never on the ground
  • stand is located right next to a topographic draw that's a "deer highway"
  • being calm and confident with my gear, from my harness to my arrows
  • having the confidence (and intel) that yes, the deer are around....somewhere
Some reasons I was not as successful as I wanted:

  • Very tough weather (hot October, hot November, no distinct rut season, cold January)
  • Lack of a distinct rut season - many hunters were out all week, with no harvest
  • Bumper crop acorn season - deer did not have to travel to find food in early winter
  • Someone (poacher) using my stand - I found an arrow (not mine) in a nearby stump
  • Someone (doesn't have current permission, but not evicted by landowner) has a stand roughly 100 yards away, on the peak of the hill, and he baits (which is legal here)
  • Almost all deer came from behind me, causing me (later in the season) to constantly be wiggling around in the tree stand
  • tree stand is extremely exposed after leaf fall (oops)
  • had to walk through woods/leaves to get to tree stand
  • wind wasn't always favorable
  • made a few laundry mistakes with detergent, brighteners, etc. 
So where to go in 2016-2017?

  • Spring:  Move tree stand to a location where poachers less likely to see/use
  • Spring:  Get bows fully tuned (one at 52lb, one at 65lb)
  • Summer:  Build a stand or blind on the south valley cliff - easy walk in; favorable wind setup
  • Install any tree stands with coverage of a holly or evergreen on at least one side
  • Summer/Fall:  More active use of a trail cam - I had stopped in September.   When deer disappeared in late October, I felt completely blind to their activity. 
  • Summer:   Practice long range (40-50 yard) archery the way I practiced short range archery in Summer 2015
  • Make a decision early (August) on whether to bait at all
  • If baiting, do so seriously, with a feeder.  Infrequent baiting hasn't seemed to be an aid.
  • Do not bait in areas frequented by poachers