Friday, February 27, 2015

Hunting Late Season Lawn Geese in Maryland

With duck season finished, and only a few days left in goose season, I felt like I needed another good hunt.  Though there was some ice on the river, the true cold hadn't yet arrived.   My buddy Joe, a fellow habitat restoration nerd, was reviewing bids for a wetland construction project, and so we used the morning sun (and a sky free of geese) to roll out construction plans and examine some contractor proposals.

The spot was interesting enough - a protected farm with a burned out historic mansion on top of the hill, looking down upon what used to be acres of tobacco and the riverfront.  Since that house was abandoned, and others erected nearby by the family, much has changed in Maryland.  The state offered a tobacco farming buyout, which roughly 90% of farmers accepted.  The local soil conservation districts now frown upon growing crops all the way to the river's edge, as it's a significant route by which water becomes polluted.    And while the farm is protected (by easement) from subdivision and development, eventually someone will buy it, demolish the abandoned mansion, and build something on the same footprint, as they're allowed to do.    But on this day, we were simply hunting geese.

With a moderate sized decoy spread in front of us, we waited patiently, until shadows flew over us.  The birds banked, hovered overhead, and decided to put down outside of the decoys, about 50 yards away.   Joe and I both shot, downing two birds, a third sailing just offshore (to be retrieved later).  The two birds on the lawn had fallen dead as stones, despite the wingshots we took on them at 50 yards (and 10 yards off the ground, fading away from us).  

Our friend John joined us shortly after, but Joe and I both suffered from mental messaging that "we should be at work."  A little after 12pm, we packed up and headed in with the three geese we had taken on the lawn.

It's been a strange winter and a strange hunting season, but I'm glad it ended the way it did.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Questions about the North American Model of Wildlife Management (Part III)

The North American Model of Wildlife Management is that wildlife populations are managed to levels consistent with scientific sustainability, and if possible, to levels desired by the public. 

Under this paradigm, Wildlife are classified as game, non-game, or imperiled (threatened, endangered, etc), and based upon the population's sustainability, a species can move between those three categories periodically to ensure the species is sustained indefinitely.   Funding for all three categories of wildlife and the protection and restoration of their habitat is provided largely through the taxation of hunting and fishing goods and the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, permits, and tax stamps.   

In Part I of this series (click here), we discussed the origins of this model of wildlife management, and the abandonment of commercial hunting in the United States.  In Part II of this series (click here), we discussed how science, regulations, and funding interact to fill out the "body" of this model of wildlife management.

What about park entrance fees? Park entrance fees, while important, generally go towards basic public access improvements, like paving entrance roads and cleaning toilets, not purchase of additional land or intensive habitat management projects.

What about my state taxes?  At the state level, "general fund" investment in state wildlife programs usually approaches 30-40% of the department's operating costs.  The remainder is composed of matching federal excise funds (10-20%) and hunting, fishing, and boating license revenue (50-60%).   Nonprofit investments in fish and wildlife habitat and access typically bring in another 10% in federal matching funds, and approximately 10% in nongovernmental funds, though these projects may occur on private lands where the public does not directly benefit.

Fully funded, most states' wildlife departments would represent less than two percent of any state's budget.  Instead of investing in these programs to create the opportunity for even more revenue from fishing and hunting licenses, most states rely on this revenue to simply "break even" in fish and wildlife conservation.

But non-hunters pay too!  Non-hunters do in fact pay for conservation through their state taxes.  That means that the 83% of Americans who do not fish or hunt account for roughly 20% - 40%  of wildlife conservation efforts in most states.  The remaining 60-80% of the work (federal excise taxes on fishing/hunting gear, fishing and hunting license revenue, matching funds from hunting/angling nonprofits) are derived from the 17% of Americans who fish or hunt.  Several years ago, I read that the average deer and duck harvest per hunter per season were 0.9 and 4.3, respectively.  That doesn't seem like a heavy toll for funding 60-80% of fish and wildlife programs year after year, for the past 80 years.

If there are too many deer, why can't we sell deer meat?  The free market commoditization of wildlife and wildlife parts from 1880-1918, along with several revolutions in firearm manufacturing during that period, is the most obvious and indisputable cause of the extinction of some game species and the near-extinction of many others.  While hunters need to be open to a variety of deer management techniques in areas where it's difficult/impossible/illegal to hunt, venison sales are not one of those.  

First, the administrative nightmare placed upon both game wardens and food inspectors would be significant, as this is a de-centralized harvest of animals.  Second, the indirect effect would be a massive reduction in recreational deer hunting opportunities, because a profit-based approach would give venison producers first dibs on hunting grounds.   In fact, this is what some anti-hunters want - especially those within the equestrian community:   fewer deer and fewer deer hunters.   That's a precise antithesis to the North American model of wildlife management.

In conclusion, the North American Model of Wildlife Management is based upon several premises:
1. Commercial hunting devalues the resource and demoralizes subsistence and recreational hunters
2. Recreational hunting is sustainable when it is scientifically based and sustainably funded
3. All users should pay, and some users must pay, for the sustainable management of wildlife resources
4. Americans value the native assemblage of species in each region.  Due to human disturbance, this natural assemblage can no longer work independently of human restoration and management efforts.
5.  If hunters and anglers can no longer sustainably fund landscape scale conservation efforts, then other resource users must be compelled to pay at the same or greater scale.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hunting Tough Late Season Geese in Chestertown, Maryland

The challenging waterfowl season continued, with mild weather and bluebird days.  My trip to Florida had really killed my ability to scout the property that I lease outside of Chestertown, so I accepted an invite in nearby Worton (actually closer to Chesterown than my lease).   As I've written about many times, Chestertown is important because it's on the Chester River.  The Chester River holds more wintering Atlantic Population Canada Geese than any other body of water.  In the world (really, the Atlantic Flyway, but may as well be the world).

Dawn came mildly enough, scattered clouds again and temperatures relatively comfortable in the 20s.  I'd remembered to bring everything I needed for a hunt.  Except for my gun.  In 20 years of hunting, I've never ever forgotten my gun.  But this was the day.  My host, Paul from Hunting the Shore, lent me an 870, which I'm comfortable enough with.   We were set up early enough to watch a commercial guide set up a blind right on the property line of Paul's lease.  Sigh.

The geese flew predictably, but did not come particularly close, hanging up on the edge of our spread, about 50 yards out and 20 yards in the air - edge of shotgun range, but almost motionless.  On our first volley, we wounded three geese which then sailed directly into the range of the commercial guide and his clients (just 200 yards away) - their first three birds.   On the second group of geese, we killed one goose and wounded another, which was killed by the nearby commercial guide as it tried to land while dying.

A frustrating but not fruitless hunt.  Had the commercial guide not been there, we would have had to go knock on the neighbor's door to pick up our dead geese.   The next day, a limit of geese pitched into the decoys less than 10 yards from the pit, and all three hunters were done in 5 seconds.   Ah, hunting.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kindergarten Signing Day in Maryland

I grew up in a pretty bucolic spot on the earth, though if I were to describe it, it would sound a lot like a swamp.   It was the kind of place where children used to, and still go to school based on whatever public school district overlays their home.  To be sure, there is gamesmanship in the real estate industry based upon this reality.

But we live in Baltimore, Maryland.  One year's worth of Baltimore murders:

The public school for which we're districted for commands a lofty "3/10" rating on, but perhaps more disturbing is that two drug dealers dueled it out in broad day light recently on the school grounds; one was killed.   Charter schools exist but are unpredictable in every way, including "making the budget" and "paying the teachers ontime."   Long lists of politically active parents exist for every "good" public school in the City, which after all, are just "passable" public schools by my generation's standards of public schools (roughly 65% graduate, 40% college acceptance).

That leaves private school.  Baltimore has a long history of prestigious "independent" day schooling, much in the way that Philadelphia has a long history of prestigious boarding schools.   And while those schools are not diverse socioeconomically, they are certainly racially diverse, and almost all of them command 100% graduation rates and 95-100% college acceptance rates.  What do you pay for that?  Somewhere between "a good chunk" and "a fortune."   The price range is from $7500/year to $22,000/year.  For kindergarten.  There is no mathematical scenario that involves us being able to pay more than $9000/year, at least in the next two years.   High school prices are higher:  $17,000 - $27,000 per year.  Luckily, we are eligible for financial aid.  For kindergarten. In fact, one school's admissions staff did not believe that we could possibly have salaries as low as we do (our salaries are quite normal), and demanded to see copies of our pay stubs.  This could be a long 13 years.

We have visited several schools, filled out extensive application and financial aid forms (remember:  this is Kindergarten), watched our son be evaluated for his "fit" into the academic program of several schools (he usually tells stories about how our dog is dead, or how my stomach is ginormous because I make bad food I'm sure a scholarship will be forthcoming!), and in two cases, sat through parental interviews as well.   We initially looked at five schools, and applied to three.

On February 20, all Baltimore private schools release their acceptance letters to potential students.  I call this Kindergarten Signing Day, just to make it sound more ridiculous than it is. These letters include final offers of financial aid (or lack thereof).   By March 10, we'll have to choose and send in a hefty deposit on next year's tuition.   Having come from a rural public school background, this is all very stressful.  My reality was that you live somewhere, the schoolbus shows up, you get on, and it takes you to a school.  This reality is very different - private schools are jostling for "the best" students, and jostling for money.  They're (and we're) concerned about "fit" and whether the "culture" is the best for our son.   The level of thought is like what I experienced in choosing a college.  But this is kindergarten.

This is kindergarten.   Where, depending on what happens in the next 10 days, he may set upon a path towards Catholic high school and college.   Or he may choose a different route, inexorably leading him to explore his love of robots and technology.  Or he may end up at a school that propels him into an ivy league college (that we also cannot afford).

It is hard to know what we'll do, when we don't yet know what the true choices are (a tuition bill for $21,000 kindergarten is not a real choice, based upon our income).   It is also very worrisome to consider the possibility of making "the wrong choice."  Since I have never sent a child to grade school, I don't know what "the wrong choice" even means.

So, very soon, February 20th will arrive, and with it, feverish phone calls from private school admissions officers trying to seal the deal with our son, and lock us into what they hope is a 13 year commitment to Hank's education and a longer commitment to charitable giving to the school.   What will the choices be?  It's hard to tell.

We'll have to wait until Kindergarten Signing Day to find out.