Hunting News

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

California Woman Pleads Guilty to Feeding Whales in Marine Sanctuary

A California woman pleaded guilty to illegally feeding killer whales in the wild this Tuesday in federal court in San Jose, Calif., the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California announced.

Nancy Black of Monterey, Calif. pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), specifically the MMPA’s feeding prohibition.  The MMPA regulations make it a crime to feed marine mammals in the wild.   The prohibition applies to commercial and recreational boaters, and applies to all species of marine mammals.

Killer whales (orcas) prey on gray whales in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  On the occasions when orcas manage to kill a gray whale, the pod of orcas does not always eat all of the gray whale at once.  Often, portions of the carcass, including strips and chunks of blubber (some over six feet in length and weighing over a hundred pounds), remain floating or semi-submerged after a kill.  Orcas and sea birds feed on these chunks of blubber while they are still available in the area.

According to the factual basis of the plea agreement, on or about April 25, 2004, Black was on her boat in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, when she and her assistants encountered a place where orcas had killed a gray whale calf.  She was observing the orcas as they fed on pieces of gray whale blubber that were floating in the water.  In an effort to facilitate their viewing, she or her crew grabbed the blubber, cut a hole through the corner of the blubber chunk, and ran a rope through the piece of the blubber. Shortly thereafter, they returned the blubber to the water and monitored the feeding behavior of the orcas as they ate the blubber off of the rope.  Black and her crew repeated the process with the rope and other pieces of the blubber. In court papers, Black admitted that she did not have a permit that would have allowed her to engage in this conduct.  She also admitted that on or about April 11, 2005, she was involved in a similar incident involving the collection of floating blubber and offering it to orcas utilizing the same rope method.

In a separate incident on or about Oct. 24, 2005, Nancy Black met with a sanctuary officer and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) investigative agent at their offices in Monterey.  The sanctuary officer was investigating a reported harassment of an endangered humpback whale earlier that month in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  The interaction with the humpback whale was filmed by one of Black’s crewmembers. Before Oct. 24, the sanctuary officer had previously asked Black to provide the videotape of the humpback whale encounter.

Black voluntarily agreed to provide the videotape, but prior to doing so she edited the video footage to remove several minutes that included footage of the humpback whale between two vessels that belonged to Black’s whale watching business, among other footage, and sounds.  Black did not tell the officer that she had edited the tape.  In filed court papers, Black admitted that by not disclosing the editing of the video, she could have impeded or influenced NOAA's investigation into the humpback whale incident.
Sentencing in the case is set for Aug. 6, 2013.

The case was investigated by agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the FBI with support from enforcement personnel from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  The case was prosecuted by Christopher L. Hale of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Jeffrey Schenk of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Jose, California.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Endangered turtle study highlights New Boston's stewardship

by Scott Prater
Schriever Sentinel


4/11/2013 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.  -- Thanks to the work of the Natural Resource Section at New Boston Air Force Station, the scientific community is about to gain a bevy of knowledge about an endangered species that calls the base home.

Following eight years of research on Blanding's turtles and their habitat, Stephen Najjar, NBAFS natural resource planner, and his staff plan to submit a detailed study on the topic to national scientific journals later this year.

The state of New Hampshire lists the Blanding's turtle as endangered and threatened, which means the species' prospects for survival in New Hampshire are in danger because of a loss or change in habitat, over-exploitation, predation, competition, disease, disturbance or contamination.

According to information released by the state, assistance is needed to ensure their continued existence as a viable component of the state's wildlife community.

Najjar said his team has actually been studying the turtle for more than 10 years.
As part of their research, the staff trapped a number of turtles, measured their size and weight, tested their DNA and affixed radio frequency transmitters to their shells [carapaces] among other measures, in an effort to study their movements and habits.

"We discovered a tremendous amount of interesting information about them," Najjar said. "One habit we discovered was that females tended to cross roadways more often than males, so they're more predisposed to being killed by traffic."

The researchers also discovered that the species follows a seasonal pattern of movement.

"Blanding's turtles are wetland natives," Najjar said. "They move from one water source to the next as the seasons change. They start out in beaver ponds, but they'll gravitate toward seasonal or vernal pools, which are pools that form in the spring and dry up in the summer. There aren't any fish in these pools because the water dries up, but wood frogs breed there and they create a food source for the turtles. They love to eat frog eggs and tadpoles."

During nesting season, the turtles can travel upwards of a half a mile to lay their eggs, usually in early June. The females travel on land to ideal nesting spots. They prefer gravel types of material so nests can often be found on road shoulders. From there, they tend to use intermittent streams to travel back to the vernal pools, and later, the beaver ponds again.

At roughly 10-inches in length the Blanding's are considered medium sized. They're distinguishable by their yellowish chins and throats, a domed shell and are oblong shape. Hatchlings are about the size of a half dollar and they, like adult females, tend to get run over when crossing roads, simply because they're not easy to spot.

During the study, the natural resource office created an awareness campaign centered on the Blanding's Turtle.

"We spoke at commanders calls and put the word out for drivers to keep an eye out," Najjar said. "I think people on base are much more aware now. They are letting us know when they see them, so it seems like we've been successful in our efforts."

Perhaps more importantly, Najjar and his staff have been able to advise engineers, project managers and base leadership prior to construction of new buildings or missions.

"When there has been a potential to impact turtle habitats, we've managed to come up with viable alternatives to lessen or eliminate that impact," Najjar said. "Another positive that came out of the project stemmed from what we learned. We can now demonstrate to the New Hampshire Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that we understand the habitat the turtles are using. We've also altered our behavior."

Years ago, NBAFS employed an engineer who liked to use vertical curbing during road construction projects. Thanks to this study, staff now advise today's engineers to use slanted or curved curbing.

"For a Blanding's turtle, a vertical curb is like a 10-foot wall," Najjar said. "They can't get up and around them, so they have to keep going until they find a break, which exposes them to prolonged road danger."

Though the study has come to an end, protection efforts remain strong.

"What we're doing is active management," Najjar said. "We're required to do that, much like our other management missions such as forestry, timber harvesting and prescribed burns."

 New Hampshire Tracking Station at NBAFS is the largest remote tracking station in the Air Force Satellite Control Network.

"Environmental stewardship is important to the 23rd Space Operations Squadron," said  Lt. Col. David Hanson, 23 SOPS commander. "Team 23 SOPS makes great efforts to protect species indigenous to New Boston Air Force Station that are on the state's endangered list, including the Eastern small-footed bat, the Eastern hognose snake and the Blanding's turtle. Through our natural resources section, we pay deliberate attention to the type of road construction techniques and storm drain covers used and conduct base awareness campaigns, all to adequately protect their habitats. The base we call home takes a lot of work to ensure it is rightly taken care of...but it's absolutely worth it."

Schriever photographer snares elusive bald eagle photos

by Scott Prater
Schriever Sentinel


4/11/2013 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- On the morning of March 24, Bill Evans got the call every parent fears. His daughter was involved in a roll-over car crash.

Though she escaped the incident unharmed, the experience left her father shaken.

Weary from 24 hours of intense emotion, the retired master sergeant and 21-year Air Force veteran needed some solitude and a chance to clear his head.

Earlier in the week he had heard of a bald eagle nest at the Fountain Valley School near his home in southern Colorado Springs, so the 50th Space Wing multimedia photographer grabbed his favorite camera, a tripod and some snacks and set out to find the majestic birds.

"I knew the nest was probably on private property so I called the school, obtained permission and set up a meeting with an administrator, Wyp Steenhuis" he said. "When I arrived, she met me and showed me where the nest had been spotted."

On a cool, sunny spring afternoon, he pulled up under a stand of trees... and waited.

At first he could only see a nest, high up in the trees, but no signs of eagles. Squirrels, rabbits and small birds went about their day in careless fashion.

"Photography is not only my chosen profession, it's my recreation as well," he said. "This is what I do when I need to figure things out. Nature can provide an immense amount of sensory input if you allow yourself to simply experience it, and sitting there in the solitude of the day was just what I needed."

After an hour of waiting, he figured it wasn't meant to be, but less than 30 minutes later his patience was rewarded. An eagle poked its head up out of the nest, but it's eyes and beak were all that was visible from his vantage point more than 50 yards and 50 feet below.

The action allowed him to adjust his camera and get a few shots.

"I was starting to think that was all I was going to get," he said. "If it was meant to be then I'd get it, but I have to admit I would've been disappointed if all I got were those nest photos."

An avid fisherman, outdoor enthusiast and photographer, Evans was in his element. Scenes like this were where he did his best thinking. He could think of no other place he would rather be at that moment, scanning the skies for the elusive shot of a bald eagle.

He had seen them in flight in and around Colorado's mountains, but he never had a camera available and ready. At other times, he'd gone in search of the bird, only to be disappointed when they never showed or random events spoiled the opportunity.

Two and half hours into his wait, as soon as he thought luck might not be on his side, he noticed the wildlife around him began to stir. Squirrels scurried for cover, sparrows and pigeons fluttered frantically, then a figure began circling high above. Black, huge and ominous.

"The animals around me sensed what was coming," he said. "The top of the food chain had arrived."

Finding it difficult to contain his excitement, Evans readied his camera as the bird of prey circled once more and landed in the nest.

"All the preparation in the world doesn't matter," he said. "You still need a bit of luck. When the eagle landed, he did so with a prairie dog dangling from his talons. He was still obscured by tree limbs and I don't know if he was just showing off, but a few seconds later he flew to another tree nearby and that's when I got a clear view."

Snapping quickly, he took as many pictures as he could. With no way of knowing how long the key moment would last, he could only hope he had fine tuned his camera to just the right setting.

"I sensed this was a sign," he said. "After everything I experienced the past few days, the years of hoping I would get this chance, the waiting. Everything seemed to come together in that moment and it was like it was meant to be. Here was my sign that everything was going to work out."

Dennis Rogers, Evans' friend and fellow photographer at Schriever said preparation, training and desire are what made the difference that day.

"He used a 300 millimeter zoom lens and a doubler, so he was, in essence shooting with a 600 mm lens," Rogers said. "He caught the eagle flying too. You've got to use a really fast shutter speed for that. Bill applied a great deal of his photo knowledge to achieve this series of shots, and these shots are more than just usable photos. They're exceptional."

Our national bird, the bald eagle is unique to North America, but sighting one is rare in Colorado. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only 42 nesting pairs were confirmed in the state as late as 2006. The USFW removed the species from the endangered and threatened list in 2007. Thanks in part to protection programs, the number of nesting pairs has increased 10-fold in the continental U.S. since the 1960s, but the largest concentrations of birds are found in Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Despite their delisting, they are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird and the Lacey Acts. As symbols of our nation and our way of life, nothing says America like the bald eagle.

Evans still has a hard time believing his luck.

"You can see why our historic leaders chose the bald eagle as the national bird," he said. "It's just so majestic. And, it's really an amazing experience to see it living and hunting."

He drove home in controlled anticipation, hoping that what he saw from the back of the camera translated into success. Once home, he quickly downloaded the photos and was delighted by the results.

"I took roughly a minute of photos and then it was over," he said. "But I got it."


Friday, April 12, 2013

Play it safe with Alaska wildlife on JBER

by Mary M. Rall
U.S. Army Alaska Public Affairs Office


4/11/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Being stationed in Alaska is a unique opportunity for many families, and a lot of the spectacular aspects of being stationed at JBER are literally located right in service members' own backyards.

It's not uncommon to come across a moose peeling birch bark off a tree at a residence or to discover a bear dumpster diving in a unit parking lot.

Some become so accustomed to sharing space with wildlife on base that it's easy to forget the danger undomesticated animals may pose.

The uniqueness of being stationed in Alaska is an experience no one should take for granted, but it's equally important to keep safety in mind when wildlife encounters become up close and personal.

Regrettably, base residents sometimes throw caution to the wind and interact with wildlife by feeding untamed animals, which may be perceived as being harmless.
However, it's not a victimless crime, according to Jim Wendland, a conservation law enforcement supervisor with the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron.

"It puts you, your neighbors - basically the whole installation population - at risk," Wendland said, noting that attracting animals to an area with food, deliberately or unintentionally, is not only dangerous, it's against the law.

According to the Government Registry Online Records Retrieval website, the negligent feeding of wildlife by displaying known moose attractants like hay in an accessible location in a yard or leaving unsecured dog food or birdseed out for bears to get into is punishable by a $300 fine.

Intentionally baiting animals into an area with such items is a Class-A misdemeanor that could result in jail time and a fine of as much as $2,000.

It's important to remember that being located on a military installation doesn't make wildlife any less "wild," and creating an unnatural familiarity between humans and animals is a dangerous thing to do.

Despite the fact that an Anchorage Daily News article entitled "85-year-old woman wields shovel to stop moose stomping" detailed how a "tiny but tough" senior citizen prevented a moose stomping her husband to death with the business end of a snow shovel, base residents should always remain cautious when they have any contact with wildlife.
Even a routine act of walking a dog can turn grave if a moose decides attacking a human is in its best interest, as the Jan. 22 article describes.

"Moose pose a real threat at the end of the winter season, because their bodies are stressed due to a lack of food," Wendland said, noting that a moose is more apt to fight than a bear is if its fight-or-flight instinct kicks in - especially if there is a calf with it.
As animals feed in residential areas, they get used to the presence of humans and are more likely to search those familiar areas for food.

After all, it's easier to walk down a plowed street to snack on a tasty wreath on someone's front door than it is to trudge through yards and yards-deep snow to get to a patch of trees.

Too often, base residents make it easy for wildlife to search residential areas for food simply because they don't make an effort to properly secure their trash.
Bears find this particularly attractive.

Bears don't like to work for their food and when a service member leaves trash cans outside, fails to secure dumpsters, or stores garbage in a truck bed, the bears will come.
Just as you might know which aisles in the supermarket carry your favorite cereals or potato chips, a bear can quickly identify the hot spots for scoring an easy meal.

Making a residential area a reliable food source for bears virtually guarantees they will frequent a neighborhood, putting the community and the animal at risk.

According to Wendland, nuisance bears aren't typically relocated, because they almost always return to a dependable food source.

As such, a service member's laziness when it comes to securing trash could result in a bear being destroyed if the animal's frequent foraging in a residential area poses a threat to base residents.

Bear season is also just around the corner, Wendland said.

Bear sightings were confirmed during the last week in April for the last three years - and as early as January in 2009.

"Contrary to what most people believe, bears don't hibernate during a specific time," Wendland said.

The latest spell of unseasonably warm weather in Anchorage could cause bears to start poking their heads out of their dens any day now.

Although bears have a tendency to initially stick close to their lairs following hibernation, he noted, it's only a matter of time until the need for sustenance will cause them to move progressively farther away from the comforts of home in search of food.

With that in mind, the time for service members to put measures in place to discourage bears from browsing what goodies might be hidden in a family's trash is now, rather than after a bear has turned a backyard into an animal's equivalent of a sample session at a local big box store.

No matter how cautious base residents are, though, there are times when Alaska's animals become all but unavoidable, whether they're quenching their thirst with a
residential sprinkler, or taking a break from the rigors of their daily routine in a neighborhood playground.

It's those kind of moments that can be some of the most memorable for families stationed in Alaska, and the temptation to share those experiences with others may cause people to put themselves unnecessarily at risk.

As enticing as it may be to approach wildlife in hopes of populating a social networking site with photos others won't be able to resist checking out, no number of "likes" is worth you and your family's safety.

"It's almost like they look at it like it's the neighborhood dog," Wendland said of bears base residents often seek out to photograph.

He described one instance when several base residents put themselves at risk
by taking pictures less than 30 feet from a brown bear which had killed a young bull moose along a stretch of Ship Creek.

"They got irritated when we asked them to leave for their own safety," Wendland recalled.
Social networking is a wonderful way to remain connected with friends and family members, but it would be a shame if the next status update someone makes is from the emergency room, because he got too close to wildlife for the sake of a picture.

Many animals have become accustomed to the humans dwelling where their den used to be, hiking through the forests where they hunt, or driving cars along the route to their favorite stream, but it's dangerous to mistake their tolerance of humanity for a willingness to participate in a photo shoot.

The safest wild animal is one that can be appreciated from a distance.

A close-up of the eagle hanging out in the trees outside a residence isn't as valuable as a person's safety, so no one should use a wild animal's proximity to justify putting himself at risk.

Instead, residents should get educated on how to safely record their wildlife sightings, a good resource for which is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website at www.adfg.alaska.gov.

The comprehensive site offers a wealth of information on how to safely observe and photograph wildlife under its "viewing" link, which includes information on observation ethics, how to obtain permits, where and when animals are most apt to be spotted, and detailed safety tips, guides and checklists.

Among the site's recommendations for safely viewing wildlife are giving animals plenty of space, learning how to recognize signs of alarm, how to be respectful of den areas, the importance of leaving orphaned or sick animals alone, why pets should be restrained and how to respectfully share a wildlife viewing opportunity with others who may be outdoors in hopes of having the same experience.

Ensuring the safety of the installation's residents when it comes to wildlife encounters is one everyone on base shares.

The inevitability of those opportunities to experience the state's wildlife make it essential for JBER's residents to be the brightest of the beasts by doing all they can to ensure the safety of the installation's human and animal communities alike.