Monday, August 31, 2015

Fishing a Fish Passage Site on Maryland's Eastern Shore

I don't suppose that most of our federal biologists and engineers are great oddsmakers.  They are generally competent, generally well-meaning, but speak with the protection (and osbstructionism) of the labyrinthine agencies that employ them.   Those who like to do a lot of extra work are eventually instructed not to do so.  Those who don't do a lot of work aren't told much of anything.

Some of our conservation partners tried for over a decade to convince federal and state biologists and engineers that if a dam, in place since 1775, was removed and replaced with an expensive series of step pools (called a regenerative stream conveyance), that all kinds of environmental benefits would be likely - including the passage of migratory fish, several of which are species of federal concern (called "federal trust species").   But, being a risk averse bunch, los federales didn't budge for quite awhile, arguing that the project might actually be worse than the current dam (???).  Now, let's be clear that the project partners weren't seeking financial or construction assistance from the regulators - just permits to do the construction.

At any rate, the project was constructed in 2014.  I've enjoyed catching fish there this year that have successfully migrated up from the lower river, past the step pool project, and into the headwaters of the river for the first time since 1775.  Alewife, eels, and white perch are the notable newcomes.  Sometimes it's nice to be right.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

5 Reasons to Not Buy A Shotgun Right Before Hunting Season

I know, I know.  You were walking to work and a dry, red leaf landed in front of you.  There was that one cool evening two weeks ago where you could smell the dirt.   You are seeing deer or ducks or doves on the drive home at night.

And your first thought, like mine, is "I don't believe I've been putting off buying that new gun!  I need to buy it now, before the season starts!"

But no, you don't, and here are the basic reasons why:

1) You won't read the manual.   I make a habit of thumbing through the safety provisions of the manual, and that's it.......until something breaks.  But I have to say, the two times I bought guns right before hunting season, I never had time to read the manual.   After all, we're discussing a deadly weapon that came in a box.  Read the damn manual.

2) You won't adequately test fire it before taking it afield.  Hell, you *might* get out to test fire at the range once or twice, which is not really adequate to break in a new firearm, let alone get used to its quirks.  I bought my last 12 gauge in August, several years ago, and it started cycling correctly after opening day on the second hunting season I owned it.  The misfires prior to that were pretty embarrassing.   None of these even includes the issue of testing/calibrating optics.

3)  It will let you down in extreme conditions as a result of #2 above.  What happens to that scope if it gets dunked in water?  What happens to the action of that shotgun when it's 11 degrees outside?

4) You won't have enough time to test ammo.  And putting the hammer down on a turkey at 45 yards or a pronghorn at 230 yards is not the time to find out that your new gun "doesn't like" the best ammo on the market, especially if you're deep in wild game country.  What's that one slogan, "I didn't come this far to miss."  No you did not.   You have all next summer to test different loads.

5) The price is not right.  August - November is the period of the year when gun dealers know they can get the price they want on hunting firearms.   Some black friday deals exist, and more exist after Christmas, when last year's guns need to be sold to make room for the new year models.

I can say all this without remorse, yet I myself am considering a Beretta Outlander or a Franchi Affinity for the late duck season.   Either would likely be more trouble than it's worth, but I've been putting the purchase off for two years.  Will I heed my own advise and wait until January?  I guess we'll have to see.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

EPA Clean Water Rule Horse Race Shapes Up

The EPA's much-maligned Clean Water Rule goes into effect on August 28, 2015.  The rule is a serious (if arbitrary and aggressive) attempt to clarify what water bodies fall under Clean Water Act protection.  In practice, it may matter little, as the EPA approves between 96%-99% of all completed applications to fill in, divert, and pipe streams and wetlands every year.

But for the moment, an interesting horse race has developed.  Over 40 individual federal lawsuits have been filed, or parties added to existing lawsuits to stop this Rule from going into effect.  Unlikely litigative bedfellows include the US Farm Bureau and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

On the inside track, Hon. Ralph Erickson heard from a representative of 13 states attorney generals, asking for an injunction to stop the Rule from going into effect.  Judge Erickson apparently took several hours of testimony under consideration.

On the middle track, Hon. Lisa Wood heard from representatives of another 11 states attorney generals, promising a ruling (a possible injunction) prior to August 28th.

On the outer track, a much smaller case, a West Virginia coal company (Murray Energy) spent time in a federal courthouse last week, arguing that the carte-blanche exemptions that their industry received in the purportedly science-based Clean Water Rule..........are not big enough exemptions.

Numerous other federal lawsuits are pending, but these requests for federal injunction (should any injunction be awarded) should be fairly telling.   Look for the following to happen:

1) At least one of these judges will award a federal injunction against the Clean Water Rule by August 28th.  The injunction will be upheld in appeal.

2) The judge's ruling will request that EPA re-enter the rule-making process and likely re-start the public input process.

3)  EPA will be prepared to automatically launch a new (and brief) public input process and will be guarding against making significant changes to the rule.

4) Around the time the EPA Clean Water Rule is re-released in early 2016, the remaining federal lawsuits will likely become active, forming the basis for another injunction against the Rule's roll-out.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Boy's Last Weekend Before Kindergarten

"Why are all my friends going to different schools next week?"

Our son has been attending the same preschool for 3 years, and today, he leaves it for our community's K-8 Catholic school.  Due to the complete and utter disaster that is Baltimore's public school system, all of his preschool friends and neighborhood friends are headed to several other "big sounding" schools.....not those we're accustomed to, with generic names like "North Landing" and "South River" and "Northwestern" and "Central Elementary."  

No, these kids who all live within a few miles of each other, area headed to schools with names like Immaculate Conception,  Bryn Mawr School for Girls, St. Paul's, St. Pius, Saint Francis, St. Joseph's, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and others.  The majority of these independent school systems have single-sex high schools, so the likelihood of being in class together again as teenagers is fairly low as well. So, a big change comes today in our son's life.  New friends.  New teachers.  A transition from Episcopal school to Catholic school.   It will be wonderful, but it will be different. 

We decided to let Little Man choose his activities for the weekend.  It went about as you might expect:

Friday night:  neighborhood block party with neighborhood friends

Saturday afternoon:  bouldering at our local rock climbing gym.

Saturday night:  dinner (bar with a playground) with preschool friends

Sunday morning:  brunch with preschool friends

Sunday afternoon:  Belay class at the rock climbing gym, followed by more bouldering

Late sunday afternoon:  Archery practice with Dad. 

Sunday evening:  Pizza dinner in his tree house, followed by soccer practice and earthworm hunting with Dad. 

Sunday night:  Watched Charlotte's Web with Mom. 

New chapter...incoming!

Monday, August 10, 2015

EPA Clean Water Rule Supporters Have Second Thoughts, Sue EPA Instead

May, 2015: Hooray!  Courtesy of Sierra Club
On May 27, 2015, the US EPA's Clean Water Rule was finalized .  Within minutes, the brand-spanking-new 879 page guidance was called "revolutionary" and a "huge win for sportsmen."  Guess I'm just a slow reader.

My primary concerns were, and remain:

  • the new definitions of streams are arbitrary and will open up CWA to additional evisceration in federal courts
  •  for urban, suburban, and agricultural streams already damaged by human activity, the Clean Water Rule will make it difficult and extremely expensive to actually restore these degraded aquatic habitats.  US EPA watershed restoration goals will suffer mightily. 
  • the Rule claims to be science-based but provides clearly illegal exemptions for uses like mountaintop removal waste storage in trout streams (what?!)
  • the Rule claims to be science-based but exempts all existing agricultural uses from compliance, which obviously is *not* science based.  Damaging litigation will result. 
When the language was being negotiated, I discussed these concerns with a young lobbyist who was working hard to get the Rule passed.  I interpret his response as, "Wow, that's neat.  You should submit a comment to the EPA website."  Which I did, to great criticism, including a searing but woefully underinformed piece from Field and Stream's Bob Marshall, calling opponents of the Clean Water Rule "Sportsmen in Name Only - America's Greatest Threat."

July 2015:  Abort! Abort!  Courtesy: Waterkeeper Alliance
But much has changed in the last 90 days.  Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Waterkeeper Alliance, an initial supporter of the Clean Water Rule, is now suing the US EPA in federal court to stop the Rule's implementation.  National Wildlife Federation has also echoed concerns (after initially proclaiming that opposing the Clean Water Rule would be akin to "a vote against clean water" and that "we are particularly pleased....the process worked as it should." ).  And the Natural Resource Defense Council outwardly stated that the Clean Water Rule "will do little to protect America's fisheries" after blogging in May, "Oh, happy day! Clean Water Rule adopted!"   And the rogue's gallery of anti-regulatory organizations have filed a barrage of lawsuits to stop the Rule, which is no surprise.    I'm a bit surprised that 31 states (and counting), along with the National Association of Counties, have sued the US EPA to stop the implementation of this rule.

What's more of a surprise are the US Army Corps of Engineers memos to US EPA that were released last week, stating on the record that:

  • Unsupportable EPA positions claiming to be joint EPA-Corps decisions needed to have the Corps logo and agency name redacted because the Corps did not support the decisions made
  • The Corps has been telling US EPA for months that the Clean Water Rule would not be implementable in the field, as it is arbitrary
  • The Corps warns that the Clean Water Rule would open up the Corps and EPA to significant threat of federal litigation, due to its arbitrary language
  • The Corps memos offer assistance to EPA when EPA is "ready to proceed with logical guidance."
It's funny, when I wrote those things, I was merely a "Sportsman in Name Only".   Now apparently the 32,000 engineers, scientists, and lawyers of the US Army Corps of Engineers agree that these items are "worthy of concern."  As does the National Association of Counties.  As does the Waterkeeper Alliance.  And the National Wildlife Federation, the Attorneys General of 31 states, and the Natural Resource Defense Council.   And the uber-liberal Center for Biological Diversity.  

In our working world, it's really disappointing to watch the vaunted, veteran conservationists clap like seals when something new and shiny is proposed by the world's largest environmental regulatory agency (US EPA).  Let alone to applaud a nearly 900 page legal ruling within minutes of its public release, without having read it first.  And then, adding insult to injury, to angrily turn around and sue to stop that same legal ruling just weeks later, once they've read the fine print that critics like myself warned about so sternly.   

I'm ready to pour another cup of coffee and watch the Clean Water Rule churn through 6-8 years of federal lawsuits, ending inevitably at the US Supreme Court.   These lawsuits seek to dismiss the Rule because it is simultaneously too broad and too narrow.  Legal experts refer to that as "arbitrary," which indicates that these lawsuits will be successful in their short-term aim of disemboweling the Clean Water Rule.  

But perhaps I'm being too bold.   What do I know, as a 20 year wetland practitioner and Sportsman in Name Only?   I'll be out restoring wetlands and pulling tires out of illegal dumps.  Call me if you need me. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Does Nature Valley's "Rediscover Nature" Campaign Let Parents Off the Hook?

Recently, Nature Valley launched a pretty compelling ad campaign called "Rediscover Nature." The first ad of the campaign is called "3 Generations" (view, above) and purportedly asks families including Baby Boomers, Gen X'ers, and young children "What did you do for fun when you were a kid?" or "What do you do for fun?"
The results were typical - perhaps stereotypical: Boomers reported blueberry picking and long stringers of fish; X-ers reported cul-de-sac tag and baseball games played on the neighborhood's last vacant lot, and today's kids report, "phone," "Tablet," "video games," and absolutely nothing else. For extra emotional effect, Gen X parents watch their kids' responses - on a tablet of course - and start to cry when the kids spout of their usually kid-tastic nonsense of, "When I'm doing (insert name of fun activity," it's like I don't even have a family! It's great!") Of course, millions of kids have said that about baseball and fishing, have they not? Now, "3 Generations" is an ad and not a documentary, so many sins can be forgiven, but viewers (and the featured parents) are led to believe that the technology is at fault for these robot-like children, who at age six, claim to email "three hours a day." I don't want to call those kids liars, but I know my child routinely asks me for additional contextual details on whether any given unit of time (6 weeks or 6 minutes) is "a really long time."
Perhaps worst of all, Nature Valley's "3 Generations" piece tries to tell us that today's children are choosing digital devices over outdoor shenanigans and fun times in some type of informed, hierarchical decision. If you are a parent and you believe this, first of all, shame on you!  You already know that children tend to not think that way, especially when something bright, shiny, loud, or full of sugar is pushed in front of their face (you know, by their parents).   They are children. You are adults. You are supposed to be providing alternatives to the shiny, loud, and sugary whenever possible (and I admit that for me, it's not always possible).
Hey parents - quick quiz - are these
blueberries ripe enough
for your kids to eat?
(Hint they're poisonous)
Second of all, there's no child's choice here, because once again, most of today's parents could not identify a trout in a lineup of photos of 5 fish. Most parents today couldn't tell their kids how to catch a trout, or where to go to (safely) do it. Most parents couldn't show their kid where the closest blueberry thicket is to home, and how to walk there without walking alongside a highway. Most parents couldn't tell their kids how to convert an old sign into a toboggan ("but Timmy, it's rusty. It's not safe!"). Privilege, of course, plays a role, but this isn't just privilege - some of the most out-of-touch communities (when it comes to the outdoors) are the wealthiest. Youth fishing licenses are free. Most (most) of our communities have green space around, within, or close nearby that are great for at least some outdoor activities, where parking is also free. This is entirely conquerable.
Third, there's an incredible amount of memory bias here. If I were asked the "3 Generations" question (at my current age of 41), I'd say, "We built forts, we caught snakes, we dammed up the timber ditches, it was awesome!" Let's really look at that. In about a 15 year span, we built maybe SIX forts, caught maybe FORTY snakes, and dammed up the ditches (dug to drain the swamp enough to harvest the timber out of it) maybe TEN times. That means one fort every 2-3 years, about 2-3 snakes per summer, and 2 ditch dams every 3 years. What the hell did we do with the rest of our time? Well, we played a lot of baseball and soccer (like kids today, 25 years later) and we watched a fair amount of TV (like kids today), and we fought with each other almost daily (like kids today). Is it so different?
One grandmother says she loved to pick blueberries. That's great. But blueberries are only ripe for a few weeks per year, and often, the birds and wildlife decimate them as they ripen on the bush. This was a specific memory (one that you can build for your children). A grandfather described a stringer or basket full of fish, and fending off a bear. That was a specific, special memory. And you - this week - can give your kids those kinds of special memories, so perhaps in 60 years they'll answer the "3 Generations" question as, "I used to go fishing in the stormwater pond down the street. The fishing was horrible so we just caught frogs and begged our parents to keep them!" instead of "Oh, video games!" Your six year old is not going to decide that, because they don't know that it exists. But you do, and you can.
So knock it off with the, "We used to do all this cool stuff when we were kids, and now cell phones and our kids have ruined it! Oh hey cool, babe, check out these new emojis that Todd just sent me! What? Wait a sec. A work email just came in. "  Don't you get it? Doesn't Nature Valley get it? It's us. Not the kids. This is a problem that's been built gradually by adults over the last 60 years. So knock it off!
Instead, challenge yourself with, "How can I teach my kids the cool stuff I did when I was a kid?" I can tell you that it's not easy, and it's very hard to get "just right." The reason our children are on digital devices all day is because we are too. In fact, that's one of the biggest issues I struggle with as a parent - setting a good example with technology use, not letting my phone distract me from time with my son, and not letting email run my nights and weekends.  

I can do better. I bet you can too. I hope Nature Valley's next ad for #rediscovernature points the focus back on us. Who knows, they'll probably sell me a bunch of granola bars in the process.