Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Land

Eric Parker of Idaho points an assualt rifle at the feds. Photo courtesy of Reuters.
It seems I own a little stretch of Bureau of Land Management real estate about 80 miles north of Las Vegas. And, as luck would have it, you do, too.

Cliven Bundy owns a share, as well, although he's taking more than what's due. In fact, for the last 20 years, after refusing to pay grazing fees to the government, Bundy has been taking from my land--he's been grazing hundreds of head of cattle on my land and hasn't paid a grazing fee to do so. For perspective, the grazing fee that Bundy would owe under 2014 rules is $1.35 per animal unit (cow and a calf). It's a scam--these fees have been too low for too long.

Yet Bundy can't be bothered to pay even this pittance for the use of my land. Or your land. Our land. Instead, he appealed to the fringe of the far right--that place on the political spectrum occupied at one time by Timothy McVeigh, before he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, or Ted Kaczynski, during his Unabomber spree. Or Claude Dallas, when he executed two game wardens trying to bring him to justice for poaching on public land in the Owyhees (you know, our land).

And, good grief, did the fringe-dwellers show up.

Those of us in Idaho are particularly proud of one Eric Parker, who's photographed lying prone and aiming an assault rifle at government agents through a crack in a concrete barrier (enjoy the bare light bulb treatment, Eric--you have it coming,  you friggin' genius). The feds--the caretakers of my land--were sent in to remove Cliven's trespassing cattle. Parker claims he's from central Idaho (don't they all?), and he and dozens of other "patriots" showed up in Nevada to essentially defend an outlaw. The courts have spoken. The feds have spoken. But Cliven Bundy continues to run cattle on my little stretch of desert paradise, and he still hasn't paid a dime.


'If these guys can show up, aim rifles at the feds and spend a day reveling in bumper-sticker idealism, why can't I or anyone else wander on down and harvest some beef that's illegally grazing on our land?'



Wisely, to avoid dusty, bloody rerun of Ruby Ridge, the BLM backed off--the cattle they had rounded up were turned loose. The freaks won "The Battle of Bunkerville" without firing a shot. I lost--my land still has Cliven Bundy's cows on it, and my caretakers still haven't seen a dime for the privilege, despite court rulings saying the rancher and melon farmer owes the BLM about $1 million.

I wonder, then, would it be against the law for me and others with a taste for beef to wander on down to our Nevada landholding and remove the trespassing cows ourselves? Contrary to popular belief, even folks from the reasonable middle--or perhaps a bit left--on the political spectrum know where to aim a 30.06 for a kill shot on a large ungulate. If these guys can show up, aim rifles at the feds and spend a day reveling in bumper-sticker idealism, why can't I or anyone else wander on down and harvest some beef that's illegally grazing on our land?

I've read with general disgust the extremist views of these so-called patriots (even U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada called them such--a treasonous statement for a sitting lawmaker, in my opinion)--they're whining about the usual stuff, like an oppressive government overreaching its authority, warning the rest of us that Cliven Bundy is just the beginning... that the government is out get each an every one of us.

Government, frankly, is what makes a society civil. And our government, when adhering to its founding principles and its constitution, largely achieves the modest goal of maintaining our civil society. You want a milquetoast federal government? I know a little country on the eastern border of Russia who'd love to have you and your AR-15 right about now.

But the nerve this whole thing hits with me, of course, is the notion that one man's use of public lands is more important than another's. And Cliven Bundy and his scraggly, cheat-grass-fed cows are but a single, insignificant example of land use run amok. It blows my mind that these assault-rifle-toting zealots will show up in force to defend an outlaw but they won't lift a finger to help stop a poorly-conceived, ill-fated drilling and fracking plan that all but trashes vital winter range for mule deer and elk, and threatens irreplaceable habit for trout in Wyoming or Colorado. That, too, is happening on my land, and I'm not very happy about it. It impacts me and people like me who truly know what to do with a high-powered rifle... or a fly rod.

Outlaw Cliven Bundy with one of the calves that are
illegally grazing on our land.
The difference, I suppose, is that Exxon-Mobil pays for the privilege of trashing my land. Cliven Bundy? He can't be bothered to adhere to the rules of a civil society. He can't be bothered to pay the bargain-basement rate the BLM charges to run cattle on my land. Or your land. Our land.

He called in the extremists and made a spectacle out of the public lands management system that, while perhaps not perfect, has given so much to Americans willing to appreciate the notion that, by right of birth, this land belongs to you and me. It's ours to enjoy. To fish. To hunt. To camp. And, for a price, others can log, or drill ... or run cattle. For a price. 

Pay your fees, Mr. Bundy. Or get your cows off my land. And tell your friends of political convenience to crawl back into their basements and save their powder for the day when an unjust government truly does come calling. You're an outlaw, not a hero.

God help us if we somehow can't tell the difference.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hiatus

It's not like I've just been hanging out watching on-demand episodes of Homeland or binge-watching House of Cards. I've been busy.

The day job is changing--for the better--and keeping me on my toes. And I did finish my last book for your reading pleasure. But mostly, I've just been swamped. That likely won't change, but if I've learned anything, it's that this part of my life--this little writing project that started about six years ago and never truly ended--is a necessity. It's prescriptive therapy--like an anti-depressant or a knee brace. I can function OK without it--for a time--but in the end, I'll return to it, and just as often stare into the blank space of the WYSIWYG editor than I will actually write something.

I've had a few little projects in the works--the book is one, obviously. I've crafted a few things for my friend Chad Shmukler at Hatch Magazine. And, of course, I'm spreading the gospel over at the TU blog, where we've literally been saving the world, one trout at a time. But this... this purely self-serving endeavor meant for all eyes--or none--seems to pull me back in. Even if it's just to read some previous posts or wade through the spam comments (Boost Your Bust? Really?) and delete the pablum left behind by the trolls.

I've been able to fish a bit. I hit the Henry's Fork for an afternoon a week or so ago, visited the surprisingly fishy mountain streams of north Georgia earlier this spring and I traveled south to Ascension Bay in February, where I caught my first permit. And my second. And my third.

I can't promise that "I'm back," or anything, but I'd like think I've arrived at a place in my tumultuous existence of late where I might be able to pop in--and pop off on a few issues--with some sense of regularity.

Until then, enjoy the fishing.








Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful...

Perhaps inspiration is found in the bottom of a jug of homemade apple pie cocktail (thank you, Wisconsin), or perhaps it's just the season... but I felt compelled to sit and craft a tried-and-true post for the holiday.

Today, I'm thankful for...

Fishing buddies... 
My friends. A little social network time this morning convinced me that spending a holiday like this alone is done purely by choice. Just a few lines of text, some kitschy winks and smiley-faces, and I felt fulfilled... loved... appreciated. Thank you for that, my dear friends. Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret, Part 4

This is the fourth and final post in a series focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of southern Florida. Read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here

Tourists watch dolphins hunting fish in San Carlos Bay.
The boatful of tourists watched with sheer glee as a pod of bottlenose dolphins frolicked along the edges of the Intercoastal Waterway. The big mammals put on quite a show, breaching regularly, sometimes completely coming out of the dark, tainted water of San Carlos Bay. 

Jim Martin, a lifelong conservationists, and the conservation officer for Pure Fishing, joined me and a handful of folks on the dolphin-watching tour, an offering given to attendees at the American Sportfishing Association Summit, conducted in October on shores of the bay.

Martin, who speaks passionately about issues impacting the environment--particularly as those issues impact fishing opportunity--remarked on the color of the water, and noted that, if something isn't done to remedy the frequent influx of untreated fresh water from Lake Okeechobee, this bay and others like around south Florida could be in real trouble.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret: Part Three

This is the third in a series of posts focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of southern Florida. Read Part One here, and Part Two here

A spotted sea trout breaks up a slow day of fishing in San Carlos Bay. The
bay is influenced by excess water discharges from Lake Okeechobee,
which turn the water brown and add pollutants to the estuary.
It's fashionable, among sportsmen and women, to point fingers at others when it becomes obvious that our fishing and hunting are suffering thanks to degraded waters or lands. Certainly, it's true that some who use our resources leave them in a state that makes our pastimes less productive, and it's perfectly all right to identify the causes of the problems that trash fish and game habitat and hinder our opportunity.

But unless we act, we're just a bunch of whiners. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it's true. Complaining about a problem without offering a solution just makes for shrill rhetoric. It's unproductive, to be sure. For more, see: Congress, United States. 

I have a good friend who once explained to me how, traditionally, sportsmen engaged in politics, particularly when it came to natural resources issues that impacted their opportunities afield.

"If one day, you told a bunch of hunters that they had to wake up the next morning, report to the firing squad and be executed, they'd bitch and moan all night long," he said to me. "Then, the next morning, they'd dutifully report, and stand stoically in front of the firing squad to be shot dead."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret: Part Two

This is a second in a series of posts focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of southern Florida. Read Part One here, and Part Three here


You've heard of Big Oil. The Big Three from Detroit. And, of course, the Big Lebowski.

But have you heard of Big Sugar?

I have to admit, until I spent some quality time chasing saltwater fish in southwest Florida recently, I
An osprey surveys the stained water of San Carlos Bay in southwest
Florida. The bay turns brown when unnatural discharges of polluted
water are deposited by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' diversion
project to protect sugar cane crops during the summer wet season. 
hadn't. But, as I paddled the stained waters of San Carlos Bay and fished the chalky water off the beaches of Sanibel Island, it became clear to me that Big Sugar isn't as sweet as it sounds.

In Florida, this industry is source of great pride, particularly among those state and federal lawmakers who collect significant campaign contributions from companies like U.S. Sugar and American Crystal Sugar, or the collective lobbying group, the American Sugar Alliance.

For those living along both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of southern Florida, though, Big Sugar is a Big Problem.

This heavily subsidized industry is largely the cause of one of the most egregious environmental problems in the Southeast, and if you're a saltwater angler from Florida, or someone who travels to the Sunshine State to chase inshore trophies like snook, tarpon and redfish, you might already know the havoc Big Sugar wreaks on the state's southern estuaries.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Florida's Dirty Little Secret: Part One

Note: This is the first in a series of posts focusing on the ecological issues facing the coastal estuaries of south Florida. Read Part Two here, and Part Three here


Tarpon Bay in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel
Island, Florida.
With each pull on the kayak paddle, I realized that, despite the abundance of life that calls Tarpon Bay home, something wasn't altogether right with this world. Decaying plant matter--likely dead seagrass and other native marine vegetation--hung suspended in the brackish water beneath the craft, and my paddle would disappear altogether once dunked in the drink.

I'd been hearing about this situation for the better part of a week before I took to the mangroves in search of salty fish--it's an odd dilemma facing both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of southern Florida. There's simply too much fresh water entering the estuaries down the Indian, St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee rivers. And, frankly, the word "fresh" isn't exactly accurate, either.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Beginnings



It's been a while. And much has happened. I'd like to apologize for my hiatus, but it would be disingenuous. I'm not sorry... I needed a break to focus on other things.

It's funny, too, because this endeavor was a "thing" in our marriage. A distraction. An interruption. Proof that I could find time for something I loved, and proof, to some, that I loved other things more than I should have dared. I fought for it. Clung to it. Depended on it.

And then I stopped. For almost two months, I stopped. Cold turkey. And, honest to God, I have no idea why. I guess, as I look back, it just didn't feel right to spend the time writing about fishing when our lives were crumbling like old stucco.

And crumble they have. But the facade is almost gone, and what's left is ... new, unfamiliar and a little scary.

Life awaits. Let's see what's out there.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Old Time Radio and the Elusive Bonefish

Conrad as Marshall Matt Dillon
Years ago, when I worked as a journalist on the North Coast of California, I got into the habit of falling to sleep to the sounds of old-time radio.

Stan Freberg—a Radio Hall-of-Famer—hosted a nightly show on one of the AM stations we could pick up in remote Eureka, and my sleep began to depend on tinny voices blasting from the clock radio on the nightstand. Half-hour series like “Our Miss Brooks,” “The Life of Reilly,” “Boston Blackie,” “Dragnet” and my favorite, “Gunsmoke,” would put us to sleep, often before we could get through an entire episode. It was comical for a while—a novelty (I think it would be akin to my 11-year-old son putting his Xbox aside and taking up a game of River Run on the old Atari 2600).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This Land is Your Land...

The vintage DeHavilland Beaver skittered away into the slate-gray Southeast Alaskan sky, leaving us with a short hike around a small isthmus to the mouth of the remote creek. The drum beat of the tell-tale rotary engine grew distant and faded altogether as we geared up and readied for the walk along the shoreline to the mouth of the unnamed sweetwater stream coursing out of the rainforest. In the salt, staging pink salmon frolicked and jumped from the water, their short lives arriving at the beginning of the end.

Here, a short plane ride from busy Juneau (there were five massive cruise ships at the dock and thousands of tourists milling about downtown when we took off from the airport) and yet hopelessly out of touch with civilization, we landed on our very own piece of real estate. Mine. Theirs. Yours.