Friday, March 16, 2012

Why Poachers Still Matter

It's 2012.  We're now almost 15 years removed from the Mid-90s, when public opposition to hunting, trapping, and fishing each reached historic levels.  The face of hunting has changed, partly because of generational shifts, and partly out of necessity.   Hunters face stricter group norms and regulations about handling game, hunting hours and tactics, humane kills, and waste of animals.  Anti-hunters/anglers also face strict and enforceable regulations that protect hunters and anglers from most conflicts in the field, when a legal hunt or fishing outing is underway.  Things are not so bad.  Of course, that's led to a new problem.  I'll jump right into it - the last time you saw someone who was "likely" poaching fish or game, did you call a game warden?

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.
According to Charlie, this man had parked next to a Refuge road, walked inbetween a group of photographers, and lit into a flock of snow geese with a Browning A-5 loaded with lead shot.   The man, with a dozen witnesses, stood over a dying goose, not wanting to touch it until it was dead, and he watched several very crippled geese stagger into the hedgerow - no chance to recover them.

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


biobabbler said...

100% agreed.

Poaching means you are breaking the law, either re: where, when or how you're taking an animal, or which one. The reason wildlife is "managed" is for the PUBLIC good 'cause they're recognized as VALUABLE (irrespective of a particular person's view). A valuable resource for the public. NOT just the 1 guy.

It's not all about the poacher. He does not live in isolation, and his actions can affect populations of wildlife that in addition to their own existence (and the ecosystem they are part of), if they thrive, they can benefit huge #s of people directly and indirectly.

GLAD you posted this. Been writing a fisheries BA lately (mostly re: listed anadromous fish) so this is uppermost in my mind. Reading about the INSANE number of salmon historically in SO many streams and rivers all over central and western California of yore makes me wistful, imagining how rich it all was.

BEFORE we dammed their passages, mined the heck out of the hills, sprayed toxic chemicals on fields which ran into streams, etc.

And HOW many people can benefit from a thriving, rich population of wildlife! And if its managed well, it could be sustainable = security for people for the future. That's a big deal.

And poachers can mess this all up.


=) THANKS for posting.

Mark Coleman said...

When most people hear the term 'poaching' they think of trespassing and taking game out of season. I'm sure nearly every one of us has been on a hunt where someone shot more than the legal limit, and technically this is poaching too.

I'd quickly make the call on a guy trespassing and shooting a deer out of season. I'd speak up if I was hunting with someone who shot 2x or 3x a limit. But do you call the warden on your buddy who knowingly shoots 18 dove when the limit is 15, or 4 pheasant on a limit of 3? Wrong is wrong, but where do you draw the line?

Mark Coleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Coleman said...

Sorry, ended up with a double post there.

Devin Angleberger said...

Great post, there have been only about 2 instances where I can recall others poaching and/or fishing illegally.
1.) At Fountain Rock Trout Pond in MD, it is a 2-day limit, these two people would catch 4, put 'em in their bag, go back to the car, come back 2 minutes later. It was just me and my Pops and them there. I did not say anything to 'em. I didn't know the Catch-A-Poacher Hotline then (1.800.635.6124), but that is no excuse. I was younger but now I have the Poacher Hotline as a contact in my phone, prepared now.

2.) The second instance was at Carroll Creek, Frederick MD, where it is open to 16 and under and the Blind only. Came upon a man in mid 20's who said to me he was "legally blind," even though I do not what that means. Anyway he fishing by himself and then caught his five and left. I saw him walk down the creek and he picked up another stringer that was in the water a little farther down the creek. I have no idea what was going on here?!

cofisher said...

My opinion only, but if you don't know what you would do, perhaps you should put away your gun/fishing rods until you figure it out. It's the indecision that's going to ruin it for everyone.

Kirk Mantay said...

Valid point about the indecision Howard - but there are so many borderline "human" situations - I think it's natural to not immediately know how to handle it.

This blog post is my reaction to observing that in myself and others - and frankly I've been surprised to not see any comments from the "1 duck or 1 trout over the limit isn't poaching" crowd.

To be confused in the moment is human. To delay making a decision about whether or not to handle it somehow right there, and just think "maybe I'll call the warden later" (when of course, you won't), is the problem.

Kirk Mantay said...

Devin, funny that you mention handicap access. The "youth and handicapped" trout pond in Patapsco State Pond is usually frequented by old guys who are not handicapped and who sit there all day and catch the stocked trout on live bait.

I have a feeling that if I showed up there with my son, they would give me complete hell. I remember fishing the river bank one day about 8 years ago and they were worried I'd pop over and fish the pond, so they just stood over there and yelled at me, "YOU CAN'T FISH HERE! YOU CAN'T FISH HERE!" Losers.

Kirk Mantay said...

Patapsco State PARK

Kirk Mantay said...

Mark C - and where the rubber really hits the road is this:

Do you call the warden when YOU are one bird over the limit?!

Steve Zakur said...

Excellent post! Keep your local poacher hotline on speed dial on your cell phone.

Michael J. Budd said...

There is always a chance that this guy was really an anti-hunter trying to take one for the team. People protest knowing they're going to get arrested in order to cal attention to their issue. Seriously, you picked on Arkansas.

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