Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Headed South...Really South

My first week-long vacation of 2014 begins in early 2015.  I'll take it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Next Level Norway Rat Control Part II: Know Your Enemy and His Biology

This is the second part of a three part series.

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 3 - Ultimate Bloodshed!

Norway rats are very smart, very social animals that are successful because of two important principles:  1) they use their highly evolved senses to minimize their risk of being killed, and 2) they have learned how to take advantage of human beings and the places we ignore.  Let's get something out of the way really quick: you will not be "eradicating" Norway Rats from an outdoor location.   Soon after you stop harassing them, they will return.

Another bit of housekeeping:  one of the worst things you can do with your rat problem is to leave open blocks or pellets of poison out in the open for them.   First, the rats will most likely take it and stockpile it.  They may never eat it.  Second, you risk killing other animals that might eat the poison.  Third, and this is true for all poison methods, secondary toxicity to rat predators (when animals eat a poisoned rat) is a real thing.   One of my favorite previously available rat poisons was Ramik Green.  Then one day at the farm supply store, the clerk said, "buy however much you want - the EPA says it kills hawks that eat the rats, so they're banning it starting next month."   I had no idea!

As I mentioned, rats function across time and space in a risk-sensitive manner.   They prefer not to be in the open, slinking along fence lines, under downed logs, and under decks and sidewalks.  Anything to stay away from predators.    Mature, dominant rats rely on sign (rat poop) and the existing trails of juvenile rats to get from place to place.  The trails lead to food sources and back to hiding places.   This behavior pattern has to be disrupted if any trapping, poisoning, or shooting results are expected. How to disrupt their patterns - realistically?

1)  Remove as much of their favorite food supply as often as you possible can.
2) Clean up secondary food sources, like dog poop or trash bags in your own yard.
3) Investigate your hard surfaces.  You'll eventually start seeing all the shit piles left behind by rats, each rat thinking, "If I crap here, everyone will know it's safe AND IT'S MINE."
4) Exclude rats from their favorite hideouts - highly recommend 1/4" galvanized fencing under existing sub-grade holes.  In theory, chicken wire has small enough holes to exclude mature rats.  However, they will bend the metal until it breaks under stress.  Sigh.

This set of actions will confound Norway Rats.  They'll briefly become more wary or "spooky," but ever the adapters, they will settle into new routes and routines after several days.  Only in rare circumstances does the removal of a convenient outdoor food source predict that the rats will abandon their colony.  In almost 20 years of chasing rats, I've never seen it happen, though animal rights "non-lethal control" websites "guarantee" the method.  In reality, once safe burrows have been dug, the rats will simply go farther, less often, for food.   However, it might decrease the colony's size from increasing at its normal (exponential) rate.   And this is where the concept of rat "control" - not total rat elimination - comes in.

Thresholds for rat populations around humans do exist.   Indoors, that threshold is roughly "zero."  "Zero" rats are acceptable within our homes.  This is for cultural, sanitary, and economic reasons.  Something "greater than zero" is the acceptable in our gardens.  Again - food source control may not get you there, especially when your garden is a food source.   Part III of this series will deal in more detail with the concepts of thresholds for rat damage and density.

To summarize basic rat biology for your control plans:

1) Rats are sensitive to changes in their environment.  Including trap placement.
2) Rats use a system of smoothed trails, hideouts, and hidden areas to move between their permanent burrow and their most dependable food source.
3) Rats will hoard, not eat, any loose bait left out for them in their feeding areas.  It smells tasty, but it doesn't smell "quite right," and they know that.
4) Rat exclusion (electric fence, 1/4" galvanized mesh, cement fill, others) is an effective deterrent and management tool for rats' travel patterns.  However, exclusion, in itself, is unlikely to have an impact on local rat densities.
5) Rat management that does not start with open food source control is guaranteed to fail.  Secure the trash and compost.  Pick up the dog and cat poop.  Or stop complaining about rats.

Thanks for tuning in - Part III to drop shortly!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Plans for New Places - Nebraska Hunt 2015

I am exhausted.  My wife's exhausted.  We've been that way since before we found out she was pregnant with our son, which was around January 10, 2009 (I was on a hunting/work related trip in Virginia Beach, sitting at my brother's computer, when I read the news via email).   We used to travel to cool places all over the western hemisphere.  Now we travel to reasonable places with affordable lodging and "kid friendly" restaurant.  And I wouldn't trade it....most days.  

I've had standing invites from two friends to come hunt in Nebraska for six years - since just before we found out that The Mayor of Tiny Town was really going to appear.   Finally, in Fall 2015, I have committed to making it happen.   When I told my wife and promised her that the cost wouldn't be exorbitant, of course a few days later one of my two Nebraska buddies announced that he'd taken a promotion in North Dakota.   And one day, I'll get there too.

The simplest thought was just to go on the Nebraska trip - no other guests, no encumbrances.  Instead, I thought about it quite a bit and floated the idea to my two brothers.  Between our busy work and family lives, we only hunt with each other a few times per year.  Both were eventually convinced to join me on the trip and so we're going.  We're really going.

Our first hunting trip out west is actually going to happen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 Bow Hunt #5 - I Take Naps

As the afternoon snow was still falling, I finally broke free from the office, threw on my blaze orange overalls (it was deer firearm season), and hit the woods.  The wind was blowing like hell and the air right at 32 degrees, so there was no way I was climbing up in the stand.  I was set up quickly, and quickly noticed that the wildlife were subdued by the cold and the snow.  I glassed the valley for deer on the move and found none.  Eventually, my eyes grew heavy and I knocked off for a few minutes, arrow already nocked.

I awoke to the noise of an animal nosing through
the leaves for acorns.  Thinking it was a squirrel, I yanked my head up and startled the spike buck that was standing six yards in front of me, barely uphill.  He saw my head, and let out a weak alarm cry, jumping off into the distance as my head and eyes cleared.

And that was it.  You know, honestly, the nap was well earned, and I'm still not overly eager to punch a buck tag for a spike buck.   At least those are the kinds of things I tell myself.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Makes a Successful Hunting or Fishing Blog? Defining Success

Over at the Yak Angler, blogger Chris Payne recently posted an article called, "How to Write a Successful Fishing Blog."   It's full of really good advice under categories like, "Cross Promote," "Have Thick Skin," and "Write on a Schedule."  All of which are solid pointers for success.

But what is success?  I remember chatting with Mike Agneta (Troutrageous) and Owl Jones (currently of Owl Jones Art) around 2010-2011, sharing with them that a goal for my blog (the one you're reading) was for it to help line up other outdoor writing gigs, preferably paying ones.   I assumed that all bloggers wanted that, and was surprised when Mike said, "Ugh, why?" - he writes his blog to amuse himself - that's the goal.   Owl asked something like, "So let me get this straight, the goal is to write a bunch of stuff so you can a bunch more stuff?" Owl's blog at the time had a monetizing goal directly from content and ads.   He's a hilarious writer and he heard around 2005 that blogging could make you a lot of money.  And he has plenty of stories.

The point is that just the three of us similar aged fishing bloggers had completely different ideas of how to judge our blog's "success."  Let me tell you this - your blog will never be successful if you do not define what success is for you.

Success = achieving goals you define during a time period you define, while absorbing only "allowable" losses that you define.  Without that, tips from blogs like Chris Payne's are pretty useless - they each fall under the heading of "stuff I'll maybe do one day."  That's a misuse of the knowledge he shared - those tips are meant to be part to work toward a well-defined goal.  

 I started this blog in 2007 (almost 800 posts ago) after years of prodding by surfing and fishing buddies that I "should write for magazines!"  But the actual reason I started it was because I have had a blessed life full of amazing days in the mountains, the surf, the Carribean, and the prairies, to name a few, and I simply don't remember the details.  I can't.  It's a blessing.  And so, what were once pen-written "trip reports" became blog posts.  I wish I had started it 10 years earlier.   Between my work outdoors and my tendency to spend all or much of my free time outdoors, it was easy to create content - if I followed Chris Payne's advice and simply sat down and wrote it.

Blogs promote what's classically known as essay writing, and over time, I became a decent essayist. Around 2010, I changed my goals (my definition of success) and decided that through various pro staff deals, I could basically subsidize my outdoor habits.  I was sent all kinds of goodies in the mail, would use them, photograph myself using them, and blog about them.   Some turned out to be huge successes (my two posts on my Cooper AT3 tires have generated over 200,000 hits combined), while others didn't (organic pest control).   This required a lot of blog work, which annoyed my wife mightily, and then 2012 came.

Google got to thinking, as Google is wont to do, and they decided that ad revenue from blog domains wasn't significant, and conversely, search engine optimization for paying Google customers was in fact significant.   Suddenly, my posts and photos found themselves on page 4, page 7, and page 15 of various search results.  Monthly unique visits shrunk from nearly 20,000 to just under 3,000 in one month!   Comment responses stopped, and the number of people "liking" my social media pages dropped to near 0.    My immediate thought was that the gear manufacturers would lose interest in me mighty fast.  I was completely right. Around that time, the number of fishing and hunting blogs had exploded.   Some were run by people who could write better than me.  And back to Chris Payne's rules, the death knell was that some of the new blogs were run by folks who could dedicate a whole lot more time and energy to the craft....and are better writers and photographers.  Damn.

So where does that leave me....or you?  As a result of those changes, I decided to continue to use this blog to record my outdoor days, but also to attempt to use it as a trampoline to some new writing challenges.  I now pitch an article to a magazine about once a month.   Like most things in life, I experience 30 failures in a row over 2 months, and then 30 successes in a 12 hour period.  Even more exciting, I'm getting paid to write some of this stuff.  As a result, my writing keeps improving.  An even bigger accomplishment looms - my first novel, started in October 2013, sits at about 55,000 words (150 pages).  It's about 80% complete.   Will it ever see the light of day?  Who knows.  But with any luck, the writing will conclude in the first few months of 2015, and editing will begin.

A finished novel and a paid author.  For me, for 2015, that would make this blog a success.  I'll miss out on the free kayak from the manufacturer, and possibly the Toyota Truck field junket (once again), but that's all okay.

How will you define success?  How fast will you push yourself there?  

That's the question you need to begin with, before you make that first pro staff pitch or convince yourself that your New Zealand trip will pay for itself after the ad revenue comes in from your live blogging.   It's all possible - you just have to the goal in mind before you start.

Also, thanks to Chris Payne for having the stones to throw his idea out there for others (like me) to criticize.  It's easy to poke at others' ideas - far easier than it is to come up with our own.  I also highly recommend Chris' piece "Pro Staff Casualties," as it relates to this discussion of goals and success.

And as easy as it is to write a blog, 99% of web users still create no unique content aside from social media.  If you're doing it, and you enjoy it, keep doing it.  If you choose to make it up as you go along, you'll probably have a lot of fun - it may just be hard to know if you've "succeeded."

"Most of it was choices we never had to choose, the rest of it was luck but now we're out of that too." 
-Lucero, "What are You Willing to Lose?" 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Next Level Norway Rat Trapping - A Method Based on Biogeography, Behavior, and Nutrition, Part I

I'd like to think I'm reverent of animals.  I go out of my way to save bees, snakes, spiders, and other forgotten little critters that find themselves in the wrong place (often, my house) at the wrong time (ever, in my house).  And as much as I love hunting, killing is the second least fun part of hunting - next to gutting the kill.   There's mortality, staring me in the face in its full brutality.    But when it comes to rats, well, to hell with rats.  They can all die.  Today if possible.  Not slowly, because that would be cruel.  Just immediately.

I live in Baltimore, which is one of the most rat-infested cities on earth (current global rank: #3), and certainly within the United States (ranked between #3 and #9 nationally).  "Why" that's the case is a fascinating tale of human history and behavior intertwined with a rodent species (the Norway Rat in particular), and Robert Sullivan's book "Rats" is as good a place to start as any, though its focus is the Norway Rat's invasion of New York City in particular.  Here in Baltimore, we (citizens) punish rats, but we hardly make a dent.  Rats are trapped, poisoned, fenced out, cemented over, and even shot.

The bottom line with Norway Rats is that if they have a reliable food source and a place to burrow or escape the cold, they will exist.  The rats in a habitat can be fully extinguished, but within months, new rats will colonize the area if burrowing habitat and food are present.   From that viewpoint, especially within an urban context where it is impossible to change the critical mass of human behavior (particularly, not picking up dog poop and putting trash out in advance of trash pickup), it is impossible to extirpate rats.  Instead, for purposes of sanity, sanitation, and perhaps being able to safely let your kids in the yard or grow a garden, the objective has to be rat management or abatement.

Placing a few traps or a few poison (bait) blocks is an exercise in futility.  With both approaches, you are virtually certain of accomplishing a few things.

1)  You will kill a few, maybe even several, sub-adult and juvenile rats
2)  You will educate all the other dominant, reproducing rats to your plan
3)  You risk poisoning pets, kids, and other wildlife due to your random bait placement.

Understand that the Norway Rat is a strongly r-selected species, and an invasive species to boot.   I encourage you to look up both of those terms, but suffice to say, it means that biologically speaking, the Rat holds every advantage in battle against you.   It also means that population control efforts will usually produce non-linear results related to scale of effort, and results that (regardless of scale of effort) inevitably decline in success over time.

In the coming posts, I will explain how some fundamental principles of rat biology, biogeography, behavior, and nutrition interact with the urban landscape and human behavior to create an existence that is heavily tilted in favor of the Norway Rat's survival at your expense.  Within those blog posts, I'll also describe how I've used conventional and unconventional methods to intercept rats' needs and behaviors with abatement measures.   Generally, those methods would fall into three categories:

1) strategic removal of food supply
2) exclusion from habitat
3) lethal controls

However, I am going to assume that readers like you, being serious about rat control, have already wholly or strategically removed the rats' food supply if you're serious about rat abatement.  Yes, that includes dog poop, cat food, bird seed, and leftover veggies in the garden.   If you're not ready to control the rats' food supply, you are not ready for the kind of measures, specifically in the lethal controls area, that I'm going to describe for your use.   And in some cases, the food supply may not be yours to eliminate - you only need one uncooperative neighbor to ensure that you'll be doing rat control work for years to come.  Still - my studies, my test methods, and my plan will help you do that with as minimal an effort and as high success as possible.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Freshwater Hook in Salt

I diligently prepare my gear for a trip across 1140 miles.  Truck, train, truck, airboat.  South Florida - a trip I deserve.  Dozens of pin minnow lures are separated from similar sized jerkbaits, all of them thrown in together over a summer of bass fishing.  Dried grass and dead bugs lurk in the corners of each little cubicle in the gear boxes.  "Ship to store" boxes wait for me at a half-dozen locations, full of soft plastics in just the right colors and just the right glitter for South Florida's waters.   The last major piece of gear - a Penn Battle II 5000 reel for my new surf rod (Tsunami Airwave) waits in the front seat of the truck.

I have worked hard this year, and I have missed a lot.  I've not fished or hunted the way I like to, or as much as I like to go.  I've not taken my son fishing as often as he deserved to go.   I didn't take my wife out as often as she deserved.  I shouldered a 1000% increase in my department's budget at work, and with help from my staff, we succeeded.   The success will eventually pay career dividends.  But the cost was the many things that did not happen because I wasn't there to make them happen.

I heard the news today that a new friend and colleague is dying.  He is roughly my age and has led a much healthier and more successful life than I have.  I know him to be purposeful, which in my mind and heart is one of the most important things a human being can be, after being considerate and contemplative - words that also describe him.   He received a sudden and very late notice of the hand he's been given.   The impact in his social circle is significant, and I'm just on the outside.  I didn't have time to get to know him better.  I just didn't feel like I could make the time.  I could and should be better friends with some of his friends, who are devastated and trying to pick up the personal and professional pieces as they fall.   But since I haven't deployed myself into those relationships, they simply don't exist at a deep level.

I sit in my basement in December and I separate freshwater hooks from saltwater hooks.  One splash of mangrove water on the deck of the kayak will render the freshwater hooks useless.  They have to be in their place.  Everything in its place - some guarantee that proper organization will lead to a positive outcome.  It's been only a few months since my friend Brian killed himself.   I hadn't seen Brian in 15 years, or even bothered to try to contact him.  As my old friends become increasingly separate from our old camaraderie and succumb to lifelong mental illness, new friends of the same age are dying from disease.   I never thought that being 40 years old would be like this.  Absolutely untenable separation. Unpredictable death. Repeat.

 It's commendable to ensure that the freshwater hooks are segregated from the saltwater gear, its galvanized and aluminum treble hooks intact and ready.  But it doesn't matter if the freshwater hook isn't ever wetted on the end of a line.  What has been saved? I tend to make good decisions about fishing and hunting when I have a good understanding of how much time I have on a given day.  I wonder if I would make more purposeful decisions about my personal life if I know how much time I'm truly being given - maybe it would matter less what I feel like I deserve.

Tomorrow, I won't be the double-bagged freshwater hook, protected from the forces of nature, hidden away.  Maybe the salty air and water should do its worst.  Time will pass anyway, and a hook worn down with salt is more memorable for its effort and impact than a hook left in the box. See you out there.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bed Rest and Bow Test

"Stay home.  Just....stay home."  It's a poorly kept secret that moderation in the outdoors is not my strong suit.  I try to make as many things fit as possible in the very limited amount of time I have.   The problem, that is if you listen to the "doctors" and their "sound medical advice," is that I'm apparently not 24 years old anymore.   Among other things, apparently that means that when I get sick, I am supposed to take time off to recover.  And who has time for such things?

In all seriousness, I took Thanksgiving week off of work to recover after my pneumonia relapsed last weekend.  I got incredibly tired and weak and the blood work told the tale.  I had taken a few short work days, for sure, and I hadn't hunted or fished since my pneumonia diagnosis (though in the three days between my bronchitis and pneumonia diagnosis, truth be told, I bow hunted twice).

I missed my first goose opener since 2005, and missed the entire November waterfowl season for the first time since 2001.  So here I am.   What to do....what to do....

I decided to test out the Bear Apprentice II I received last summer.  It's a "large youth" bow, perhaps a womens bow as well.  With adjustable pull up to 50lb and a pull of 27" (my draw is 27.5"), I figured I could enjoy it until young Hank gets strong enough to use it in another several years.  And it weighs three pounds.  A three pound compound bow!  Once I have more time with it, I'll be posting a review.

I bundled up, and keeping with doctor's orders, stood in our kitchen doorway (one floor above ground) and took shots at a target block.   I wasn't technically outside.

But the testing had to start somewhere...first shots, bow out of the box:

Just a bit high (aimed at center target)!  A few horizontal and vertical adjustments....

Unfortunately, I was still aiming at the center target....more adjustments....

Well....we got the right-to-left adjustment pretty for more vertical tweaks....

Hooray!  At this point, I'm two inches left of target @ 10 yards. I think the vertical is correct, but my arm was getting a bit tired, so I think my shooting was a touch sloppy.  Two inches wouldn't be a huge deal except that it can make the difference between hitting the shoulder blade of a deer and hitting the lung.  I've closely tuned the bow enough to be afraid of undoing my work with the slip of a wrench.   Guess we'll see...but for now, it's back to the couch.  More bed rest.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson, Dash Cams, and the Police State We Built

Meet the $200 tool that could be saving citizens from police
brutality, saving honest cops from false accusations, and
putting citizens at ease.  But there's a catch - the cops don't
want them.  
It's fascinating, twelve hours after a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, to read the very strong opinions that people have on the case.  People who don't have the facts (nor do I).  People who aren't medical examiners (nor am I).  People who have never been in a violent encounter themselves (I have).  Visceral cries of "racism" exude from both sides.    And I get it.   Surely (on Officer Wilson's part) there must be a better way to detain a potential suspect than shooting him in the face (12 shots fired and 10 much for that "police are better trained to use guns" argument).

 And for Michael Brown or anyone encountering hostile law enforcement officers, there has to be a better way to respond than punching the officer in the face, backing up, and then charging him head on, as the cop draws his gun and starts throwing bullets around the entire zip code.   What happened beyond those two facts is very much a mystery, because Ferguson, Missouri's Police Department doesn't utilize dashboard cams or body cams - both of which are cheap, very accessible technology that help tell the stories of good cops and good citizens who get into bad situations with bad cops and bad citizens.

And that's what I'd like to examine here.   Our country, personified by the Nixon era but not at all limited to Nixon, has generated and embraced a tome of police-provided "safety" over the last 60 years.   If we are societally afraid of things - narcotics, violent crime, guns, terroristic threats, etc., we simply "ban" such things and give our law enforcement agencies very broad powers to enforce the ban - civil rights be damned.   In our heads, we want to believe that as a result of a "ban," bad things and bad people seem to just evaporate from our daily lives.   And I don't think we're bad for wanting that to be so - for crime, lawlessness, and violence to be preemptively banned from taking place.  That those things may be prevented is a laudable goal, however impossible and fantastical.

Any police officer will tell you that they don't go to work to prevent crimes, but merely solve crimes that have been committed, with a (statistically flawed) hope of discouraging future similar crimes, due to legal consequences incurred by the criminals.   To achieve this fantasy of public safety provided by a police force, we've done many questionable things as a society.  We've incarcerated more citizens than any other nation (per capita) in the history of the world, save Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.  We've militarized the police, and we've given them more civil rights (and gun rights) than average citizens.

Perhaps most significantly, we've made "non compliance" with police orders a crime in itself ("failure to comply with a lawful order").  Police officers - even former police officers - are broadly exempted from gun control regulations and other laws, even as those laws would (and should) apply to their personal time and personal lives.  Think I'm off-base? Check out this link, this link, and, oh bother, just Google "Only police should have guns," and you'll retrieve over 46,000,000 individual web pages.     And how many times during the gun debates in recent years have you heard gun control advocates say, "Citizens don't need these guns! Only the police need them!"  Right. Well, perhaps that's the case, but here we are.  Ferguson, Missouri.

If a citizen believes they are in danger, and they shoot another person in public, it is a virtual guarantee that the citizen shooter will stand trial, at least for the minor crime of "illegally discharging a firearm in public," if not for the act of shooting the person.    As Nate Silver's shop reported this week, grand jury indictments of such cases involving private citizens are over 99.99% likely.   That statistic (% indicted) for police officers?  Roughly 1%.    That's right.  To quote President Nixon, "It's legal because I'm the president."  I'm sure that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Now let's circle back to body cams and dashboard cams.   Body cams run $200 per officer.  Dashboard cams? $3,000 each.  Ferguson has 18 cruisers, 54 commissioned officers, and a $5.2 million annual budget.  Therefore, getting the Department to upgrade to 2005 technology for the sake of protecting officers from false claims of police corruption and brutality (while protecting citizens from said alleged corruption and brutality)  would cost roughly $75,000 to initiate, and roughly $15,000/year for replacement (assume 20% replacement annually).  That's a one-time cost of 1.4% of the Department's annual budget, and a recurring cost of 0.3% of the Department's annual budget.

It is virtually certain that those two technologies, in combination, would have led to a valid and rapid assessment of what happened between Mr. Brown and Officer Wilson that would have satisfied a large swath of the public, despite the prejudices for judgment on both sides.  The Department would have saved millions of dollars they've since expended in materiel and officer overtime, to say nothing of the civil suit that is nearly inevitable, and which the the Department may in fact lose.   For a one time cost of 1.4% of the budget. 

So why not spend the 1.4%?  Because the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department, among thousands of other law enforcement agencies across the country, doesn't believe that they need to be accountable to the public.  They sincerely pursue what taxpayers have conveyed to them as their charge - to mop up what they perceive to be threats to public safety, and to not be asked questions about how they accomplish that, or whether or not their tactics are the most effective in use.

Is this "police tool" really appropriate for our streets?
What crimes will it "prevent?"
America has given our law enforcement agencies a list of quite impossible tasks:  "preventing" gun violence, "stopping" all terrorist attacks, and "ending" the narcotics trade chief among them.  Taxpayers and lawmakers have refused to listen to decades of officer testimony that these things are in fact, unachievable, in a nation of 300 million, with thousands of miles of international borders, and as a result, law enforcement agencies have convinced themselves that they can utilize any and all tools necessary to toward those means, no matter how quixotic the goal may be.  Their decisions are reinforced by grand juries who conclude that police officers on the scene (in many cases, the shooter himself/herself) are the best ones to determine what type of force was appropriate.   This seems really, really bad.

Here locally, the Baltimore City Council unanimously approved a police body-cam bill (that both funds the body cams and requires their use) recently.  It was a bold move that civil rights and law enforcement advocates both strongly approve, especially given BPD's nearly continual payouts for police brutality settlements.  Yet, Mayor Rawlings-Blake (with the support of the Baltimore Police Commissioner) strongly disapproves of the bill, and is not only threatening to veto the bill, but has promised to do so.   The Police Department doesn't seem terribly interested in seeing the daily operations of its officers.   While Baltimore is a major east coast city with big city problems, and BPD is a massive, well-trained and well-funded law enforcement agency, the parallels to the Ferguson Police Department are pretty easy in this case:  "We aren't accountable to You."

It's time to wake up to this widespread reality, and to plan for a different future where the outcome of police-involved shootings are not left to scattered facts, expired camera batteries, and the testimony of whichever party survived the incident.  Maybe we need to admit that laws and the police, while vital to our society,  can't solve all of society's problems. And maybe Americans need to rejoin the human race and honestly tackle some of our most difficult problems and begin to care about each other, ourselves, and our communities in a very deep way, instead of criminalizing all of that which makes us afraid, and incarcerating all those who step onto the wrong side of that fear.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Annual Trip Down Pneumonia Lane...

"So tell me, what do you do for asthma treatment?"

"I don't have asthma."

"You've had bronchitis for the past five Novembers, and this is your second go-around with pneumonia in that time.  You have asthma."

That's how last week ended.

One of my first memories of my life was lying in the hospital with pneumonia.  I was five.   I remember how horrible the TV shows (tiny TV mounted near the ceiling) and the food (cheap jello....barf) were.  It was 1979 and those facts haven't changed since.

I've had bronchitis at least once a year since that time, and haven't thought too much of it.  Guess the doctors haven't, either.  I was hospitalized with pneumonia again at age 22 (no insurance).  I nearly had to drop out of grad school the following year (no insurance) when my bronchitis finally beat my pride, and I went and got free antibiotics from the school clinic.  24 was a good run, near the end of which I got real health insurance and promptly got really sick with bronchitis.

Now I'm 40 and being sick for weeks on end seems less noble.  In a thoughtful turn from the standard spousal speech on my health, my wife correctly noted that this continued pattern is doubly related to the outdoors - when I first get sick, I keep going out in the woods and the water, probably compromising any slight possibility of healing myself due to.....whatever defect I have.  Then once I get really sick, I'm out of commission for solid chunks of our fairly long hunting season.  I hadn't really tied those two together.  But here we are.  It's duck season, and it will be 35 and raining tomorrow - perfect weather for ducks.  I won't be out there.

Talk to you all soon, after I schedule something called a Comprehensive Pulmonary Function Test. Can't wait.

Friday, November 14, 2014

2014 Bow Hunt #4: Clean Miss Heartbreak

I hadn't missed a bow shot on a deer in a few years.  Hadn't.  I am conservative with my shots, leaving the absolute minimum variables to chance.   Which is interesting (as I edit this text), because I am more of an aggressive tactician in other parts of my life.

I had the animal I wanted at less than 10 yards.  I was in the shadows of dusk, dressed in black, unseen.  I had time to exhale, inhale, and exhale again.  But the shot was not true.

No blood.  No fur.

This is the heartbreak of the hunt.  When there are no more things to blame, no more uncooperative universal forces in your way, when you've practiced and prepared and are fully paying attention, sometimes you still fail.  

I wanted to close the book on bow hunting this spot for this fall.  I'll return.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Comments on the Proposed Rule for Waters of the US: 8 of 8: Conclusion

My name is River Mud.  I am a wetland systems ecologist and twice-confirmed Professional Wetland Scientist with 17 years experience siting, monitoring, designing, and constructing habitat and stormwater projects in 14 states.   I have reviewed the documents proffered by the US EPA on the "New Rule" for Waters of the United States, and have also reviewed the Scientific Review Board's findings.  As a career professional in wetland and stream conservation, and as a staunch conservationist in my personal life and actions, I cannot and do not support the New Rule as currently drafted in October, 2014.  I have ample experience and expertise to support this position.

The EPA should be applauded for its continued interest in natural resource protection through the Clean Water Act.  However, the application of the New Rule is likely to result in ineffective and arbitrary application of regulatory policy, federal policies that cannot survive litigative challenges, and continued unacceptable hindrances to voluntary habitat restoration and enhancement efforts nationwide.

EPA staff are fond of blaming Rapanos for CWA's failings.  However, let us recall that EPA was directed to clean all of the nation's waters - and not just federally jurisdictional waters - by 1984.  Let us also recall that in 1989, President George HW Bush implemented a federal "no net loss" policy for federally jurisdictional wetlands, which was to be tabulated annually.  Presidents Clinton, George W Bush, and Obama have reiterated the pledge.  Yet,  EPA has never achieved "no net loss," in the ensuing 25 years, and in fact, the agency lacks a credible strategy for achieving it.  EPA refused to enforce CWA for the Chesapeake Bay's main stem - one of the world's largest remaining estuaries supporting a wild-caught fishery -  until litigation in 2010 compelled the agency to follow its own existing regulations. Most practitioners now envision a clean Chesapeake Bay by roughly 2040 - a far cry from EPA's Congressional mandate to accomplish that goal in 1984.

 Combining these unacceptable shortcomings in natural resource conservation with the ambiguous and unpredictable policies described above make the New Rule unworkable, and in fact, a hazard to the remaining protections afforded to significant habitats by the Clean Water Act.  I urge the EPA to devise well thought out regulations that will survive litigation and help guide our nation toward a healthy balance between economic production and ecosystem conservation. 

My Comments on the Proposed Waters of the US Rule: 7 of 8: Ongoing Illegal Federal Regulation of Stormwater Ponds to Continue

My name is River Mud.  I am a wetland systems ecologist and twice-confirmed Professional Wetland Scientist with 17 years experience siting, monitoring, designing, and constructing habitat and stormwater projects in 14 states.   I have reviewed the documents proffered by the US EPA on the "New Rule" for Waters of the United States, and have also reviewed the Scientific Review Board's findings.  As a career professional in wetland and stream conservation, and as a staunch conservationist in my personal life and actions, I cannot and do not support the New Rule as currently drafted in October, 2014.  I have ample experience and expertise to support this position.

Stormwater Ponds
Comment:  EPA claims that stormwater ponds will not be regulated as wetlands under the New Rule.  However, some federal regulators have repeatedly attempted to regulate impacts to existing, maintained stormwater ponds if the pond has developed wetland vegetation.  Allegedly, federal mitigation has been required for pond basin "wetland" impacts associated with reconfiguring the footprint of an existing, maintained stormwater pond.

Recommendation:  Add language to the New Rule exempting from Section 404 all pond basins and slopes in pond and stormwater facilities that are adhering to the state's and municipality's guidelines for pond management and maintenance.  Abandoned stormwater ponds can be regulated as federal wetlands, as they have been for 20 years. 

My Comments on the Proposed Waters of the US Rule: 6 of 8: Illegal Regulation of Concrete Ditches Underway, to Continue

My name is River Mud.  I am a wetland systems ecologist and twice-confirmed Professional Wetland Scientist with 17 years experience siting, monitoring, designing, and constructing habitat and stormwater projects in 14 states.   I have reviewed the documents proffered by the US EPA on the "New Rule" for Waters of the United States, and have also reviewed the Scientific Review Board's findings.  As a career professional in wetland and stream conservation, and as a staunch conservationist in my personal life and actions, I cannot and do not support the New Rule as currently drafted in October, 2014.  I have ample experience and expertise to support this position.

Concrete Ditches
Comment:  Corps and EPA employees have regulated concrete swales alongside highways as ephemeral streams, intermittent streams, and even federal wetlands in the past.  Mitigation has been required to relocate these "resources," such as they are.  Iron stains in the concrete have been claimed of evidence of "seasonal high water" and even "top of stream bank" by federal staff.  EPA's claim that such judgments would not occur under the New Rule do not take into account this history, or likely agency culture to continue to regulate concrete ditches, as they have been doing for the last 20 years (illegally).  This is another oversight of the New Rule.

Recommendation:  Add language to the New Rule explicitly exempting from regulation "ephemeral ditches or channels whose hydrology is dominated by roadway or parking lot runoff leading directly to the channel."  Notably exempted should be channels lined with stone, rubble, gabion, or concrete.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Comments on the Proposed Waters of the US Rule: 5 of 8: Regulating Impacts to Previously Impaired Urban Ditches and Streams

My name is River Mud.  I am a wetland systems ecologist and twice-confirmed Professional Wetland Scientist with 17 years experience siting, monitoring, designing, and constructing habitat and stormwater projects in 14 states.   I have reviewed the documents proffered by the US EPA on the "New Rule" for Waters of the United States, and have also reviewed the Scientific Review Board's findings.  As a career professional in wetland and stream conservation, and as a staunch conservationist in my personal life and actions, I cannot and do not support the New Rule as currently drafted in October, 2014.  I have ample experience and expertise to support this position.

Regulating Urban Streams
Comment:  On America's east coast, streams and wetlands have suffered through 400 years of deforestation and soil loss, three horrendous wars, unsustainable farming practices, dangerous dumping and landfill practices, and most recently, expansive pavement and drainage of impervious surfaces into surface waters (and uplands that become gullies).  EPA and USACE maintain strict preservationist stances on these waters, now surrounded by up to 90% impervious area, lacking all plant species and most wildlife that were dominant 400 years ago.  These urban stream systems are nothing like they were historically, and yet, they are regulated in the east the way that Gila Trout habitat in the west might be regulated.   

In many cases, the streams themselves do not hold considerable wildlife habitat, and so EPA has regulated the adjacent upland floodplain as well.  This is illegal, and has been repeated several times in the Mid-Atlantic.   As a result, claims that the New Rule "will not regulate floodplains" are specious at best.  EPA is already regulating floodplains, and will likely continue to do so until prevented by litigation.  EPA's Science Review Board (SRB) notes that a gradient of natural resource protection needs to exist, despite EPA's continued claims that science does not support gradients of connectivity or habitat quality.   As such, the agency contends that all perennial waters must be protected - not restored or enhanced - but protected as is, whether eroding, leaking toxic waste, or full of decaying tires.  The preservationist mindset endures, even when there is precious little left to preserve.

Recommendation:  Remove federal permitting requirements for urban (>20% impervious in drainage area) stream enhancement activities that can demonstrate a net gain in natural resource function and permanent protection of the site from fills related to real property development.  Require land and infrastructure development projects to improve urban stream beds to historic structural conditions and improved biological conditions.  This will ensure that the New Rule's proposed stream connectivity is not only transporting urban waste and sediment down to lower reaches from degraded areas. 

My Comments on the Proposed Waters of the US Rule: 4 of 8: Continued Illegal Regulation of Non-Agricultural Ephemeral Ditches and Gullies

My name is River Mud.  I am a wetland systems ecologist and twice-confirmed Professional Wetland Scientist with 17 years experience siting, monitoring, designing, and constructing habitat and stormwater projects in 14 states.   I have reviewed the documents proffered by the US EPA on the "New Rule" for Waters of the United States, and have also reviewed the Scientific Review Board's findings.  As a career professional in wetland and stream conservation, and as a staunch conservationist in my personal life and actions, I cannot and do not support the New Rule as currently drafted in October, 2014.  I have ample experience and expertise to support this position.

Regulation of Non-Agricultural Ephemeral Ditches and Gullies

Comment:  Despite repeated SCOTUS rulings explicitly to the contrary, EPA and USACE continue to regulate actively eroding ephemeral channels that exist due to historical and/or ongoing erosive flows during and immediately after storms.   While EPA correctly notes that they cannot and do not require mitigation for activities (like voluntary stream restoration) that occur in these ephemeral gullies, the federal agencies require full permit coordination for the sake of "documentation," a federal action that requires the project proponent to spend up to $200,000 on permit drawings, legal papers, and even public hearings for a voluntary habitat project that may only cost $100,000 to construct.  

My opinion is that the federal agencies conduct this intimidating behavior to encourage permit applicants to withdraw their proposal to enter any ephemeral waterway for their project.   Federal cases are currently underway challenging EPA (notably, Foster vs. EPA) on their ability to legally regulate activities in dry, eroding gullies.    It is likely that the plaintiff, a land developer, will win the case, in which EPA fined him for filling a landscape feature that SCOTUS has thrice instructed EPA not to regulate.   Other more reasonable provisions of CWA are likely to also be stricken during that litigation.  As a wetland ecologist and a staunch conservationist, I do not view this (eventual de-regulation of legitimate federal water resources) as a favorable outcome.

Recommendation:  Strike the portion of the New Rule dealing with ephemeral gullies that are actively eroding (regulating them as if they are blue ribbon trout streams - the current status quo).  Replace it with language that requires, as part of any grading project's federal water quality certification, that the eroding ephemeral gully must be restored to a stable and functional waterway that has measurable habitat benefits and high stability under storm flows.  Specifically, make provisions in regulatory language that an individual Section 404 permit (IP) will never be necessary to conduct that activity when the primary goal is stream restoration or floodplain reconnection, and when the net benefits to Waters of the US can be accurately documented and monitored.  

My Comments on the Proposed Waters of the US Rule: 3 of 8: Farm Ditch Regulation for Change of Use

Note:  Portions of this letter to the US EPA will be posted every eight hours between November 10 and November 12.  Check back in! 

My name is River Mud.  I am a wetland systems ecologist and twice-confirmed Professional Wetland Scientist with 17 years experience siting, monitoring, designing, and constructing habitat and stormwater projects in 14 states.   I have reviewed the documents proffered by the US EPA on the "New Rule" for Waters of the United States, and have also reviewed the Scientific Review Board's findings.  As a career professional in wetland and stream conservation, and as a staunch conservationist in my personal life and actions, I cannot and do not support the New Rule as currently drafted in October, 2014.  I have ample experience and expertise to support this position.

Regulation of Farm Ditch and Farmed Wetland Change of Use
Comment: Practitioners and landowners are well aware that the change of use of most farm ditches triggers CWA compliance, though EPA artfully works to avoid this discussion.  Relocating farm ditches for infrastructure or farm expansion (i.e. new barn site) projects triggers CWA compliance and sometimes federal mitigation requirements.  EPA consistently denies that farm ditches can or will be regulated without adding the "change of use" caveat.  CWA opponents correctly see this as EPA's attempt to avoid discussion of change of use CWA compliance on agricultural properties. 

EPA and USACE staff have halted or administratively stalled numerous voluntary aquatic habitat projects involving prior-converted crop fields and existing farm ditches and gullies by asserting that converting the ditches back to their pre-agricultural condition constitutes "change of use" and would require mitigation.   To clarify, federal agencies have required federal wetland and stream mitigation for voluntary wetland and stream projects on American farms.  These projects, driven by federal conservation dollars, small non-profit organizations, and small family farmers, are unduly scrutinized.

Recommendation:   1) Habitat creation, restoration, and enhancement projects must be exempted from "change of use" regulation or policy implemented at the national, regional, or district level by federal employees.  Caveats should exist to maintain permit exemption, such as a provision that a net increase in habitat function and habitat acreage/footage occur as a result of the habitat project. 2) Provide a 5,000 sf exemption for "single and complete" projects requiring permanent (not temporary) conversion of cropped wetlands or farm ditches proposing a change of use, where no other federal resources (NHPA, ESA, etc) would be impacted. Formally apply CWA Section 404 to permanent (not temporary) disturbances over 5,000sf as these disturbances apply to habitat projects that are not tied to a direct loss, like compensatory mitigation.  

My Comments on the Proposed Waters of the US Rule: Part 2 of 8: New Rule is NOT Science Based

Note:  Portions of this letter to the US EPA will be posted every eight hours between November 10 and November 12.  Check back in! 

My name is River Mud.  I am a wetland systems ecologist and twice-confirmed Professional Wetland Scientist with 17 years experience siting, monitoring, designing, and constructing habitat and stormwater projects in 14 states.   I have reviewed the documents proffered by the US EPA on the "New Rule" for Waters of the United States, and have also reviewed the Scientific Review Board's findings.  As a career professional in wetland and stream conservation, and as a staunch conservationist in my personal life and actions, I cannot and do not support the New Rule as currently drafted in October, 2014.  I have ample experience and expertise to support this position.

Science vs. Policy
Comment:   EPA has repeatedly claimed that current agricultural exemptions will remain in place as a result of the science-based New Rule.   However, the previous sentence cannot be true, as a whole.  Federal reports in the public domain contain numerous references to the fact that much, even "the majority" of surface water pollution originates on active farmland and rangeland.  EPA itself has stated that the final frontier of unregulated surface water pollution is American agriculture.  Therefore, to exempt current farming activities from future regulation eviscerates any claim that the New Rule is science based.  Good reasons (such as economics and export balances) exist to exempt many current farming activities from CWA provisions, however, stream biology and aquatic chemistry - the EPA's purview - are not among those reasons.    This is in no way "science based."

In addition, the glaring omission of prairie pothole wetlands, by their very nature failing Justice Kennedy's "significant nexus" test, will remain wholly unregulated by the Clean Water Act even under the New Rule - an outcome which I personally and professionally find unacceptable.  Unlike many types of wetlands, restoration of prairie potholes is exceedingly difficult, as proper soils take hundreds or thousands of years to develop in that region.   Moreso than most regions in the country, the Missouri Coteau has wetlands that simply cannot easily be replaced or mitigated.  EPA knows this, yet chose to omit prairie pothole wetlands from jurisdiction under the New Rule, while choosing to regulate highway ditches with seasonally high flow, instead.  This is an aberration of science, not a rule based on it.

Recommendation:  Strike any reference to the New Rule being "scientifically derived" or "science based," since EPA readily admits that the single greatest unregulated threat to federal waterway integrity will in fact not be regulated under this proposed Rule.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Comments on the Proposed Waters of the US Rule: Part 1 of 8

Note:  Portions of this letter to the US EPA will be posted every eight hours between November 10 and November 12.  Check back in! 

My name is River Mud.  I am a wetland systems ecologist and twice-confirmed Professional Wetland Scientist with 17 years experience siting, monitoring, designing, and constructing habitat and stormwater projects in 14 states.   I have reviewed the documents proffered by the US EPA on the "New Rule" for Waters of the United States, and have also reviewed the Scientific Review Board's findings.  As a career professional in wetland and stream conservation, and as a staunch conservationist in my personal life and actions, I cannot and do not support the New Rule as currently drafted in October, 2014.  I have ample experience and expertise to support this position.

I have been involved in the completion of over 100 water resource restoration, enhancement, creation, and reclamation projects since 1997.  Clients and partners have included Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife Service (AZ, DE, MD, MI, NC, NJ, NY, PA, VA), the state fish and wildlife agencies of CT, NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, and VA, the US Department of Defense, Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service, and Federal Aviation Administration, among many others.   

I completed doctoral coursework and fieldwork at the University of Maryland (focused on the dispersal mechanics of plants in coastal wetlands), completed a Masters Degree in Geography and Planning at Appalachian State University (focused on wetland and forest remote sensing), a BS in Fisheries and Wildlife Science at Virginia Tech (focused on amphibian conservation), and a BA in Geography at Virginia Tech (focused on GIS applications to wildlife conservation).   I have taught college courses in Ecosystem Restoration, Environmental Science, Ecology, Geography, Physical Geography, Landforms and Soils, and other topics for approximately 15 years in my spare time, and have lectured around the country on issues related to wetland and stream permitting, construction, plant selection, and project success.

I have served as a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit consultant, applicant, agent, and permittee on hundreds of occasions over the course of my career through Section 401, 404 and other permit systems afforded by the Act.  While many professionals have completed as many or more permits than I have, the majority of permitting work I have completed in my career has revolved around the federal regulation of 1) degraded gullies, agricultural fields, and urban ditches that are slated for voluntary restoration or enhancement, and 2) wetland and stream compensatory mitigation projects associated with state and federal infrastructure projects, often proposed within these same marginal areas.  This unusual body of work gives me a unique perspective on EPA's proposed "New Rule" for amending CWA protections, a perspective I would like to share with you today.

I support strict surface water regulations that are functionally based, practicable, and safe from litigious attacks meant to weaken CWA via federal precedent.  I fully understand the role of good topsoil, the insidious nature of polluted runoff, and the impact that seasonal and isolated resources, namely wetlands, have on wildlife that are important to our society.  I know and appreciate that regulating those resources may have a negative short term impact on landowner rights and property values, and I remember where I was when I heard about the SWANCC decision that throttled the Migratory Bird Rule.   Our nation's public resources need and deserve thorough regulations that take into account habitat value, invasive species, and landscape characteristics, and regulations that celebrate habitat enhancement, repair, and restoration projects instead of seeking to penalize them.

To that point, the single greatest obstacle I have faced in restoring, reclaiming, and creating critical aquatic habitats over the last two decades has been federal regulators' inconsistent, sometimes arbitrary and occasionally illegal application of the Clean Water Act, notably the Section 404 program, to non-jurisdictional areas and degraded sites that are slated for restoration, reclamation, or enhancement.   While it would be easy and somewhat therapeutic to list these many inconsistencies, outright agency failures, and acts of arbitrary jurisdictional determinations and/or regulatory overreach that I have witnessed and documented, I need only point to GAO-05-898, GAO-04-297, GAO-88-110, as well as CRS IB97014 and CRS 7-5700 / 97-223 to demonstrate that my experience has been far from unique.    The simple fact is that federal field staff occasionally make precedent-setting jurisdictional and permit decisions that directly oppose SCOTUS majority opinions while sometimes reflecting unofficial back-channel EPA and USACE policies implemented at the Region/District level. Permittee requests to be present when these interagency discussions occur are met with one answer: No.   As a career-long customer of the federal regulatory agencies, this reality gives me great pause when asked if I can personally or professionally support the New Rule.

Part 2: Science-Based vs Policy-Based

Part 3:  Farm Ditch Change of Use 

Part 4: Current Illegal Regulation of Non-Agricultural Ephemeral Ditches and Gullies to Continue

Part 5: Regulating Impacts to Previously Impaired Urban Streams

Part 6: Current Illegal Regulation of Concrete Ditches to Continue

Part 7:  Current Illegal Regulation of Stormwater Ponds to Continue

Part 8:  Conclusion

2014 Bow Hunt #3: Down to 8 Yards

In urban bow hunting, I'm not sure that luck exists.  Deer exist where they can, using carefully prescribed pathways under heavy cover, usually exotic vines, to slink between food sources, water, and their bedding area.  The paths vary seasonally, but within a hunting season, it remains consistent.

The urban deer highway I've been hunting this fall is one I identified while bowhunting on a sandy blufff on the opposite edge of the swamp last October.   The only "luck" involved is that I'm "lucky" to have access to both sides, privately owned and completely posted.   I keep getting closer.  

During my first hunt this season, I hunted at a pinch point in the swamp but downhill of the deer highway.  Not surprisingly, no deer crossed the pinch point during my hunt, but dozens crossed above me on the slope.  

During my second hunt, I hunted upslope of the highway, but 100+ yards from the pinch point, which gave me an excellent view of a 6-8 point buck crossing the pinch point, right past the first hide I'd used - within 2 yards of it, in fact.  So I moved to the pinch point, at which time the 6-8 point buck started feeding under a white oak 4 yards from the hide I'd been sitting at.   I waited for a clear shot at about 20 yards from my awkward stump hide, and at the exact moment I had that shot lined up, a spike buck walked in front of the larger deer, while the larger one sauntered off, away from me.

During my third hunt, I returned to the same hide above the deer highway, committed to stay there, which I did.  The winds blew in a favorable direction, but at 25+ mph, which I believe kept the deer bedded down.  Around 830am, two does crossed the swamp's pinch point and angled toward me, a small ridge hiding them in the shadows in front of me, less than 60 yards away.   One doe disappeared, while the other came toward me in the shadow of another tree, just 8 yards from my position.  She arrived at the base of the tree, turned, and in one motion, walked back in the shadow of that tree, away from me.  I saw her entire brown flank for less than a second, well within killing distance.  

This is an interesting juncture for me.  As someone who prefers the more social aspects of bird hunting to the solitary focus of deer hunting, my patience for chasing these city deer is beginning to run thin.  Plus, duck season is now in - and goose season will follow in another two weeks.  Statistics are that even in these deer-thick areas, bowhunters are successful less than 25% of the time.  I'm running right up against that statistic, and like many hunters in the same pattern, I feel as if I am a champion deer watcher.  

I have abandoned my very able Fred Bear compound bow for my crossbow - the crossbow does not miss at 20 yards.  Ever.  I am ready to kill a deer, perhaps kill another soon after it, and say good riddance to these animals for another 11 months.   Most dedicated bowhunters have now taken an animal, as the rut started four days ago.  Will I make my fourth trip count?  

We'll know within days. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

An Unusual Freshwater Skunk

I didn't have much time to fish, but I went anyway.  We have had a series of huge storms in 2014, and water quality is worse than usual.  The fish seemed to notice, as I looked for them on a day when the previous two days had seen not only a flash flood, but 39 degree air temperatures.  The warmwater fish might be done, it seems.

I tried everything, to no avail.  I found my thoughts wandering to hunting, and then to work tasks, and eventually packed it up and went back to work.

A few more days on saltwater and some effort towards trout might be about all I have left in me for 2014.  Hoping for some tighter lines in 2015!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Public Comment - Sunday Hunting in Western Maryland

Conservationist Supports Sunday Hunting in Western Maryland as Proposed

My name is River Mud.  I have hunted in Maryland, including the Maryland counties under this proposal, for the greatest part of 20 years.  I also have hiked, kayaked, and walked my dog in this region, all during hunting season, without feeling unsafe due to hunters' presence.  I have worked in private lands conservation and habitat enhancement for almost 20 years, and I fully support the pending proposal for less restrictive Sunday hunting. 

More than 10 years after Maryland's first Sunday hunt, opponents still can't say exactly what's wrong with the massively successful policy.    There are not even anecdotal tales, let alone confirmed instances or law enforcement reports, of any known conflicts between hunters and non-hunters on public or private lands during a Sunday hunt.    Not even one.  Not in eleven years!  (Cue: unfounded, several year-old allegations of Sunday hunting conflicts....3....2....1.....) The opposition to Sunday hunting is about two things: unfounded fear, and a desire to control what others do in the wee hours in the dead of winter.  As a Maryland taxpayer and a conservationist, I find those two things quite odd, and certainly not  good bases for creating public policy.

The "Safety" Opposition:  Statistics are clear:  there are no Sunday-specific landowner conflicts - as landowners must give written permission to hunt in Maryland (and if the property is posted, riders and hikers must obtain permission as well).   There are no Sunday-specific safety issues, as hunting season (and preponderance of hunters in the field) occurs largely occurs during the times of year when most non-hunters are not outdoor in significant numbers.  44 states have Sunday hunting, and hunting accidents (largely only injuring the hunter perpetrating the accident) are no more prevalent there than they are in states without Sunday hunting. 

The "Exclusive Use of the Woods" Opposition:  As I sit in the goose blind or tree stand in January, windchills in the single digits, I keep an eye out for hikers, for dog walkers, for kayakers.  Those people, arguably more sane in their choice of free time activity, are settled in for a warm morning on the couch with friends and family.    They simply are not outdoors.  No one is riding a horse on state property on a Sunday when there is a foot of snow on the ground.  But bow hunters are there.  No one is kayaking the Potomac as the ice floes break and cartwheel downstream.  But duck hunters are there.  No one is walking their dog in blinding snow in a state forest, temperatures at dawn hovering at 0.  But grouse hunters are there.

The "Increased Poacher/Trespasser" Opposition.  If poachers exist on private lands, they should be arrested.  By Maryland law, anyone outside the immediate family of the landowner who is hunting private land without explicit written permission of the landowner is poaching - and a poacher.   The argument that Sunday hunting will lead to Sunday poaching is a spurious one - as poachers already operate on Sundays - the winter woods, fields, and waters free of the watchful eyes of legal hunters.  No data from the 44 states with Sunday hunting shows that game violations of any type have increased as a result of Sunday hunting.

The "Raining Bullets" Opposition.  It is illegal to shoot a squirrel with a pellet gun on Sunday.  However it is not illegal to detonate explosives, fire a banned, fully automatic machine gun all day, shoot hundreds of rifle, handgun, or shotgun rounds into the edge of the forest during target practice, or really any other type of shooting that isn't focused "at" a game species.  A successful deer hunt in Maryland ends with one shot fired.  A successful goose hunt? One or two shots fired.  A successful bow hunt? One arrow.  The likelihood of having a full, successful harvest?  Less than 25% on any given day.  So cue up those machine guns, but no Red Ryders allowed.  This is Sunday in Maryland.

The "Day of Rest for Wildlife" Opposition.   Several years ago, I took a beautiful photograph of a bald eagle killing a bufflehead duck on a Sunday.  It reminded me that wildlife doesn't get a day off until each animal dies.  Nearly a century ago, wildlife biologists (and I am one) put to rest the parochial notion that wildlife need or receive a "day of rest."  Disease, starvation, and predators all abound on Sundays.  Cars still hit deer on Sundays.  The "day of rest" concept is nonsensical and not based in fact. 

In conclusion, Sunday hunting is safe and it is equitable.  Sportsmen, the conservationists who contribute the most in volunteer time and in money to the state's natural resources should not be excluded from the woods, fields, and waters on Sundays because of unfounded fears that have been statistically disproven in every state that keeps wildlife law enforcement and hunting safety and fatality data.    If conflicts occur on private land, it means that someone is not where they are supposed to be - a reality for which criminal and civil penalties already exist, and must be enforced.  If conflicts ever do occur on public land, users should absolutely mediate a solution to ensure the incident isn't repeated.  

Why opponents of Sunday hunting keep insisting that these dire predictions are inevitable, and are only related to Sunday hunting, is perplexing.   The facts are apparent - Maryland's Sunday hunting ban was a clear violation of law.  Providing Sunday hunting access is a sensitive topic and must be handled thoughtfully, as it has been in Maryland over the last 11 years.   As a life-long conservationist and career wildlife habitat ecologist, I applaud Maryland DNR for this proposal on Sunday hunting and the long and thoughtful process by which it was brought about. 

2014 Bow Hunt II - The Art of Overthinking It

Having not seen a single deer at my first "genius" bowhunting spot in the swamp (beaver dam crossing), and having listened to an army of them behind and uphill of me during my last hunt,  I crafted up a hide behind a two-trunked poplar tree between two draws, near the top of the hill.

Once again, I hiked in, no lights, no moon.  Unlike my last hunt, I didn't hear a single deer before sunrise.  7am passed.  8am passed.  At almost 9am, I saw my first deer, stepping carefully through the swamp - a healthy 6-point buck.  He got on top of the beaver dam and slowly ambled his way across it, having to hurdle the two logs I hid behind during my last hunt.  I could have killed him with a rock!

Had I been there.

No, I was up at my genius new hideout, so as soon as I saw him crossing the dam, I stalked him down through the woods and finally got to about 40 yards.  Unfortunately, he stayed hidden on my side of the swamp, never providing an open shot, and angled away from me.   I took several deep breaths.   That excitement was worth getting up for, there's no doubt about it.  I was thinking about checking my phone when I heard a deer walking above and behind me - it was the 6 point - rooting around in the leaves about 5 yards downhill from the Genius New Hideout....where I was not sitting.   I was sitting, facing the opposite direction, about 25 yards downhill from the animal.  I slowly turned, and he saw me and flew out of there.  Hmph.

About three minutes later, I heard more hooves moving and thought, "He's coming back! He's coming back!"  Finally, after two years of walking around in these woods, I am noticing that the white oaks grow in nearly a straight/diagonal line across the slope, allowing the deer to check each one as they pass through.  Both the Swamp Log Hideout and the Genius New Hideout are within 5 yards of that trail.  If only I could sit still in one of those locations.

The deer coming into the area looked to be the same size as the 6-point, but I only saw pieces of him.  He stepped behind a big poplar and I could tell he would keep walking.  I shouldered the crossbow and when his head cleared, he was still foraging in the leaves.  Breathe in, breathe out.  18 yards, maybe 20.  So easy.  As I was about to shoot, he raised his head, displaying two 6" 18 month old buck, not the 3 1/2 year old I'd just seen there.   I exhaled, which he heard, and he ran off.  I'm glad I didn't use a buck tag on such a small male.

And that was it - the wind picked up and the deer bedded down completely.  Soon, I plan to hang a stand in that area to allow me to draw a bow or shoulder a crossbow without being worried about what the deer see.  I'll probably also build a more formal ground blind to hunt in a cross wind.

All in all, another great morning.  I think success is coming soon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Back to the Woods - 2014 Bow Hunt I

2014 has been a lot of work.  I received a substantial raise right before the new year, and then was promoted in September 2014.   A lot has gone on, and my time outdoors has suffered pretty substantially.   So finally in early October, I got out to bow hunt an area swamp.

As I started down the hill, total darkness, no lights, a deer smelled me and gave out an alarm cry.  I heard them running all over.  I arrived at my pre-destined ground hunting spot a few minutes later, and waited.   The spot was at the end of a beaver dam that deer used to cross the swamp - hiding on the ground between two fallen trees.  There were always tons of tracks in the pre-season, so I figured it would be easy.   Having not hunted the spot in a year, I really had no idea.

Hello, poacher.  Found this while
scouting in July 2013.  Still here in
October 2014.  Guess the guy
hasn't been back. 
The deer were moving heavily on a trail above me, overlooking the swamp.  I heard dozens.  As the sun came up, I didn't see a single deer in the swamp itself, but was entertained by the wood ducks and beavers, all hard at work.  To my flank, three small does were eating white oak acorns.  I had no shot, and one of them was constantly looking right at me.  By 20 minutes after sunrise, the deer had stopped moving.  I never saw a buck, and never saw a large doe.

At one point before dawn, a deer was behind me, sending alarm calls to the deer in front of me.   The deer in front of me also sent out the call.  It was so dark that I couldn't see either of them - they must have smelled me.  I really hate hunting in a tree, but it might be required here.  

At 8:00 I put myself together and went to work.  I learned a lot, and I'll be back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

On the Clean Water Act's Birthday, I Remember the King William Reservoir

One of my favorite places on earth - the Mattaponi River in eastern Virginia.
The US EPA gave someone permission to turn it into a 1,500 acre lake.
Photo:  Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

Habitat partners everywhere are celebrating the Clean Water Act's birthday publicly.  It's a great thing, and CWA is a great law.   Its application, though, has been a bit inconsistent over the years, a point which is not lost on the apparent majority of conservationists and a large minority of Democrats and liberals regarding the pending New Rule for Waters of the US.   Some of the most environmentally liberal local jurisdictions in the country, in fact, are publicly opposing the pending Rule.

Me?  I  wish it hadn't come to this.  I wish the Migratory Bird Rule was still intact - that the Missouri Coteau had federal protection from draining and from the farming of virgin prairie.  But that's all done now.  EPA failed to negotiate a settlement with a Chicago area sewer authority, and the federal agency was taken behind the woodshed when the case arrived at the US Supreme Court - the Court never even bothered to tackle constitutionality, finding significant statutory flaw in EPA's policy.

KW Reservoir site, from
Virginia Places
But I remember the King William Reservoir.  In the headwaters of the Mattaponi River, a sacred river on which I've paddled and fish most of my life, lie a great many things.  Last known populations of several endangered species.  Pre-Columbian sacred Native American burial grounds.  Current Mattaponi Tribal lands.   And the most lush and productive tidal freshwater beds I have seen in 40 years on this earth.

In those places, many years ago, the City of Newport News proposed to flood - up to 70 feet deep - over 600 acres, then 400 acres, of this special river.   It would have been the single largest loss of wetlands and streams ever permitted by the US EPA.   And the US Army Corps of Engineers happily granted permits for the project, without any objection from EPA (an agency that currently threatens to veto Corps permits for things as trivial as voluntary stream restoration projects).

Unfortunately for the EPA, a local group of stinky hippies called the "Friends of the Mattaponi" joined into a lawsuit with the Mattaponi tribe under the moniker of "Alliance to Save the Mattaponi", and in fact, a federal judge found that the King William Reservoir federal permits were  issued based on "arbitrary and capricious"standards - aka an "abuse of discretion." Specifically, the judge found that the EPA did not exert enough material interest or input in the project to warrant their lack of intervention.  And why would they was just the largest destruction of wetlands ever permitted by the Clean Water Act?! No biggie.  Part of the federal judge's logic was obviously that EPA had vetoed permits for other less destructive reservoir projects in the adjacent county to the south.  Ouch.

So, when the judge's decision came down, clearly the EPA realized the error of its ways, right? No! In fact, they appealed the judge's decision to the federal circuit court!!!!!  EPA felt so strongly that they should be able to allow the largest single destruction of wetlands in CWA history that they appealed it! When asked by reporters about EPA's support of the massively damaging project, their project manager Randy Pomponio said the nearly 1,600 acre bathtub was, "the direction we want these folks to go," when compared to a 1980s concept that was 50% larger.  You read that right, folks.  The largest permitted wetland destruction ever authorized under the Clean Water Act was "the direction (EPA) want(s) these folks to go."   

That's right - the same agency currently begging for a Presidential Rule on expanding its legal authority wanted to fight all the way to the Supreme Court - again (they're currently 2 of 9 for CWA cases, as I mentioned in my last post) - for their right to do whatever they want with whatever water they want.    Luckily and unceremoniously, AG Eric Holder saw to it that EPA's appeal was quietly withdrawn just a few weeks later.   

Until that last sentence, you were probably thinking that this case was in the 1970s, or early 1980s.  But that "Eric Holder" thing....yeah....this federal court decision happened in 2009.

The same federal agency who has never been able to balance the books on the loss of federal wetlands and streams, the same federal agency who is currently begging Congress and the public to approve a massive increase (they tell us conservationists) in federal waters jurisdiction...yeah...those same folks.

In fact, a recent blog article by EPA's Randy Pomponio (the same guy in charge of EPA's work on King William Reservoir just 5 years ago) discusses how badly the New Rule is needed:

The proposed rule ..... is designed to clear the confusion and provide a more definitive explanation.
This is critical because the health of our larger water bodies – our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the network of streams and wetlands where they begin.  

Well, I'd argue that the health of our larger water bodies is also dependent upon EPA not letting people flood them with 70 vertical feet of water, behind a huge dam. Ironically, EPA's New Rule for Waters of the US won't stop them from going along with another project of this type in another river (or, you  know, allowing coal companies to fill in mountain streams with toxic fill, or letting natural gas companies pump glycols into our groundwater...but I digress). The Clean Water Act didn't deter EPA, in fact, from allowing this behemoth of a project to attempt to destroy this beautiful, sacred place.  If it were not for local activists, this special place on earth would be gone by now, slowly flooding up to its new depth (deep enough for the world's largest cargo ships to float in it!).  But for the mean time, it appears as if the sacred Mattaponi is safe, still teeming with waterfowl, with menhaden and herring, with descendents of the people who arrived here three thousand years ago, with children fishing in boats.  I hope it remains so for my son and for his children.

Sacred tribal lands of the Mattaponi.  Photo: Sacred Land Film Project