I didn't think you did. And neither did I. There were the el Salvadoreans who were illegally seine netting spawning bass off of their beds at a catch and release lake (signs are also in Spanish). When I saw "some" el Salvadoreans there, they were just pointing out the nests, not netting them. But I saw all the rotting pond weeds up on the bank from the last netting that someone had done, a few days prior. I didn't call the warden. After all, I didn't "know" it was these two guys who were netting. In the end, I don't know if the wardens found out about any of the poaching that was going on there.
This winter, my brother and his hunting buddy ran into a guy who had killed two pied billed grebes (not a legal game bird) - the hunter thought he had killed two "juvenile black ducks". My brother and his crew just wanted this guy to go away and not come back, and so they let it go. They figured the birds were already dead, and the game warden was stationed nearly an hour away, and there was no chance this guy was going to hang around that long on the boat ramp. So the warden still doesn't know that anybody was down there killing grebes - regardless of whether a ticket could be issued to one person on one given day. What if the guy did come back and he killed more grebes?
In both cases, luckily, anti-angling and anti-hunting groups didn't know these things happened. But recently, that wasn't the case. Waterfowl hunter and photographer Charlie Long had been visiting Delaware's Prime Hook NWR to photograph the spring flocks of snow geese. There is no kill limit on snow geese. USFWS wants us to kill them all. Or most of them. And we're not doing a good job. That being said, USFWS and the state natural resource agencies still expect us to abide by basic protocols to kill snow geese. You need some type of license, and probably a bunch of stamps. You need non-toxic shot. And you need to be in a legal place to hunt. Prime Hook NWR is not one of those places this year, unfortunately. And one afternoon, Charlie heard a BOOM.
|Standing there, watching an animal die.|
Charlie and at least one of the birdwatchers got on the horn to the federal warden, who showed up, arrested this idiot, confiscated the gun, and impounded his vehicle. The man was pretty indignant that he was not breaking any laws, but alas, he's been charged with a dozen or two federal crimes. What if a birdwatcher had been in a blind in that field? Someone could have been killed!
When stories of this encounter hit the internet (Wildfowl has since published a story about it), the reaction was very interesting. Local condemnation from other hunters was nearly unanimous. However, hunters from areas (Mississippi, Arkansas) with fewer anti-hunters had a slightly different take, making statements (to local hunters) like, "you tree huggers are havin' a PETA convention at this ole boy's expense!"; "He shot a couple of sky carp, who cares?"; "You guys wet your panties over this guy killing two snow geese?"
Luckily, the local e-response was quick, "It's not about when the refuge is open to hunting. It's always closed to parking your truck on a road and just blasting away!"; and "I wonder if he has some sort of mental health issue...or is from Arkansas."; and the classic, "I didn't realize that poaching had so many fans!" Ah, waterfowlers. Such jokesters!
The bottom line is this. Poaching wildlife, whether an endangered butterfly or a bucket full of undersize crabs, lobsters, or bass, is bad for hunters and anglers. As our numbers continue to fall annually, we simply can't afford to fight P.R. battles that result from such ridiculous behavior. There aren't enough of us, acting well enough in public, spreading enough good messages, to fight poaching after it happens each time. So, other than the perceptions of non-hunters and non-anglers (i.e. at least 2/3 of the public), why does it truly matter?
Poaching is a violation of the public trust. Many of you may bend too far to the right to believe in "the public trust," but I assure you, it exists. It exists when a non-hunter gives you permission to hunt their land. When a non-hunter accepts your offer of venison, duck, or goose meat. They want to believe that you - we - act in a way that is safe, responsible, and ethical. To lose this trust creates a situation we all fear - one in which hunters are assumed to be outlaws and poachers. Such was the case (in our part of the country) through much of the 1990s, and I don't want to go back.
Poaching makes hunters look insincere about wildlife conservation because they make hunters look like thieves. If you ask an average American (the 90% who do not hunt) "why do people carry guns around?," the first answer will always be, "To commit crimes." Many will then add, "Well, I guess, hunters too." When poaching is added into the lexicon of the non-hunter, that distinction may very well become blurred. Trust me on that. Because of that, I ask you this: the next time you see a poacher, think very carefully about what you will do, and what you should do.
If we continue to act as the eyes and ears of wildlife law enforcement agencies, as hunter/photographer Charlie Long did in Delaware, there's a great chance that the American public will continue to trust us to be heavily involved in wildlife policy decisions at the state and federal level. If we, as a community, fail to keep acting as a strong trustee of wildlife resources, you can bet that anti-hunters will try to take our seat at the table. And the general public might just let them.
|Poacher recently busted in Oregon|