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The shotguns of August

You have today and tomorrow to take your best shot

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One day last November, when I was in Anchorage, Alaska, I noticed it was getting a bit chilly, so I decided to head south. I got in my car and started driving toward San Quintin in Baja California.

By the time I got to Morro Bay, I was really hungry and pretty tired, so I pulled in at a diner. I figured I would crawl into the backseat and take a nap for a couple of hours after I ate. Otherwise, I knew I was going to have trouble making it to Baja.

Just as I was sitting down at a table and opening a menu, half a dozen guys walked in, pulled shotguns out from under their coats, and fired into the ceiling.


On Thursday, Aug. 18, and Friday, Aug. 19, you can walk into the supervisors' chambers in the County Government Center, greet the California Fish and Game Commission at their rare, only-in-town-appearance this year, and tell them you want your comments on this issue to go on record.


Everyone in the diner decided it was time to leave. We piled out
of the exits, and I ran across the parking lot, dove into my car, and gunned it, heading for Mexico.

As you might guess, the rest of the trip did not go well. Extremely stressed out, a few hours later, I crashed. And I died.

The next day, the owners of the diner issued a press release saying they had no data and no evidence to indicate that my unfortunate demise had anything to do with what happened in Morro Bay. They noted parenthetically that a small group of folks had been walking into the diner and firing off shotguns for many years, and, seeing as it was a longstanding tradition, the owners would therefore allow it to continue.

The previous dramatic playlet has been a flight of fancy and an analogy. Its characters are stand-ins for the hunt in the Morro Bay National Estuary (the guys with shotguns), the California Fish and Game Commission (the owners of the diner), and the migratory sea goose known as the black brant (me).

The analogy is imperfect for a couple of reasons:

1. Stress is less deadly for me than for most species of wildlife.

2. I was driving a car, which was doing all the work.

3. I had considerably more resting and eating options than do migratory waterfowl making the same trip.

4. The perpetuation of my species did not depend on me getting to San Quintin.

5. The numbers of my species are not spiraling downward to the point where a way must now be found by the authorities to cut our mortality rate in half.

All these factors that don't apply to me do apply to the black brant, prime target of the Morro Bay Estuary hunt. But the hunt goes on.

It goes on despite the close proximity of local homes and businesses.

It goes on despite the simultaneous presence of kayakers, hikers, and birdwatchers.

It goes on despite the Morro Bay National Estuary Program's painfully incongruous cautions to visitors not to disturb the birds or get too close, and be sure to keep your dog on a leash.

It goes on despite the fact that the city of Morro Bay is a bird sanctuary, and the city limit boundary extending into the estuary is an invisible line on a map that birdshot doesn't know not to cross.

On its web site, the Fish and Game Commission prides itself on actions taken "in the best interest of the resource" and reflecting "the wishes and needs of the people." In the last few months, they've heard from the city of Morro Bay (restrict the hunt), the Los Osos Community Advisory Council (ban the hunt), the Morro Coast Audubon Society (restrict), the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club (ban), the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival (restrict) ECOSLO (ban), the SLO Coast Allliance (ban), and 2,000-plus residents and visitors who've signed various petitions asking the Commission to ban or restrict.

Still somehow not quite having gotten the message, the Commissioners need to hear from you in person. At 10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18, and Friday, Aug. 19, starting at 8:30, you can walk into the supervisors' chambers in the County Government Center, greet the California Fish and Game Commission at their rare, only-in-town-appearance this year, and tell them you want your comments on this issue to go on record and be legally recorded. (If you can only make it one day, make it Thursday.)

You need to tell them that this hunt in this place makes no sense and you want them to knock it off. Bring your friends. If you'd prefer not to speak, you can hold up a sign. Bring your own, or pick one up at the door.

Andrew Christie is chapter coordinator for the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. You can reach him at sierra8@charter.net.

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