From the President
Conservation Management takes a wild turn - who to blame?
USFWS culpable, but covers backside with indignation and moral outrage By Dan Thomas
A July 31 USFWS press release begins with the words "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, expressing revulsion at the senseless slaughter of more than 800 double-crested cormorants in New York's Lake Ontario, is offering to pay for information...for a brazen act of environmental terrorism."
So the folks at USFWS, to cover yet another mismanagement screw-up are expressing moral outrage over a lethal wildlife population management act, a legal procedure used by every state and federal resource agency to manage game and fish populations in the U.S.
Never mind that major game and baitfish stocks country-wide are already at risk and being pressured by federal activities that continue to allow the introduction of hundreds of exotics into the nation's waterways.
It's no wonder the angling community is frustrated about questionable federal management practices and failures in the Great Lakes region.
Inflammatory and senseless rhetoric from FWS has included: "This slaughter continues the litany of negative and erroneous images some people have about this fishing bird" (FWS Region 5 Deputy Director Cathleen Short), "The USFWS, expressing revulsion at the senseless slaughter" (FWS Region 5 headquarters), "We are appalled at this horrible act" (Short), "was especially disgusted by the nature of the Little Galloo killings" (Short), "The slaughter of adult birds at their nesting sites is particularly inhumane," (Short), and "The ignorance displayed by this killing."Short).
Somebody needs to put a muzzle on this gal and straighten her out. There was nothing inhumane about killing those birds. Get real. It was simply an act of sheer frustration by a concerned angler or anglers - conservationists who decided they had enough of FWS' complacency and ineptness. They felt they couldn't do any worse than some of the other management decisions we've seen of late by our appointed federal officials.
Let's put this in perspective. The U.S. Border Patrol on Aug. 12, 1998 discovered nine bodies of illegal immigrants along the south California border. Their bodies had been mummified from exposure to the sun for a week, after trying to sneak into the U.S. "This is a tragedy," said agent Mario Villarreal. It was and is. Villarreal would shake his head in disgust at Short's pontificating and moralistic outrage. So should we.
If FWS would get off their sanctimonious butts, quit acting like morally outraged puritanical ministers and do the job they were charged with by Congress to do over forty years ago, we wouldn't have this unfortunate mess today. Lethal methods to control wildlife populations are no big deal; they're legislated all the time. FWS just have their noses bent out of shape because someone did their job for them.
They also seem to have cornered the market on morality for this administration. How sad.
Their press release made strong reference to the angling community when it said "Service biologists cannot help but draw a connection between the killings and the hostility expressed for cormorants by individuals in the sport fishing community." It may not be the angling community at all. It may be FWS agents sharing anglers' frustrations of an inept agency that may have a new set of marching orders.
Just where is USFWS headed these days? At one time they managed fish and wildlife for the American public, but recently there are signs they're headed in a different direction.
FWS leaders of late have been insensitive to the regulations governing their agency and the need to protect and enhance the sportfishery. Their budget reflects the direction FWS Director Jamie Rappaport Clark and the administration are headed with aquatic resource management. For FY '99 Clark has requested a 46% increase in the Service's Endangered Species program and only 6% more for its fisheries program.
To further confirm our suspicions regarding the direction in which the Service is headed, the Washington Times reported there may be a conflict developing at the USFWS. In an Aug. 11 article, the Times reported former USFWS chief of wildlife refuge operation James Beers, who is now the USFWS liaison with state wildlife agencies, claimed that the service is trying to force him out of his job because of his support of lethal methods to control wildlife populations. Such methods include hunting, trapping and fishing. A fax from Beers was quoted as saying "USFWS is getting tighter with animal rights people and trying to distance itself from hunters, fishermen, and trappers. Service officials have been trying to fire me for the past nine months."
The above should not be a surprising revelation, considering the report we made in November of 1996 about FWS funding the Friends of Animals (FOA) to the tune of $39,514. The American Animal Welfare Foundation, a national organization promoting responsible animal use, advised this was the second of two grants from FWS awarded to FOA, an animal rights organization that is opposed to hunting and fishing, even though there was no justification for granting taxpayer funds to one of the nation's most outspoken extreme animal rights organizations.
The cormorant problem will not go away without a reasonable management solution acceptable to state authorities and the angling community.
NYSDEC Great Lakes supervisor Bob Lange said, "The most significant issue for Lake Ontario is Cormorants," and their 1997 annual fisheries report estimates that cormorants annually consume 793,000 game fish from Lake Ontario - 640,000 of them being smallmouth bass.
Short adds, "Most people know that this bird has value and that it contributes to the web of life." Big deal. So do deer, antelope, elk, sheep, bear, ducks, geese, partridge, doves, bass, trout, salmon, crappie, etc., but we still use lethal means to harvest and manage these populations. By not using similar management practices on a burgeoning bird population, we allow dramatic changes to valuable ecosystems that affect jobs, businesses, lives, families and community economics. That then becomes irresponsible management and is unacceptable to conservationists and the American public.
Ammonia-rich droppings from cormorants destroy vegetation, trees, shrubs, and ground cover where wading birds nest, and studies show cormorants are responsible for declining numbers of herons and egrets that depend on the islands for nesting. They seem to do more harm to the web of life than any perceived good.
Another one of the more frustrating statements, again made by FWS' loose cannon, was "The Service is working with states and the USDA to manage fish-eating birds when they cause damage to private property."
Well ma'am, those fish stocks being eaten by these fish eating marauders belong to our fishing partners, our fishing friends, our children, their children and their children's children. They are damaging our property - our precious and not unlimited resources.
This controversy is not new. It goes back ten years and has now reached "an ecological disaster" as Bruce Shupp recently shared with me.
Shupp, former chief of fisheries for NYSDEC, further states, Little Galloo Island looks like "a victim of a nuclear disaster." Shupp adds FWS' actions these past ten years have "only served to polarize" partnerships and the aquatic recreation community.
The General Accounting Office and Congress have just concluded their investigation of the IRS and have implemented new legislation to correct major human failings within that agency. The GAO and Congress are now in the process of investigating the USEPA and the many allegations of wrongdoing and their human failings. Maybe the USFWS should be next.
A parting historical quotation from a great American: "There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people." Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, May 1, 1965
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