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Wednesday
Dec172014

What Goes Where

Even several shots around the wound to numb the flesh didn’t detract from the relief that I felt. And as we waited for the anesthetic to kick in, I decided to impress the doctor with my innate knowledge of human anatomy. “Is that the inner ear canal?” I asked, pointing to an illustration on the wall.

“No,” he said. “That’s the female reproductive system.”

Perhaps realizing that one day in the not too distant future I might develop an unwarranted reputation for sexual perversion if I didn’t know what goes where, my mother decided that my father should talk to me. At least I think that’s what happened.

But we didn’t get far. 

Excerpt from Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies: Growing Up With Nature.

Wednesday
Dec172014

Vanishing Paradise Champions Gulf Coast Restoration

The Gulf Coast was imperiled even before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.  

That’s because erosion and saltwater intrusion are destroying wetlands and marshes in the Mississippi River Delta and have been for decades, mostly because of manmade alterations and degradations. In 2009, that realization prompted the National Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited to unite to awaken Congress and the nation to the crisis through the Vanishing Paradise (VP) coalition.

As a result of that serendipitous timing, fish, waterfowl, sportsmen, and coastal communities have a champion in their corner today as BP pays billions for damage inflicted upon the Gulf. With more than 800 fishing and hunting businesses and organizations supporting its mission, VP wants that money used to restore and enhance those wetlands and marshes, as well as mitigate the environmental damage done by the oil spill all along the coast.

“We engaged heavily to get anglers and hunters to Washington, D.C. to talk to their legislators and help pass important legislation,” said Steve Bender, VP director. “And it worked. We delivered the RESTORE Act.”

A volunteer Advisory Council and Conservation Pro Staff deserve much of the credit not only for passage of the act but for promoting the campaign and educating the public about the coastal crisis, he added.

The 2011 RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act allocates a portion of the funds equally to the five Gulf Coast states for ecological and economic recovery, and establishes the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to develop and fund a plan for recovery. It also establishes an endowment that includes funding for fisheries stock assessments and ecosystem monitoring.

“Since then, we’ve been focusing on restoration,” Bender continued. “We’ve been asked to expand our scope (from the Delta) into the Gulf.

“Louisiana already had a master plan. And now that other states are receiving dollars, we are working on getting that money spent on coastal recovery and economic restoration. We have policy specialists in those states, and we’re going to expand angler and hunter outreach.”

Ground Zero for protection and restoration work, however, remains the Delta at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Louisiana’s coast. This vast wetlands area is critical as spawning and nursery grounds for fish and overwintering habitat for much of the nation’s waterfowl. And since the 1930s, an estimated 1,880 square miles of habitat has been lost.

“Given the importance of so many of south Louisiana’s natural assets --- its waterways, natural resources, and unique culture, and wetlands --- this land loss crisis is nothing short of a national emergency, one that takes a daily toll on the lives of coastal residents,” said the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which developed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

In Louisiana, what it all boils down to is trying to stop the destruction and implement a system that mimics, as much as possible,  the natural process interrupted by development --- a system that will restore wetlands and marshes for fish and wildlife, while providing protection for coastal communities from saltwater intrusion.

Why is this needed? The reasons are many, according to VP, but one of the most significant is that the Mississippi River “has been straitjacketed with huge levees as part of a national program to ‘control’ the river and protect communities and economic infrastructure from flooding.”

But wetlands were built and sustained by sediment delivered by the river, and cutting them off with levees stopped new growth, allowing for saltwater intrusion that kills them.

“Without land-building deposits from the river, the Delta is doomed to continue sinking beneath the water, endangering the people, wildlife, and jobs that depend on these healthy resources,” VP said.

According to the master plan, restoration and protection projects will focus on sediment diversion, marsh creation, bank stabilization, structural and shoreline protection, and hydrologic, barrier island, and ridge restoration. Unfortunately,  proposed diversions have generated opposition from some, who otherwise support the plan. That’s because sediment-carrying sediment, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.

It’s easy to understand their point of view: They don’t want to surrender any of their fishing grounds, including those created by man’s interference with a natural system. But such a view is short-sighted, since the continued health of both freshwater and saltwater fisheries is dependent on freshwater and sediment. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, along with bass and catfish.

“The problem in Louisiana is we’re addicted to salt because that salt brings tremendous benefits in fisheries,” explained Robert Twilley, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State University.

Every year, he cautioned, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.

Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, explained Ryan Lambert, a VP supporter and owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. On the west side, which receives little to no freshwater, only open water and dead marsh grass remains. On the east side, where freshwater flows, the wetlands are alive and thriving.

In that area, he added, “bass fishermen and redfish fishermen go to the same place to catch fish. From Buras down to the mouth of the Mississippi is the best fishing in North America.

“You can’t just pump in sediment,” he said. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”

Lambert pointed out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because diversion flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he said. “There are no bass, no brim, no crappie, no catfish, and no duck habitat. And it’s all because they want to grow oysters there.”

As work goes forward, Bender emphasized that the master plan is not just about diversion and VP wants to work with all stakeholders, including those who oppose that aspect. “We want to limit the impacts on folks who might be hurt,” he said. “We need to find a way to work together.

“But we also feel strongly that you have to let the river do what it does naturally.

“Gov. (Bobby) Jindal has been very supportive of restoration, and we’re hoping that the new governor coming in will be the same,” Bender said. “We have more partnerships on the horizon and a new campaign coming up in Louisiana soon.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer.)

Tuesday
Dec162014

'Recreational Fuel' Ripoff in Florida

Florida anglers and other boat owners are really lucky to have a state government that is looking out for them.

A state law makes it illegal to sell non-ethanol gasoline for anything other than boats, motorcycles, small engines, and “classics.” Consequently, most stations offer ethanol only fuel. But some stations scattered around the state offer “recreational fuel” just for anglers and boaters.

Isn’t that great?

Not really. In truth, Florida anglers and other boat owners are being ripped off by the state because they must use non-ethanol gas to keep from destroying their engines.

Here’s what I mean: When I was down at Lake Okeechobee last week, 10-percent ethanol gas sold for $2.69, while “recreational fuel” at the same station cost $3.69.

That’s right. If you want to run to your older outboard without destroying it, you must pay $1 more a gallon for a fuel that actually is cheaper to produce than 10-percent ethanol gasoline.

By contrast, where I live in Missouri, “recreational fuel,” which is available at just about every station, was selling for $2.38 when I left on Nov. 29 and just $2.19 when I returned.

Here’s an article that explains the situation in Florida.

Monday
Dec152014

The Great Toad Assault And More in Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies

Those of us who love to fish know that it’s about more than the fish. And because it is, fishing leads most of us to a greater love and appreciation for all of nature and the outdoors.

That’s certainly the way it was for me. Some of my earliest memories are of marveling at the beauty of the little sunfish that I caught with the rod and reel combo that I ordered from the back of a comic book.
Then I learned about the sharp spines --- Ouch! --- and slimy skin of bullhead catfish.

But it wasn’t long before I started noticing what was going on around me as I fished: a water snake sunning itself on a laydown, a softshell turtle laying eggs on a sandbar, a great blue heron spearing one of those little sunfish. Getting up early showed me how beautiful early morning light can be, and staying late introduced me to hoot owls and fireflies--- and mosquitoes.

Decades later, and I still haven’t stopped enjoying and learning from the miracles of nature all around me as I fish.

But it was those early years fishing, camping, hiking, and exploring the great outdoors that led me where I am today --- and taught me so many lessons about life.

Those lessons and the experiences that taught them to me are what I write about in my new book, Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies: Growing Up With Nature.

For example, I learned about the importance of being prepared for the unexpected by hooking myself. I learned about the birds and bees from turtles and rats. And I learned that often nature has a sense of humor, as two dozen baby toads that I had put in a cigar box morphed into millions and mounted a massive counter-attack that sent my horrified grandmother scrambling onto the kitchen table. 

If you fished and learned to love nature as a child, I think that you’ll enjoy this collection of essays and short stories, both humorous and serious. Also, you might learn something about nature’s mysteries, ranging from snake spit and mermaids to African lions and Ozarks dinosaurs. And, oh yeah, there’s plenty about fish, frogs, and fireflies too.

This article appeared originally in Dibble, the min-mag distributed monthly to those subscribing to Mystery Tackle Box. Many thanks to Ross Gordon.

Monday
Dec152014

Potomac River Public Access Threatened

In October, 2014 an official with the National Park Service declared the walkway to the Fletcher’s Cove boat dock unsafe for public use, effectively cutting off access to the Potomac River from publicly available row boats, canoes and kayaks. The walkway, which once floated at the lowest tide, is now grounded and compromised by siltation. Unless immediate action is taken, there is a strong possibility the dock will stay closed next spring.

The continued operations of the Fletcher’s Cove concession as we now know it may be at stake. To ensure continued access to the dock in the spring of 2015, ACTION MUST BE TAKEN NOW. PLEASE mail and/or email the NPS expressing your concern and asking that it expedite a plan to save access to the river at this location.

Mailing address: Kevin Brandt Superintendent,  C&O Canal National Historical Park Headquarters Office, 1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100, Hagerstown, MD 21740-6620

Send your email request to  C&O Canal NHP Headquarters.

What follows provides more historical information and explains how we have reached this critical point in time. Please share this document or its link to anyone who will support this effort and also sign our petition to preserve river access at the boathouse.

The Potomac near its fall line has long been a cherished natural resource for the entire region. Providing access to the river since before colonials arrived, the area known as Fletcher’s Cove is a natural wonder within the boundaries of what would become the nation’s capital. Archeological digs have shown that Native Americans used this location to harvest and store fish and grain. The reliably deep water of the tidal cove also served as the first river access point for George Washington’s “Patowmack Canal.”

Early in our nation’s history, Andrew Jackson was rowed in a boat from this spot to fish for striped bass under Chain Bridge. After the Civil War the Fletcher family established a boathouse  which allowed every man to enjoy this unique location for recreation and to partake in the bounty of the “Nation’s River.”

Over a century later and now part of the C&O Canal Historical Park, Fletcher’s Cove continues to draw visitors of from all over the world. The park and boathouse there today are precious Washington, DC landmarks for residents and tourists alike.

Siltation has been a growing problem at Fletcher’s for many decades, and it is largely a manmade condition. Traditional agricultural practices and overdevelopment upstream have played an obvious role by increasing the sediment runoff. The cove’s problems worsened after the construction of Metro and the Dulles Interceptor Sewer in the 1960’s.  Excavated soil was dumped at the river’s edge just north of Fletcher’s Cove, with the intention of creating a more sheltered area for Fletcher’s Cove.

It was soon discovered that seasonal flooding deposited increased amounts of silt where it previously did not settle. The cove began to fill in at an alarming rate. In the early 1980’s a narrow channel was dug to improve flow, but it hit bedrock, often clogged with debris, and was deemed ineffective. Dredging projects that have been attempted only temporarily addressed the problem. The cove continues to fill in.

Not only is Fletcher's Cove an historic gem and a unique and vital resource for the outdoors person, but it is the ONLY access point for D.C. Fire and Rescue, Montgomery County Rescue and the D.C. Harbor Police from Georgetown to the dangerous Little Falls area. If access is closed off at this location, then response abilities to the frequent emergency incidents in the area will be severely compromised.

 To increase awareness, a coalition of river enthusiasts has drafted this statement to inform the public. It’s well worth repeating we need your help to encourage officials with The National Park Service and the C&O Canal National Historical Park to implement a solution that will maintain the boathouse and provide access to the river from Fletcher's Cove by next spring. Please help get the word out by sharing this statement with others and asking them to reach out. The following individuals and organizations currently endorse this effort. If you would like to join us and be added to this list, please fill out this petition to save river access at Fletcher’s Cove

Thanks to your support we have increased awareness. The NPS issued this C&O Canal National Historical Park News Release  announcing a public hearing on Dec. 17. Please continue to sign and spread the word.