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Sometimes real issues skirted

Thu., Dec. 10, 2009

Sportsmen are susceptible to power trips that throttle their stature.

For example, a bird hunter who killed a charging grizzly near Choteau, Mont., this fall initially generated awe for standing his ground and thwarting a potentially lethal attack with three blasts from a 20-gauge shotgun.

But in the bigger picture, he and other hunters who pursued upland birds in those thorny buffaloberry groves on the Rocky Mountain Front are emerging as greedy fools who inflicted another wound to the sportsman’s image.

Down the road, the lack of restraint could result in shorter seasons or sportsmen losing access to hunting areas.

The news this fall was filled with stories about grizzly sightings in lower elevations and the high toll hunters have been taking on grizzlies in “self-defense” incidents.

The deadly trend is raising the debate on whether grizzlies should be re-listed as endangered species.

Hunters were aware that a sow and her three cubs were in the Eldorado Grove area, which is known to attract fall-feeding bears.

But some, including this hunting group, went into the buffaloberry patches anyway.

The sow defended her cubs as nature had programmed her to do.

The hunter did not have pepper spray at hand, a highly effective preventative widely recommended to hunters penetrating prime grizzly country.

Result: Another dead grizzly bear at the hand of a hunter, and the odds for survival are grim for the three cubs.

It’s hard to imagine the bird hunt was worth the risk they took and the price the struggling population of grizzlies will have to pay, not to mention hunters in general.

Even fishermen, in a more insidious fashion, did not shine brightly last week under the spotlight of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Olympia.

Led by the American Sportfishing Association – an industry group with an admirable record in standing up for angler interests – sportsmen soundly opposed a proposal to prohibit the use of small lead fishing gear in 13 lakes along the northern edge of Washington.

The commission will decide on the issue later in the winter.

The ASA posted a misleading alert on its Web site in November that asked anglers to send letters to the commission “demanding that they reject a proposed rule that would ban the use of lead fishing tackle.”

The original alert did not clarify that the proposal would affect only 13 of Washington’s 7,000 lakes.

The alert also said, “No evidence exists that concludes that lead fishing tackle is threatening loon populations.”

That’s not true.

In testimony to the commission, ASA government affairs spokesman Gordon Robertson debunked the state’s evidence that “39 percent of loon deaths result from lead toxicosis.”

Robertson reminded the commission that over 13 years “only nine loons were said to have died as a result of ingesting lead fishing tackle.”

Such low mortality numbers do not pose a threat to the larger population of loons, he said.

But that’s the voice of persuasion, not necessarily a rational look at the issue as it pertains to this state. Consider this:

•Washington is on the fringe of breeding range for common loons, which recently have been documented as nesting or attempting to nest at only 13 of the state’s northern lakes.

•Last year, Washington was known to have only 10 nesting pairs of loons.

•In the context of those low numbers, documenting nine lead-caused loon deaths is a big deal without even considering that a larger number of loons likely perished without being documented.

Robertson and the ASA are undeniably correct in pointing out that a general ban on lead fishing gear would be unnecessary and devastating to fishing and the fishing industry.

And we must not forget that Washington receives about $25 million a year for fisheries conservation and restoration from the excise tax paid by manufacturers of fishing tackle.

But we also must admit that anglers would suffer nearly no consequences to non-toxic gear requirements at a mere 13 of 7,000 lakes.

The slippery slope theory doesn’t seem to apply here.

It would be good for the sport and the industry to recognize the unique issue in this tiny niche of Washington’s fishing waters.

A small sacrifice could result in significant progress to preserving the common loon, a bird with an enchanting call that wins the heart of nearly everyone lucky enough to hear it on Washington waters.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or e-mail

Tags: outdoors

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