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The birds are coming

Shooting holes in hunters’ arguments



Since November of 2004, I’ve been researching and ultimately spearheading a grassroots, citizen’s effort to change the hunting policies on the Morro Bay Estuary, now considered nationally significant and designated one of only 28 national estuaries in the country. It is home to diminishing populations of indigenous wildlife and is one of the last significant, relatively undisturbed wetlands in Southern California. As a prime stopover on the Pacific Flyway, it is invaluable as the southernmost (in the state of California) significant eelgrass habitat. This estuary is absolutely crucial to Brant geese and other migratory birds for rest and feeding on their migratory journey, since Newport Beach, Long Beach, San Diego County lagoons, and Mission Bay are no longer viable stopovers.

The effort has elicited some rather “spirited� responses, that much to my chagrin have provided me, to date, with the best example of what I call the JAMMER defense: Justification, Accusation, Misrepresentation, Manipulation, Exaggeration, and Rationalization.�

Justification: “We’ve been hunting here for generations. Our family has been here a long time and we have always been able to hunt.�

Decades ago, Morro Bay and Los Osos were sleepy little towns, and the Morro Bay State Park was just in the early stages of development. Today, both cities have populations of more than 10,000 each, and the State Park has a very popular marina and a shore-side campground visited by thousands each year. As the population increases, so does local recreational usage in the form of boating, fishing, hiking, bird watching, biking, and the like.

Morro Bay has become, in large part due to its beauty, wildlife, and many outdoor recreation options, a highly desirable tourism destination. Our local economy is dependent on this growing eco-tourism base. With these significant changes in the Morro Bay Estuary, its inhabitants, and its user base, the appropriateness of the current hunting policies is questionable at best.

Accusation: “How can you call the solutions that you are asking Fish and Game to adopt (a reduction of days from seven days a week to three, and a reduction of territory to eliminate the “grassy islands�) a compromise? You’re not being fair!�

Residents of Morro Bay and Los Osos give up their serenity, repair damaged property, and find shot birds in their yards.

Birdwatchers, boaters, and hikers must endure watching birds get shot out of the sky, hear shot fall in close proximity, and have a peaceful day with their families ruined.

Countless non-game birds lose their lives to stray shot, careless aim, and worse yet, hunters who just don’t give a damn.

And finally, the migratory birds that fly for thousands of miles to stop here for the winter to rest, feed, and gain strength for their trip back to the breeding grounds are shot at and harassed to the point of exhaustion when they should be peacefully preparing for their return flight.

Misrepresentation: “The range on a shotgun is only about 45 yards and poses no real threat to other people on the bay. Besides, only two people have been killed by hunters. The threat to the public is small.�

Birdwatchers, boaters, and hikers must endure watching birds get shot out of the sky, hear shot fall in close proximity, and have a peaceful day with their families ruined.

According to ballistics experts and gun manufactures, “Shotguns are reliable at distances of only about 45 yards, though the pellets can travel up to 500 yards. Lead, steel, and other shot materials do not compress equally and will not react the same when forced through the constricted “choke� area of the barrel. Expect patterns to differ between shot type, size, and even ammunition brand.� What they are basically saying is that hunters may kill their prey at 45 yards or less, but really have no idea how far the shot that did not hit its mark will carry. Since the shot spreads out from its point of origin considerably, they additionally can and do hit other non-target items, including other live creatures, and have come perilously close to kayakers and recreational users of the estuary, according to many firsthand accounts. Waiting till someone is hurt or killed is not the time to take action. Many populated wetland areas do not allow hunting or have limited use policies already in place.

Manipulation: “ … Well, kayakers disturb the birds too. I’ve seen them disturb the birds as much, if not even more than us.�

Often, as is the case here, the group in opposition to a stance will attempt to turn the tables and make the issue about something else entirely. We are asking Fish and Game to mitigate impacts of hunting on the estuary, not kayaking. There is no comparison to the impacts kayakers (even the rowdiest ones) have on the wildlife compared to that of hunting.

Exaggeration: “Hunters pay for the vast majority of conservation efforts. Meanwhile, anti- and non-hunters contribute a fraction as much time or money, or none at all.�

Hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited, The California Waterfowl Association, and The Black Brant Group have contributed time and money to conservation projects. Whether monetary contribution to projects constitutes justification for hunting in an area where it is no longer appropriate is the question. These guys are not buying the right to hunt wherever and whenever they want in wildlife areas where it has been demonstrated that the public safety, the economy, and the biological viability of the area are negatively impacted by their actions. Additionally, if you were to check the list of contributors to the Morro Bay National Estuary Program since its inception, you would be hard pressed to find any substantial contributions by these hunting groups.

Rationalization: “Hunters are doing the environment a great service by managing the numbers of game birds.� “The eelgrass beds in the Morro Bay Estuary are in decline, the habitat can’t support the population, so the population needs to be culled.�

So now it’s the “great white hunter comes to the rescue of the environment,� is it? The numbers of wildlife in this country have been reduced to alarmingly low numbers and are generally on the decline. Our wild populations cannot compete with encroaching civilization. As mankind’s population explodes, we leave little room for other species and intensify our anthropocentric behavior. Loss of habitat, over-“harvesting,� environmental pollution, and climate change is taking a devastating toll on indigenous and migratory wildlife. The number of Brant geese has plummeted in the past 40 years with the population being a fraction (about one-tenth) of what it once was. The eelgrass beds on which the geese feed have been steadily increasing in size and number since the Highway 41 fire. The Brant have plenty of feed and gritting area, now they just need the time to feed, rest, and de-stress without being shot at constantly.

There you have it, the ultimate example of the JAMMER defense, my attempt to defend hunting “just as it’s always been� in a place and time that is no longer acceptable. As Mr. Ryan, my high school debate teacher and creator of JAMMER would put it, “Quit wasting everyone’s time, you guys. When it comes to a defense for your position, you’re shooting with blanks!!�

Mandy Davis belongs to C.A.R.E.H.N.E. (pronounce it “serene�), Citizens Allied for Reform of Established Hunting on our National Estuary. You can reach her at wildheartcomm@hotmail.com.

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