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Not All Hunters, Anglers Are Conservationists. Are You?

As anglers and hunters, we like to pat ourselves on our collective back about what great conservationists we are. We do that  because state fish and wildlife management is funded primarily by license fees and the excise taxes that we pay on the fishing and hunting equipment we buy. Those hundreds of millions of dollars annually benefit all species, not just those we like to catch and hunt.

But contributing to conservation is not the same as being a conservationist.

That realization came to me recently when I saw a post from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) on its Facebook page, thanking those whose comments "led to a vote to oppose the release of wolves in Colorado."

I also saw other comments that leave no doubt that many hunters want the elk for themselves.  Here's just one: "I hate wolves and I hate the people who love them, too."

Additionally, I saw  the above poster, explaining "why hunting is conservation."

No it's not. Hunters and anglers contribute to conservation. And, yes, some of them are conservationists, including me. I write about my conservation lifestyle in "I Am a Steward," an essay in Why We Fish.

Also, elk, bison, whitetail, and turkey all are thriving once again because of financial contributions made by hunters, through license fees, excise taxes, and great organizations like RMEF and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

But many hunters are not conservationists. They are hunters. Period. And, like selfish children, they don't want to share.

That's what prompted me to leave this comment on the RMEF Facebook page:

"RMEF has done great things to bring back the elk, and I am grateful for that. But I do wonder how large the elk population was long before 1907, before greedy commercial hunters nearly wiped them out, along with bison and wolves.

"And I am troubled by the anti-wolf rhetoric here. Those who want the elk back but not the wolves are not conservationists. Rather, they are not a whole lot different than those commercial hunters who didn't want to share either. They wanted all the elk for themselves.

"Wolves are just as much a part of the wilderness as elk and to deny them that place is not conservation. It's game management for the benefit of hunters, who, like other predator species, do not want competition.

"With proper management, we can have both species and a wilderness that once again is truly wild."

I don't want to leave anglers out of this sermon either.  Yes, many practice catch-and-release, and, most times, that's good conservation. But for some, it also leads to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality. In other words, the logic goes, "If the fish swims away, then I've done my part."

Never mind that far too many fish die of delayed mortality because of mistreatment prior to release.

And whether you hunt or fish, you should leave the places you frequent better than how you found them if you call yourself a conservationist. Pack out not just your own trash, but that left behind by others.

Respect the land and water, as well as all of the fish and animals that live there, recognizing that each is a integral part of the natural system. Asian carp, Burmese pythons, and other harmful exotic species are notable exceptions. Introduced into  systems with no natural limits on their numbers, they destroy the balance, just as commercial hunters did more than a century ago.


Partnership Begins Enhancing Habitat for Indiana Fisheries

Georgia cubes, like this one being dropped in Kansas' Lake Wilson, will be used to improve fish habitat in Indiana reservoirs.

In the years to come, a unique partnership will help revitalize bass habitat in Indiana's aging reservoirs.

The Reservoir Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program will be directed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), with assistance from the Bass Unlimited Foundation, Jones and Sons Concrete, Sullivan County Parks, and Sullivan County Jail.

This winter, Sullivan Lake in Sullivan County will be the first to benefit, as inmates from the jail join with the parks department to cut lumber from green poplar  to build fish cribs. Later in the year, at a date yet to be determined, anglers and the general public will be invited to help as well.

IDNR said that the cribs will resemble small log cabins, "creating refuge for fish."

Sullivan Lake was chosen first because it holds little aquatic vegetation and has been awarded a grant for shoreline stabilization project through the Indiana Lakes and Rivers Enhancement Program.

“There are a lot of positive things going on at Sullivan Lake, and these improvements will make fishing better,” said Sandy Clark-Kolaks, DNR southern fisheries research biologist. “We hope to put more than 100 structures into Sullivan Lake in 2016, and it will take many hands to build them all.”

The Bass Unlimited Foundation, meanwhile, has pledged both materials and volunteers. “Because Bass Unlimited is funded by anglers and conservationists, it is a natural fit to partner with Indiana DNR and assist in this type of project,” said Wil Newlin, president of the non-profit based in Terre Haute.

Sullivan and other reservoirs also will be enriched with brushpiles, nesting platforms, and Georgia cubes, made from PVC and corrugated pipe.


Nominations Open for America's Best High School Anglers

Nominations for the 2016 Bassmaster High School All-America Fishing Team have opened. Coaches, officials, and others can nominate top high school anglers for the honor until Feb. 15.
The High School All-America team recognizes the 12 best high school anglers in the country. The program, now in its second year, is designed to reward young athletes for their performance in bass fishing tournaments, leadership in their communities and involvement in conservation efforts.
“Stick-and-ball sports each have a way to recognize exceptionally gifted athletes at the high school level,” said Dave Precht, editor-in-chief of Bassmaster Magazine. “We thought it was time to honor outstanding young bass anglers, as well.”

To be considered for inclusion on the Bassmaster High School All-America Fishing Team, a student must be nominated by a parent, coach, teacher or other school official. Students enrolled in grades 10-12 with a current-year grade point average of 2.5 or higher are eligible.

Judges will select up to two student anglers in each state. These All-State Fishing Team members become semifinalists in the selection of the 12-member All-America Team. Criteria include success in high school fishing tournaments and involvement in conservation efforts and other community service activities.
The 12 All-Americas will compete in a one-day Bassmaster All-America High School Tournament to be held in conjunction with the 2016 BASSfest event — one of 10 Bassmaster Elite Series bass tournaments this year. Elite Series anglers will serve as “coaches” for the student anglers in the one-day tournament on Lake Texoma near Durant, Okla., June 11, 2016. The high school standouts will be honored before the weigh-in crowd at BASSfest, and each will be profiled in Bassmaster Magazine, read monthly by 4.3 million people.
“Recruiting youngsters to sportfishing was one of the founding principles of B.A.S.S. back in 1968,” said Bruce Akin, B.A.S.S. CEO. “The High School All-America program, like our Costa Bassmaster High School tournament series, is proving to be a great tool for introducing young people to fishing.”
Akin noted that all students who compete in high school fishing events are eligible, regardless of whether they are affiliated with B.A.S.S. or another fishing organization.
Notices have been sent to youth fishing directors of the B.A.S.S. Nation and other organizations, as well as leaders of state high school fishing programs. Adults can nominate students here. Nominations
must be submitted before midnight, Feb. 15.
A panel of judges will review the applications and select the High School All-American Fishing Team.


Wishin' I Was Fishin' Monday

Largemouth bass on an X-Rap at Mexico's Lake El Salto. On this day, my partner and I caught more than 100 quality fish on jerkbaits, including many in the 5- to 8-pound range. Days like this are Why We Fish.


Lake Erie Algae Bloom Worst on Record

The algae bloom that smothered much of Lake Erie this past summer was the worst on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

That means it was even more severe than the 2011 bloom, which stretched along the shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland, and considerably larger than the 2014 bloom that contaminated the water supply for nearly a half-million people.

The 2015 bloom also was more dense, but fortunately migrated toward deep water. "Fortunately, the bloom moved into the center of the central basin rather than along the shore, resulting in less impact along both coasts," said NOAA's Rick Stumpf.

Fueled by heavy rains, it covered an area of about 300 square miles with a thick, paint-like scum by mid August. But the actual bloom was larger, NOAA said, adding just how big is still being determined.

Rains notwithstanding, the bloom's severity suggests that resource managers haven't been doing enough to minimize runoff pollution.

 "It would be hard to find much evidence of progress based on what we saw this year," said Jeff Reutter, former director of the Ohio Sea Grant Program.

On the positive side, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario recently agreed to sharply reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing into western Lake Erie by 40 percent in 10 years. Changes already implemented included limiting when farmers can spread fertilizers and manure on their fields.

With much of that pollution flowing in from the Maumee River in western Ohio, many would like Ohio to pursue a federal impairment designation for the lake. A similar designation for Chesapeake Bay brought in $2.2 billion to help mitigate damage and reduce the amount of algae-feeding nutrients that flow into the bay.