Sunday, March 21, 2010

McGuane again

From Tom McGaune's 'Midstream'

American shame at leisure has produced the latest no-nonsense stance in sport, the "streamside entomologist" and the "head-hunter" being the most appalling instances that come readily to mind. No longer sufficiently human to contemplate the relationship of life to eternity, the glandular modern sport worries whether or not he is wasting time.

Just thought that i would bring this to your attention, since it extrapolates to many areas of life.   

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dog at dusk

I was at the West Coast Shooting Dog Championship at Brooks Ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills two weeks ago and took this photo of a setter nearing the end of his hour run. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

another book review

A while back I posted a review of Dave Walker's Bird Dog Training Manual. Dave was a student of the legendary Bill West, a man reknowned for his desire to let dogs develop with as little, and as gentle molding as possible. This new book from Glade Run Press, Training with Mo: How Maurice Lindley Trains Pointing Dogs, written by Martha Greenlee describes the West method as practiced by SC trainer, Maurice Lindley. To quote the book: '"What I like about Bill's method," Maurice explains, "is that the dog thinks it is his idea."' As the first chapter goes on to say, while Mo uses some different techniques from Bill West, the bird is the teacher.

Like I said last June, I wish I had known this method when I got my first dog. And he would probably have appreciated it, too. Unlike my younger dog who despite being started a little differently has since taken to the method, I find myself backtracking with my older dog in a way I wouldn't have needed to if I had understood and followed a method like this. For me at least, and I sense I am far from being the only one, I started seeing each step of training as a progressive sequence, rather than understanding the final goal and seeing how the first steps were a necessary part of that goal. I don't mind saying that I had no idea if I or my dog could get through a JH, let alone a SH, or a broke-dog stake. Each milestone was intialy an end rather than merely a milestone, a marker on the way from puppy to finished gun dog. The West method by necessity takes the long view: virtually every dog is capable of acquiring those skills if we, as trainers and handlers, don't get impatient, pay attention to each dog, and for the most part keep our mouths shut.

Punchline spoiler alert: this is a really useful book, especially if you have Dave's book, too. They complement and diverge from each other really nicely -- and assuming that most folks are familiar with the core of West method, I will simply pick out some parts of Training with Mo that I thought particularly useful. (For those of you looking for other resources on the West method, I encourage you to check out the Steady with Style website.)

Birds make a bird dog. While paying clients and their pros can often migrate to follow wild bird populations to let the dog learn from the bird, most of us amateurs can't. The challenge then becomes how to introduce young dogs to birds in a way that stimulates their drive and engages the genetics deep down in them, the genetics that will tell them when to stop chasing and slow down to a point. Mo, like Bill Gibbons out in AZ, uses carded pigeons and there's good information in here as to how to use them -- however, being a city dweller, I don't mind my dogs being interested in pigeons, but I don't want to reward them for pointing every single one. The more useful notes for me are on how Mo uses launchers to teach a variety of skills to dogs of intermediate and advanced status.

I think the sections on how Mo introduces intermediate dogs -- dogs which normally point, which have begun to understand the stop and stand still cue -- to pen-raised quail are thought provoking: why, for example, he will plant birds in the center of a thinly covered field; why he will try to have a helper to flush birds during early loose bird work; and how he introduces gunfire. I also found Mo's chapter on 'Problem Solving' to be interesting and useful -- through issues like blinking, circling, and flagging. My younger dog, for example, is pretty damned close to being broke, but somewhere in the last eight months, he began to flag on birds unless he can see them right in front of him or till you get in front of him to work them. It's not an uncertainty issue in terms of not trusting his nose and, heaven knows, I've beaten myself up enough trying to figure out what I did. Seeing Mo describe my exact scenario and ascribe a developmental phase to it is tremendously reassuring.

To paraphrase Mo, dog-training isn't (or shouldn't be) a race. For those of you interested in Mo's adaptation of the West method, Martha Greenlee's clearly written book is an easy read and a valuable perspective into developing a bird-dog over the long haul.

Friday, March 5, 2010

USFWS decides not to add Sage Grouse to ESA list... yet

In a release by the USFWS, it was announced that, while the greater sage grouse warrants ESA protection, it will NOT list the game bird under the Endangered Species Act at this time, but will continue to monitor progress (as a candidate species) on an annual basis.

 From the Press Release issued today...

"The determination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today that listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted, but precluded for now, confirms that some of America's most treasured landscapes and game species are in trouble. It is a wake-up call for landowners, industry, and conservationists to work together to reverse the decline of the bird and the land it inhabits. Greater sage-grouse currently occur in only 11 western states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming 

"An endangered species listing is no one's first choice as a tool to fix broken landscapes," said Ted Toombs, Rocky Mountain Regional Director of the Center for Conservation Incentives at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a member of several state technical committees for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). "It is really a last resort option to keep species from going extinct."

"The first, best option to protect species is for conservationists, farmers, ranchers, energy companies, the recreation industry, and other stakeholders to work together on habitat conservation and restoration, so that an endangered species listing can be avoided," Toombs added. "Many western industries -- including tourism, hunting and livestock -- depend on the same thing as this iconic bird: healthy, productive, open lands."

According to FWS, while the bird's decline warrants listing, it must be delayed due to the backlog of other species that are already candidates for ESA listing. Whazzat again? This statement seems to imply that the USFWS is unable to fulfill their mandate to protect our fish and wildlife resources.

The press release goes on to quote representatives of the oil and gas, windfarm and ranching industries promising that they will improve their operations to have less impact on sage grouse habitat. Further, any landowner who engages in a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA). CCAAs protect landowners who voluntarily adopt habitat restoration measures from future land use regulations in the case that this game bird is granted endangered status, with the goal of avoiding endangered species listing. However, if the species is listed in the future, the landowner is absolved of any obligations beyond the CCAA. Last month, FWS negotiated the first CCAA to protect the greater sage-grouse in the nation with landowners in southwest Idaho and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. FWS is negotiating similar pacts elsewhere in Idaho, Wyoming and other western states inhabited by ESA candidate species. I am uncertain, given zero history on this program (in regards to sage grouse) whether this is a silver bullet or a trap door. 

I guess we will have to wait and see if politics, public lands resource management, and voluntary programs by rancher and extractive users will save the greater sage grouse. Hasn't happened yet.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Oil & gas development in the Intermountain West

In a peer reviewed study by PLoS ONE published last October, it was estimated that about 8.4 million acres of sage brush habitat and 2.7 million acres of grasslands in the Intermountain West will be impacted by oil and gas development. I imagine that at least some of the areas shown here are familiar to many of you.
The map above shows the potential for oil and gas development from low to high. Areas in red have the highest potential and tan have the lowest. Black dots (the black clusters) show producing (active or inactive) well locations (IHS, Inc.). Click on the map for a larger view. Map from PLoS ONE.

Greater Sage Grouse dilemma

Once there were more than 2 million sage grouse throughout the West. Now, the best estimate is that there are somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 of the birds left in the United States, mostly in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and Idaho. For those of us who run bird dogs in these areas, the decline is evident. Populations have been declining for years.

Accordingly, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering the greater sage grouse for endangered status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The USFWS says that they will send their decision to the Federal Register on March 5th, 2010. No other comment from the people I spoke with in the Wyoming USFWS office. It is worth noting, however, that the USFWS declined to list the Gunnison subspecies in 2006. 

The greater sage grouse was reviewed for ESA listing previously (2004) but the panel responsible, after reviewing the presented scientific evidence chose not to list the bird. In 2007 however, a federal district court concluded that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) finding that the listing of the greater sage grouse as “not warranted” was arbitrary and capricious. The court reasoned that FWS ignored the best available science, excluded experts from the listing decision, and failed to logically evaluate the current circumstance of the sage grouse. Furthermore, the court found that FWS invalidated the listing decision partially due to the “inexcusable conduct” of political appointee Julie MacDonald, who tainted the process by editing scientific conclusions.[citation here].

According to the USFWS, “Once listed, a species is afforded the full range of protection available under the ESA including prohibitions on killing, harming or otherwise taking a species. In some instances, species listing can be avoided by development of a Candidate Conservation Agreement that may work to remove potential threats facing the candidate species.”

In states like Wyoming oil and gas production, wind farm energy production, coal mining, and possibly ranching could be heavily impacted. Western states would likely lose valuable jobs and significant tax revenue if the sage grouse is protected throughout its range. An endangered listing would be "absolutely devastating" by requiring sage grouse to be considered ahead of virtually any development in most of the state, said Ryan Lance, deputy chief of staff to Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal.

This photo shows the impact of oil and gas extraction, which has blossomed on lands that were once sage grouse habitat. The fragmentation and activity have effectively destroyed greater sage grouse habitat in large areas of several Western states

On the other hand, sage grouse have been declining steadily over most of their range due to habitat destruction, disruption by development activity, and possibly grazing. Add to this the impact that West Nile Virus has had over the past couple of years, and there are many people concerned that, if nothing is done, the sage grouse will be extirpated across most of its range.

The plight of the sage grouse and, apparently, the threat of listing the bird for ESA protection has galvanized all parties concerned – extractive industries, state governments, environmental groups, and public land managers.

The extractive industries are working to prevent listing by sponsoring studies, programs to assist local management, and, I expect, by lobbying anyone who will listen. Western states are making some effort to field sage grouse 'management programs' which might prevent the USFWS from taking them out of the sage grouse management picture by ESA listing the sage grouse. Environmental groups are fighting to have the native grouse listed, which would severely limit habitat encroachment.

Strangely, there seems to be little active interest among upland bird hunters, even though this would be the first game bird to be listed under the ESA.

There seems to be little common ground here - perhaps it is too late to find common ground. It is too bad that we lack the foresight and citizenship to work to prevent crisis management in which everyone may lose, especially the the very object we are trying to protect... the greater sage grouse.