Of Humans, Animals, Ethics and “Humane”

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 22, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

You just never know where a conversation is headed. Homey asked for my thoughts on recent stories about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – arguably the largest “animal rights” group in the world). In truth, while I’ve written a few essays involving the group, I hadn’t really thought about them much for some time. Some of the recent stories were eyebrow-raisers, but not really surprises. “Well,” I allowed, “we humans debate the meaning of “humane” and are highly incongruous individuals, so why would we expect our organizations to be different?”

PETA has carried out some pretty entertaining campaigns on behalf of animal friends over the years. Ingrid Newkirk, president and founder, is known for her “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” and “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” assertions. PETA insisted that the annual White House Easter Egg Roll use only vegan candy, claimed that pregnant women who ate chicken would cause boy babies to have tiny penises, and urged renaming fish “sea kittens.” At the turn of the Century, PETA purchased orange hunters’ vests and put 405 of them on live-trapped Ohio deer before hunting season. (Hunters retrieved over 300 of them.) The group once asked the Boy Scouts of America to give up Fishing and Wildlife Management merit badges, because they encourage scouts “to maim and kill animals,” and teach that “hooking, suffocating, and killing fish” is okay.

You may recall PETA’s “Got Beer?” campaign on college campuses a few years back. Drink beer and not milk, as milk was “horrible for human health, catastrophic for the environment and a living nightmare for the animals involved.” Mothers Against Drunk Driving were up in arms about that one.

A crowning glory was last year’s Chicago billboard near a chefs’ pork cooking competition. It showed 67-year-old Ingrid hanging naked (holding onto a meat hook) next to pig carcasses. (Some things just cannot be unseen…)

Recent stories, reported in SCI’s June news mag, relate to PETA’s animal shelters – particularly the shelter at its Virginia headquarters. Over the last few years, inspections by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have shown that the shelter is unique among such shelters. Described as “a true safe haven for lost, injured, abused, and unwanted animals,” it seems that 74 percent of those animals are killed within 24 hours, and the adoption rate ranged between one and 14 percent, compared to a statewide average of about 80 percent.

I’ve watched these animal-rights campaigns for decades, now. I’ve also noticed over the years that intentions and attitudes (like “free love” – a 60s thing) break down when people want to protect their own interests. I once filled in for a fellow meditation teacher – an old friend – near Santa Fe, New Mexico. As I recall, she was to go hike the Himalayas. Anyhow, she was a strident vegetarian, a vegan, who loved all living things and grew a fine organic garden with much prayer and reverence. We often debated the hunting and eating of meat, which she strongly opposed, even with her understanding of my own prayer and reverence. As she instructed the care of her garden, she found a beetle and held it between her thumb and forefinger. I was shocked when she said, “Back to your maker, bug!” And squished it. When I asked why, she casually replied, “Well, this is my space and my food…”

Project Wild teaches school kids about ecology, conservation, wildlife and habitat, training a million educators, and reaching 48 million youngsters in seven countries, including the US. Some years ago, a group called Speak Out For Animals threatened to picket a teacher training workshop if the Boulder Valley School District of Colorado did not drop Project Wild from its curriculum. A group leader claimed that national animal rights groups opposed some lessons that actually led “children to accept hunting as humane…”.

What is “humane?”  When I was six years old, one of my family chores was to catch a chicken, chop off its head and present it to my mother for Sunday dinner. It was a big job for a little kid, but The Old Man instructed me in the careful, quick and humane use of a small ax. We ate a lot of chicken. I first wondered about “humane” when I heard and watched a horsefly struggling hopelessly against a fly strip in the barn. What our old mousetraps did to mice who didn’t die right away raised my wonder again.

By the time I was 15, I had been schooled by The Old Man and Uncle Ed in the humane dispatching of a duck, a rabbit, a trout, a bullhead, a pig, a steer or a deer. Whether I made meat in the barnyard or the field, I took great pride in clean kills and good prayers of thanks. Occasionally, I failed, but I followed up quickly – and as humanely as possible.

During a tough winter in the mid-1950s, I saw things I’ve never forgotten.  Deer by the hundreds moved out of the Cascades and into the orchards of Washington’s Wenatchee Valley. “Orchard hunts” thinned the herds of deer, but more moved in. Our scout troop could chase off, but not destroy, people’s “pets” as they ripped at the bellies and hamstrings of the starving deer. We watched deer struggle to stand again after they sagged or fell to the ground. We watched their eyes empty, then dragged their skin-and-bones bodies to a burial trench.

Maybe, Homey, we just keep talking openly about these human-animal-ethics things. We make our own best personal choices, accept the choices of other honorable people, and accept the incongruities with which we all deal in navigating our lives.

Learning to Shoot Safe, Fast and Straight – and When

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 15, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Last December, after a conversation with stuntman and last of the Hucklings Edward, I bought us life memberships in the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute. He had just been recruited for a film shoot in Louisiana, where he would be doing a variety of driving and shooting stunts alongside stuntwoman Emily Brobst. We discussed his trainings and skills, and a wish for better handgun skills. I took good friend Gary Brown’s advice and joined the 80,000 member families of Front Sight. We scheduled our Four-Day Defensive Handgun Course for mid May.

Thus, at 6:15 a.m. last Friday, June 8, after a re-schedule (a last-minute movie gig for Ed) we found ourselves lined up at the institute’s front gate, in the desert between Las Vegas and Pahrump. This was the last possible week of daytime classes until fall (something about summer heat…?).

After check-in and gun inspection, we joined 200+ men, women and children in the classroom for welcome, orientation, introductions, and signing of various releases.

Thirty of us (most new, some previous four-day students) assembled at Range 3, to meet our Rangemaster Trudeaux, Instructors Gerald, Dom and TJ, and Line Coach Jesus. After slathering sunscreen, we assembled in shaded chairs as our leaders explained the skills we were about to gain, starting with loading, unloading, chamber checks, and presenting (drawing) our guns from the holster, all in a context of safety. We would be in relays of 15 – either shooting or coaching our partner in the other relay. We would shoot silhouette targets from 3, 5, 7, 10 and 15 yards.

Post-lunch of Day 1, we examined legal liability issues, and listened to a lecture on color coding of mental awareness and finding an always-alert mindset.

The rest of the day was sunscreen, discussion,  skills review, “dry practice” (handling and presenting an unloaded firearm in a safe location), more on malfunctions, types of reloads, and shooting from various distances. After each shooting round, we examined targets, got coaching and taped holes. The last hour was a lecture on moral and ethical decision-making in using deadly force. Day one: 100 rounds in 100 degrees.

Day 2 started at 7:40 with sunscreen, supervised dry practice, then skill discussion and practice. Timing was now introduced to our shooting from various distances. Our after-lunch discussion was on hearing protection and enhancement, followed by a lecture on criminal and civil liability. Then to the range for more work on skills and shooting (including the resetting of triggers for a quicker second shot), followed by an end of day lecture on the principles of tactical movement in a home or building. Day two: 150 rounds and 98 degrees.

Day 3, 7:40 on a new range, sunscreen, supervised dry practice, and more timed skills practice and shooting. After a welcome lunch in the air-conditioned classroom it was back to the range. This day, each student was given a chance – at a very introductory level – clear a house with shooters. (One guy held an old cell phone with antenna. Not a target. While Edward did not shoot the guy, he argued that the phone looked like a detonator and the guy should have been taken out just for having it, but…) Timed shooting picked up through the day. Day three: 250 rounds and 92 degrees.

Day 4: 7:40 supervised dry practice, then prep for the timed skills test over our learning. With high enough scores, a distinguished grad could take advanced classes. I think we were all amazed at how much we had learned, and how even aged muscles could memorize a routine. Five of our cohort earned distinguished honors; the rest of us got our certificates. After lunch, we worked on dealing with multiple assailants and decision-making in the chaos of gunfire. Our final shooting exercise was to take out two bad guys whose heads extended slightly out either side of a hostage. We were to hit them from 15 feet, without harming the hostage. (Written on our hostage, by the way, was the name of someone we love. No pressure.) Day four: 150 rounds and 104 degrees.

Our cohort ranged in age from about 18 to 86. Among us were father-son and husband-wife pairs, BFFs, a large extended family and a couple singles. One-third were women, including a couple young women who shot perfect targets in the skills test. (Later, Edward confided that he really wanted to engage one or both of them, but noted we were not there for small talk. “Still,” he smiled, “there is something inherently sexy about a pretty girl with a gun – and the ability to really run it!”) Every person there had been through at least one background check. These were regular folks, training to be safe, fast, accurate protectors of self or family. Not one would be described as “some gun nut.”

On our drive back to LA in Edward’s hot little Subaru/Toyota BRZ (Oh, those desert mountain roads!), we savored our class. The course is not about guns, it is about preparing the humans behind them. We learned to never look like an aggressor; to warn, and be ready, but never point until a decision is made to shoot. We learned to properly report to, and speak with law enforcement. We discussed the type of criminal with which one may be involved and society’s reaction  (consider a masked home invader with a knife who refuses to stop; how does society look at the dead 1) escaped felon or 2) local high school kid?)

We worked with a well-tuned team; Every Front Sight coach or employee we met was skilled, professional, supportive and smiling. Gary Brown (509-607-0084) can tell you more and help you figure out how to get involved with your own Front Sight.

Ed and I will head back in fall (cooler, maybe?) with more of our family and teams. This was a truly amazing experience. Enough said.

Go Fishing – And Take A Kid

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 8, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Here it is at last; Free Fishing Weekend in Washington State – the lakeside social event of the year. Buckle up.

Tomorrow and Sunday, you will need no license to fish in any open water in the state, and plenty of fat “truck trout” have been dropped into local waters for you. Here’s the small print: yes, you need no state license, but size limits, bag limits and closures still rule, and you must complete a catch record card (available free at license dealers) for any salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or halibut you catch.

Sadly, I now have only adults (Edward, last of the Hucklings, left “youth” a few years ago), but you can take your kidlings to any one of several fishing opportunities in Paradise.

Tomorrow in the Upper Kittitas County, the Annual Cascade Field and Stream Kids Fishing Derby (14 and under) happens under the sponsorship of the Cle Elum Ranger District and Cascade Field and Stream Club. Registration is at 6 a.m. at Lavender Lake, exit 74 off I-90, and prizes will be given in several age groups.  Other activities (fish anatomy, habitat, ethics, etc.) at five stations, will get kids into a free raffle for even more prizes. Get more details at 509-852-1100.

The Kiwanis Pond (formerly the first Hanson Pond across I-90 from Cle Elum, south of exit 84) will be open for kids and disabled fishers only. It is well-stocked for great fishing, and you may join the group if you qualify.

Here in Lower Paradise, our big tomorrow event is the Kiwanis Kids Free Fishing Derby at North Fio Rito.  The Derby runs 10:00 to Noon for any fishers 14 and under. There are abundant prizes and fun, and info from Dale DeFoor at 929-0449.

Thus, you may find groups of people gathered around pools of water across the county, watching and cheering for kids fishing.

Funny things happen when gangs of people get together to fish.

Near the end of the last century, I took eight-year-old Edward and thirteen-year-old Anna to a fishing derby at the Hansen Pond (now Kiwanis Pond) near Cle Elum.

The instructions clearly said “Do not start fishing until 7:00 a.m.” We were there at 6:50.  There were two dozen lines in the water, and the first fish had already been registered. Hmmm.

The derby was for kids 14 and under, of course. Adults could cast lines and bait hooks, but fish were to be hooked, played and landed by the kids. As we walked to a likely fishing spot, I talked to a dad and a granddad holding and baiting two separate rods, for the lone five- or six-year-old kid standing by. They explained that they wanted to make sure he would always have a rod ready to go and wouldn’t have any “down” time.

I watched half a dozen dads or granddads casting, hooking and bringing in fish. A couple of them actually stepped on their kids as they cast over, and across, the lines of anybody in the way. Frustrated, Edward observed that there was plenty of room, and asked me why the man with the two little kids just down the shoreline kept casting both their lines over his, which was straight out. “Because you caught a couple fish,” I guessed, “and he thinks your hole is the only one in the lake with trout in it.”

Eventually, the guy handed the rods off to his kids. Other dads handed off to their kids once a fish was close to shore. In time, our neighbor actually let his boy and girl hook and land two nice truck trout.

By the 9 a.m. quitting time, the adults had pretty much surrendered, and kids were fishing, focused and happy. As I took in the scene, it seemed to me that a few fishers were being born.

I still remember driving away, mind awash with musings about the future of fishing. Where were we headed if we were teaching our kids that fishing is some sort of competition? As we drove up the dirt track back to civilization, Edward and older sister Anna discussed the merits of fishing with large groups. On balance, they decided, it had been a fun morning. At some point in their backseat discussion, Anna tapped me on the shoulder. “Okay, Dad, we’re ready to go back to that McCabe Pond place now. We wanna see if we can catch another five pound catfish!”

A friend once observed, “Teach a kid to fish and she’ll hassle you for more ‘til she’s grown and gone!” Personally, I think it extends beyond “grown and gone,” but that’s another conversation.

Take a kid fishing. Even the random nature of sportsmanlike gang fishing looks like a good start to a fishing life.

Wild Sheep vs Domestic Sheep and Goats

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 1, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Over the years, we’ve had several conversations in this space about the health risks (to wild sheep) of contact between domestic sheep and their wild cousins. While our conversations have focused on local and Northwest problems and die-offs, the issues go far beyond this region and include also domestic goats, as they carry similar pathogens into much of our wild sheep range.

This week’s column is a synopsis of those widespread issues, and recommendations for dealing with them. Find the report from which much of this is drawn, along with maps of wild/domestic sheep overlap and insight into certain conflicts at www.fs.fed.us/biology/wildlife/curl.htm.

The concern over the regular, periodic, epizootics (die-offs) in North American wild sheep populations led 2007 action by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). Its 23 state and provincial member agencies from the U.S. and Canada established a Wild Sheep Working Group (WSWG), charged with developing a report. “Recommendations for Domestic Sheep and Goat Management in Wild Sheep Habitat,” was released in summer of 2007. Once endorsed by the WAFWA Directors, the report and its recommendations for management at all levels was sent to decision-makers in the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Defense and Canadian equivalents. The report is WAFWA’s official stance on the management of domestic sheep and goats and wild sheep. The latest revision was approved by WAFWA Directors in 2012.

The authors of the report used the most recent and relevant research related to transmission of disease from domestic sheep and goats to bighorns. That became the basis for recommendations with the highest probablility of keeping “effective separation” (spatial or seasonal separation between wild sheep and domestic sheep or goats to minimize the potential for contact and transmission of diseases between species). WAFWA directors recognize that, while it is impossible to reach zero risk, effective separation must be a primary management goal of agencies responsible for the conservation of wild sheep.

This has been a long time coming. It is generally agreed that there were around two million wild sheep in North America in 1800. Today, the Bighorn Institute (Palm Desert, CA) estimates the following populations. Just under 120,000 Dall’s and Stone sheep range in Alaska and Canada. About 34,000 Rocky Mountain bighorns occupy habitat in the western U.S. and Canada. Today,  California bighorns – along the west coast – number 10,500, and approximately 23,000 desert bighorns range through the southern portions of North American sheep habitat.

According to numerous historical accounts, the declines coincided with the advent of domestic livestock grazing on ranges occupied by bighorn sheep. No doubt, die-offs among wild sheep occurred without the implication of domestic sheep or goat interactions, but contact among them has led to significantly larger and more widespread losses.

Thus, the following WAFWA recommendations. These are designed to help state and provincial wild sheep pros, federal and crown land management agencies, private landowners and others take positive action to eliminate range overlap, and reduce the chance of pathogen transmission to wild sheep. Not all parties yet even acknowledge the risk of transmission from domestic sheep and goats, but this is a start.

It is recommended that agencies: (1) assess wild sheep conservation value/status and complete risk assessments of interspecies contact; (2) remove wild sheep that have likely associated with domestic sheep or goats, and develop prompt response policies; (3) deeply explore consequences of translocations, with appropriate habitat analysis; (4) coordinate with all stakeholders on management of domestic sheep or goats on or near bighorn ranges; (5) fully consider disease risks when issuing or commenting on permits/regulations associated with private lands; and (6) develop educational materials and outreach programs.

Land management agencies should: (1) eliminate overlap of domestic sheep or goat allotments or grazing within wild sheep habitat; (2) ensure that operating instructions or equivalent include measures to minimize domestic association with wild sheep and confirm appropriate methods to remove strays; and (3) support wild sheep habitat for healthy populations in areas without domestic sheep or goats.

Wild sheep conservation organizations should: (1) assist with educational/extension efforts; (2) negotiate alternatives and incentives for domestic sheep or goat grazers on public land to find alternative grazing; and (3) advocate and support research regarding disease risk of domestic sheep and goats around wild sheep.

Domestic sheep and goat permittees/owners should: (1) use best management practices to prevent straying by their sheep or goats; and (2) establish protocols to respond to straying.

Private landowners should: (1) learn more and work with wild sheep managers/advocates for effective separation with site-specific mitigation measures; and (2) promptly report potential or actual contact between domestic sheep or goats and wild sheep.”

Another week we will look at practical and financial solutions proposed and underway to meet some of the recommendations outlined above. For the moment, wander down the Yakima River Canyon and spend a time keeping good thoughts for the icons of our wild ground.

About the Treefrogs of Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 25, 2018. Posted in Uncategorized

Amazing, really, where a glass of wine and an evening of conversation over a frog chorus will take you. Don and Sharon Cocheba started thinking about my fascination with blackbird songs around our marshes, and decided maybe Diane and I needed to expand our critter-music horizons a bit. Thus, one evening last week we found ourselves on their deck, in the foothills of Paradise, wine in hand, being serenaded by an army of frogs.

Somewhere in our after-dark conversations – among a fair number of catchups about Africa, families, current and former colleagues, and the state of academia these days – was a lively discussion of just which frogs we were experiencing. Whatever brand they were, the boys had a loud message to convey. No matter what we discussed, or how loud we discussed it, the frogs just didn’t care. Turns out that the Cocheba corner of Paradise holds at least two, maybe three, different frogs.

Over the years, as their habitat developed, most observations turned up Columbia spotted frogs (Rana luteiventris), and Pacific treefrogs (Pseudacris regilla), with the possibility of a few of the widely scattered and increasingly rare Northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens).

The leopard frog is the largest of the three, at about four inches body length. Its back and sides have large dark spots with light borders. Its mating vocals last a few seconds and are several low-pitched grunts and snorts (likened to the putt-putt-putt or a small boat motor).

The spotted frog gets to about three inches in length, varying from light to dark brown or olive, with dark spots and distinctive upturned yellow eyes. Its call is very faint and rapid, with a couple dozen low hollow notes (likened to the sound of a distant woodpecker on hardwood).

The frogs serenading us were male Pacific treefrogs – aka The Chorus Frog. At two inches body length, this is the smallest of our frogs (females slightly larger than males, but both smaller than a chicken egg). Treefrogs are the most common, most often heard, and undoubtedly the most fascinating of Washington’s frogs.

As Science Education Committee Chair for the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog and Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, I am duty bound to pass along what follows.

Frogs are amphibians, of course (Greek roots amphi, “both,” and bios, “life”). Female treefrogs lay hundreds of eggs, as the male fertilizes them, in golf- to baseball-size clusters enveloped in a “jelly” that swells up in water, and attached to sticks or grass under water. Frogs start their lives totally aquatic, with gills and a tail fin; tadpole stage. By six weeks, legs develop, the tail and gills are absorbed, and they are half-inch long, air-breathing juvenile frogs climbing onto land.

The Pacific treefrog has a black stripe “mask” from the tip of its snout to its shoulder. It varies in color from bronze to gray to tan to pale lime green – some will be a solid color while others will be richly patterned – and individuals will change color with air temperature and humidity.

Our treefrog ranges from British Columbia to the tip of Baja California, and east into Montana and Nevada. Habitat will have suitable breeding water, which generally means ponds somewhere along the edges of lakes and streams. Outside breeding times, they largely inhabit surrounding land area (pastures, woodlands, gardens and so forth).

Treefrog’s diet is mostly a wide variety of arthopods (insects, spiders and small crustaceans). In turn, eggs, tadpoles and juveniles are enjoyed by caddisfly larvae, predaceous diving beetles, giant water bugs, fish, birds and garter snakes. Raccoons, foxes, river otters, skunks, snakes, hawks, herons, owls, bullfrogs, cats, children, lawn mowers, and vehicles all take a toll. Most treefrogs die in the water stages; those reaching adulthood live about two years.

Here are several interesting tidbits you can slip into any conversation about treefrogs. A group is an “army.”. They secrete a waxy skin coating (described as Velcro-like), allowing them to remain moist far from water. Sticky pads on their long, largely un-webbed, toes allow them to climb with great agility (thus, “tree frog”), but they usually stay near the ground. Since 2007, the Pacific treefrog is the state frog of Washington. Get this: while most frogs bury themselves in mud and go into a torpid, hibernation-like, state to survive winter, treefrogs crawl under leaf or other litter for their dormant season, and may freeze solid – yet still return to life in spring.

Oh, yes. That glorious froggy serenade. The call of the male – to attract females – is far louder than a two-inch critter ought to be able to manage. The two-part kreck-ek, or a ribbit, repeated, gets other males joining in, making a sound heard a half-mile or more away. Males call mainly in the evening. (Don arranged for his to start at 9 p.m.) Turns out we are all quite familiar with this call: when Hollywood moviemakers once wanted set a feeling of an outdoor night, they recorded treefrogs. That “ribbit-ribbit” call of the treefrog is now the stereotypical, standard, frog call, even in movies set in regions without treefrogs. You gotta love the Chorus Frog!

(Special thanks to Jason Irwin, Professor of Biology, and amphibian pro, at Central Washington University for sharing some of his fascinating treefrog research for this week’s effort. You can learn more at naturemappingfoundation.org/natmap/facts/pacific_treefrog_712.html (Washington Nature Mapping Program) and Washington Fish and Wildlife’s “Living with Wildlife,” at wdfw.wa.gov/living/frogs.html.)