Monday, April 26, 2010

Today's NYTimes: Coyote Hunting with Hounds

Video on the NYTimes web page at :
One Man's Controversial Sport
John Hardzog, a cattle rancher, uses trained greyhounds to hunt coyotes, a common pest for farmers. It's a practice that goes back generations, but is also opposed by some animal rights groups.
Pretty sympathetic portrayal of this rancher and of his hunting of coyotes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Today's Supreme Court decision

The U.S. Supreme Court today reversed a federal law that prohibited the sale of videos depicting "cruelty to animals," a law which,  as Justice Roberts noted in his opinion, "was so broadly written that it could include all depictions of killing animals, even hunting videos."

From today's Washington Post:
Supreme Court voids law aimed at banning animal cruelty videos

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 20, 2010; 11:48 AM 

The Supreme Court struck down a federal law Tuesday aimed at banning videos depicting graphic violence against animals, saying that it violates the constitutional right to free speech

Chief Justice John J. Roberts Jr., writing for an eight-member majority, said the law was overly broad and not allowed by the First Amendment. He rejected the government's argument that whether certain categories of speech deserve constitutional protection depends on balancing the value of the speech against its societal costs.

"The First Amendment's guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits," Roberts wrote. "The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it."

The law was enacted in 1999 to forbid sales of so-called "crush videos," which appeal to a certain sexual fetish by depicting the torture of animals or showing them being crushed to death by women with stiletto heels or their bare feet. But the government has not prosecuted such a case. Instead, the case before the court, United States v. Stevens, came from Robert Stevens of Pittsville, Va., who was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for videos he made about pit bull fighting.

Animal rights groups and 26 states had joined the Obama administration in support of the 1999 law. They argued that videos showing animal cruelty should be treated like child pornography rather than granted constitutional protection

But Roberts said the federal law was so broadly written that it could include all depictions of killing animals, even hunting videos. He said the court was not passing judgment about whether "a statute limited to crush videos or other depictions of extreme animal cruelty would be constitutional.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was the lone dissenter.

"The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it most certainly does not protect violent criminal conduct, even if engaged in for expressive purposes," Alito wrote

David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, said in response to the ruling: "We are gratified that the justices soundly rejected the government's invitation to create a new exception to the First Amendment. As today's ruling demonstrates, if the Court were to rewrite the First Amendment every time an unpopular or distasteful subject was at issue, we wouldn't have any free speech left. We continue to believe that animal cruelty is wrong and should be vigorously prosecuted, but as the Court today found, sending people to prison for making videos is not the answer.

The Media Coalition is an association that defends First Amendment rights and represents U.S. publishers, booksellers and producers and retailers of movies, videos, video games and other recordings.

The Humane Society of the United States said it was disappointed by the ruling but found hope in the majority's statement that it was not deciding whether a narrow statute targeting "crush videos" might be constitutional.

"The Supreme Court's decision gives us a clear pathway to enact a narrower ban on the sale of videos depicting malicious acts of cruelty, including animal crush videos and dogfighting," Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement. "Congress should act swiftly to make sure the First Amendment is not used as a shield for those committing barbaric acts of cruelty, and then peddling their videos on the Internet."
Sounds like a pretty sane decision to me . . . although it is unfortunate that the Washington Post sees fit to give Wayne Pacelle and the HSUS the final word on the subject.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow on VPT

VPT's Outdoor Journal

New Season in HD!
Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m., on Vermont Public Television

The new season continues for Outdoor Journal, VPT’s award-winning outdoor adventure program. Hunting, fishing, camping and conservation are all included as Lawrence Pyne leads us across Vermont’s hills and waterways!

Highlights from this Tuesday's episode include:

Conservation Leaders of Tomorrow
At Camp Kehoe on Lake Bomoseen, catch up with Conservation Leaders of Tomorrow – a unique program that introduces wildlife management students to the culture and concepts of hunting.

You can also catch full Outdoor Journal episodes online!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Defending Principle, Not Politicians

This post is from the US Sportsmen's Alliance blog, Bullseye. I'm no fan of Sarah Palin, but I like the concept the Alliance puts forward in this post.

Defending Principle, Not Politicians


By Doug Jeanneret, Vice President of Marketing

For over 30 years, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) has defended and promoted valid, scientific wildlife management principles. It does not defend politicians, unless they are taking unfair criticism by also defending valid wildlife management.

This is the core issue with respect to the story the USSA recently ran criticizing a campaign led by the animal rights group Defenders of Wildlife against former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The USSA’s effort is not about defending Sarah Palin as a political figure. It is about keeping the public from being misled by the rhetoric employed by Defenders regarding wolf and polar bear management.

The Defender’s campaign is designed to pressure the Discovery Channel into not airing a new television program starring Palin. The USSA suggested sportsmen counter the call by Defenders to drop the show.

Our release generated much feedback.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Challenges for Change" and the VT Fish and Wildlife Dept

This morning I attended a meeting of Lamoille County Legislators including Speaker of the House, Chap Smith. The focus was on the "Challenges for Change" report that is being hotly debated in the Legislature. As Chap explained it, they are looking to reduce the state general fund budget by 30 million this year through structural improvements while improving outcomes now and in the future. Vt Fish and Wildlife has been tapped to be a first wave charter unit. See below copied from the report for what that means:

We have identified seven “first wave” charter units:
• Tax Department
• Department of Information and Innovation
• Fish and Wildlife Department
• Department of Liquor Control
• Department of Labor
• Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation
• Buildings and General Services

Each Charter Unit offers Vermonters the benefits of a “better deal.” These along with the
individual legislation requirements of each charter unit are listed below. More charter
units may be added prior to the next quarterly report; these will not be dependent on new

The Secretary of Administration will grant appropriate administrative flexibility to each
charter unit to allow that unit to more effectively achieve its goals. These flexibilities
may include but are not limited to relief from bulletin 3.5 (contracting procedures),
flexibility in part time and seasonal hires, exceptions from requirements to use certain
BGS services, and latitude in website and marketing material development. Where
flexibilities prove effective, they may be extended to other units; where appropriate,
flexibility can also be withdrawn.

Some of the General Fund relief from charter units will actually come from an increase in
entrepreneurial revenue; examples are more paid visits to state campsites and better
collection of taxes owed.

Department of Fish and Wildlife
Vermonters will get:
• Additional revenues into the state’s economy based on increased outdoor
opportunities for families and people of all ages, as measured by license sales
and the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated
• Improved public safety as measured by the number of shooting-related deaths
and injuries.
• Improved shooting and hunter education as measured by number of graduates
from hunter education and conservation camp programs.
• Improved access to and safety of public and private shooting facilities as
measured by the number of publicly accessible shooting ranges in the state.
• Better licensing, registration, and permitting services, as measured by reduced
turnaround times and applicant satisfaction as measured by surveys.

The primary initiatives the Agency will undertake:
• Develop a more effective, streamlined process for selling Department licenses
and permits
• Generate additional revenues by promoting the sale of Department
merchandise such as t-shirts, mugs, hats, books, posters, patches and stamps
• Reduce fee-for-space costs
• If feasible, collaborate with VT Lottery Commission to develop new mutually
beneficial products

Legislation required:
• Allow permanent licenses to be sold by Point of Sale license agents [Title 10,
Chapter 105, Section 4255 ( c )]
• Change the amount a Point of Sale license agent can charge for a lost license
to $1.50 [Title 10, Chapter 105, Section 4261 (a) and (b)]

My take is this looks pretty good - if they can pull it off. Unfortunately the Department does not have a great record of listening to it's people in the field. Many are burnt out form endless committees and planning efforts that don't get implemented. I suggested to Speaker Smith that key house committee chairs pull in a select group of lower level workers and 1st line supervisors and work with them on recommendations for improvements. That way the ideas get to the decision makers before they are filtered and watered down. Still give the upper management a chance to comment. The premise is the closer to the work you are the better you know what works and what doesn't work.
The 2011/12 budget deficit is a crisis. The Chinese symbols for crisis are danger and opportunity. Let's hope the opportunity to improve our fish, wildlife, and habitat is realized and the danger is dodged.


From Orion founder Jim Posewitz:


In 1885 a cowboy looking for open range grazing opportunity rode from Little Missouri, North Dakota to the base of Rocky Mountains and back. It was a journey of a thousand miles across America’s Northern Plains. Upon his return he told a young Dakota rancher and hunter, Theodore Roosevelt (TR), “I was never out of sight of a dead buffalo and never in sight of a live one.” It was a dramatic moment in a nation without a conservation ethic. A French nobleman, Alexis de Tocquville studying “Democracy in America” earlier observed we were “insensible to the wonders of nature.” To be sure, the pine forests of the lake states and a wildlife resource once described as something that “exceeded anything the eye of man had ever looked upon,” lay in ruins.

There were some who saw the unfolding tragedy. In 1858, the year of TR’s birth, Concorde naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Why should not we have our national preserves … in which the bear and panther, and …the hunter … may… not be civilized off the face of the earth.” Thoreau’s vision was described as “a mere whisper in the popular conscience.” When TR the hunter/conservationist became our president forty-two years later that whisper became a roar as he and associates endowed America with 230 million acres of national forests, wildlife refuges, game ranges, parks and monuments. It was 9.9 percent of America held for the restoration of wildlife. Perhaps more important, it was done for “the average man and average woman who make up the body of the American people” that we might all enjoy “the sturdy pleasure of the chase.”

It was not an easy road. When the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drove our continent to its knees Franklin Roosevelt called the First North American Wildlife Conference. He told the assembled sportsmen and that this was their fight to win or loose. The challenge was accepted and today we are blessed with a new wild abundance from sea to shining sea. This endowment, passed to our custody, is a heritage like no other. This history of restoration, conservation and sharing through a little more than a century stands as living testimony to the common man’s power to change what exists.

We are again challenged, the economic times are not easy and the earth itself needs attention. The good news is that as hunters and anglers we have been here before, we have the “model” that works. A century and a half ago, Thoreau worried about saving a place for the hunter in civilization. Today, the conservation ethic those hunters brought to our culture, holds the answer to saving an environment capable of sustaining civilization.