Backcasts archive: Through March 14, 2008

Blog calendar: March 14 | March 13 | March 11 | March 8

posted March 14, 2008

Alaska judge sets the bar: Poach like this, go to jail

Joseph Querin had the perfect 10-day Alaska hunt, dropping two Dall sheep, a moose, a brown bear and a caribou.

Too perfect, it turns out.

Querin, 54, of Ocean Park, Wash., killed the big game illegally and left the carcasses behind.

He now must serve a year in the hoosegow after pleading guilty this week to five criminal counts, the Anchorage Daily News reports from the City of Lights.

Poach like this, go to jail. That's the way it should be, simple as that. Bully for District Judge Brian Clark for delivering the appropriate penalty.

"Significant fines and jail are really essential in cases like this to help wildlife troopers do their job," Peterson said. "Alaska is so remote, there's no way they can catch everyone. It acts as a deterrent."

You said it, judge.

Querin also was ordered to serve four years of probation and pay a $4,000 fine, and he has lost his hunting privileges for four years, according to the newspaper.

Is that all? We're a little miffed he gets to hunt at all after the stunts he pulled.

Querin wasn't alone in his killing spree, which during August and September 2006 stretched from the Brooks Range south of Prudhoe Bay and along the Dalton Highway to the near the Turnagain Arm outside Anchorage. One Carson Kemmer, 25, a friend and fellow Washington resident, struck a plea deal earlier to testify against his poaching partner and thus avoid a jail sentence.

Oh, almost forgot to mention, the moose and sheep were sub-legal.

"It's unbelievable the number of animals they killed in a 10-day period," said assistant attorney general Andrew Peterson, according to the Daily News.

"They had the illegal hunting trip of a lifetime."

Best line we've heard in some time; thank you, prosecutor.


posted March 13, 2008

The "unbelievable" part of Montana griz study is how far McCain is off target

You may have heard the fuss Sen. John McCain is making over what he calls an "unbelievable" $3 million grizzly study in Montana.

Something about government pork-barrel projects.

Certainly there must be merit in the presidential candidate's arguments that some federal spending on such programs is a waste of money. But the U.S. Geological Survey's Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project is a tired example, and what's unbelievable is how McCain is so uniformed.

Never has there been such an aggressive count of griz in the Rockies, and the bottom line, according to the Washington Post, is that the study could have long-term implications for the Northern Divide grizzlies, possibly including their removal someday from the threatened list. Delisting them would restore management of the bears to state control after decades of federal oversight.

And if we know anything about state management, hunting must be in the equation somewhere.

Certainly debate isn't our strong suit, but here's another bottom line that seems to make sense: If there was no Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project, our hunting opps would be diminished. Therefore, McCain is hurting hunting.

That really hurts our feelings, senator, and we certainly hope that's not the attitude you would bring to the White House.

Quite apart from McCain's rantings, of which, frankly, we've heard enough, the Post's piece is fascinating: how one committed field scientist, Katherine Kendall ("cheerleader turns bear biologist") devised a plan to study 12,127 square miles of griz territory that involved 207 paid workers, hundreds of volunteers, 2,560 bear sampling sites and data (in the form of bear hair) from 563 different humpbacks in her census of Ursus arctos horribilis.

Oh, and one note, Mr. McCain: The study, in fact, cost more than $5 million, the Post reports, including nearly $4.8 million in congressional appropriations.

And worth every penny!

Kate Kendall, Backcasts salutes you.

One more note: McCain actually voted for the 2003 appropriations bill that included the grizzly-research funding, instead of proposing an amendment to have it removed from the bill, according to the newspaper account.


posted March 11, 2008

Why hunting is not an alternative to the culling of elephants in South Africa

When we learned recently of South Africa's plans to end a 13-year ban of killing elephants in order to ease the overpopulation of pachyderms there, we were struck that hunting didn't appear alongside culling as an option for reducing their numbers.

Sure, we thought, trained marksmen would be called in to do the job. But hunters are good shots, too. And couldn't hunters help foot the bill for controlling herds? Remember that each of these animals requires daily intakes of about 660 pounds of grass, leaves and twigs, and up to 52 gallons of water, the Associated Press reports from Pretoria, South Africa.

We know a little bit about game management, albeit mostly revolving around deer, so why isn't hunting an option here?

We went seeking answers and got a trunkload.

Hunting experts agree culling is the best method to control these animals after they have become victims of their own success. Indeed, the incredibly fruitful efforts to protect their population have resulted in environmental degradation and rising conflicts with humans, according to the AP.

Here's what we found:

"It's not a good idea for hunters to be involved in population control," said Ivan Carter, an international authority and lecturer on the subject from Zimbabwe, who makes a living as a professional hunting guide and safari photographer.

"The vast majority of all elephants taken on a culling operation are youngsters and females; picking these off individually will have a huge negative effect on the population and temperaments of the animals.

"In a cull a whole family group is removed, leaving the remaining population in balance. And, also, as they are herd-oriented animals, it doesn't leave any elephants without familiar herd members.

"Teams of dedicated professionals who can take out the whole herd in seconds are what's required, men who know and understand the animals, who will get in very close, shoot the right animals and at the right moment to ensure efficient and humane operation. It's a lot more than just knowing how to shoot well."

John J. Jackson III, chairman and president of the hunting organization Conservation Force, explained that the culling is to occur in South Africa parks and protected areas where hunting is not permitted. Furthermore, hunting doesn't yield the takes needed here, he said.

"Trophy offtake is too low to control population growth, much less reduce a healthy population," Jackson said.

Renowned bowhunter and TV personality Tom Miranda added his two cents.

"Because of the inherent dangers of sport hunting elephants, and the few hunters who will pursue them, it would be impossible to control the numbers by hunting alone," Miranda said. "The pressure from preservation groups has allowed the populations to become out of hand, and culling is most likely the best short-term answer.

"One must remember that culling is not only the humane execution of the beasts but the wise use of the resource after the kill. In the past, semi-trucks and hundreds of skinners and packers have processed the tons of meat and skins for use to the locals' benefit."

And while Thomas McIntyre agrees culling is the answer to the elephant situation at this point, we found the comments of the big-game hunter, author and magazine writer most enlightening.

"The necessity for culling entire family groups of elephants to prevent further degradation of the environment is hardly a tribute to wildlife conservation," McIntyre said. "It is, in fact, the result of sound wildlife management having been painted into a corner by uninformed and emotional public opinion.

"If countries such as South Africa would have, or could have, been more liberal over the years in their quotas for elephants that could be taken by licensed (and fee paying) sport hunters, and if, it must be said, there were a stable, regulated international market for elephant ivory and parts, enraging scenes of helicopter-mounted game scouts swooping in on elephant herds like the air cavalry out of 'Apocalypse Now' would probably be entirely avoidable."


posted March 8, 2008

Thar she blows: Great, white whale surfaces again off the Aleutian Islands

Gotta give props to Mary Pemberton, she of the Associated Press who always finds the best stories. Certainly it must have much to do with the setting. Her dateline is out of Anchorage, as is the case with her latest missive on a great, white whale.

Make that killer whale, which, as we know, isn't a whale at all, but the largest member of the dolphin family.

But we like to say great, white whale. Call me Ishmael, but it conjures up visions of Captain Ahab, the Pequod and Moby-Dick. Ah, the tale of the hunter and his relentless pursuit of the beast, the ferocious white denizen that on a previous endeavor had destroyed the cap'n's vessel and taken his leg. No matter how unhealthy his obsession, revenge would be his and …

Well, that's another story, as they say, and the current news is that a rare, white orca – described by the AP as nearly mythic – has been spotted around the Aleutian Islands. Healthy, up to 30 feet from flukes to snout and weighing more than 10,000 pounds, the killer whale is, indeed, very real.

It seems, however, to be documented only every seven or eight years, like an aquatic comet, streaking through the northern Bering Sea near St. Lawrence Island in 1993, then cruising around Adak in the central Aleutians in 2001. (Though apparently there have been other sightings off the Russian coast, according to the AP.)

So when the orca and its white saddle breached within view of those aboard a research vessel last month, shutters started clicking.

"I had heard about this whale, but we had never been able to find it," said Holly Fearnbach, a research biologist with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle who photographed the creature.

Sound familiar?

The Seattle Times, wittingly or otherwise, used in its headline for the wire story, "A novel sight," but nary a hint of the Herman Melville classic was offered in the body of the news piece.

The Whale, in this case, is replaced by a dolphin … and harpoons by cameras.

But the big dolphin, which classically features black and white markings, has its own romantic monikers; indeed, Orcinus orca is less frequently called blackfish or seawolf.

We like seawolf, a lot.

And the great, white seawolf is very much alive and kicking, in the Aleutians.

"It was quite neat to find it," Fearnbach said.

We'll say!

And for fans of killer whales and "Moby-Dick" alike, note that, thankfully, subtle yellowish or brownish pigmentation on other part's of the white orca's frame indicates it is not a true albino and, accordingly, not subject to health issues and a shortened life span.

  • Got a similar take or differing view? Post on our Message Board or our Mailbag. And if you have a news tip, send it our way.

    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.

  • Check the Backcasts archives for previous blogs.