Letter to DFW director Bonham on agency’s lack of concern about all things hunting and fishing

By JIM MATTHEWS www.OutdoorNewsService.com I wrote a letter to the director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Charles Bonham, this weekend. We have met several times since his tenure began and since we share very common fly-fishing roots, I had high hopes for him. As some of you know who read this column, I have hammered on him almost repeatedly for his actions and his agency’s actions. When I saw him again nearly two weeks ago at one of the DFW’s lead ammunition ban meetings, he basically said the door to his office was open to me. So I take people at their word, and I wanted to share with you parts of a letter I sent his way on Saturday. “Dear Chuck…. I have been looking for the entire month of August for information -- a comprehensive press release, a Facebook post, a simple short news note -- from the DFW about the 2014 dove season opener on September 1. Doves are one of the few birds that are widely available to hunters and where the DFW generally does good things for hunters [and I thought the DFW should share the good news]…. Arizona does it (see http://www.azgfd.gov/h_f/hunt-info/dove/dove.shtml and then also look at the Yuma dove page linked off that page at http://yumadovehunting.com/home) and our hunting is really just as good as in Arizona. But hunters from out of state -- and from our state -- go to Yuma instead of Blythe or El Centro. Why? “The problem as I see it is that you don't have anyone who still believes it's appropriate to tell constituents what great hunting and fishing we have in this state. (Why hasn't there been a press release on the unprecedented yellowfin tuna fishing in US waters?) “There is big dove news this year: the limit went to 15 birds for the first time in decades, the limit was lifted and season made year around on Eurasian doves, and the DFW again spent Upland Bird Stamp money on programs to make for good dove hunting in Southern California's Imperial Valley (the most heavily hunted public hunting spots in the state). There have also been other smaller things done on state wildlife areas. All of these are things the state should be touting to get more hunters to buy licenses and increase the DFW's funding and get more Pittman-Robertson (PR) money from the feds. “But there was not one mention of this anywhere in the DFW press releases, on the DFW's Facebook page, or on the website. Amazingly, the DFW put up the Imperial County dove field map on its website (It was first to have it!), and I found it by accident because no one touted and tooted out this information. I looked there because Desert Wildlife Unlimited didn't have it up on their website when I was told it was going to be available, and Leon Lessica said he was sending it to DFW as soon as it was completed…. “Interestingly, Sept. 1 is not only the opening day of dove season each year, but it marks the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, 100 years ago on Monday. Doves are the most common birds in North America since the extinction of passenger pigeons, and that is largely because of hunters' money that drives the hunting/management program that has protected this species for the future. What a great opportunity to tell that game management story, comparing and contrasting the way one species was saved and one was pushed into extinction. “Yet the DFW in this state has been mum about doves, dove opener, and dove hunting, even though it is the largest single outdoor participatory event held in the nation each year. Did you know that? More people go hunting opening day of dove season, because most states share the same opener, than any other single activity held outdoors. That is an amazing tradition. I think about it every opener when I wake up at 4:30 a.m., knowing the shooting has been going on in the Carolina's for nearly two hours, and that my friends in Arkansas are squinting in the gray light watching birds, looking at their watches, and hecking each other about if there was enough ammo in the back of the truck, and that my brother-in-law in Utah is having coffee with his buddies before driving up to the mesa above their houses. “If you wonder why I continually hammer on you and the DFW, it is because of major omissions like this. It shows no one, NO ONE, there cares or knows how important this is. And I feel it is this way with all issues hunting and fishing. [In this] week's press release package [there] is nothing on what many of us still view as your core mission. The biggest hunting event of the season rates below marijuana control, drought, fund-raising, and invasive species. We rate so low as to not get mentioned. “I don't know if your parents are still alive, but in my mind this is like forgetting your Mother's birthday.” That’s where the letter ended, and I hope to hear back from him. Bonham is very good about pointing out the DFW’s mission is far bigger than hunting and fishing and game and sport fish management today. We all get that. But he’s also good about giving lip-serve to not deserting the core constituency -- the hunters and anglers. But his actions, the ageny’s repeated recent actions since he has been director, speak louder than his words. We are being deserted, and dove opener is a great example of that. We are the new second-class constituency of Fish and Game -- I mean Fish and Wildlife -- today. And every time I speak with the director and his upper management staff I’m not sure they even get it. Or care to get it. END 2014 dove hunting forecast isn’t good

By JIM MATTHEWS www.OutdoorNewsService.com BLYTHE -- Days of heavy monsoon rains throughout the desert dove hunting areas in the week’s prior to Monday’s opening day does not bode well for the kick-off of the 2014 season. From the Imperial Valley’s popular public dove fields, to the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve’s hunting areas in Blythe, to the San Jacinto Wildlife Area adjacent to Lake Perris in western Riverside County, dove numbers have dropped from their pre-storm abundance. Hunters who were hoping to take advantage of the new 15-bird limit (up from 10 last year) may find the hunting a little more difficult than normal. “We had storm after storm for 10 days straight and it ran a lot of the doves off,” said David Baker with the Department of Fish and Wildlife in Blythe, but he noted that the Blythe-Palo Verde region still held a lot of doves and there were still a number of good flyways with birds coming off the mesa west of town to the feeding areas through the valley, and he was hopeful hunters who found the flyways would still have good shooting. Leon Lessica, the ramrod with Desert Wildlife Unlimited who is the man behind the public land hunting fields in the Niland area, was almost gloomy on Friday when he said “the dove haven’t come back in [to the public fields] yet. They’re starting to come in again and I hope by opener there will be more birds than right now.” Tom Trakes at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area said there were excellent conditions on the wildlife area for the doves – with good water and feed -- but the numbers were way down, especially since the heavy rains drenched the wildlife area a little over a week ago. “I want to be cautiously optimistic, but it just doesn’t look very good,” said Trakes Friday. “Maybe things will change by Monday and the guys will have a fair shoot.” Many hunters believe the monsoon storms drive the birds south, kick-starting the mass migration of doves out of Southern California, but most biologists say the migration will start in mid- to late-August regardless of the weather conditions. It is well documented, however, that the storms scatter the birds, moving them away from traditional feeding and watering locations for at least a few days. This is why most were holding out some hope that the doves would move back into the feeding areas by tomorrow’s opening. [Editor’s Note: Hunters wanting a copy of the 2014 Imperial Valley dove hunting field map, you can download the PDF from a link right on the front page of this site.] END

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