Little Salmon Tender Memories

The Sally N had seen better days before I ever boarded her decks. Built in the year 1942 and originally employed as a transport barge, she was recently reconstructed and sold as a salmon tender, with a purchase by my uncle and a new assignment in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Her length was 100 feet and she weighed 200 tons, nearly doubling that amount when her fish tanks were full to capacity. Her bottom was flat, making it easy for her to navigate shallow water and therefore most useful in the Naknek/ Kvichak commercial fishing district, where she was later destined. 

When I found her, she was docked in the Homer harbor, patiently awaiting the breakup of ice that would send her out to sea and toward her next job. She looked comfortable and honored despite her being surrounded by new and improved ships of steel and fiberglass, with their flashy paintjobs and pompous names. Her own white body was streaked with unsightly rust and stained a sickly yellowish-green along the bottom from years of algae growth that had never been scrubbed away. The blue window and deck trim was hardly noticeable anymore, after the elements had peeled and chipped most of the color away. The anchor dangled from the bow, unsecured and careless. One front window of the wheelhouse was shattered, giving her the impression of having a black eye, of being the loser in a string of fights. Despite every sign of collapse and exhaustion, I was enthralled with her.

I easily agreed to the conditions of employment as a deckhand for the 2008 sockeye season and soon, along with Mwynen, who was a well-seasoned adventurer and my closest feline companion, I hopped off the docks and aboard the boat, looking forward to an exciting summer. I was the only woman to be aboard the boat and as such, was afforded my own little room to the front and left of the galley, across from the Captain’s quarters. The room was modest and clean. Immediately to the left, there was a closet just big enough for several changes of clothing, my raingear, and survival suit. Across from that, I had a small table with a splintered shelf and a drawer I soon found to be paralyzed in its closed position. The bed was very small, but I found it to be quite cozy and warm, even with the fatigued, sinking mattress and threadbare, gray sheets. A sturdy shelf was built to follow the ceiling above the bed. Much to my delight, it was filled with old books that had been left behind by deckhands of seasons past. Overlooking the bed was an old-fashioned window that could be lifted open by sliding the panel up with just a bit of force. The walls of the room were of thick wood, washed over with a thin coat of white, and constantly whispering and whistling as cool wind found its way through their cracks.  The window was curtained in royal blue, which almost matched the faded bedding and lent the room a refreshed and soothing feel, complementary to the outside environment of the sea. 

I had packed modest belongings for the four months I would be aboard the Sally N. Being that an appropriate uniform in the commercial fishing industry is little more than quality raingear, thick sweatshirts, and plenty of extra socks, it didn’t take me long to stow away my gear and feel at home. 

We had several days before we could leave Homer and head out of Kachemak Bay; beginning a journey that would take us along the Aleutions, through False Pass, and into Bristol Bay. This time was not spent idly, for there is much needed to ready a boat for work after it has been sleeping through a frozen winter. Not surprisingly, I found the galley and wheelhouse to be a dirty mess of books, tools, dishes, and trash. All surfaces were crusted over with a layer of oil and dust, with no item having a proper place. So, I spent my time scrubbing and setting right the details of the crew’s communal living quarters. This effort went greatly unappreciated by the novice crew of men aboard, who found little value in freshness and order, and didn’t spare many opportunities to eye me disagreeably. 

Once I had finished the interior of the boat, I turned my efforts outward. The deck was scattered with tangled, oily ropes and displaced buoys in every direction. Any good sailor knows a complicated deck is hazardous, in addition to being inefficient. Once the season is underway, there is little time for the crew to spare away from the loading, hauling, and unloading of each fishermen’s salmon catch. Movement must be quick and unhindered. I can’t imagine why the rest of the crew had chosen to ignore the fact, or how my uncle remained oblivious, but it mattered little. While the men wrenched on our twin hydraulic cranes and worried over the mechanics of the diesel engines below, I was smoothing and coiling every disregarded rope and tying off these shunned buoys to their proper places. This seemed to irritate the men even more, as if I was now encroaching onto their territory by appearing on deck and straightening up what they assumed was their business. Where did they think my place was? Perhaps, they had expected me to cook and mind the coffee pot in the galley. In any case, all of this work took place during the morning and afternoon, while evening gave way to the eating, drinking, and intoxicated conversation that led us into night. With flushed cheeks and a stumble to my step, I’d then make it to my room and be calmed to rest by the tire in my body and the gentle lap of the waves against the boat. The moon would shine brightly in the sky and blend its white radiance with that of the other boats in the harbor, sending a multi-colored twinkling of light across the settled water of our secure harbor. The cursing, stomping, hammering, and hurried commotion of boat work, as well as the criticizing frustrations directed at me throughout the day, had quieted down and the men had passed out heavily to sleep off their drunken excesses. I was left alone with Mwynen, each of us to our private thoughts in the secret and lull of the night. It was a favorite time for both of us. Mwynen would prowl the decks and explore his new surroundings, and I would use the time to reflect and revitalize myself for the challenges of the new day. Finally, word spread that the ice had broken in Kachemak Bay and that we could be on our way. Last minute supplies were purchased, last drinks were had at the local bar, and the engines were fired up. Leaving the harbor on a sunny morning always spreads a feel of camaraderie amongst the crew and this time was no different. I wasn’t thought of as the frivolous female onboard, but instead considered as any other deckhand. I even got a compliment for my cleaning and organizing, followed by eager nods and further acknowledgments that hardened men can only offer when found in their best moods. We voyaged in fair weather that day and I spent most of my time on deck; either at the bow, watching our great push forward through the water, or hanging over the stern, with my eyes following the waves of our wake.  I was excited to see that Gray whales were following and swimming alongside the boat often, rising to blow and eye us curiously as we traveled. Seagulls accompanied us too, of course, often landing to hitch a ride on our rails and cargo.

I offered to work the first shift of wheelhouse watch, taking over the Captain’s position and allowing for his rest. Being that the boat is guided by GPS, it is rather simple to monitor our progress and make little adjustments here or there to keep the boat in the correct water depths. That is in calm weather. Now, the elements were shifting considerably as we neared the Barren Islands, where the ocean is always given to tumultuous behavior. Still, I settled into the night readily, with a fresh pot of coffee brewing and a full tobacco pouch in my pocket. I felt peace just to be left on my own, even as with each passing wave, I watched the great bow rise and smash with increasing velocity. Mwynen had arranged himself next to me and alerted to our assignment in earnest. His whiskers twitched to follow the howls of the wind and his perked ears shifted with every erratic motion of the boat, but he did not lack confidence and behaved as any true adventurer; curious and fascinated, even if seemingly courting death. 

It does happen fast, the ocean’s shift to violence and the possibility of serious trouble. A loud crash from the galley brought me up and scrambling down the steps to find the rack of drying dishes scattered across the floor. Fighting to balance, I began to strap down and secure everything I was able, even as items continued to drop around me. 

I cursed that drunk men might sleep through anything. 

Settling back in the wheelhouse, I eyed our course on the computer and began making adjustments with every vanquished wave. I became increasingly nervous, thinking of the age of the Sally N and wondered just how well she could stand up to such difficult weather. But after awhile of this argument with the sea, a steering right here and a push back left there, I began to feel satisfied and trusting in the old ship.  A once mighty workhorse of the sea, she still fought stubbornly forward in whatever direction I set her bow. It was with great conviction that I watched white sprays of sea gust over the rails to scatter the frustration of the ocean across our decks and pull at the ties of our cargo. I  stumbled down the ladder into her engine room often, as my uncle had instructed me, to anxiously check her bilge and see that we weren’t taking in too much water. Her aged, wooden hull creaked and groaned with each passing swell, gasping and letting in the ocean with great and violent spews as the twin engines bellowed loudly and filled the air with thick heat and exhaust. A disturbing scene, at first glance. But this too, I became accustomed to as the night wore on. Her bilge flushed the water back out, almost as quickly as it could come in and we were in no immediate danger of capsizing, I could see as much. Surely, the night would conclude in our favor.And it did. As the sun stretched its first rays over the horizon and lightly caressed the surface of the Pacific, the water calmed and sighed into remission, taking on the appearance of a great layer of silk, billowing softly and spread forever out before me. I was soon relieved of my duty by the Captain and sent to rest with the sympathies of the Sally N, her engines establishing a efficient rhythm one can easily trust and follow into sleep. I used my last bit of spirit to open my little, stubborn window and let in the fresh morning breeze and salty scent of the sea. Mwynen burrowed himself a nest near my stomach and began his pulse of purring that is the last sensation I remember.

So began the pattern of night watch that I kept. It was not always filled with steering our boat through storms, but became better known for the more peaceful and uncomplicated work one might find on a salmon tender. I handled the last-minute fishermen who came rushing in to deliver their catch, slamming their boats against our side bouys in the drain and fatigue of darkness. I sat in the wheelhouse, often with book in hand, monitoring the radio for official updates from our cannery and the midnight river-gossip of bored insomniacs. The men of the crew would stumble in and out of my night, sometimes even being called forth particularly for assistance, but the hours were forever claimed by me and my control of the night’s happenings was respected. A comfortable and natural setting for a woman to find herself as a salmon tender deckhand.  image1-2

Time and Tide Waits for No Man.

The Naknek River flows westward 35 miles from the gin-clear waters of Naknek Lake, draining into Kvichak Bay and out into the Bering Sea. Together with the Kvichak River, it makes up one of the largest Sockeye salmon runs in the world and welcomes 40-50 million returning salmon each year. By July, the river is demanding and full of activity. The air is heavily coated with the scent of fish processing and accented with the floating trails of smoke from the Native’s salmon smokehouses. The population of Naknek, a small wind-battered village that decorates the north bank of the river, fluctuates around 600-700 people in the winter, but with the fishing season the population can easily soar to well over 1000 people and then you can hardly find peace.

Spring is the best time to sit on the tundra-wrapped banks and watch the river. The beaches are quiet and absent of the hustle and chaotic work of the commercial fishing season; the set-net skiffs landing and pushing off the beach, the quads and cannery trucks rumbling up and down with heavy catch loads, the seagulls crying and arguing over fish scraps. You can sit here for six hours, the length of our great tide change, and rarely will anyone notice you. It is during this season that I will take a morning to find myself a secluded spot on the high bank that lines the river. I tuck myself amongst the tall beach grass and dangle my legs over the edge, heels resting in the crumbling dirt. 

At the earliest start of the morning, the Naknek River is quite and full as it rests in slack tide. The first flood of the day has just ended and the river appears swollen and immense. The water gently laps against the pebble-coated shore and is a mysterious, thick gray. The air is very still in its frigidity; it barely moves at all. Clouds are heavy and thick in the sky above, having amassed and gorged themselves with vapor over the night, and they mirror the gray of the water below them. Beluga whales swim in great pods upriver in search of food and they rise and blow periodically, white humps glittering the river’s surface accompanied by sounds of whistles and clicks as they communicate with each other along their hunt. The seagulls follow them, gliding along just above the water’s surface, diving often and quietly chattering as if in an ongoing discussion with the whales. There may still be a few ice sheets lingering along the edge of the water, reflecting the morning sun with sharp sparkles of light.

Soon, the tide will begin to change. The river begins to rush back out to the bay and as if to encourage its motion, the wind also gathers strength and urgency. The clouds begin to break apart and lift their gloom from the scene. The air is crisp and untarnished, only lightly accessorized with the smell of salt and sea life. The whales return to deep water almost unnoticed, but the seagulls begin to raise a serious commotion presumably disturbed by the deliberate force with which the river has altered its course. The sun is higher in the sky, but has yet to truly lend its full warmth to the ground below. 

For nearly three hours the river will be on the move, with the strong gusts of wind as its encouragement. The transformation is astounding. Sandbars, once hidden, begin to peak out of the mighty current and lend to the discovery of the river’s true channel. You may hear a raw snap as ice is broken away from its last clutches and taken away with the determined current. Ravens have arrived to decorate the spectacular with their own raucous calls and pageantry of chuckles chirps and rattles. They scream about enthusiastically, harassing the seagulls and flirting with each other in elaborate aerobatics, never ones to lack excitement or to miss out on the day’s events.

By noon, the river is resting again. Where it was once abundant and broad, it has now emptied itself out into several peaceful channels that signify the deepest routes of the riverbed. The sun has fully risen and the air is sweet with the smell of new growth and the vitality of the budding earth. On its currents, the breeze transports the excitement and hope of a new season, the energy of creation. The earth is laden with the fullness of germinating plant life, all fighting to sprout and boast their brightest shades of green. Atop its landscape, the ground is saturated with snowmelt and fragrant with the aroma of organic decay. You can pick out each individual scent of the many plants species that make up the Arctic tundra: lichens and mosses smell woody and deep, Labrador tea is spicy and reminiscent of rosemary, the numerous low-bush berries are fruity and bright. The seagulls gather on the newly exposed sandbars to roost and gossip amongst themselves. An occasional bald eagle lands here as well, to bask and preen its royal feathers in the warmth of the sun.  A grizzly bear may appear, lumbering along the beach slowly and sniffing for a snack through whatever remains on the shore after the tide, but it’s a little early for that yet. All the songbirds are out twittering and frisking from willow branch to willow branch with much energy and joy. 

The full metamorphosis of the Naknek River is complete. It takes six hours for a complete shift from high to low tide and there will be two such shifts in each day. They are dramatic and they are trustworthy. In Naknek, a great many plans are directly aligned with their occurrence, as they are a force to be reckoned with and they wait for no man or woman. I miss their influence in my life very much and I miss watching their great transformation, a few hours of contemplation and inspiration in the spring.image1

An Excerpt From a Long Letter…

The definition of reality is all up to the individual’s interpretation; there is no right or wrong answer and the world requires all variations of perception and achievement in order to whirl about the universe smoothly. 

What matters is what makes your heart sing and what fulfills you, so that you function to your highest ability and die feeling like your life meant something. We were not born here to suffer and struggle, we were born here to grow our souls.

Now, some people would not consider wandering the woods on horseback and sleeping fireside to be what warms their heart or enriches their mind. And that’s okay! But for those of us that do, we should not be so easily convinced that we’re foolish or unrealistic. I’ve never met a true wanderer who I thought was worthless or unhappy. On the contrary, I have found them to be a wealth of practical knowledge and also spiritual peace. As long as you still give your gifts freely, you are valuable to the world. I suppose it depends what you are doing with that time and why you are doing it…

I could go either way, in the end. Perhaps a blending of the two. I could also be very fulfilled by having a stable home and operating out of that property, producing wealth from that piece of land. As long as I still feel in control of my own life and free, warm, loved, and worth something.  

When you turn your horse out to freedom on vast acreage and return to that land to sit or sleep, and your horse leaves the herd to stand or lay beside you, sharing your thoughts and guarding you into your dreams, that horse is a philosopher…you have to recognize it by the gentle nuzzling of your shoulder and the soft shifting of hooves rippling the grass.

All the miles in the saddle where you lose your balance, misjudge the stride, ask your horse to stand strong or go forward into a situation that frightens them and fires off every survival instinct they have, but your horse shifts their own balance to better support your own, alters their gait to correct your error, and bravely stands their ground or moves further with you, that horse is honest…you have to notice all the moments the horse could have cheated you, but chose otherwise.

They don’t have to do any of these things, you know. And not every horse will. But it is just like humans and some of them are quite special. Especially concerning riding, I think people so often forget how easily a horse could destroy us and how honorable it is that they don’t! And you may say I sound crazy, but that would only be because you haven’t experienced the deep camaraderie with a horse that one can only appreciate after they’ve spent many miles exploring and many hours resting with such a partner. Or perhaps, you’re just not a poet. I think you are a little bit of a poet because you did admit once, that you listened to Enya.

I do not know what the Owl and the Horse discuss into the wee hours of the night. They probably have formed a deal that Theo spills some oats to attract the mice and Archimedes gets a meal. Beyond that is anyone’s guess! But I like to think of their friendship.

Interspecies relationships in the wild are especially intriguing. The wolf and the grizzly is intriguing. You can look at it critically and analytically or you can look at it spiritually and I do not believe either is correct or incorrect. It’s quite interesting and becomes more interesting, the less you limit your thought process…IMG_0291

Keep the HSUS out of Arizona Wildlife Management

Although the majority of my friends are hunters and anglers, I also cherish those that are not participating in either pursuit. I also respect the various and unique reasons those friends are not participating; which range from a rigid moral objection towards the killing of any living being, to a simple lack of opportunity or availability to begin. 

For these friends, I’d like to clarify and explain some of the reasons I am adamantly set against the current ballot initiative to ban all wild cat hunting throughout the state of Arizona, brought to us by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the little poltergeist they summoned to do their local bidding: Arizonans For Wildlife (AFW).

For those of us that live in Arizona, the integrity of our legal system is one of the most important things to consider when deciding whether or not to support the Arizona Ban Hunting Wild Cats Initiative and there are several misleading tactics being used that put our autonomy in serious jeopardy.

First, AFW is deliberately and shamelessly lying to voters by advertising their campaign as an effort to “prohibit the trophy hunting of mountain lions, bobcats, jaguars, ocelots and lynx.” They use the term “trophy” deviously, to describe a situation where the hide, meat, and other body parts of an animal are completely wasted upon harvest. Repeatedly, they persist that in Arizona “thousands of mountain lions and bobcats are killed by trophy hunters every year” (https://azforwildlife.com/about). Not only are they using combined data between 2010 and 2014 to reach that estimated harvest figure, which is disingenuous in and of itself, but most importantly—mountain lions are classified as a Big Game Species in Arizona and there is no legal situation such as AFW chooses to describe in their literature, where one can be killed with a trophy mount as the only motivation. To the contrary, Arizona statutes as recorded in Title 17 Game and Fish, Chapter 3, Article 1, 17-309 describe that to “take a game bird, game mammal or game fish and knowingly permit an edible portion thereof to go to waste” (https://www.azleg.gov) would be a clear violation of our hunt regulations. For those hunters who choose not to consume their mountain lion upon harvest, they are welcome to share the nutritious wild game meat with friends and family. The important thing is that they pack it out, just as they would for any other subsistence hunt! There is no legal trophy hunting of mountain lions in Arizona as AFW so offensively describes it, but still they choose to use this emotionally charged and divisive terminology in an attempt to sway the opinion of voters. It is worth mentioning that every state has their own wanton waste laws, working to ensure that the least possible amount of the animal is discarded upon harvest and the very idea of a “trophy hunt” is as individual to the hunter as each animal we choose to pursue; all hunting is restricted by specific regulations that are set by the best scientific data available to ensure that our wildlife population and predator-prey relationships remain healthy and balanced, in harmony with their supporting habitat. AFW is hoping to convince voters that trophy hunting is something it is not and they want you to think mountain lions in Arizona are being discarded carelessly upon harvest when they are absolutely not!

Second, the lynx, jaguar, and ocelot cats are only being included in this ballot initiative to further confuse and deceive Arizona voters. The ocelot cat has been listed as endangered since 1982 under the Federal Endangered Species Act, their range is primarily throughout southern Mexico, Central America, and South America, and only one has ever been confirmed sighted in Arizona in the 1960s (http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/es/ocelot2.shtml). The jaguar cat has been listed as an endangered species outside of the United States since 1972 and in 1997, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that there was enough evidence to indicate that Arizona and New Mexico borderlands also serve as the cat’s current range, therefore supporting the extension of their federal listing to include the entire United States (http://azgfd.gov/w_c/es/jaguar_management.shtml). However, like the ocelot, the jaguar’s primarily range is throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America. This is why our greatest focus in conservation efforts continue to be cooperating with and supporting our colleagues outside of the United States, such as our efforts with Mexico indicate. There have been five confirmed jaguars in Arizona since 1996. The Canadian lynx was listed as a threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife service since March, 2000 (https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/lynx/index.html) and although there are 15 states in the lower 48 which currently still serve as their habitat, Arizona is not one of them and never has been! The lynx follows the snowshoe hare as their primary food source, they both range in boreal forests; a biome characterized by its coniferous forest of essentially fir, spruce, pine, and larch trees (https://www.facebook.com/azforwildlifeaccuracy/posts/126923081348493). In 2005, there was a female lynx discovered within the Hopi Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona. She was originally trapped in the Yukon and then released in Creed, Colorado as part of the Colorado Lynx Reintroduction Program started by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in 1999 (https://www.fws.gov/fieldnotes/regmap.cfm?arskey=16933). Biologists working for Colorado Parks and Wildlife were surprised to be alerted to her presence there, as Arizona is not part of the lynx’s range. She is the only lynx that has ever been confirmed in Arizona.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists both the mountain lion and bobcat as animals of Least Concern. They are given this listing because they are abundant and wide-ranging, with neither species suspected to be declining at a rate that would qualify them for the distinction of Near Threatened (http://www.iucnredlist.org). Again, AFW claims that “an average of over four thousand bobcats have been killed each year over the past five years” and that “thousands of mountain lions” are also killed each year in Arizona. However, the scientific data collected and distributed by Arizona Game and Fish Department suggests that AFW is ignoring the facts and creating their own narrative to serve their misguided wildlife agenda. Records indicate that there are an average of 2,000-2,7000 mountain lions living and thriving in Arizona with an average harvest each year of 250-300, which is only 10% of the population (Hunt Arizona; Survey, Harvest and Hunt Data for Big and Small Game. Arizona Game and Fish Department Information and Education Division, Information Branch, Publications Section. June, 2016). There are an estimated 66,000 bobcats residing in Arizona with an average harvest of 3,700 cats each year (Hunt Arizona; Survey, Harvest and Hunt Data for Big and Small Game. Arizona Game and Fish Department Information and Education Division, Information Branch, Publications Section. June, 2016) which amounts to only 5.7% of the bobcat population. The total harvest numbers each year of mountain lions and bobcats both fall below scientific recommendations! Where is AFW arriving at their annual harvest numbers? Apparently, they believe they can create their own data and that voters in Arizona are not critical or thoughtful enough to question the information before signing the Arizona Ban Hunting Wild Cats Initiative.

I think the citizens of Arizona are better than this. 

I believe that Arizona voters want to seek the truth and make informed decisions! 

I hope that we will all choose to keep outside lobbyist groups excluded from our wildlife management policies and instead, keep our hunt regulations under the recommendations of unbiased wildlife biologists and field staff working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Another issue that concerns me greatly, is the issue of funding for wildlife and fisheries conservation, habitat restoration, hunter and angler education, wildlife research studies, and land acquisition. Right now, Arizona Game and Fish Department is funded primarily by sportsmen and women, through the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF) which is a unique “user-pays for public benefits” structure where those who are using the public benefits pay for the privilege or right to do so. Hunters and anglers are doing this with the purchase of their hunting/angling licenses and tags, as well as taxes applied to the purchase of their hunting/angling equipment. This system of funding has propelled the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation to be recognized as the most successful throughout the world and generates billions of dollars for wildlife!

From The Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation, American System of Conservation Funding:

“There are three pillars to the ASCF: revenue from sporting licenses, and excise tax revenue from both the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Programs. Hunting licenses were the first example of this “user-pays, public-benefits” structure. In some cases, license sales made the entire funding source for the creation of state wildlife agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources or Fish & Game.  Later, the passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson Act) and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson Act)  set up a system in which excise taxes collected from sporting goods purchases are funneled back into conservation. These excise taxes are used to fund a wide variety of activities including: fish and wildlife research, private and public habitat management, hunter education, shooting range development, land acquisition and easements, and angler access area construction.  To date, the WSFR alone has contributed more than $18 billion to conservation – money that stems directly from sportsmen. Since 1939, state fish and wildlife agencies have received over $57.4 billion from sportsmen and women through this funding structure.”

Last year, Arizona collected $53,799,168 through the ASCF, in addition to hunters and anglers supporting 18,220 jobs and generating $131,755,796 in state and local taxes (https://azgovernor.gov/governor/news/2016/09/arizonas-hunters-and-anglers-contribute-wildlife-conservation). 

This is a significant source of funding supplied by hunters and anglers! I would like to know how the HSUS and AFW plans to replace this lost revenue for wildlife, should they successfully continue their campaign to ban all hunting throughout the entire United States? So far, they have not provided an answer to that question and I am not surprised because there isn’t one.

The reality is that even if AFW is successful in banning the hunting of mountain lions and bobcats throughout Arizona, both wild felids will still be killed as their population management requirements dictate. The difference is that instead of hunters paying for the ability to be a part of that science-based management plan, while also being legally required to make for the highest use of the animal upon harvest, taxpayers will take on the financial burden to fund depredation kills and the animals will be thrown in the trash upon each successful contract hunt. It’s important to remember that there are several extenuating circumstances that require wild cat populations be managed, which are all taken into consideration as hunt regulations are decided. These circumstances include: improving success rate for prey reintroduction, livestock/human interaction, containing transmission of disease, prey decline, and habitat loss. AFW acknowledges that these circumstances exist and have allowed for depredation in these circumstances to continue. However, apparently, they would prefer that the Arizona taxpayer fund the entire affair, with no additional financial support offered towards wildlife conservation, habitat restoration, hunter and angler education, wildlife research studies, or land acquisition. 

I think the citizens of Arizona want better than this. 

I believe that Arizona voters want to support and conserve wildlife with their financial contributions.  

I hope that we will all choose to keep outside lobbyist groups excluded from our wildlife management policies and instead, keep our hunt regulations under the recommendations of unbiased wildlife biologists and field staff working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.image1

Loving The Chase

A week ago, I had shared a post that was related to mounted fox hunting with hounds. During the dialogue that ensued, one friend made a remark in defense of the sport saying that the “the fox quite often has as much fun as the dogs” and “some of them seem to get a real kick out of it” when the hounds are on their trail…

This opinion was met with opposition by another friend, naturally. The rebuttal was that to make such a claim about the quarry would be anthropomorphism and that “humans rarely even understand themselves well enough to ever make a judgement call on what another species of animal feels.” 

I could talk about anthropomorphism for a very long time. I could discuss it at great length and into deep complexity. I’m not going to do that now. But I have wanted to try and explain how a person could even imagine such a world—where the chased loves the chase—when the very idea seems contrary to any survival circuits and the concept unreasonable to apply to the circumstance of being hunted. I don’t know if I can explain it without diving into an enormous discussion about anthropomorphism, but I think I can share three stories that suggest to illustrate it.

When I moved to my first property in northern Arizona, I bordered the public land. I had two dogs that were both of mixed breed and assorted work, primarily they were my companions.  Neither were bred specifically to trail or hunt game, but of course when the opportunity presented itself they were each quite willing to give it their best effort. Every once in awhile, they were even successful!

We had a male gray fox that would sniff and explore our back fence line. He was in fine form with a healthy coat of shimmery silver, robust red detailing, and crisp white accents. He was in good condition and held his pompous tail bushy and free of debris. Though he did not look to be suffering for his meals, I am sure he was initially attracted to my chicken coop full of diversely colored and loudly gossiping hens. But his curiosity was always met with fierce and protective opposition by the two domesticated canines in charge of the property. His consistent investigations led one of my dogs to begin jumping over the fence and one of my dogs to dig beneath it; leading to excited and passionate pursuits through the tall pines. But eventually, I noticed the fox didn’t even seem concerned with the existence of the hens. Instead, he seemed more concerned with the two dogs and whether or not he could entice them to a chase. There were times when the dogs would be inside resting, but I would see the sitting fox at the far corner of the yard right where the fence was worn low enough to leap over and bent up enough to dart under. There is where he would wait, until I alerted the dogs and let them loose. The dogs also were accustomed to their reliable antagonist and this lively routine, but for all their try they were never going to be quick enough to catch him on the ground and hardly skilled enough to successfully trail him to a tree. And so, it appeared to me, that the fox made the chase shorter and shorter. Eventually, he would wait until the last moment to move and he’d only make a quick sprint up the nearest pine. By this time, the chicken coop wasn’t even in this area of the property anymore and I can’t imagine the allure for the fox except to conclude that he had come to find this all very entertaining. Certainly, he was not threatened and had never had any reason to feel threatened. Such as with any fox, he was significantly more skilled and clever than most all that would try to hunt him. And of course, he could have avoided the event completely…

I have done my best to train my first scenthound specifically for bobcat hunting. Or she has done her best to try and train me. In any case, except for abundant encourage and charitable advice from her breeder, we never had much more than each other as we tried to figure it all out. So, it was an enormous moment of pride and satisfaction for me when she treed her first bobcat! 

I remember that the chase only lasted a few hours, but I do not remember how many miles the cat took us. It was a decent race, but nothing about it was very daring or formidable. The country we found ourselves trailing through was primarily sparsely wooded ponderosa pine and though it was very dry, the land was open and easily travelled. The cat chose to move beneath small oaks that sheltered him a gradual climb to a peak of giant boulders, where groves of aspens glimmered in their carefully reserved sunlight and stellar jays narrated the story. But he didn’t stay up in the rocks where he could have easily and considerably delayed my hound. Instead, he took us across the crest until we met where a wildfire has recently swept through and left the land charred and barren. He used a small flood ravine carved out of the mountainside as his passage of descent past the burned and fallen trees. This was the first time I set my own eyes on him and I caught him just sitting there waiting. But I was lucky to catch that glimpse, for he had just then decided my hound was close enough with her nose to the ground tracking along and he made a easy leap into his sneaky crevice road. I thought, “he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry!” It was shortly after that when he treed. I was so excited that I climbed the ponderosa and sat awhile on a close branch, considering and appreciating the little wild cat. And it was while I was up there that I noticed how relaxed and nonchalant the bobcat appeared; he would gaze idly at my noisy hound below and blink slowly at me with a tilt of his head, but he seemed utterly relaxed by the entire affair and even had moments where passively grooming his paws took preference over guarding himself or closely regarding his hunters. He was not breathing heavily and straightening his glorious coat was clearly more important than worrying over his next move. He simply appeared unimpressed by our efforts and one might even think amused! He certainly didn’t appear stressed or even strained…

My last story is less about how a wild animal being pursued might be feeling about the pursuit, but more a musing of how completely and entirely more capable they are of handling the terrain they call home. Thereby, being more often composed and confident than many would otherwise believe.

One of my hounds had recently broken her leg and being that she was still confined to walking on a lead while she recovered, we were sitting together quietly on the edge of a vast canyon. I had no intentions or expectations as we glassed the sharp cliff walls and narrow ridges, so richly and deeply colored in the fading evening light. We were only passing the time while the rest of the hounds wandered and explored out of our sight. It was just about time to head back, calling the pack in along the way, when a sudden and furious uproar of bawling burst through the trees behind us. The voice of six excited hounds—the entire pack—could be deciphered. I knew by their tone and expression that whatever they had was actually being seen, not only scented. They were moving fast towards us and I figured it was a deer race. I fully expected to see a deer or two break through the tree line, but what came racing out was a mountain lion with my dogs hot on her tail. I actually cannot say absolutely whether it was a male or a female, but I believe that it was a female because of her size and intentional performance; without hesitation and without consideration, she sprinted straight for the rim and sprang to what she knew would be her freedom! There didn’t seem to be any part of her that didn’t know exactly what edge she’d touch and exactly what point she’d use to accelerate her escape to the bottom of the canyon and bound further away from her assailants. I think that females often do exhibit this certainty of their territory because they have the tendency to claim range, keep it, and know it in its entirety. As opposed to traveling males who are occupied completing greater routes, if not departing altogether. It’s just an idea. Anyway, the pack was moving out too hard to be able to stop their momentum and though they tried to slam on the breaks when they realized where she was taking them, they couldn’t manage it in time and each hound only slammed into the one ahead of them, tumbling off and landing in a messy pile beneath me. They only suffered bruising and even that injury was burdened more by their ego than their body. They were caught by a ledge only adorned with small juniper saplings and I considered them quite lucky, as it wasn’t too far of a drop. As they grouched their way to their feet, each hound seeming to blame the other for their collective folly, I caught sight of the lion again as she silently and gracefully crawled her way back up some distance away from us. She paused when she reached the flat again and she looked for a moment back down behind her, where the hounds were scrambling to track and navigate through her route. But she knew they wouldn’t catch her. Not that evening, anyway. She was a small female, but she was beautiful and in total command of her range. I have no doubt that she knew her escape from the second she knew she needed to employ it. I also believe I saw her fearless and secure. And on my way home in the dark with my shuffling and despondent hounds, I reflected that if that wasn’t an example of fair chase in display of its finest form, than there is no example of fair chase for us to describe at all…

Of course, anyone would be valid in their argument taking the opposite opinion of the one I am trying to persuade of here, that the prey is not always panicked and frightened. But it seems to me, as sports(wo)men, we do well by describing some of our positive hunts; our experiences as we experienced and our reflections as we reflected, how we’ve come to draw some of our conclusions and keep our opinions of our sport and our quarry. Because it is difficult for a person who has not taken the same journey to be able to imagine it and certainly, we all benefit from at least seeing the other perspective.  

The Canadian Lynx…in the Southwest?

There has been much confusion about the canada lynx and why this wild cat was included in the initiative to ban all cat hunting throughout Arizona, recently proposed by Arizonans For Wildlife and HSUS.

Does Arizona even have a population of canada lynx?

Did Arizona once have a population of canada lynx, that was eradicated at some point in our provocative history? 

Have there been recent sightings of canada lynx in Arizona?

Why is the canada lynx included in this proposed initiative? 

The short answer to the first three questions is, no! 

Though historically the canada lynx was found occurring in 25 states, their most stable populations are found in their most northern range and they are strongly associated with boreal forests; a biome characterized by its coniferous forest of essentially fir, spruce, pine, and larch trees. They are a highly specialized predator, almost exclusively dependent on the snowshoe hare as their main food source. In fact, they are the only felid to undergo prey-driven cyclic declines! Hares breed profusely when food is plentiful and eventually overpopulate their food resources, causing their numbers to drastically and suddenly fall. They cycle through these population declines approximentally every decade and lynx will follow with a lag of 1-2 years (The Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids. Macdonald, David. Loveridge, Andrew.) In the continuous United States, the canada lynx is considered threatened wherever it inhabits that is within the Mountain-Praire Region (www.ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?spcode=A073#rangeInfo). Our Mountain-Praire Region is considered to be made up of eight states which include Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, and Kansas (www.fws.gove/mountain-praire/aboutus.php) Critical habitat designation has also been proposed for Maine, Minnesota, and Washington (The Biology and Conservation of Wild Felids. Macdonald, David. Loveridge, Andrew.)

Relocation efforts of lynx from Canada and Alaska have seen mixed results in the United States, with primary threats to success being habitat fragmentation and interspecific competition from the eastern coyote. It was these relocation efforts that brought the one confirmed lynx sighting to Arizona!

Colorado Parks and Wildlife began the Colorado Lynx Reintroduction Program in 1999 and during a seven year period, they trapped a total of 218 cats from Alaska and Canada, collared them with GPS tracking systems, and released them into the remote San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado! The lynx reintroduction was considered a success by 2010, with an estimated 150-250 cats existing in Colorado’s backcountry including Summit County and the San Juan Mountains (cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/SOC-Lynx.aspx).

It was the 15 of September in 2005, when one of the first females originally released as a part of this same relocation program was discovered raiding a chicken coop on the Hopi Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona. She was originally trapped in the Yukon and then released in Creed, Colorado (www.fws.gov/fieldnotes/regmap.cfm?arskey=16933). During her new life in the San Juan Mountains, she successfully birthed three litters and lived well, but eventually she was faced with a challenger for her territory. She lost that battle and it caused her to start traveling. Unfortunately, after walking over 350 miles, she was discovered in a tricky spot for any cat to be caught! She had already killed 10 healthy chickens and one adult turkey, by the time she was dispatched and reported to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Sadly, her time in Arizona was quite brief…but she left us with a full stomach!

As to why Arizonans For Wildlife and the HSUS chose to include the canada lynx in their recent efforts to ban all cat hunting throughout Arizona? Your guess is as good as mine.5507489995_bd610d1da1_b 

Fair Chase Houndswoman

It saddens me that as a woman who enjoys hunting with hounds, I am not considered as a fair chase sports(wo)man by many others in the hunting community because I absolutely do share a strong fair chase philosophy; I was raised to support fair chase principles and I will raise my own son with the same teaching and guidance.

To me, using scenthounds and sighthounds as hunting dogs defines fair chase! There are no tricks being played when I release my dogs; no camouflage, no scent luring, no calling, no concealment. Any success is dependent solely on my dog’s physical abilities, mental dedication, and training for experience vs the exact same characteristics in our quarry. Except that the quarry is in its most suitable habitat, which it is entirely adapted to and aware of completely. And my dogs? They are just visitors passing through new territory and trying to make sense of the land. Spend a month hunting your dogs for five days a week and you’ll soon realize how often the chase is immediately in favor to the wild animal you’re hunting; raccoons that will wittingly take your hounds to water, deer and bear that will easily run them straight into exhaustion, squirrels and fox that can so swiftly outmaneuver them, feral hogs that can so successfully challenge them, cougars that will skillfully lead them right off the edge of a cliff without a moment of consideration…no matter the quarry, nothing about any of it is easy. Not to mention that most of our sport is catch and release, but its very design. We are offered a unique ability to enjoy the fair chase, and then after a moment of appreciation after we catch, if we catch, we can pull the dogs and free the quarry for another day. 

It is true that all of our great hunting icons in the past, hunted with dogs. Some of them owned the dogs, some of them hired the dogs. But I’m not aware of any of them ever speaking ill of the dogs! George Washington himself was an avid houndsman; he loved to ride to his hounds and was quite serious about their breeding, going to enormous lengths even in during the conflict of the Revolutionary War to fret and inquire about seven French hounds he had procured from the Old World. Most certainly, Crockett and Boone had good dogs of various breeding, accompanying them in their exploration and hunting. Theodore Roosevelt was indeed a fan of following the hounds and he wrote about the dogs and their handlers many times, respectfully.

Forgive me being long-winded, but I am passionate about my sport and my dogs. I am also passionate about keeping a Fair Chase philosophy! At a time when hounds(wo)men are being attacked throughout the United States by powerful anti-hunting activists such as HSUS and the Center For Biological Diversity, we really do need the support of our fellow sportsmen! 

Please, stand with us!

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