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Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Backcasts archive: Through May 9, 2008

By Brett Pauly
ESPNOutdoors.com blog columnist

Blog calendar: May 9 | May 7 | May 6 | May 5

posted May 9, 2008

Here's to hoping for a swan song to song dogs' attacks on SoCal kids

The alarming news of coyotes attacking children in southern California has gotten Backcasts thinking of ways to better defend ourselves from the troublesome pests.

One kid was grabbed by the throat in a park and dragged by a coyote, according to a video report on the Web site of an NBC affiliate out of San Diego.

Another incident involved, get this, an immature coyote chasing a pet pooch through a doggie door and into a residential home while its mother waited hungrily in the brush outside, according to the TV news station.

The recent wildfires that have ravaged the Southland may be to blame for the spate of attacks, a park ranger told NBC 7/39. Small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits, compose the primary diets of coyotes, the ranger said, and since many of these prey animals were killed in the blazes song dogs are searching for other critters to make meals of and pouncing on kids.

In the interest of safety for our young ones, we're going to lift the following passage from the Web site of the Press-Enterprise newspaper of Riverside, Calif.

Keeping Kids Safe

Animal control experts say it just takes a little vigilance and common sense to keep children safe from coyotes. Here are some tips:

• Never leave small children unattended outside, either in a park or the back yard.
• Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.
• Trim ground-level shrubs to reduce hiding places.
• Feed and water pets in the house rather than leaving food outside.
• Secure trash cans so the lids don't come off and they can't be tipped over.
• Don't feed or provide water for wild animals around your home.

Source: California Department of Fish and Game

If a menacing coyote is seen, rangers suggest throwing rocks or making loud noises to scare it off.

One thing missing from the list is just shooting the no-good canines, which, of course, wildlife agencies wouldn't recommend in such a public format.

But we'd bet anyone reading this column would gladly face the legal consequences of shooting a coyote that was endangering someone's life.

We also bet we'll be reading an account of just such a scenario should this over-the-top series of attacks continue to plague the Southland.

Most southern California coyotes are the size of a small dog, weighing roughly 30 pounds, the Press-Enterprise reports, and the largest song dogs have been known to kill sheep, fawns and calves … and even attack adult humans.

So attacking toddlers is child's play.

Since the late 1970s, there have been at least 111 coyote attacks on humans in southern California, resulting in 136 people being bitten, Rex Baker, a retired Cal Poly Pomona professor who has studied the region's coyotes, told the Riverside newspaper.

There has been one fatal coyote attack on a human in southern California – a 3-year-old girl was grabbed by the throat in her Glendale front yard in 1981 – but at least 49 children have been bitten, according to Baker's research.

That's 49 too many.

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posted May 7, 2008

Deaths of Columbia River sea lions now a mystery; may not have been shot

If it turns out to be true that the six lifeless sea lions found Sunday in two traps set up below Bonneville Dam to reduce the number of these Columbia River salmon plunderers weren't shot to death after all, Backcasts will have to extend an apology to those we implicated yesterday.

(But until a cause of death is determined, don't shoot any more.)

The National Marine Fisheries Service reported this morning that preliminary results of a necropsy found no evidence of recent gunshot wounds.

Hmmmm, no recent gunshots, huh? Sounds suspicious anyhow, especially with the death toll at six pinnipeds.

Metal fragments and a metal slug were lodged in the marine mammals, neither of which
were found to be fatal and may have been associated with old wounds, according to
the fisheries service release.

Several shallow puncture wounds in one animal were consistent with sea lion bite marks, but the bottom line is that no one knows, yet, why these beasts cashed in their flips, er, chips.

"We are assuming nothing at this point," Brian Gorman, a National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman in Seattle, told The Columbian today.

"We don't have a working hypothesis, but we'll come up with one and we'll pursue it and try to find a cause of these deaths. It's a mystery right now."

The Web site of the Vancouver, Wash., newspaper went on to report: The animals died in floating docks set up by state authorities to trap and relocate sea lions that had been eating a growing proportion of Endangered Species Act-protected salmon below Bonneville Dam. A pair of trap doors had been triggered, raising the possibility that someone manually closed the doors as the animals lounged on a side-by-side pair of floating docks.

"There are two big questions: How did the animals die, and how did the gates get closed?" Gorman told The Columbian.

We love a good mystery here at Backcasts, and this mystery couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of blubbery bandits.

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posted May 6, 2008

Shooters of sea lions only make the heated salmon-predation debate worse

OK, whoever's the joker that shot the trapped sea lions on the Columbia River, knock it off.

First, whatever happened to fair chase? Boating up to the floating cages and firing into the marine mammals is chicken. It would be tantamount to hunting exotic big game on some high-fence property and yelling pull before a chute is opened. At least the exotics would have a running chance.

All right, fair chase aside, what good is shooting federally protected sea lions, especially after the states of Washington and Oregon were just given permission to capture or kill up to 85 sea lions a year for five years – sea lions that make mincemeat out of salmon that are protected by the Endangered Species Act?

All one has to do is look up the Pacific Coast to the Olympic Peninsula to see how a poor decision by a few individuals can hurt the opportunities of hunters and anglers.

Remember the rogue tribal whalers who were so fed up with the feds not honoring the Makah Tribe's treaty right to whale that in September they killed a gray whale on their own, without permission from the government or their own tribe?

Yeah, a lot of good that did. If the antis were out to make a federal case of tribal whaling before the unauthorized hunt, think of the fuss they'll make now over the Makahs – an American Indian tribe with more than 1,000 members, and deep whaling roots, based in Neah Bay at Washington's westernmost tip.

And now the same thing's happening further south.

After what seems liken eons of push and pull over getting rid of pesky, salmon-munching sea lions below Bonneville Dam, headway was finally made in March when federal approval for lethal removal of the worst-offending pinnipeds was granted to the states bisected by the mighty Columbia.

Since then, as you undoubtedly predicted, the antis have filed a lawsuit and already earned a partial victory, as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late last month that some of the animals could be trapped but not killed.

But trapping the marauding mammals still is a good thing; cages were set up April 24 to do just that.

Now someone's killing the pests anyhow … and, as you also undoubtedly predicted, playing right into the hands of the antis.

It couldn't have been any more perfect for the antis. As the Associated Press reports from Portland, Ore., the trapping has been suspended amid fears of some of its proponents that the violence would cause a backlash against it.

The AP goes on to report:

Indian tribes protecting their traditional fisheries and state governments representing commercial and sport fishermen promoted the sea-lion removal.

Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said the tribes were "deeply disappointed" at the killings and asked for public patience with the trapping.

The quote of the day comes from the AP piece, as well:

"Luckily, I was in Astoria, so you can't blame me," said commercial fisherman Brian Tarabochia. Astoria, situated where the Columbia meets the Pacific, is nearly 150 miles downriver from the site of the sea lion shootings.

Tarabochia went on to state, according to the AP, that a fishing buddy proposed, not entirely in jest, setting up a legal-defense fund if someone is arrested for the crime. He also said killing sea lions is a worthless act, but it does illustrate anglers' aggravation over the red tape associated with tedious and increasingly tiresome issue of protected marine mammals vs. protected salmon.

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posted May 5, 2008

"Tick riders" on the storm – the storm of infestation

Call them tick riders on the storm – the storm of infestation.

These riders and ropers are part of a special posse from the U.S. Department of Agriculture assigned to seek out stray livestock along the Rio Grande that might be carrying a minute pest that has the potential to spread deadly disease, the Associated Press reports from Laredo, Texas.

The tiny pain the neck (in the neck of cattle, that is) is the fever tick, which, according to the AP, is a parasite eradicated from the United States 65 years ago that can transmit disease to cattle and could spread to the southeastern part of the nation if not controlled.

The so-dubbed "tick rider" force serves as the sentinels of the 862-square-mile permanent quarantine region along the Rio Grande from Brownsville to Del Rio, making certain only tick-free cattle are allowed to be transported from the area.

Sixty-one tick riders inspect native ranch animals and search out foreign strays on horseback; alas, in recent months the tick has migrated out of the buffer zone, prompting the formation of three temporary quarantine zone covering more than 1,100 square miles, the AP reports.

The cattle are "scratched" (rider-speak for inspected) by hand, either on the ranch in holding pens or in the wild after being "apprehended" (roped).

The service is an invaluable one, for cattle tick fever can wipe out up to 90 percent of infected cattle, according to the wire service.

"During a heavy infestation, if you put your hand" on an animal, said 16-year tick-rider veteran Fred Garza, "you might touch 50 ticks."

Fortunately the last major outbreak was in 1972. The region is currently experiencing an infestation, similar to another outbreak in 2004-05, but no disease has been detected.

Backcasts salutes the tick riders of south Texas for their impressive efforts to keep bugged cattle from impacting the "free area" (any place where the fever tick is not present).

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    About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site. He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade, including stints at the Los Angeles Daily News and Seattle Times. The Evergreen State is where he now makes his home. Click here to email him.

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