(Editor’s Note: The Debutante Hunters won the Shorts Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival after this post was written.)
Sometimes it seems to me that conservation in the American West is like a Rocky Mountain river, wild with snowmelt, tumultuous and dramatic, with some new, obvious, challenge every second. But Southern hunting and fishing, and the conservationist ethic they spawn, seem more like a southern river, broad and slow and deep, shadowed with history and tradition.
The scimitar horned oryx . . . the addax . . . the dama gazelle - three elegant desert antelope that you'd hope to see on a journey through Africa, except that their numbers are dwindling there. Which is why Lara Logan went to Texas -- yes, Texas. There, on large grassland ranches, some exotic species that are endangered in the wild have been brought back in large numbers. But there's a catch: a percentage of the herd is hunted every year by hunters who pay big money for a big catch.
I’ve been a conservation writer and reporter for almost 15 years, and there’s one thing I know for sure: you better have a sense of humor if you are going to stay in this game.
"Oh no!" I thought, when I first read the accounts of The River of Blood, also known as Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Trinity River--a big creek, filled with blood, flowing into a major, already much-abused river that is the source of drinking water for around 10 million Texans.
When it comes to wetlands protections, it's hard for sportsmen to find any heroes in Washington these days. We have a House majority that spent last year shouting its opposition to restoring protections to 20 million acres of vital wetlands stripped by the Supreme Court, and vows to continue that assault this election cycle. And we have a president who makes a lot of noise about helping--but then doesn't follow through.
So as Congress returns to work this month, sportsmen's conservation groups find themselves fighting on two fronts in the battle to restore protections to those temporary and isolated wetlands. Here's the situation:
When the GOP blocked attempts to correct those court rulings with the proposed Clean Water Restoration Act, conservationists were cheered when the Obama Administration stepped in last spring sending its agencies a proposed new wetland "guidance"--spelling out which wetlands they could protect. This wouldn't put protections back on everything, but it would help.
Every once in a while a book comes out that is so far out of the mainstream, and so perfectly beautiful that it makes you just stop and marvel at how deeply the outdoors and the experience and tradition of hunting runs in our culture.
I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have found Melody Golding's new book, The Panther Tract: Wild Boar Hunting in the Mississippi Delta. I got the book in the mail today, and have whiled away most of the afternoon lost in it, reading the dozens of hog hunting tales, studying recipes for wild pig and gawking at the 160 spectacular photos of men, women, horses, dogs and wild hogs, and above all, the haunted, mist and rain soaked swampscape of Yazoo County, Mississippi.
This incredible resource is the winter home or stopover point for 70 percent of migratory waterfowl in North America. It is critical to 90 percent of all marine species in the Gulf such as reds, tuna, snapper, tarpon, amberjack and kings. It is also the top tonnage seafood landings in the contiguous U.S. and produces 50 percent of the nation’s wild shrimp crop, 35 percent of its blue claw crabs and 40 percent of its oysters. All 110 species of neo-tropical migrants use it with 50 species nesting there and 60 using it as a stop-over on long migrations.
The sunlight had lost its power. My son Harold and his buddy Austin were overdue by a couple of hours at least. They were supposed to be swimming and fishing their way down a couple of miles of winding creek to the next paved road, where they could walk back into town to Austin’s house. Austin’s father was worried about them, and so was I, so I rode with him in his big flatbed, banging down a two-track that was as close as you get to the creek in a truck.
We yelled for them and honked the horn a couple of times. It was late August, and the big cottonwoods of the creek bottom were just starting to turn yellow. The willows and chokecherries there were a massed wall of green, one of the thickest places I know of, a haunt of whitetails, an occasional black bear, more rarely, a grizzly or two. We headed back to the pavement, parked on the bridge and waited, the cool water of the creek rippling below us, wondering silently how much trouble two boys, 11 and 13, could get into in all that jungled bottomland between here and the next road.
We're not cheering the end of an annual $2-6 billion annual subsidy American taxpayers have been sending to refiners for the last three decades, although there's nothing wrong with having a party about that. We're lighting the fireworks for the end of a well-intentioned program that turned into an environmental disaster.
Ethanol originally was considered good news by conservationists because it would mean reducing the amount of carbon-producing fossil fuels with a renewable plant-based product. What could be more green? But the small push for ethanol grew into a big rush in 2007 when President George W. Bush -- to the cheers of most in the green community -- announced the goal of having 15 percent of domestic gasoline consumption converted to ethanol in 10 years. Before you could say "more row crops, less prairie grass" corn prices had gone from $2 to $4 a bushel, and by the end of the following spring, the nation had planted 90 million acres in corn -- the most since World War II.
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism, gave us this well-known truism: "Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime." That moral lesson comes to mind when thinking of the gift Iowa farming couple Ken and Sharon Sawyer gave to Iowa sportsmen: 400 acres of fully restored wildlife habitat that will be added to the 715-acre Clanton Creek Natural Resource Area in Madison County. They just gave Iowa hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts lifetimes of enjoyment.
The Clanton Creek area was already special, forming the largest land-locked wilderness in the county, offering some of the finest public hunting in south-central Iowa. The Sawyers had spent two decades restoring the wildlife potential of their property, and wanted to keep it that way.