Backcasts archive: Through March 30, 2007


Blog calendar: March 30 | March 29 | March 28 | March 27 | March 26

posted March 30, 2007

Sea lions play duel roles as heroes and villains

As much as fishermen love to hate them, sea lions are getting their props as resources in the fight on terror.

And the spotlight on that odd juxtaposition only got brighter this week as the disparities become even more impressive.

Yesterday, according to the Associated Press, two Washington state congressmen introduced a bill that would OK the use of deadly force on problem California sea lions that aggressively munch on Columbia River salmon, which now are on their annual upriver migration to spawn.

"Unfortunately, the news this year isn't any better than last; California sea lions are already setting their sights on this year's salmon run," said Democratic Rep. Brian Baird.

The sea lions, protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, gather at the base of Bonneville Dam to wait for and feed on the migrating salmon. Also on their menu are brood-stock sturgeon, steelhead and other fish.

Wildlife officials have attempted to harass the sea lions with large firecrackers and rubber bullets, by using underwater acoustics and by installing exclusion gates (bars at the entrance to the fish ladders).

Indeed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, fish and wildlife agencies from Oregon and Washington and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission do what they can to scare off the sea lions in various hazing efforts, but nothing seems to work with any real efficiency or permanence.

The new bill would create a temporary fast-track process for Oregon, Washington and the four Columbia River treaty tribes to get permits to kill a limited number of the sea lions when nonlethal harassment has failed, the AP reports.

Republican Rep. Doc Hastings said taxpayers pay millions of dollars a year to protect salmon while the sea lions gorge themselves on the fish.

"After trying every trick in the book, this is the only option left to stop the sea lions," Hasting said.

Amen to that, Rep. Hastings. It's about time. Even my brilliant nonlethal proposal pales in comparison to your bill. I'm putting all my significant support that carries such impressive weight into your bill.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Times has reported the Navy on Wednesday staged a public meeting to offer details on and solicit reaction to its plan to employ trained sea lions and dolphins in the fight on terrorism. The mammals would improve security around Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor by patrolling the waters near the Bremerton, Wash., facility on the Puget Sound.

Nearby Evergreen State residents know the base is home to submarines, ships and laboratories. Dozens of the mammals have been trained to detect and apprehend waterborne attackers that may threaten the military compound.

Being recruited for the assignment are as many as 30 California sea lions and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins from the Navy's Marine Mammal Program in San Diego, according to the Associated Press.

Again, we like this plan, a lot. Making positive use of a pest animal, now that's the ticket.
(See my previous blog on the matter.)

But apparently not everyone is as duly impressed.

Several opponents of the plan, including a new group called Knitting for Dolphins, attended Wednesday's meeting, the Seattle Times reported.

Janet Bailey, a founder of the Bainbridge Island-based group, said Puget Sound's water is too cold for the dolphins. "They're going to be stressing the animals," Bailey said. "Frankly, we think they will die."

To protest the plan, members of the group have knitted garments for the dolphins, something Bailey said is silly, but she hopes it will help spread the group's message, according to the Times.

Not so silly, really. Maybe the concerned folks on the Columbia could knit lead garments for the problem sea lions there.

Search called off for terrestrial lion in California

Reports that a mountain lion was hunkered down under a Pleasanton, Calif., home Thursday prompted police to surround the house, but trappers found no evidence of the big cat, according to the Associated Press.

Teachers at a school two blocks from the search scene had been told not to let children out for recess, and residents in the neighborhood 30 miles east of San Francisco had been urged to stay in doors.

Wildlife officials set up baited cages and had tranquilizer guns ready, but there was no indication a cougar had been under the house — or anywhere in the surrounding neighborhood, the AP reports.

In recent weeks, however, several mountain lion sightings have been reported in the area.

We've asked before in Backcasts, but just WHEN is the Golden State going to reverse its ban on hunting cougars?

Hey, it might have been a false alarm this time. But it was a painful reality in January, when a hiker on a Sunday stroll was mauled in a gruesome puma attack in northern California.

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.

Here's to hoping the state constituency reverses the hunting moratorium before a cougar takes down another California wafflestomper or shows up claws extended, fangs at the ready, on a school playground.


posted March 29, 2007

Montana town covered in a blizzard of a different color

The snowplows are out in force. But, no, this ain't Antarctica. And global warming hasn't somehow been reversed.

This is Montana, where residents are accustomed to digging out after snowstorms. But in Bozeman this week, it was a blizzard of a different color for which snowplows were never intended to tackle.

Call it the invasion of the tumbleweeds.

And the plows weren't far behind.

Strong winds blew the tumbleweed in on Tuesday, covering sheds, burying mailboxes and blocking a street and driveways, according to the Associated Press. On Shooting Star Lane, residents had to use a snowplow and pitchforks to clear it out.

Cindy Bowker had to tunnel through the weeds to get to her car.

"It was up over the headlights," she said. "It was all the way up the steps and covered our front door."

Sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss book or perhaps an episode of "Star Trek."

But this was real, all right.

The tumbleweed, part of the genus Salsola, of which there are more than 100 species, may be the signature flora used by directors to indicate solitude and silence. But when it encroaches on city life, folks tend to make noise.

"We've had blizzards up here, but this was not like anything we have ever seen," said Jan Mueller, a neighbor of Bowker whose shed, camper and driveway were covered with tumbleweed.

Indeed, city slickers have gotten a romantic view of tumbleweed from watching Westerns, but the non-native plants, also known as Russian thistle, can be pesky, the AP reports. They dry out after maturing, break off at ground level, then roll wherever the wind takes them, spreading their seeds in the process.

A few Bozeman residents blamed a nearby farm for the problem. Half the farm's crop went bad last year, and the invasive weeds sprouted on about 80 acres, Bowker said.

We can envision the pitchforks (and lanterns and spooky music) being used for an entirely different reason should the farmer not get his field back in shape.


posted March 28, 2007

Replace the city name and you'll still have geese problems

We heard last week from city officials in Chicago over growing concerns regarding fowl-fouled parks and new programs to reduce the numbers of Canada geese in the Windy City.

Now the Big Apple is chiming in.

Like Chicago's earlier efforts, New York City officials will use border collies to drive geese away from Central Park's lawns and meadows next month, according to the Associated Press.

A Howell, N.J., company, Geese Police Inc., employs dog handlers who are educated on the behavior of Canada geese and their migratory, nesting and breeding habits. The collies, bred to herd sheep, have a natural instinct to round up geese.

The Geese Police pilot program, funded by the New York City's Department of Parks and Recreation and the Central Park Conservancy management organization, will last through April, the AP states.

The bummer is that Chicago's plan in the fall to use border collies to drive migrating geese away from its city parks failed.

Meanwhile, a new Chicago plan calls for volunteers to patrol 11 municipal parks to help locate nests of goose eggs in an attempt to reduce the number of birds. Once the eggs are found, hired pros will shake the eggs to destroy the embryo or coat them with corn oil to suffocate the developing chick.

Seems like a lot of work.

But if you're thinking why bother with all that and just fix the problem by relaxing the hunting regs on Canadas, no can do, at least not in New York City (and presumably many other municipalities). As with all wildlife that inhabit or migrate through city parkland there, the AP reports, Canada geese are protected from hunting and attack by humans, parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said.

"The Geese Police pilot project is an innovative and humane effort to manage the growing geese population in Central Park," he said.

Replace the river and you'll still have men being rescued from ice floes

We also heard last week about a Minnesota teenager who was pulled to safety after he made a wrong step and found himself floating down the mighty Mississippi River on a chunk of ice after it broke away from shore.

Now we learn of a man who was rescued in a similar predicament from the Niagara River, less than a mile upstream from its namesake falls.

However, this guy to the east voluntarily jumped into Niagara River in an apparent attempt to sneak into the United States from Canada, the Associated Press reports.

Guards from Ontario Power Generation said they heard the man screaming for help at about 4:30 a.m. Saturday near the company's water intakes outside Chippawa, Ontario.

"If he hadn't been discovered," said Peter Larsen, a control operator at the intakes, "he would have gone through one of those gates and then very likely could have been swept over the falls."

Rescuers in boats plucked the shivering man from the ice floe and got him ashore, according to the AP.

Authorities said the unidentified 42-year-old man had an inflatable air mattress with him and apparently was trying to get to the United States. The ice chunk he was thought to have broken loose from shore.

The man was treated for mild hypothermia before being charged by Canadian immigration authorities.

And if it's not problems with geese, it's sheep troubles

"All I want is to be able to sit on my front porch and not smell sheep poop," Angie Fowler said after being interviewed about a neighbor in Apex, N.C., who had been busted for keeping 80 sheep in his crumbling house. (My spellcheck program stumbled on Angie's last name; it must have figured she belonged as a source for the goose item!)

Animal-neglect charges were pending Tuesday against the flock's owner, David Watts, the Associated Press reports, after authorities seized sheep that had wandered away from his downtown home to graze on floral arrangements in the cemetery of this Raleigh suburb.

"He lives upstairs and the sheep were living downstairs," police Sgt. Robert Towell said. "He considered them pets."

No word, yet, on whether any of the sheep were kept upstairs.


posted March 27, 2007

We would think by now he hates mieces to pieces

In a case of man vs. mouse, the little rodent got the upper hand … and the teeth.

Well, technically, this mouse ran away with Bill Exner's lower dentures, according to the Associated Press.

The Waterville, Maine, man claims to have captured the pest in question three times and, on each occasion, the mouse escaped. The last time it made off with his false teeth.

Exner, 68, said he and his wife, Shirley, scoured his bedroom after the dentures disappeared from his night stand.

"We moved the bed, moved the dressers and the night stand and tore the closet apart," he said. "I said, 'I knew that little stinker stole my teeth.' I just knew it."

They found a small opening in a wall where they suspected the mouse was coming and going, and their daughter's fiance, Eric Holt, stepped in to help.

"He brought a crowbar and hammer and he sawed off a section of wood and pulled up the molding and everything," Exner said. "It was quite a job."

They retrieved the dentures, and Holt suggested his future father-in-law boil them in peroxide and whatever else he could find to disinfect it, the AP reports.

We'd suggest boiling them twice, Bill.

And apparently the mouse isn't done, just yet. It frequently comes out and stares at Exner, his wife said.

"He's taunting him. I swear he's taunting him," Shirley Exner said.


posted March 26, 2007

Just another woman smuggling animals in her clothes, that's all

We were amazed to hear about the Aussie who was busted for smuggling protected fish in her dress. Who thought that could be topped?

Well, the stakes have just been raised.

The Associated Press is reporting a woman with three crocodiles strapped to her waist was stopped recently at the Gaza-Egypt border crossing.

Border guards became suspicious after noticing the unusual shape of the woman at the Rafah terminal in southern Gaza. A subsequent body search by a female guard revealed the reptiles, each about 20 inches long, concealed underneath the suspect's loose robe.

"The woman looked strangely fat. Even though she was veiled and covered, even with so many clothes on, there was something strange," said Maria Telleria, spokeswoman for the European observers who run the crossing.

The incident, which took place Thursday, sparked panic at the crossing, according to the AP.

"The policewoman screamed and ran out of the room, and then women began screaming and panicking when they heard," Telleria said. But when the hysteria died down, she said, "everybody was admiring a woman who is able to tie crocodiles to her body."

Indeed, we gotta give the lady props; that is quite a trick … and a whole lot more impressive than some guy pulling a rabbit out of his hat.

In her defense, the woman said she "was asked" to carry the crocodiles, said Wael Dahab, a spokesman for the Palestinian guards at the crossing. She was later permitted to cross the border without the animals.

The reptiles, which had their jaws tied shut with string, were returned to the Egyptian side of the boundary.

Dahab said the animals were likely meant for sale to Gaza's small zoo or to private owners. The crocodiles would fetch "good money," even in the impoverished territory, he said. In Gaza, the animals can sell for about $500, or roughly two months' salary for a low-ranking policeman, the AP reports.

Border guards more frequently confiscate cigarettes, prescription drugs and car parts, but there have been instances when a woman attempted to bring in a monkey tied to her chest and other travelers tried to smuggle in exotic birds and a tiger cub.

I wonder what's next. If you're thinking what I'm thinking, it's a baby elephant, huh? Now wouldn't that be something?

Speaking of crocs and Australia …

The prospect of crocodiles overpopulating northern Australia has prompted two extreme proposals, according to Reuters.

With more saltwater croc sightings off surf beaches, in swimming holes and near towns, officials are calling for a reintroduction of culling efforts. Commercial hunting of the reptiles was banned in the 1970s, and many folks in northern Queensland maintain the croc population has exploded.

But an alternative conservation plan has been suggested to levy serious fines of up to 7,500 Australian dollars (about $6,075 U.S.) for swimming in crocodile-infested waters, as a means to separating man from man-eater, Reuters reports.

"It's a classic example of lateral thinking. Instead of removing the crocs, they're going to remove human beings," said Queensland politician Bob Katter, who instead is a proponent of crocodile culling near populated towns and beaches.

Let's see: Cull the crocs or fine the swimmers? Cull the crocs or fine the swimmers?

Hmmmm, what do you think is the best way to minimize the chances of tragedy?

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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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