Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Outfitters seek to overturn hunting license law

One of the drawbacks to making laws is that someone inevitably wants to overturn them.

New Mexico legislators already know that, of course, but lately they’re getting their noses rubbed in it. From the Associated Press:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Outfitters from four Western states argued Wednesday in federal court that their constitutional rights to conduct business in New Mexico were being upended by changes to the state’s hunting draw.
A coalition of several outfitters from Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Washington have asked the court to issue an injunction and temporary restraining order to keep New Mexico’s law from taking effect.
U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo ordered the proceeding to continue Thursday after hearing a few hours of testimony and evidence.
The law spells out how many New Mexico residents, non-residents and outfitters can be awarded hunting tags through New Mexico’s draw system. Tens of thousands of hunting licenses are sold in the state every year, and a portion of those are doled out through the draw by the state Game and Fish Department.
The quota system was changed last year after New Mexico hunters fought to ensure in-state hunters received a larger portion of the hunting tags.
At the center of the dispute is language that New Mexico legislators included in the law that mandated 10 percent of hunters cannot apply for a license through the draw unless they hire a New Mexico-based outfitter.
Before this year, the location of an outfitter’s business didn’t matter.
“Regulations that prohibit out-of-state residents from doing business in another state are clearly prohibited by the Commerce clause under well-established case law,” the out-of-state outfitters said in their complaint.
Hunting, guiding and outfitting are part of a big business in New Mexico, where rural communities depend on money spent by outdoor enthusiasts. Studies have shown hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation annually contribute billions of dollars to the state’s economy.
New Mexico sportsmen are concerned the court case will put in limbo their efforts to ensure a larger portion of tags for in-state hunters.
Before the law was changed, less than 80 percent of the draw licenses were reserved for residents, with the remainder going to non-residents and outfitters. On average, that was the lowest percentage for residents of any state in the Rocky Mountain region, according to the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
With 84 percent of tags now earmarked for residents, the federation said in-state hunters actually have better odds of drawing a license.
“The bottom line is the problem that is being expressed has to do with this requirement to hire outfitters,” said Jeremy Vesbach, director of the wildlife federation. “Nobody is challenging the idea that residents can have a preference, but they’re trying to take down the whole building over it. They want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Vesbach also disputed the outfitters’ claims that they’re being barred from doing business in New Mexico. He said they can still compete for business, like they do in other states, they just wouldn’t be eligible for New Mexico’s “outfitter subsidy pool.”
The deadline to apply for big game draw licenses is March 28, and some 70,000 hunters have already applied, according to a department official who testified Wednesday. The Game and Fish Department is supposed to conduct the draw in early May.
Department officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Ohio River anglers are being surveyed

You hear it all the time when you’re fishing: “Catchin’ anything?”

At least now your answers will be official. From the Associated Press:

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Starting Sunday, wildlife officials in three states began  surveying anglers about what they’re catching in the Ohio River.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will continue that survey through Oct. 20.
Anglers will be asked to take five minutes to fill out the form, which will ask about the types and numbers of fish they’ve caught.
It will also ask about their residency, and about overall fishing habits and experiences.
The survey will provide information to help the states better manage the fishery and improve fishing opportunities.

More on this after I’ve had a chance to talk with DNR fisheries officials.

Back in the saddle…

Sorry that my blogging has been spotty the last few days. For the past three weeks, my Gazette duties have been divided between the outdoors beat and March Madness. I’ve helped the sports staff to cover the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament, the girls’ state high school tournament and the boys’ state high school tournament.

Covering three games a week took a huge chunk of the time I would have usually spent finding good topics to blog about. My annual stint as a sportswriter is now officially over, and I should be back to full-strength blog posting beginning tomorrow morning.

Thanks for hanging in there!

Feds to tribe: Go ahead, kill two bald eagles

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Native American tribes are due a fair measure of sovereign autonomy, but I’m kind of wondering how slippery the slope might get. From the Associated Press:

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A federal permit allowing the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming to kill up to two bald eagles for religious purposes is the first of its kind ever issued to an American Indian tribe, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said Wednesday.
The federal agency granted a permit last week allowing the Northern Arapaho to kill or capture and then release up to two bald eagles this year. The tribe filed a federal lawsuit in Cheyenne last fall over the agency’s earlier failure to grant a bald eagle permit after the tribe applied for one nearly three years ago.
The permit was granted in response to the tribe’s application, not the lawsuit that is still pending, Matt Hogan, assistant regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver, told The Associated Press in a statement Wednesday.
“Issuance of the permit was in accordance with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act which allows for take of bald or golden eagles for the ‘religious purposes of Indian tribes’ if it is compatible with the preservation of eagle populations,” Hogan wrote.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that killing one or two bald eagles would be consistent with the standard of preserving eagle populations, Hogan stated.
The national bird was removed from the federal list of threatened species in 2007, following its reclassification in 1995 from endangered to threatened. The birds remain protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
“We will consider any permit applications from tribes in the same way we considered the request from the Northern Arapaho; however, at this time we do now have other pending permit applications,” Hogan wrote.
The agency has issued previous permits to allowing individual American Indians and tribes, including the Hopi in Arizona, to kill golden eagles.
Andy Baldwin, lawyer for the Northern Arapaho Tribe, said Wednesday he sees the government’s decision to issue the bald eagle permits as, “an important development in the protection of tribal sovereignty and religious freedoms.”
Attempts to reach tribal officials were unsuccessful Tuesday and Wednesday. Baldwin said the tribe may issue a statement Thursday.
Baldwin said earlier this week that the tribe’s decision to sue to secure the permit was closely related to the federal government’s prosecution of a tribal member who killed a bald eagle on the Wind River Indian Reservation without a permit in 2005 for use in his tribe’s Sun Dance.
Baldwin said the Northern Arapaho Tribe was determined in filing its lawsuit that other young men not be prosecuted in the future for practicing their traditional religious ceremonies.
Federal law prohibits non-Indians from killing or possessing any part of bald eagles. The government keeps eagle feathers and body parts in a federal repository in Colorado that tribal members may apply for to use in religious ceremonies.
According to a status report that federal lawyers filed in Johnson’s court this week, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe said it objected to killing bald eagles on the reservation that the two tribes share because the Shoshone believed that killing eagles was contrary to joint laws the tribes share. An attempt to reach an Eastern Shoshone official for comment on Wednesday was unsuccessful.
The Northern Arapaho’s federal permit limits the tribe to killing up to two bald eagles, without eggs or nestlings, outside the reservation boundaries. Hogan stated that permission from the State of Wyoming wouldn’t be required, but said that the permit would require consent of the owner of the land where the birds are killed or captured.

Cougar killing might cost official his job

Dan Richards and the cougar that might cost him his job

Imagine losing your job because you took part in a perfectly legal hunt.

That’s might just happen to Dan Richards, president of the California Fish and Game Commission. Richards killed a mountain lion in Idaho, where it’s legal to do so. Animal rights activists in his home state of California — where mountain lion hunting is illegal — went bonkers. They put pressure on Democratic members of the state Assembly, who introduced legislation to oust Richards from his post.

The legislative effort was short-lived, but the San Jose Mercury News reports that  members of the Commission recently voted 4-1 to change the rules by which commission presidents are chosen. Armed with the rule change, they could vote Richards out of his presidential post as early as May 23.

Animal-rights and environmental groups are salivating at the prospect. The Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club openly lobbied for Richards’ ouster.

I think the Commission’s vote says more about the people being appointed to the Commission than it does about Richards. For years, in the interest of “diversity,” animal-rights and enviro groups have sought to load up state game commissions with people who represent their points of view. In California, it would appear that the effort has achieved critical mass.

If the attempt to oust Richards succeeds, where will it lead? Will good people fear to run for office because they had (gasp!)  “animal killings” in their past? Would politics become a “hunters need not apply” prospect?

I sure hope not.

State to regulate exotic animals

Sorry, all you lion and tiger owners who happen to live in West Virginia. There probably aren’t many of you, but from now on you’re going to have to register your pets.

State lawmakers took a step toward regulating exotic animals during the final day of the 2012 legislative session. They left the heavy regulatory lifting to the state Division of Natural Resources, but at least they made a start.  From the Associated Press:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Private owners of tigers or lions would need to obtain a permit to continue housing their animals in West Virginia under legislation heading to the governor’s desk.
Both the House and the Senate approved the bill during the final day of legislative action Saturday. The bill delays enforcement until 2013 by requiring the Department of Natural Resources to write rules that would identify which animals require permits and whether zoos and animal sanctuaries would be exempt.
The bill defines exotic animals as those that pose a physical or biological threat to humans, livestock or native wildlife.
Pet owners fear the law would apply to small critters like hamsters and parrots. Owners can weigh in during the rule-writing process and when the legislature reviews the rules next January.

Bass virus shows up in W.Va.

Uh-oh.

From the Associated Press:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The Division of Natural Resources say recent samples of fish have revealed the presence of largemouth bass virus in four West Virginia lakes.
Assistant wildlife resources chief Bret Preston says the virus was found at East Lynn Lake in Wayne County, North Bend Lake in Ritchie County, Stonewall Jackson Lake in Lewis County, and Sutton Lake in Braxton County.
Preston says the virus hasn’t been linked to human health issues.
The DNR says bass populations infected with the virus have experienced summer die-offs, depressed growth and less than optimal health conditions.
To minimize the spread of the virus, the DNR encourages fishermen to avoid transferring live fish or water between water bodies, and properly clean and maintain all boats, live wells and tackle.

Lawmakers duck action on exotic species

It’s easy to tell when it’s an election year. Elected officials avoid doing anything that might be the slightest bit controversial.

Case in point: the West Virginia Legislature. Tasked with creating a law to regulate exotic animals within the state, they did the predictable thing — punt the political football to the Division of Natural Resources.

From the Associated Press:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Delegates have slowed enforcement of proposed exotic animal restrictions by requiring the Division of Natural Resources to write rules specifying which animals would be regulated.
After hearing from upset pet owners, House Judiciary committee members became concerned Wednesday that small pets like turtles, parrots and gerbils would be covered under the bill. The bill states that exotic animals to be regulated must be physically or biologically dangerous to humans, livestock and West Virginia wildlife.
The rule-writing process allows for public comment and would require the Legislature’s final approval of regulations next winter before the law could be enforced. It would also give the DNR more time to determine which animals would require permits and to set fees.
Prior versions of the bill banned specific animals like snow leopards and lions.

Woman wants rid of the turkey that stalks her

Photo by Maslowski/NWTF

City folks. You gotta love ’em.

There are a lot of scary critters in Detroit. Drug dealers. Gang members.  Thugs of all shapes and sizes. So what does a Motor City woman fear? A turkey.

From the Associated Press:

COMMERCE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — An Oakland County woman says she’s become a prisoner on her own property, stalked and harassed by a 25-pound turkey.
Edna Geisler calls the foul bird “Godzilla.” The 69-year-old told the Detroit Free Press that the turkey wanders near her Commerce Township property each day from nearby woods. She recently couldn’t get to her front door after a trip to the grocery store.
“I have to go to the post office at 6 o’clock in the morning to avoid him,” said Geisler, who has been bumped and clawed.
She has tried changing her schedule but this turkey is no dummy. A friend, Rick Reid, said the turkey went after him, too, when he opened the door on his minivan.
“He tried to come right in the door,” Reid said. “He bit me on the elbow.”
Indeed, a video posted online by the Free Press shows Godzilla roaming the grounds like they’re his own. State wildlife expert Tim Payne said adult turkeys are known to aggressively defend their territory, although most fear people.
“This bird has probably attacked, and the person retreats,” said Payne of the Department of Natural Resources. “What it tells the bird is, ‘What I’m doing is good.’ It reinforces the aggressive behavior.”
Payne suggested Geisler open a large umbrella to drive the turkey back to the woods.
“Make some runs at the bird and become the aggressor,” he said. “The bird needs to learn who’s the boss.”
Geisler wants the turkey gone by summer so she can work in her garden. The hunting season opens in April.
“Every time I eat turkey I smile,” she said. “I’d like to do that to him.”

Something to make your head explode

My goodness.

It was bad enough that someone torched a 3,500-year-old cypress tree in Florida. It’s even worse to find out why the fire got started.

Authorities allege that 26-year-old Sara Barnes, a resident of Seminole County, Fla., set the fire so she could better see the methamphetamine she was preparing to use.

Slow, deep breaths. Control that blood pressure. Think “calm.”

The Orlando Sentinel has the full story.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.