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It’s that time of year again, Pt. II

It is now “that time of year again,” but Part Two.

A month ago your firewood had better have been laid up and close to perfectly dry, or you were going to have an uncomfortably cold winter in rural America.

Now, a month later, a whole bunch of hunting seasons are upon us. Small game, trapping, deer archery, bear archery…and many people are afield a serious amount of time. Some people try to catch the deer rut in a couple different states with their bow. It can become a crazed time, where the humans are just as worn down and rutted up by the prospect of catching unawares a big old wary buck who, in his brief moment of annual craziness, lets down his guard.

Usually, I do not begin trapping in earnest until December, when all pelts are truly prime and when the bobcat and fisher seasons begin. Early on I set out cage traps to thin out the skunks and possums that will otherwise clog up my best sets later on. Never one to sell furs, trapping for me has always been about helping ground-nesting birds against an overabundance of nest-raiding mammals pulsing out from suburban sprawl habitats. With Russia and China in bad financial and economic situations the past five years, wild fur has not been in as big demand as the past. This lower demand has led many professional trappers to abandon their lines and wait for prices to come back up. In turn, that let-off in trapping pressure results in TONS of raccoons, possums, skunks etc running around. Over the past couple of weeks I have seen more road-kill raccoons than in many years past all together.

And this high population of raccoons means higher rates of rabies, trash-raiding, fights with pets, etc.

My favorite type of hunt is the solo wilderness excursion. Sleeping in a cold tent, bundled against the night time freeze, waking up to some snow on everything, enjoying a hot tea to start the day, and wandering into the wind, trying to find buck or bear tracks. Or in the case of a big male bear, making sure he isn’t on my track, like two years ago.

Is there danger in this? Sure. Then there is danger in being hit by a car, or falling and damaging a body part. There is danger in never experiencing life, and thinking that the modern risk-free cocoon most of us live in is either normal or healthy. It is neither.

And so it is that time of year again, when every fiber in my body says “Get outside, NOW!” It is a time of forgotten or deliberately misplaced professional obligations, phone calls returned on a Friday afternoon, instead of the prior Monday morning. I hope friends and colleagues will forgive me if I am a little late in getting back.

Nature is calling on the phone, it’s for me, and I gotta run.

I’ll be back. Promise.

Public Lands: Public good, public love

Someone named this September “Public Lands Month,” and while I have no idea who did this, or why they did it, I’ll take it nonetheless. Because like the vast majority of Americans, I totally, completely, absolutely love public land. Our public parks, forests, monuments, recreation areas, and wildlife management areas are one of the greatest acts of government in the history of human governments.

As a wilderness hunter, trapper, and fisherman, I truly love the idea of public land, and I love the land itself. No other place provides the lonesome opportunities to solo hunt for a huge bear or buck, either of which may have never seen a man before, or to take a fisher and a pine marten in a bodygripper or on a crossing log drowning rig, than public land.

If you want a representation of what is best and most symbolic of America, look to our public lands. They best capture the grandeur of America’s open frontier, the anvil upon which our tough national character was hammered and wrought. It was on the American frontier that Yankee ingenuity, self-reliance, and an indomitable hunger for individual freedom and liberty was born. And yes, while it was the Indian who reluctantly released his land to us, it was also the Indian who taught us the land’s value, so that we might not squander it, using it cheaply, profligately, and indiscriminately. Public lands are the antidote to our natural inclination to use land the same way we use everything else within our reach.

Some armchair conservatives argue that our public land is a waste of resources. That it is a bottled-up missed opportunity to make even more-more money, and if only we would just blow it all up, pave it all, dam it all, cut it all right now, etc, then someone somewhere would have even more millions of dollars in his pocket, and daggone it, he really wants those extra millions on top of the millions he already has in his pocket. When all our farmland is paved, that same armchair conservative will have nowhere to grow food to feed us, and apparently he will learn to eat dollar bills (he already thinks Dollars are what we survive on, anyhow, so it’ll be an interesting test of reality meeting theory).

But the truth is it’s mentally sick to talk about how much money you can get for selling your mother, or for selling your soul, which is what our land is, take your pick. Hunger for more money than a man knows what to do with, notwithstanding. But some things are just not worth valuing with money, and no number of payments of thirty pieces of silver will ever, ever amount to anything in comparison to what is actually in hand, our public land.

Others complain that public land is communism, but what do they say about the old English and New England commons, where villagers pastured their collected cows? Were our forebears who fought at Bunker Hill fighting for communism? You know they weren’t. Sometimes sharing isn’t a bad thing, and sharing some land is probably one of the best things. If Yosemite or Sequoia National Parks were privately owned, no one from the public would be there, right?

Americans are fortunate to have in their hand millions of acres of public land that they can access, from Maine to Alaska to Hawaii and everywhere in between. Little township and county squirrel parks, big state forests and parks, and vast national parks like the Appalachian Trail and Acadia are all magical experiences available only because they are public.

It is true that LaVoy Finicum was murdered in cold blood by out of control public employees over a legitimate debate with tyrannical, unaccountable public land managers in Oregon. But that is not the fault of the public grazing land there, any more than a murder can be blamed on the gun and not the man who pulled its trigger. We need to hold accountable those who screwed over Finicum and those who murdered him, not blame the land on which it all happened. Despite some failings by public land managers, of which Finicum’s murder is a great and sad example, public land remains one of the very few things that government actually does well and right almost all of the time. Corrective action is just one new administration away, as selected by the voters.

If you want to see untrammeled natural beauty for campers and hikers, or if you want to experience bountiful hunting lands for an afternoon or a week, then look to the public lands near you or far away from you. Everything else – nearly 100% of private lands –  is either dead, dying, or slated for eventual execution at the hands of development.

We need a lot more public land in America. We need more to love in life, and nothing compares to loving a whole mountain range, a river, a field or a forest. It will love you back with nurture and sustenance, too.

Hang glider leaps off of Hyner View State Park, surrounded by a couple million acres of Pennsylvania state forest and state parks

 

Down below Hyner View State Park is the Renova (Renovo) municipal park, with some historical artifacts from past freedom-ensuring conflicts, reminding the next generations of the sacrifices made so they can enjoy iPhones and Starbucks

 

Yours truly standing high up in the Flatirons above super-liberal Boulder, Colorado, in the background, demonstrating “Trump Over Boulder” in case any hikers had missed the shirt. None had missed its presence there, by the way. Lots of public land here, enough for everyone to share, even Donald Trump! (and yes, there are a lot of boulders here in the photo).

The author malingering around the Boulder, Colorado Chautauqua kiosk, silently taunting the invasive liberals gathered and passing through there. And in fact, the Trump shirt earned many double and triple-takes from fellow hikers, unused to experiencing diversity of thought. I did not bite those people, though I was tempted. Great public lands experience!

PA wildlife: damned if we do, damned if we don’t

Like every other state in the Union, Pennsylvania protects, conserves, and manages its wildlife through a combination of user-pays fees like hunting and fishing licenses on the one hand, and a helping of federal funding collected from user-self-imposed federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment like boats, guns, ammunition, fishing rods etc on the other hand (the same people who buy the hunting and fishing licenses).

Yes, 100% of the nation’s citizenry benefits from the self-imposed taxes and fees paid by just 1% of the population: the hunters, trappers, and fishermen.  Yes, you read that right: just 1% of the population is carrying 100% of the public burden.

And yes, as you are correctly about to say out loud, you and I will not see this bizarre and totally unsustainable arrangement in any other area of public policy. Not in roads, not in schools, not in airports, not in museums, not in anything else official and run for public benefit. And so, yes, it is a fact that wildlife agencies across America are perennially underfunded, and have been for so long that it’s now accepted as the way America does its wildlife business. Here in Pennsylvania, despite endless rising costs and endlessly more expensive public pensions, both houses of the PA legislature have long blocked the PA Game Commission from getting a hunting license increase in decades. So the PGC is even more behind the financial Eight Ball than most other state wildlife agencies. Hunters and wildlife managers in other states look at Pennsylvania and shake their heads. It doesn’t have to be this way, but it is.

Despite the obvious imbalance and weakness inherent in such a unique and faulty funding arrangement, for fifty years this approach worked pretty well, nationally and in Pennsylvania, with some states occasionally putting new money into holes that opened up in the regular wildlife funding support. Those states with significantly increasing human populations tend to be forced into dealing with inevitable wildlife-human conflicts more than other states, and when Mr. and Mrs. America are increasingly hitting deer with their cars, you can bet that they will demand their home state do something about it. So more money is found.

So along comes the Pennsylvania Auditor General, to investigate the management and expenditure of money at the PGC. And why not, right? The PGC is a public agency, and hunting license revenue is a public trust. So sure, go ahead, look into it, audit the agency. And so it was done, and some interesting things emerged just a bit over a week ago.

In the “Atta boy” column is the fact that there appears to be no corruption, graft, or misuse of scarce sportsmen’s dollars at the PGC. By all accounts, PGC is transparent and well run. Given how much the sportsmen are always scrutinizing the agency, we all figured as much. But it is nice to have our beliefs and trust confirmed like this. We love the PGC even more today than before the audit.

In the “Aww shucks” column is the revelation that PGC staff do not immediately deposit oil and gas royalty checks when they are received, nor does the PGC ascertain for itself if those royalty payments are accurate in the first place, instead trusting the oil and gas companies to do what is right on their own. Hmmmm….This is a potential problem area, and we are all glad the auditors found it.  Anyone who knows the PGC can bet money on the fact that PGC staff are right now doing all of this payment followup with a vengeance. Look out, oil and gas companies!

But then there is the big weird issue, the biggest issue of all, where the auditors “discover” that the PGC is sitting on $72 million in the bank. And accordingly, the auditors immediately and erroneously ascribe this to bad money management. After all, they say, public money is meant to be spent. “If you got ’em, smoke ’em,” goes the ancient and totally irresponsible government approach to managing public dollars. After all, under normal budgeting culture, agencies that do not spend the money budgeted to them risk losing those dollars in the next budget cycle. Failure to spend money is correlated with a failure to implement an agency’s mission, and for senior agency managers, there is the usual ego factor; the bigger the budget, the bigger the…you know. This is the old approach to managing government funds, and it is wrong, and it certainly does not fit the PGC’s reality or targeted way of doing business.

Let’s ask you a question: If you knew your family was going to be receiving less and less money going forward, and yet your family costs would be held steady, wouldn’t you begin to bank any extra money you had, in preparation for lean times ahead? If your family is responsible, then yes, this is what you do, it is what we all do. And it is what the PGC has done, thankfully.

But as a result of the audit, this single fact is being used to beat on the agency, to coerce the PGC to adopt unsustainable policies and irresponsible money management, despite the agency sailing through ever less sustainable funding waters every day. Seems like now every elected official and every Monday morning quarterback sportsman has some variation on the foolish theme that PGC has more money than it knows what to do with. Wrong!

So the real outcome of the audit is that Pennsylvania wildlife are damned either way, because the PGC is the useful straw man whipping boy for every aspiring demagogue in Pennsylvania politics. No matter what the PGC does, our wildlife resources are going to suffer. If PGC carefully, frugally husbands its limited resources, preparing for rainy days and needy wildlife, then the agency’s critics say the agency is miserly and hoarding, and they seek to punish the agency. And on the other hand, if the PGC immediately spends every dime it has, and has no money left over to deal with yet more unfunded mandates like Chronic Wasting Disease, then critics say the agency is wasteful and ineffective, and they seek to punish the agency.

And either way, the net result is the PGC’s critics damn and condemn our wildlife. Because that is the true result of all this second-guessing and monkeying about with the PGC budget and funding streams. Plenty of elected officials use their criticism of the PGC to artificially burnish their “good government” credentials, when in fact they are demanding the worst sort of government, and a total disservice to the sportsmen and wildlife everyone enjoys.

Many years ago, sportsmen were organized enough to react strongly to political demagogues who threatened our wildlife resource (and PA’s $1.6 billion annual hunting economy) with their petty politics. This latest iteration of the politics of wildlife management indicates that we need to get back to the old days, where sportsmen were unified and forceful, even vengeful, in their expectation that their elected officials would not politicize or hurt our commonly held wildlife resource.

Best time of the year

November through January is the best time of the year.

“It’s Christmas in November, December AND January,” say my fellow outdoorsmen.

From small game in late October  to archery for deer, to the current bear season and then rifle season for deer next week, and then trapping season, it’s nonstop action.

With the nonstop political drama and annoying ankle biting behavior of certain partisans representing themselves as news reporters, we can all use a break. I have been enjoying a break. Friends and family hanging out together, eating together, hunting together, and then hanging out again in comfy relaxation, it’s really an unusually best time of the year.

Under no other circumstances can or will so many people take off from work, drive long distances, and see old friends, as we do now. Maybe a big high school reunion will draw in a lot of disparate people from far and wide. But we do this hunting bit every year.

Santa brought us snow early. The better to hunt and track in. The better to hover around a warm fire from. Thank you, Jolly old Chris Cringle!

Everyone enjoy your winter!

 

Thank you to wildlife’s friends, my friends

When I started writing for Eric Epstein’s Rock the Capitol about eight years ago, one of the first stories I related to readers was an experience two of my children and I had with two pitbulls let off their leashes.

The readership statistics on this one essay were off the charts. Very high volume, and lots of comments. When I asked why, Eric and his website manager, whose name I now forget, told me that news items and stories involving animals claim the biggest share of attention on the Internet.

Fascinating, right?

And we all kind of see this fact in the strange way people routinely show concern for an injured goat in the news by donating a million dollars so the goat can get its broken hoof fixed, and then a truly sad situation involving some news story about a poor unfortunate child whose abusive parents tormented her for years raises just five bucks to get her into a better home.

It is true that people care about animals, and that is a good thing. But this care seems to extend mostly, really overwhelmingly, to domesticated animals; animals that depend upon humans for care and shelter. A natural and healthy empathy is aroused when some unfortunate critter is seen hemmed in by wire or caging, unable to provide for itself and yet not being provided for by the humans around it.

The type of animals people have the least identity with is wildlife. Most Americans, being urban or suburban, simply mythologize wildlife.

From this more urban view, all bears are universally perceived as aggressively dangerous (they are not, though grizzlies are definitely more aggressive than black bears). Deer run out in front of our cars, eat our crops, spread ticks with Lyme Disease, and nibble our yard shrubs, dammit. Squirrels are nasty tree rats with fuzzy tails chewing on our yard furniture, eating the produce of our gardens and fruit trees, and diving our trash bins. And skunks, possums and raccoons are a bunch of rabies-ridden trashcan raiders. And so on.

Wildlife by and large is not greatly appreciated by the general public, unless it is a close-up photo of some baby raccoon or fox kit. And no, I am not talking about wildlife photographers or the insane Humane Society as representative of the general public. These two categories of people are far distant outliers of one sort or another, and no generality can be drawn from their presence among or about wildlife.

So thank God there are sportsmen out there; that is, hunters and trappers. These are the Americans who really do truly care for and about wildlife, and they prove it every damned day with their financial donations and back-breaking work on wildlife habitat projects.

There is no better advocacy group or aggregation of active people who love wild animals and the wild places they need to thrive than hunters and trappers. Time has proven this fact, though the foolish flatlander will claim, with a mouthful of gross stockyard beef in her mouth, that hunting and trapping are “cruel.”

Most of our public lands were first acquired by and for hunting and trapping, at the urging of hunters and trappers. They knew in the 1890s and 1920s that human encroachment into formerly wild areas was leaving no room for the most interesting animals on earth. Many of these animals are more interesting than most of the humans we will encounter in any given day, week, month, or lifetime.

This weekend I really enjoyed my time among a special group of people, the state-wide leadership of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists (PFSC), what until yesterday was known as the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (PFSC). Most Americans no longer know that the word “sport” is about hunting, fishing, and trapping, nor do they know what a ‘sporting club’ is about. The lexicon has changed as the daily experience has changed. Meat is no longer acquired from a wild animal who knew it was hunted, but rather from a miserable creature tormented from its earliest days until its last moment alive and turned into a convenient styrofoam package.

The PFSC folks are the people who work every day for the benefit of wildlife, for wildlife habitat, for the defense and promotion of our state parks, state forests, and state game lands. These people do it humbly, quietly, generously, and usually all they get in return is some self-satisfaction from sitting back after a grouse hunt and, despite an empty game bag, intently watching a mysterious red Fall sunset streaked with white wispy trailing clouds sinking down behind shadowy trees shedding their colorful leaves. A deeply comforting stillness overtakes these people at these moments, alone or with companions, and when they go home that night, they know their decades of work fundraising for the latest land acquisition by the Wildlands Conservancy has paid off. It might be a relatively small nook in a big world, but it is a special nook nonetheless, where wildlife — wild animals unknown and unloved by most people — can call home until the next glacier comes through and re-orders the earth’s surface, as has already happened many times in the past.

Here is to you, a heartfelt thank you, my friends, my companions, my betters and my teachers among the outdoorsman fellowship. Thank you for your time and gift to me and to everyone and every living thing around me, whether they know or know not what you do for us.

Our Wildlife Management Comments Submitted to the PA Game Commission

Dear PGC Commissioners,

In so many ways the Game Commission is on an exciting path, really moving forward on policy, staff culture, and scientific wildlife management. It is an exciting time to be a hunter and trapper in the great state of Pennsylvania, thanks to you. Hunting and trapping are supposed to be fun, and the PGC should be able to maximize opportunities without sacrificing the natural resource base. If anything, the agency has been perhaps too conservative, too cautious.  In that vein, here are some small suggestions for improving hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania:

a) Make all small game seasons concurrent, start them in late September or early October and run them unbroken until mid February. The current on-again-off-again schedule is silly, an artifact from many decades ago. Our current small game hunting schedule leaves kids and oldsters alike out in the cold with nothing to hunt if they can’t get to deer camp, or if they do kill a deer and want to keep on hunting. Hunters deserve maximum opportunities that do not degrade or put wildlife populations at risk, and adding a few extra days won’t hurt anything, but they will help hunters tremendously. Put another way, the risk of changing this is very low to non–existent, and the benefits are huge. Well, what is the risk, really?

b) Allow the use of snares in rural WMUs and/or on private lands. Cable restraints are an important trapping tool under any circumstances, and especially so as we experience ever-increasing freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw winters, with rain no less. These weird winter conditions render traditional footholds nearly useless both early and late in the season. Cable restraints can function better than footholds under those conditions, but they just are not sufficient for the big coyotes we are encountering. Getting coyotes into cable restraints is tough enough, and holding them there is even tougher. Chew-throughs of our cables are common, where a snare would positively catch the coyote and hold it, bringing it to hand and into the bag. In rural areas (or on private land) there is a far lower expectation or risk of a pet or feral dog or cat being caught. We are ceding too much to the anti-trappers by prohibiting snares where they can do the best good. A pet is an animal that lives in a home. Eliminating a very useful tool because of some vague or low-probability worry is not good policy. We can do better, and snares are much better than cable restraints in general, and particularly in the northern Big Woods areas. Also, CR certification can only be done right in person, through hands-on training. This online certification is going to lead to problems, especially where CRs are used like snares.

c) Allow the use of body-grip (Conibear) traps outside water courses, specifically on running-pole sets for fishers, bobcats, and raccoons. Like the snare situation above, our trapping regulations are unrealistic, they are too conservative, penalizing law-abiding trappers because of vague fears that under reasonable circumstances will not happen. Securing body-grip traps up off the ground is well out of the reach of dogs and domestic cats. Separately, if a pet owner lets their animal out the door to run free, where it can trespass, be hit by a car, be eaten by a coyote or fox or hawk, or get hurt in a fight with another animal, then they do not truly care about it and it is not a real “pet.” Pennsylvania trappers do not deserve to be hurt because of others’ irresponsible behavior. Elsewhere in America, the use of bodygrips on running pole sets is very effective and humane. We can stick with the #160 size as the maximum.

d) Extend the fisher trapping season and areas. Trappers in Berks and Lebanon Counties have told me of catching fishers in their sets, and we are seeing them in Dauphin County. There is no good reason why we cannot extend where and when we trap these abundant predators. Incidentally, they eat bobcats and turkeys, and it would be silly to expect fishers to simply harmoniously co-exist with other animals. They are a voracious predator and they will have a disproportionate impact on predator and prey populations alike if allowed to expand unchecked. Fishers are cool animals and I am all for having them in our ecosystems. What is lacking now are the mountain lions and wolves that in the distant past would have eaten them, and kept them in balance with other wildlife. We humans now fulfill the role of lions and wolves. Let us at ’em.

e) Make sure bobcat populations can sustain these long trapping and hunting seasons. We are seeing a lot less bobcat sign and fewer bobcats on our trail cameras. This was the first year we did not get a bobcat through either trapping or calling in 2G and 4C, and while this may be just our observation, we are concerned. If bobcat harvests must be reduced, then we prefer that it come out of their hunting season. There is a ton of hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania, and not a lot of great trapping opportunities. Heck, muskrats are practically extinct, coyotes have eaten most of the red fox in the southcentral, and possums are clogging nearly every trap. Let us keep our bobcat trapping intact.

f) Reinstate concurrent buck and doe deer hunting. We are seeing a high number of deer nearly every place we hunt (WMUs 2G, 4C, 3A, 5C, 5D). Deer populations are definitely lower than in 2001, and deer are harder to hunt now than then, but the quality is unbelievable, and the herd can sustain both doe and buck hunting. Pennsylvania is now a real trophy destination, so keep up the scientific management, which would include allowing hunting on Christmas Day.

g) Expand the bear season by one day in WMUs 2G and 4C, or rearrange the season entirely. There are an awful lot of bears everywhere, especially in 2G and 4C. On the Friday before bear season starts, we see loads of bears having tea and crumpets in the back yard. They are watching football and hanging out leisurely in reclining chairs. Come Opening Day through Wednesday, we might see the hind end of a bear or two, or we might occasionally harvest a bear, if we work hard enough. By deer season opening day the following week, the bears are back to having tea and crumpets in the back yard, hardly disturbed by all our hunting efforts. Another way to address this is to make bear and deer seasons concurrent, at least for one week, and perhaps start that concurrent season the week of Thanksgiving.

h) Do more to end wildlife feeding. We continue to see mangy bears, and deer baiting under the guise of “helping” wildlife through artificial feeding. It’s not good for the animals, and can actually be bad. People also feed wildlife to entice game animals away from (other) hunters. This is a cultural practice that PGC needs to do more to end, through education and enforcing the bear feeding regulation.

Thank you for considering our comments. We do love the PGC and admire your field staff, especially.

Josh and Isaac First (father and son)

Harrisburg, PA

Our public lands are not for sale

Apparently many Republicans are just downright jealous of all the craziness on the left, with all that destruction and removal of historic public monuments and the resulting revision of history to fit politically correct narratives.

So now we get a bunch of Republicans who actively pursue their own form of crazy, just bound and determined to undermine whatever electoral and public trust gains they have made in the past few years. Among a surprisingly wide circle of GOPers and conservatives, the selling off of public lands is a surprisingly popular policy goal.

Nothing hidden about this goal, the proponents of selling off public lands are quite open about their intentions. Apparently they want the public to watch them crash and burn, because the public is going to do that to them, electorally speaking.

Because the public overwhelmingly identifies with and passionately loves our public lands.

Maybe I am some sort of leftist kook, at least according to these proponents of public land sales, because I also sure do enjoy public parks, and public forests, and public recreation areas, public wilderness areas, and public hunting areas, and public monuments. Yes the government runs these places, and while I am not a big fan of government, public land management is one of the very few things that government tends to do pretty well..so..what can I tell you, this is a not-so-secret Communist plot: As an NRA life member, trapper, and lifelong hunter, I am proud to be part of this plot to “steal” Americans’ property rights, which is one of the ways that public land is described by advocates of bargain basement sales of public property.

Seriously.

Advocates of public land sales actually equate the existence of public lands with the diminution of private property rights.

Never mind that nearly all (my highly experienced guess is about 99.5%) public land has been purchased at fair market value from willing, even eager sellers, who love their land so much that they want to see it remain as wild, open, untamed places for wildlife and the wild people who pursue wildlife, and not turned into ubiquitous, dime-a-dozen cookie cutter asphalt and concrete jungles.

Never mind that in many remote areas, public land is an economic engine that keeps running, and running, and running without much expense.

Isn’t it ironic that the people who want to sell off public lands also want to stop and prevent people from selling their private land to wildlife and parks agencies? They bizarrely claim that public land’s mere existence is a de facto refutation of private property rights!

Oh c’mon! These armchair conservatives are the ones monkeying around with private property rights, when they try to stop sales of private land to public agencies.

They are “armchair conservatives” because these are people who do very little outside an air conditioned office. Maybe they ski at a ski slope with artificial snow as their outdoor lifestyle. But they do not hunt, trap, camp, canoe, fish, hike or do anything else indicating that red American blood flows in their veins. Nope, these are strictly dollars and cents on paper people, no real life experience. They’d sell you their grandma for ten bucks, too. No heart, no soul, just money money MONEY.

And that is how they see public lands: Easy money, easy development.

There is a useful story about money, I think it was about a mere thirty pieces of silver being accepted for giving up one’s soul. Something like that, with the point being that money and self enrichment isn’t our primary purpose in life, and that the people who singularly pursue these two goals are often soulless enemies of all that is good and wholesome.

Several weeks ago the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a local park could not be taken from the taxpayers and sold to a developer to build homes on. You’d think this is a plainly obvious forehead-slapping fact, but it demonstrates that the effort to liquidate public lands is not just a Western phenomenon, but an East Coast idiot parade, too.

Fortunately, the new US Department of Interior secretary does not believe in selling off public lands, unlike the other candidate who was on her way to being nominated before this issue tripped her up with the Trump Administration. The new Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is a retired Navy SEAL, hunter, and Western outdoorsman. He knows personally how important public land is to the identity of Americans everywhere.

Let’s hope Zinke can help his fellow Republicans wake the hell up on this issue, that our public lands are not for sale, before these fools get a good dose of electoral comeuppance from the American people who are barbequeing, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and star gazing on public lands from sea to shining sea right now.

Why I Trap

Trapping wild animals for food, fur, and pest control is as old as the human race, tens of thousands of years in action.

The traps may have changed over time, but the purposes have not. Pests still ruin valuable crops, eat valuable farm animals, and break into homes and ruin stored food. Humans still prefer to eat wild meat, which is tastier, cleaner, and healthier than agribusiness meat. And humans still prefer to wear wild furs that are warmer, prettier, and more natural than human-made fabrics. That furs are renewable, sustainable, biodegradable, and natural adds to their appeal.

But what has also happened over time is the incredibly abundant material success of Western civilization has created an unnatural gap between consumers of food and goods, and the natural world of forestry, farming, and natural resource management that creates those very same consumer goods.

Frankly, Americans and Europeans are largely spoiled.  Nearly everything we need is easily obtainable. Very few of us have to work hard for food, or shelter, the necessities that keep most humans personally toiling in dirty agriculture daily around the globe. Even our poor have expensive personal items like TVs and phones.

Never will I forget a family member decrying “those evil power companies,” years ago, because she did not like the air pollution resulting from power generation. It did not occur to her that her role as a consumer and generous user of electric power made her the real driver behind electricity generation, as well as all of the associated processes branching out from it.

And similarly, the ease of “shopping” for an unimaginably rich and diverse array of food items, so many made to suit nuanced tastes, especially meats, has resulted in a populace that does not understand the basics of what it takes to put meat and food on those same supermarket shelves.

Enter trapping. At first glance to the average American it appears to involve the sadistic mistreatment of very cute, furry animals that would beg us for their lives in humorous dialects of English, if we would only let them. Silly depiction, yes, but opposition to trapping is even more silly than imaginary talking cartoon animals.

Here are some reasons why I trap: We find a mother turtle, attempting to lay another clutch of eggs along the rail trail, the loose pea gravel of which provides perfect conditions for holding, incubating, and hatching turtle eggs. Three feet away is her previous nest, torn up, with raccoon tracks all over the destroyed turtle eggs, eaten by the raccoon. Raccoons are abundantly dead along roadsides everywhere because they are artificially overabundant in the wild, and especially in suburbia, where they have no real predators other than random cars. There are too damned many raccoons, and they are having a disproportionately high impact on other animals, like turtles, nearly all of which are in decline across the world.

Another reason: The PA Game Commission and many other wildlife agencies nationwide are studying why whippoorwills are in such steep decline. One of the reasons is they are ground nesting birds, which makes their nests easy prey for the raccoons, possums, and skunks that pulse out in unnaturally high numbers from the habitat created for them in suburban sprawl environments. The one place I have seen and listened to these sweet nocturnal birds is a place where we aggressively trap, thinning out the artificially high population of ground mammals that would otherwise raid the whippoorwill nests. We create breathing room for the birds to nest and rear young. The same holds true for grouse, turkeys, and woodcock, all ground nesting birds.

I could go on with a long list of cute feathered and furry animals that are in trouble because of predation by skunks, raccoons, and possums, but it should not be necessary. I prefer these animals because they are colorful, or sweet, or rare. Some of these animals are in real trouble, and if not for trapping of their predators, they might be gone altogether. Any thinking person will join me in preferring these uncommon birds and animals over the overabundant, artificially common racoon, possum, or skunk.

Given that choice, trapping is the natural way to preserve animals we want. We remove the animals we don’t want. I trap because I love wildlife, and given certain population dynamics, as a Nature lover, I face certain natural tradeoffs that I must consider. In order to love and enjoy one little birdy, I must eliminate a whole bunch of its predators.

What amazes me is how little most people know or want to know about trapping. They write it off with the wave of a hand. They seem unimpressed that we can easily target certain types of animals, and thereby avoid other kinds of animals in our traps. We can selectively harvest overabundant predators, to help cute, little, rare and endangered critters.

Trapping is not random, it is not haphazard, it is not cruel, and for me it is not about money. For those of us who love Nature and all in it, trapping is really the only way to ensure that Nature in all her facets sticks around. That, or level all of the large lot suburban sprawl developments and pack everyone into cities.

After all, it is suburban back yards that give us the worst of the critters needing the most control: Raccoons, possums, and skunks.

 

A Murder of Crows

My two greatest thrills in the outdoors are native wildflowers, like the trilliums and pink ladyslippers, and native birds, like grouse, turkey, woodcock, wood ducks, and various migratory songbirds.

All of these flowers and birds are under pressure under the best of circumstances, and in many places they are succumbing to that pressure because of artificial factors.

Native wildflowers are naturally browsed by deer, and increasingly collected by people who sell rare plants (and animals). If deer herds are balanced with the carrying capacity of the landscape and surrounding habitat, then the plant colonies can sustain the browsing. The collecting is usually illegal, involving sneaky trespass on private property and violating state law and regulation when done on public land. It is totally unsustainable.

When it comes to my favorite birds, the usual pressures of predation or hunting are hardly a factor in their population success. What is a growing factor is the impact of ground mammals on ground nesting birds, including all of my favorites above and others like more common ducks.

Ground mammals like raccoons, possums, skunks, fox and coyote have a natural place in the natural world, but humans have so greatly altered that natural world that some of these animal populations are disproportionately growing and having disproportionate impacts on other wildlife.

Exhibit A is low density suburban sprawl type residential home development, relatively large home lots in the one to five -acre range.

Low-density suburban sprawl residential development is now the ground zero for artificially high numbers of skunks, possums, and raccoons. Sprawl development provides perfect backyard habitat for these predators to breed and den, but these back yards are too small to hunt or trap effectively or legally.  So these burgeoning and unchecked predator populations keep pulsing out into surrounding farmland and forest. In those more stable habitats, these artificially high predator numbers wreak havoc on the other species who live there, notably my favorite birds, which happen to be ground nesters.

Ground nesting birds are highly susceptible to nest disturbance and egg loss when they are surrounded by artificially high populations  of skunks, raccoons, and possums. In many areas ground nesting birds are experiencing dramatic population declines because they simply cannot nest long enough to hatch a brood of chicks, or the chicks cannot survive predation long enough to develop flight, so they can escape from otherwise slow moving predators like skunks and possums. Adding to the challenge for ground nesting birds is the dearth of brush and young forest which provide the best places to hide a nest on the ground. Most farms today are devoid of brush, and “select cut” high-grade logging has ruined most private forests, while anti-conservation activists decry aggressive forest management on public lands. Brush and young forests are nearly a rarity today, despite serving as nature’s best habitat.

Yesterday I got into one of those internet debates most normal people avoid. It centered on allegedly real photos of a flying mature eagle with a talon stuck in a foothold trap, posted on Lancaster Online. Lancaster Online is run by politically partisan legacy media staff, and it is a huge source of fake news and alternate facts. So when I saw there the photo of a completely closed foot hold trap, with not even a tiny jaw spread to accommodate the eagle’s foot, it looked like yet more fake news and I posted comments.

As you might imagine, a murder of crows of sorts descended upon the article, and upon me, and upon any other poster who either questioned the facts as presented in the article, or who promoted trapping.

Crows are natural enemies of eagles and other raptors. Crows are huge nest raiders, eating baby bird chicks whole right out of the nest. In the context of the Lancaster Online article, the crows took human form: Animal rights promoters, PETA advocates, anti-trapping and anti-conservation voices.

Like with a surrounding pack of crows (called a “murder”) wildly harassing a lone eagle in a tree, the loudly hysterical anti-trapping commenters immediately invoked emotional appeals, personal attacks, lies, advocacy for trespassing, leash-less dogs, and private property theft and destruction. None of them made any sense. None were based on fact, though it is true that occasionally an animal in a trap gets hurt (never mind that every single one of those hypocritical commenters has a direct hand in wildlife death and destruction).

I responded frequently there, and was answered by a surrounding murder of crows, loudly cawing, squawking, screaming, wildly flapping their wings and leaping from tree to tree. Pretty funny to watch, because not one commenter there debated wildlife biology, habitat, etc. Only emotional appeals mostly based on lies and fake news were presented. Lots of hysteria, not much reasoning.

And that right there is why I trap, dear reader.

There are too damned many cantankerous crows, skunks, possums and raccoons eating all of the really cool, cute, useful little birds I enjoy so much. I haven’t sold a pelt since I was a kid. Instead, today I trap to thin out the populations of the destructive ground predators so that the defenseless animals they eat have at least a sitting chance.

As for the eagle photographed flying around Lancaster County with its talon caught in the foothold trap, I have pledged fifty dollars toward its rehabilitation, if it is caught alive. And I want to personally inspect the trap rig, because what is seen in the photos makes no sense. One commenter, a trapper, noted it appeared to be an illegal trap specifically set to catch a raptor, like the eagle, in which case this subject isn’t about trapping, it is about illegal wildlife poaching.

But you’d never know that from the deafening screaming and cawing and flapping from the uncaring, unthinking, hostile, mob-like murder of crows.

UPDATE: 2/8/17 4:30 pm “Just received a call from PGC Director Matt Hough. Matt informed me that the eagle/trap incident was a true event. Fortunately, PA Game Commission officers were able to capture the eagle and remove the trap. There was no damage to the talon. The eagle was released and flew away with no impairment as a result of the incident. Matt did not have any information as to the individual responsible for the trap,” from an email sent to me this afternoon.

 

 

First Super Bowl I’ve Ever Missed

This will be the first Super Bowl I have not watched or participated in some way.

Every year we have a nice party at our home. Lots of food, friends, good cheer and great company. People come, they go, they return, the kids play downstairs where they have their own TV. It has always been a fun time.

However, because the NFL has decided to become involved in anti-America politics, I am giving the NFL a wide berth this year. I have not watched even one second of one game this season, and I will not be watching the Super Bowl, either.

Instead, this Sunday I will be at the PA Farm Show Building, volunteering to cover the PA Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs booth at the Great American Outdoor Show. At the GAOS, I will be greeting fellow outdoors folk, talking up hunting, trapping, and fishing, and reminding visitors of the need for solidarity among sportsmen.

Reminder: The PFSC started the outdoor show that is now the GAOS, back in 1954. And it was I who wrote the call to boycott former show promoter Reid Exhibitions, after they refused to allow modern sporting rifles in the show, and it was PFSC leaders who spread the boycott call far and wide and started it going and which drove off the British-owned Reid Exhibitions and paved the way for the NRA to take over the show. So the PFSC has been central to the GAOS and all the good stuff that goes with it for a very long time.

Here in Pennsylvania we have an unusual arrangement that no other state has. We have a league of exceptional people, dedicated to wildlife and habitat conservation, sound policy, and full-throated Second Amendment freedom. No other group in America, much less Pennsylvania, does what the PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs does at the state level. Everyone benefits from PFSC’s daily work at the Capitol: Birders, wildflower enthusiasts, hikers, and yes, hunters, trappers, and fishermen, too.

One way GAOS visitors can support the outdoor sports is by purchasing a PFSC $5 raffle ticket. Every year people win nice guns and lots of money. It is a good investment, because even if you don’t win (and I never win), you are supporting PFSC’s full-time lobbyist and part-time support staff, so that all outdoorsmen have a constant voice in politics. PFSC is the main reason Pennsylvania bears no resemblance to our surrounding states, with their crazy anti gun laws and emphasis on animal “rights.”

Sorry, NFL, aka Kaepernick and Roger Goodell, you have made yourself irrelevant to me, and by acting so aggressively against America, you have reminded me and many other Americans of what is most important. It’s not entertainment, it’s not beer commercials (Budweiser has a pro-open borders ad, so kiss that beer goodbye from our future family purchases), it’s not hotdogs or even the company of friends. What matters most is bolstering the people and the values that have always made America great. And here in Central Pennsylvania, that means keeping company with fellow outdoorsmen.

See you at the GAOS!  And God bless America.