Backcasts archive: Through Feb. 2, 2007

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    posted Feb. 2, 2007

    The eagle has landed, for good or ill

    Don't know what's up with the eagle these days, but that grand, old bird is getting some serious pub — good, bad and ugly.

    First come the crazy flight patterns, then we learn the bald eagle is a feather's width away from soaring off the endangered list and now we discover that the Eagles are making a comeback in the studio.

    In what must have been a bizarre scene, Britain's top female paraglider somehow cheated the grim reaper after surviving a midair attack by two wedge-tailed eagles during a competition Down Under.

    "(One) swooped in and hit me on the back of the head, then got tangled in the glider, which collapsed it. So I had a very, very large bird wrapped up screeching beside me as I screamed back," Nicky Moss, 38, told Reuters today.

    There was a moment, Moss said, that she thought about dumping her parachute-style canopy during the attack in northern New South Wales state and using the reserve. The frenzy ended when the second of the pair of raptors freed itself from glider but 300 feet from the ground.

    Veteran Australian paraglider pilot Godfrey Wenness said eagle attacks were rare, Reuters reported, but Moss had been flying in an area where the birds were not accustomed to human pilots.

    "Eagles are the sharks of the air. But if you're a regular, they just treat you pretty indifferently," Wenness said.

    Kind of like the resident pitbull at the outback pub that bites all newcomers until they've been in for a few rounds.

    This incident comes on the wings of the bald eagle that caused a power outage in Juneau.

    First declared an endangered species in 1967, the bald eagle has not always been considered worth saving, according to the Sacramento Bee.

    It was once thought to be a pest that harassed livestock. But widespread reproductive failure from thinned
    eggshells caused by DDT threatened America's signature bird.

    The government's ban on the pesticide in 1972 is thought to have contributed most to the eagle's recovery, the Bee reports, and the majestic bird is expected to be removed from the endangered-species list within two weeks.

    "The eagle is a powerful example that the recovery of once-endangered species is within our means,'' said Michael Bean, chair of Environmental Defense's he wildlife program.

    It turns out that since the feds apparently were slow to act after these great conservation efforts, a lawsuit is getting the lion's share of credit for the delisting effort.

    And welcome back, Eagles, to the "Hotel California."

    It seems like we haven't had that spirit here since 1969.

    Actually, it was 1979 when California rockers last made an album featuring all-new studio material, according to the Associated Press.

    A new album of the band's studio recordings is expected within the next two to three months, "If we don't kill each other
    first," founding member Don Henley, 59, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

    Giving some amour to the Léopard d'Amur

    Eagles are in great shape, no question. But while that eagle grins, here's the other side to the coin:

    It's amazing any of a different breed are still left; indeed, you might spot a yeti before seeing one of these cats.

    But conservationists in Russia and China are joining forces, according to the Associated Press, to locate the last of what may be the world's most endangered species — the Amur leopard of Russia's Far East and adjacent Chinese border regions.

    Only 30 of the felines — Panthera pardus orientalis — are thought to roam Russian Pacific's Primorye region and across the border in China's northeastern provinces.

    The World Wide Fund for Nature expects trackers, hunters and animal biologists as part of a triennial census to spend two weeks searching some 1,930 square miles of snowy taiga forests to determine from the cats' tracks how many leopards remain, their gender and their size.

    The cat is known alternately as the Far East leopard, Manchurian leopard, Korean leopard and Léopard d'Amur.

    Incidentally, the Amur leopard shares territory with the Amur tiger, more commonly recognized as the Siberian tiger, yet anything but common; just more than 400 are thought to survive in the wild here.

    The point is, folks, there ain't many of these hip cats out there, so if the leopard census is every three years we'd like to suggest that the Abominable Snowman study takes place at least every half-decade.


    posted Feb. 1, 2007

    Wild goings-on (continued): Live turkeys used for target practice at "sportsman's" club

    To continue our discussion of bizarre news in the outdoors world, we teased additional stories yesterday in hopes you'd come back to read what we saved as the best for last:

    It seems unfathomable to us that a sportsman's club would employ domestic turkeys as live targets for an archery contest.

    But that's exactly what transpired at Pennsylvania's Elstonville Sportsman's Association, according the Associated Press.

    Apparently dozens of the farm-raised birds were hobbled, staked to bales of straw and permitted to flap their wings as the arrows flew.

    Like a midway game at a cruel carnival, shooters coughed up a dozen Washingtons apiece for three attempts to arrow a turkey; those drawing blood from a bound bird won the fowl prize, as described by prosecutor Christine Wilson in the AP report.

    Some 40 turkeys were killed in the event.

    "It was unnecessary, unsportsmanlike and perhaps the most gutless act of cruelty I've seen," said Keith Mohler, a state animal cruelty enforcement officer who apparently worked undercover at the event as a guest of a club member.

    Mohler reported the Sept. 9 incident to state police, stating that participants were "seeking amusement from the senseless torture of animals."

    A judge has issued a summons to the association — it would be offensive to add "sportsman's" (even with quotations) to its title until the legal ramifications are sorted out — and the club faces fines of as high as $4,000 for eight summary violations of laws against the cruel treatment of animals and offering live animals as prizes in a contest, Mohler and Wilson reported in the AP news item.


    posted Jan. 31, 2007

    Wild goings-on: In Alaska, "The Godfather" meets "The Birds"

    It's one of those weeks when several bizarre outdoor news items bubble to the surface. If you stick around Backcasts long enough, you'll see they pop up on occasion.

    And it doesn't get much stranger when you go north, to Alaska, where 10,000 of the good folks of Juneau experienced what will eventually be known as the flying eagle power outage.

    Imagine, if you will, a bald eagle flapping mightily with its prey. Now conjure up an image of its talons straining to hold its heavy prize. The majestic bird struggles to gain altitude.

    But weight, er, wait, a set of transmission lines stand in its path. Will our feathered friend drop its payload to clear the obstacle? Oh, the suspense!

    No way, this bird is carrying a deer head — a veritable gold mine (picked up, incidentally, from a landfill) that you would sooner have to pry from its dead, cold claws. Which, of course, is exactly what happens.

    The bald bundle of down was found by a repair crew, its would-be meal nearby. Power was restored in less than 45 minutes Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

    "You have to live in Alaska to have this kind of outage scenario," said Gayle Wood, an Alaska Electric Light & Power spokeswoman. "This is the story of the overly ambitious eagle."

    Next we travel to the Cowboy State, where the "Twilight Zone" theme song could be heard above Casper, where there may be more than a few friendly ghosts hanging about anyhow.

    As fate would have it, local resident Erick Hovermale was cited for misdemeanor discharging a firearm in city limits, according to the Associated Press. But, pardon us, we've just given away the ending of the story first.

    Apparently unfamiliar his new pistol, Hovermale "accidentally discharged" the sidearm, the bullet from which nicked the side of his own arm, the AP reports. We're not done, thought.

    From there, the projectile traveled through two walls, across a
    courtyard and ricocheted off a shower wall, police reported, before striking a man who was using a bathroom in an adjacent building.

    "It's one of those freak happenings," said police Sgt. Mark Trimble. Yep, that sergeant certainly can paint a picture, can't he?

    Fortunately the man in the unsuspecting victim in the comfort station was uninjured. The bullet merely bounced off his chest and left a small bruise. Apparently the shooter's pride was bruised a bit, as well.

    They're calling Craig Lewis' trophy from a ranch in Ringgold, La., the "devil deer."

    "My friends are tripping out big-time," Lewis told The Daily Advertiser, of Lafayette, La. "Some of them don't even want any meat."

    Lewis had set out recently on an either-sex deer hunt; little did he know the experience would be so literal.

    Before he squeezed the trigger after scoping out his prize, the animals head was down and he couldn't tell if it was a buck. But it mattered not, because the regs of the day allowed him to pursue either sex.

    Upon closely examination of the down deer, Lewis and his hunting partner knew something was askew.

    Indeed, Lewis had killed a buck … and a doe.

    "The taxidermist said it looked like the deer was born a buck, but developed doe features somewhere down the road," Lewis told The Daily Advertiser.

    "It was just the weirdest thing, because from the eyes down, it looks like a doe. But it's got a rack and was built like a buck.

    "To be honest, I still don't know what I killed."

    Neither do we, Mr. Lewis, neither do we.

    We're not done, yet, folks.

    The Associated Press is reporting that a student at Penn State is suing the university for unspecified damages because, she says, she has experienced headaches after a stuffed moose head fell on her crown in class.

    Amy Walters claims she was injured while taking a biology test at the university's Fayette campus in 2005, the AP reports.

    It gets better:

    City officials in Colton, Calif., say restrictions on building there have limited commercial growth and cost tens of millions of dollars in economic development.

    Here's the hitch, according to the Associated Press: The habitat of the Delhi Sands fly, the first and only fly to ever to be included on the federal endangered species list, is the same prime real estate eyed for development in Colton.

    So far, the fly is winning in the turf tug-of-war.

    "It's absurd that an economy and a community should be held hostage by a fly,'' said city manager Daryl Parrish.

    Oh to be a fly on the wall in the next meeting between the feds and city officials over this sticky matter. At least I'd be happy in the assurance of survival: Fly-swatters would be banned from the proceedings.

    We've got plenty more where these came from, so check back frequently on Backcasts.


    posted Jan. 30, 2007

    It's great when fishing is a subplot to life, even on TV

    It's a wonderful thing when fishing becomes a metaphor for life, even if on the little screen.

    Such is the case with the TV drama "The Valley of Light," which aired Sunday as "Hallmark Hall of Fame's" 229th entry.

    It's a familiar story of a stranger who comes to town, but in a twist it's his fishing prowess that steals the show, in my estimation.

    A Southern solider returns from World War II and fishes his way around the countryside in 1946. He meets an old man who points him to a valley with friendly folks and a lake most people believe is devoid of fish but which the old-timer knows is home to the largest bass he's ever seen.

    Along the way the soldier befriends a mute boy; impresses the townsfolk with his catfishing skills; earns a few bucks selling fish and winning a friendly angling wager; and, predictably, falls in with a lovely widow.

    But he has bigger fish to fry, namely the mystical bass in the valley's lake, which makes more than one appearance early in the flick. The boy becomes his catfishing buddy on the local river and they are set to enter an annual whiskerfish derby … but it's not time, yet, to go after the big bass. All the while he looks for "a sign" — some indication to soothe his wanderlust and cease his walkabout.

    Tragedy soon strikes and the soldier becomes so bent with guilt he ponders leaving the peaceful valley and his budding romance … but not before taking his best shot at the lake's monster.

    It's a remarkable movie, adapted from the Terry Kay novel "To Dance With the White Dog, and one of those rare instances when fishing is central to the theme, akin to the 1992 big-screen classic "A River Runs Through It," except this one is all bait and hardware, with not a single fly pattern to be found. It may be a cop-out comparison, but you get the greater point: There aren't that many great fishing films out there.

    The DVD goes on sale Feb. 15 in the Hallmark Gold Crown Stores, but you can
    preorder now. Believe me, it's worth picking up.

    Most of my epic fishing experiences have come on backpacking trips in the high Sierra, so I've got a bit of that ol' travelin' jones myself — but, curiously, it tends to coincide with my vacation accrual.

    And angling for theaters in 2008, "The Bass Master"

    Elsewhere in entertainment news, a veteran screenwriter and producer, backed by a major independent studio, are angling for a new fishing feature on the big screen .

    "The Bass Master" is in its infancy, but this much we do know: It will be a bass-fishing comedy distributed by Lionsgate Films, which also is recruiting a director and a cast.

    "We couldn't believe it," screenwriter and lifelong fisherman Tab Murphy told ESPNOutdoors.com. Murphy, whose writing credits include Disney's "Tarzan," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "Brother Bear," is teaming with fellow screenwriter and angler Devin Maurer on the project.

    "We were both a little stunned at the popularity and the extreme nature of how it had grown."

    If all goes according to plan, shooting will begin this summer at various bass tournaments, and the picture will hit theaters sometime in 2008, said Sean Robins, the senior development executive on the picture.

    Maurer apparently has long held a fascination for the obsession of grown men in their pursuit of behemoth bass.

    "These guys leave home with a boat strapped to their backs with a wife and kids at home saying, 'You better make purse, buddy, or don't bother coming back,'" he said.

    Here's to hoping "The Bass Master" makes purse and serves as a springboard to other similar movie projects that feature sportsmen.


    posted Jan. 29, 2007

    What ends first, attacks by Calif. cougars or their hunting ban?

    Welcome to the predator and small-game edition of Backcasts, where we'll update you on all the latest from the world of wolves, cougars and squirrels.

    So let's get right down to the nitty-gritty: WHEN is California going to reverse the ban on hunting cougars?

    Will it take one more attack on a hiker? Maybe after the next person is jumped by a cat and killed while on a Sunday stroll?

    We'll just have to wait and see, I suppose, what game officials and Golden State voters will do after latest cougar vs. human incident last week at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, some 320 miles north of San Francisco.

    Jim Hamm, 70, was downgraded from fair condition to serious on Sunday after being treated for a torn scalp, puncture wounds and other injuries he sustained. Doctors are most concerned about infection, according to the Associated Press.

    It could have been a lot worse had it not been for the quick thinking and brave actions of his wife of 49 years, Nell, who pounded the animal with a four-inch-wide log, according to the AP; she is credited by wildlife officials with saving her spouse's life.

    When the cougar wouldn't let go of Jim Hamm's head, he continued to communicate with his wife and suggested she use the pen in his pocket to gouge its eye.

    "So I got the pen and tried to put it in his eye, but it didn't want to go in as easy as I thought it would," said Nell Hamm, 65, who then went back to slamming the beast with the log. The cat eventually relented and wondered off.

    "She saved his life, there is no doubt about it,'' said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game.

    Game wardens later closed the park and released hounds to track the cougar. They later shot and killed a pair of lions found near the trail where the attack happened, according to the AP, and had the carcasses flown to a state forensics lab to determine if either animal mauled the man. Researchers identified a female cat as the attacker.

    Jim and Nell Hamm will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next month, and who knows if we'll have to wait another half-century for the constituency to reverse the hunting moratorium.

    Whenever it happens, hunters then will be able to take down a cougar, a puma and a mountain lion with a single shot … and all completely legal with but one tag.

    For the curious, the bounty on mountain lions ceased in California in 1963, hunting pumas was banned in 1972 and the cougar became a protected species by voter initiative in 1990, according to the state Department of Fish and Game.

    Mystical wolf is protected in Germany, has some howling

    The wolf of the wilds, a beast of folklore and mystery in much of Germany, is making a slow comeback. And here it is a protected species, which has many asking why such a sheep-killing predator shouldn't be in the cross hairs of any upstanding hunter.

    "What positive thing does a wolf bring to nature? Nothing," German hunter Joachim Bachmann tells the Los Angeles Times.

    Wolves nearly were hunted to extinction here during the Middle Ages. But wolves now seem to have a foothold in Germany, thanks to reintroduction practices, and biologists are studying their migration patterns and analyzing their numbers, according to the Times.

    The relationship between hunting and biology is an uneasy one, at best.

    "The problem is that hunters see themselves as the predators who control the animal population from overpopulating," state-funded biologist Gesa Kluth tells the Times.

    "But now the wolves have returned and they are the natural predators, which threatens the hunter's lifestyle."

    Perhaps German wildlife officials eventually will take a tip from the feds here, who will remove northern Rockies wolves from the endangered list within a year and expect to finalize a similar plan in the Great Lake region.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan would go into effect following a yearlong comment and review period, according to the Associated Press, and would open the wolf population to hunting in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

    Certainly there will be legal challenges, but if the proposal can survive any time in court, the more than 1,200 Rockies wolves would be targeted for trophy hunting for the first time since a major restoration effort commenced in the late 1980s.

    More than 4,000 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin also would be delisted if a similar proposition meets approval.

    Gray wolves were virtually eliminated across the West by the 1930s following a prolonged, government-sponsored eradication effort, according to the AP. The predator was declared endangered in 1974, shortly after passage of the Endangered Species Act.

    Don't eat the squirrels, at least not in New Jersey

    Fears of lead contamination have prompted New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection officials to warn residents of Ringwood — many who are members of the Ramapough Mountain Indian tribe who hunt and fish in the area — about consuming squirrels near a toxic waste dump.

    Wow, what a double whammy. I don't think I'd be eating New Jersey squirrels, period, and now comes word there's a lead scare. No thank you.

    I much prefer Nevada squirrels. I have experience.

    Years ago, at the behest of a ranking member of the McDermitt Indian Reservation, in the northwest part of the Sagebrush State, we popped ground squirrels and rabbits — some on the run — with scopeless .22-caliber rifles and had meals the likes I won't forget.

    The squirrels were skewered whole and roasted on a spit over an open flame, fur and all. They were tender and tasty, especially the meat on the skull. Yum!

    Give me squirrel from northern Nevada any day, but I won't eat green eggs and Jersey squirrel. Furthermore, Nevada-Reno takes Rutgers on the gridiron and the hardwood; there, Neil, I've made it public.

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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. The Evergreen State of Washington is where he makes his home. Click here to email him.

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