Happy Birthday, Duck Stamps

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 28, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

What a great month. Two weeks ago, we celebrated the 95th birthday of our Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. A couple days after that was the 80th birthday of the duck stamp, March 16, 1934, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act into law. These anniversaries harken back to a time when wildlife and its habitat were in grave danger. We celebrate them today because men and women concerned about future generations – that is us, by the way – stepped up and did something nearly a century ago.

I thought we might review those times a bit.

The 1920s (the “Roaring Twenties”) were a time of flappers, gangsters, and rich lifestyles. Urban living became the dream for much of the world, with the wealthy all over the world betting on good times and unending natural resources that few saw fading. Difficult times were on the horizon, as the demand for land and food grew with rapid development and poor agricultural practices. Midwestern prairies were stripped of their soil, and wetlands were ditched and drained. Such economic progress pushed food production and waterfowl habitat ever-closer to the edge. Migratory waterfowl populations (many species still recovering from market hunting) slumped precipitously – particularly pintails and canvasbacks.

The conservation ethic of leaders like Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Gifford Pinchot was nearly lost in that decade of wild excess.

Then came the Great Depression. Markets, Americans’ spirit and wildlife populations fell into a deep malaise. While few had thoughts for anything beyond economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt seemed to see recovery in a more global way – he saw a country still defined by people working the land, and by its natural resources. As he worked to recover citizens’ spirit, he spoke to the need for wildlife habitat even as, for many species, extinction seemed inevitable.

Still, through the most desperate and hopeless of times determined conservationists pushed forward, creating new bands, groups and clubs of folks looking ahead. By 1934, most talk of stopping the destruction of wetland habitat and the steep decline of waterfowl numbers was still just talk. Finally, after more than a dozen years, and several of Jay “Ding” Darling’s nationwide editorial cartoons, agreements and compromises were made. The Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act bill was passed in March and signed on March 16, 1934. That first federal duck stamp featured a Ding Darling sketch – completed in an hour – of two mallards. It sold for one buck.

Since 1934, sales of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (its name since 1976) have generated over $850 million, conserving more than six million acres of wetlands and migratory bird habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar spent on Duck Stamps goes directly to such purchases. The Duck Stamp has cost $15 for the last two decades. Senate Bill S. 1865, sponsored by Senator Mark Begich, D-Alaska, would raise it to $25, and it is probably time. The new stamp, due in June, features the common goldeneye.

These stamps are important. Friend Joe Meuchel once wrote that “…every birder should buy a duck stamp. A measly fifteen bucks shelled over the counter at your local post office will buy fifteen dollars worth of some wildlife refuge somewhere. Not just that, it gives you a season ticket to enter most federal refuges and you don’t even have to hunt ducks.”

Well over 30,000 people buy Duck Stamps in Washington. More than a third of them also put something back through membership in Ducks Unlimited (DU). The 60-plus chapters in Washington raise a million bucks a year for waterfowl and habitat conservation. (You can play, too; call Joe Briscoe at 509-697-4482 and check out the Selah DU Banquet, Saturday, May 3.)

DU calls itself the world’s largest private, nonprofit waterfowl and wetlands conservation group. Organized in 1937, with more than a million supporters, DU has conserved more than 13 million acres of waterfowl habitat throughout North America. In its nearly eight decades of existence, it has raised nearly $3.5 billion.

Nearly a century ago, our ancestors handed us the future. Restoring and enhancing quality habitat for wildlife is a game we are all playing. Let’s keep playing.

P.S. Find more at www.fws.gov/duckstamps/conservation/mbcc.htm, www.birdnote.org, or www.ducks.org.

The James Gang & Memorial Pheasant Hunt IV

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 21, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

You may recall that our buddy Jim Groseclose (J1) suddenly went home four years ago today – March 21, 2010. Two weeks before that sad day, Jim Davis (J2) and I (J3) joined J1 on a James Gang Pheasant Adventure on some of the Cooke Canyon Hunt Club ground. Our armed walk with J1’s beloved labs happened on a perfect almost-spring morning. There were pheasants everywhere, and the dogs were in top form. Since that day, J2 and I have been determined to honor his memory.

Groseclose, of course, was founder and leader of the James Gang, with Jim Davis and me being J2 and J3, respectively. Being part of that James Gang, chasing pheasants, ducks, quail and chukars with two great Labs and two true gentlemen added a richness to my life I had been missing since those decades-ago days with my big black Lab, Freebe the Wonder Dog. Whenever any of us were around J1, a sense of impending adventure hung in the air.

Perhaps that sense of impending adventure is why we carry on an annual pheasant hunt tradition on one or another of the pieces of ground that brought our gang so much pleasure afield. This year, J2 exercised the membership we purchased at last summer’s Chukar Run Banquet and booked The Fourth Annual Jim Groseclose Memorial Pheasant Hunt at Alice and Doug Burnett’s Cooke Canyon Hunt Club.

Once the hunt was set, anticipation grew, and I often found myself lost in thought about honoring those who made my outdoor time rich and memorable.

I can’t pass a black lab without saying a short prayer for Freebe – the best four-legged human with whom I ever shared time.

Last weekend, we dropped in on my 90-something Aunt Evy in East Wenatchee for one of our regular check-ins. We opted to take the south route back to Paradise, toward Quincy. That drive took us past the orchards where I hunted pheasants and quail too-many decades ago, and past the ponds where I learned to shoot fast enough for ducks and doves.

The house The Old Man and I built, and the orchard next door, are resting under Costco ground now. From the roof of that house, on a crisp fall day, I watched him climb down our ladder, get the shotgun and a couple of his mismatched shells, and go shoot a crowing rooster pheasant in that orchard. He handed dinner to my mom and we went back to our roofing work.

The Old Man coached and trained me in shooting and sportsmanship. He held the door open on crisp fall days, handed me his old J.C. Higgins bolt-action 12-gauge, filled my pockets with a mix of shotgun shell brands and shot size from whatever he’d had for ammo since his own youth, and said, “Bring us something for dinner.” To this day, I can’t go afield for birds without at least two different brands of shells in my pocket – a memorial of some kind, I guess.

Where were we?  Oh, yeah… Our Fourth Annual Jim Groseclose Memorial Pheasant Hunt. It happened on Tuesday. After all that wind and chill, Tuesday dawned clear and temperate and almost still. J2 and I were joined by Gloria Sharp, Honorary James Gang member and our photographer for the day. Homey Bill Boyum joined us, too, bringing his classic German shorthair, Maisy, to supervise our bird-finding.

Just to hear Jim Groseclose – in our minds’ ear, at least – chastise us for missing a shot, one of us fired a single warning shot. In honor of J1’s appreciation of working dogs doing the work they were born to do, Maisy took the lead under Bill’s quiet coaching. We connected with each bird she located, but there were moments when we forgot we were armed. Two or three times, Maisy slid smoothly into the wind and came solidly on point before some nervous rooster, and nobody moved. Something about a beautiful dog on a perfect point in perfect sunshine in that crisp air had us mesmerized. At some point, Bill might say, “Uh, Jim?” and one of us would get back to the task at hand.

After a few final pictures, a round of thanks to Maisy and Bill, and words on behalf of our absent and still-missed James Gang leader, we retired to the Cooke Canyon Club House. We cleaned our birds, shared a few (mostly) true tales of bird hunting in the Dakotas and in Paradise, and took our leave.

The Fourth Annual Jim Groseclose Memorial Pheasant Hunt was a success, in all the ways we had hoped it might be. Now, as J1 would often say after our final hunt of the season, it’s time to think about salmon fishing.

ALL Kids Have the Right to an Outdoor Adventure

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 14, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

If you missed the Monday night meeting at Hal Holmes, you missed something special.

First of all, we were celebrating the 95th anniversary of the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club.

The club was organized in March of 1919, as the Ellensburg Sportsmen Association. It organized with 75 charter members. …And dues of 50 cents a year. President Austin Miers and Secretary-Treasurer J.H. Van Gusen presided over a dedicated group of men (mostly) and women who hosted bird dog trials and wildlife meetings, sent delegates to the Washington Game Commission and reached out to wildlife groups across the state and nation.

In 1946, the Club incorporated as the Kittitas County Field & Stream Club. Today, as you likely know, the Club is a non-profit corporation promoting public access to public lands, effective conservation, good sportsmanship, and environmental and outdoor education of youth. Great effort goes into improving and increasing outdoor recreation opportunities – especially hunting and fishing.

The rich chocolate anniversary cake was delicious, by the way, and helped us appropriately celebrate 95 years of “Working Today for Tomorrow’s Wildlife.”

At another level, the evening was about our fervently held and shared belief that all kids have the right to enjoy outdoor activities. To wit: our proposal that “The children of Washington have the right to discover and experience the outdoors through activities including the following: Create an outdoor adventure; Explore a trail; Camp under the stars; Go fishing; Discover nature; Explore Washington’s heritage; Go on a picnic; Play in a park, in the water, in the snow, on the rocks; Go hunting; Learn to be safe around firearms and other outdoor tools.”

Our first guests were Glenna Maskal and son Grant, leaders in our local On-Target 4H Shooting Sports Program. We have supplied the program with a trailer and certain supplies, and they were bringing us up to date on the number of kids in the program, the various types of shooting activities with which they are involved, and the growing demand for a safe family-oriented marksmanship program. It has been a good partnership, and we look forward to a long run.

Our main program went right to the heart of our kids’ outdoor bill of rights. Joe and Cindy Carpenter drove over from Moses Lake to give us some first-hand information about their Youth Outdoors Unlimited (Y.O.U.) program. This is a tax exempt 501(c)3 corporation focused on making hunting and fishing dreams come true for young people diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and/or a physical disability. The program, started by a spark from a Mississippi program in 2010, is already doing remarkable things for dozens of kids who really need something remarkable.

Twelve kids are already approved, or in the application process, for camps and hunting or fishing trips this year. Fishing trips are for anything from warm water spiny-rays to salmon over 30 pounds. Hunting may be for turkeys, white-tail or mule deer or bears, with other possibilities. The youngster who successfully lands fish or harvests game gets the meat processed, the critter mounted and a photo record of the experience. There are fishing derbies and old-fashioned hunting camps, where the kid picks the menu. All outings are with established guides. Whatever the hunter or fisher needs for gear – from clothing to a special chair or custom-fitted rod or firearm – is provided by the program and its sponsors.

After only four short years, the Y.O.U. sponsor list reads like a who’s who of regional, national and international hunting, fishing and gear outfits. Start with Cabela’s and Wholesale Sports Outdoor Outfitters and work your way to Horns & Hooks Magazine, Vortex Optics, Gunwerks and Brothers ‘N Arms. Add in a couple dozen custom clothing or equipment manufacturers contributing to a disabled kid’s ability to suddenly be abled, and you have a flavor of what Joe and Cindy have started.

Most of our guests were too manly to show it once the lights came up, but the Y.O.U video we saw put laughter and joy in every heart, and tears in most eyes. Check out www.YouthOutdoorsU.org. You will find heartwarming stories about these amazing youngsters and their adventures in every issue of Horns & Hooks Magazine. You are welcome to help, too.

We are working on bringing Joe and Cindy back to town for a community-wide presentation of their work. Stand by.

All kids have the right to outdoor adventures.

Native American Hunting and Fishing in Paradise

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 7, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

At the beginning of each conflict management class or “difficult people” workshop I teach, I quote Dale Swedberg. This wasn’t original with him, but I like how he said it: “Remember, whenever you deal with people, facts are facts, but perceptions are reality.”

Lately, I’m hearing such “realities” about Native Americans and their fishing and hunting on “usual and accustomed” ground. Some of us don’t get that these are God-given rights Native Americans retained back when they ceded land to the US, not rights that the treaty writers gave them. In Washington today, we have 24 Treaty Tribes with rights to fish and wildlife and their management. Too much of what some of my fellow outdoor nuts believe to be true is pure fantasy. I keep thinking about The Old Man – my father – when a friend would start making decisions and arguments over some made-up truth. I see his clear, hard stare directed into the eyes of someone who had one last final chance to restore himself to The Old Man’s good graces. In a soft, strong voice, he would say, “Alright… Cut the crap. What’s the truth?”

I still hear that Indian fishers are killing more fish than they can handle, leaving them to rot. (The guy swears it is true, ‘cause he heard it from a good buddy who saw it with his own eyes.) I am told that Indians net salmon before they can get into rivers, thus making it impossible for sport fishermen to catch them. (Says Homey: “You shoulda been there – nobody was catching anything. It had to be those %!$?# Indians and their nets!”) I hear that there are very few bull elk in the Colockum herd because the Yakamas and other regional tribal members are slaughtering them – probably hundreds a year – and selling the heads. (Homey’s reality: “Well, how else do you explain the lack of bulls? Everybody knows these guys just drive up into the hills and start shooting at any bull that moves.”)

Those salmon stories still go around, but today most of us just ignore them and go catch fish.

It took a while to get us here. Thirty years ago, Chinook salmon in the Yakima were kaput…gone. The state sued the Yakamas to stop traditional subsistence fishing, but ocean and non-Indian Columbia River fishing continued. The four tribes doing subsistence fishing in the Columbia System – led by the Yakamas – off and on voluntarily quit fishing to help rebuild stocks, while biologists argued that heavy commercial fishing, poor irrigation water management in spawning areas, and the last of the Columbia Basin dams were wiping out the salmon. In the ‘80s, the Yakamas sued to stop the Klickitat Irrigation District from essentially draining the Klickitat River for agriculture (wiping out another “usual and accustomed” Yakama fishery). Battles went on.

During the same time period, Cle Elum dam was shut down to preserve irrigation water.  The closure virtually destroyed the redds (salmon spawning “nests”) in the rivers, and killed any smolts (salmon young) trying to move down river. Bob Tuck, a fisheries biologist for the Yakama Nation, suggested that the Cle Elum could be kept open to protect the salmon redds and smolts, while other dams which did not hover over critical salmon habitat were closed off. The state and feds withheld salmon eggs – future salmon – and refused to consider water changes. The tribes sued, putting their tribal treaty rights on the line all the way to the Supreme Court.

Treaty rights of the Yakamas were upheld. Appropriate flows are now kept in the streams. Together, irrigators, power districts, sport fishers and Indians have restored much of this missing piece of the life web to our rivers. I will argue that, without the Yakamas putting their treaty rights on the line, and fighting for them, there would be few anadromous fish in the Columbia Basin. In 2014, we are looking at outstanding returns of Coho, and possible historic Chinook runs – we can all now go fishing.

On the other hand, those “Indians killing all the bull elk” stories just keep growing. Sadly, policy decisions about roads and closures are argued by some on the basis of keeping the Indians away from the elk. You will rarely see it in a written statement, since the Natives’ hunting and fishing rights are law, but you will hear it time and again in conversation. Even sadder, some of those making the arguments are people in whom I have vested trust to look after my grandchildren’s outdoor future. Now what?

Consider what we do know. People who spend large and regular blocks of time out among the elk on the public ground of Paradise report little evidence of Indian elk kills. The Colockum herd is a quarter to a third larger than management goals of 4,500 elk. Local Fish and Wildlife pros recently estimated 23 to 25 Indian killed bulls yearly, and DFW Sergeant Sprecher – who tracked the unreported Indian hunting as carefully as he could – was confident that the number was well under 50. Wildlife pros are now finding the large numbers of huge bulls which they missed for years. The herd is healthy and there are plenty of bulls to go around.

Arguing for road or wildlife area closures on the basis of a widely-repeated fantasy of Indians slaughtering all the big bulls is specious and disheartening. As The Old Man would say, “Cut the crap! Deal with the truth.”

DeVar and Dad and the Salt River Adventure – Concluded

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 28, 2014. Posted in Uncategorized

We conclude DeVar Gleed’s story of keeping his dad outdoors, with the ever-present  companionship of the unexpected and family humor:

“At the Afton Hospital, the nurse, although very friendly, gave us a look of incredulous surprise.  Dad handed me his rubber-band-wrapped wallet of cards and health information. The doctor came in right behind the nurse and got the story. He looked at dad’s bloodied hand and asked if he took a blood thinner.  Dad promptly said, ‘No.’ The doctor responded, ‘Really?  Wow, this is really bleeding…’ Meanwhile, I was looking through dad’s cards, and there was a card with the name ‘Plavix.’ I said, ‘Isn’t it a blood thinner?’ The doctor looked at my dad. ‘Do you take Plavix?’ Dad said, ‘Well, yes.’ The doctor looked at us. ‘That’s a blood thinner. No wonder this doesn’t look as bad as I first thought!’

“After soaking and cleaning dad’s hand, the doctor gave him a shot. Dad was staring at his hand, mesmerized by the whole process. ‘Did that hurt?’ ‘Nope,’ dad said. He didn’t seem to feel anything. The only thing I could think of was – with decades of helping Uncle Ern ranching, spanking my older brother and me (I’m sure less often than I remember), and a lifetime of DIY projects – all feeling was gone in his hand! It was too funny, though. The doctor expected him to feel pain through shots and stitches – but nothing. Stitches done, the doctor asked dad if he intended to continue fishing. He knew the answer before he asked and reached for a handful of surgical gloves – large. He left us with dressings of gauze, tape and antibiotic ointment.

“As we stood in the lobby awaiting discharge, my phone rang. Dad asked who it was. I said mom. He must have seen the terror in my eyes, because he said, verbatim, ‘You won’t tell your mother about this if you want to live!’ I handed him the phone.

“He answered and told mom we were just taking a break from fishing and that all was well. After telling her he missed her, he handed me the phone and I told her the same thing. It wasn’t altogether untrue; we were taking a break – and at that point all was well.

“We returned to a familiar cutthroat hole. Unfortunately, our poor luck continued and we closed out the evening fishless. That evening we killed the rest of the flies and wasps that came alive in the balmy 50 degrees in the house. (Note to self: have new windows installed.)

“Day 2 was spent perusing private access areas, familiar holes with at least one nice fish in each.

“We drove through a cattle pasture in his early-2000 Buick as if it was a 4-wheeler, parking along one of those barbed beasts.  A group of 50 or so large grass fed steers slowly crept towards us. I looked at Dad. He said, ‘Don’t worry – they can’t follow us.’ We squeezed through an opening in the fence – the first of a few on the path to the river. I swear someone with the strength of Thor attached one gate; it took all dad and I had to pop it over the post (and even more to get it back)!

“I battled a few husky browns on my favorite Rapala lure. Testing each new river bend with hope of a big one, I was finally rewarded with a nice 4-pounder. I found an incredible, deep bend with a hole full of eddies and easy casting. I called Dad’s cell 3 times (he couldn’t remember which pocket he had it in) and told him to make his way over. He then had the time of his life catching and releasing a dozen beautiful Snake River browns. I finally told him whoever caught the next big fish was the winner – we had to go.

“When we returned to the car I noticed a large brown smudge on the hood. The driver’s side mirror had been pushed in somehow. I told dad and asked him what happened to his mirror. He looked up quickly and yelled, ‘It’s gone!’ ‘No dad,’ I said, ‘it’s just pushed in. But what happened?’  What looked like large dried swaths of saliva were all over. Turns out those steers had their way with the ‘ol Buick. They must have thought it was a giant salt lick after all those icy, salted highways. Dad might have been upset, but the visual of those steers having their way with the ‘ol Buick was just way too funny!

“It’s always a fond farewell as we climb southbound Hwy 89 up the Bridger-Teton National Forest – bidding adieu to the beautiful Star Valley. We made a pit stop in Evanston to gas up at the least expensive spot west of the Rockies. I came out from the facilities and saw dad with a six foot long truck window washing squeegee in his hands and the entire car covered in soapy suds.  He said, ‘We’re not going home with the car like this,’ as he finished washing the entire car. We should have sprung for the $10 car wash – that ‘brown’ smudge never did completely come off.

“Pulling into the driveway back at Layton, mom’s sweet smile greeted us from the door. I looked at Dad and went to the back of the Buick to retrieve the cooler. I was hoping the sight of those fresh cool and clear water caught trout would ease the call I heard coming. As she looked at Dad’s bandaged hand, it was ‘DEVAR???!!!’”

The family that plays together…