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When is something a new species, a subspecies, or just a political football?


There have been some interesting stories in the press recently about Eastern coyotes or -- as some environmentalists are calling them --coywolves. The stories are talking about how we are watching the creation of a new species right before our very eyes.

These “new” Eastern coyotes are newcomers to most of that region, having arrived over the last 50 years, migrating from the plains and in some cases helped along by man. These coyotes have bred with wolves in the northern part of the range. They have also bred with large dog species just about everywhere creating a hybrid animal that is larger than Western coyotes but smaller than wolves. They are flourishing, and there is obviously a major movement to call them a separate species, even though they will breed with any other dog-like animal, which sort of negates the idea they are anything but a regional hybrid variation on a theme.

It’s interested that environmentalists are so enamored with this bastard coy-child, but when it comes to other species, this hybrid vigor being exhibited by the coywolves is decried as watering down the gene pool of the pure-strain species.

For example, kangaroo rats -- which occur in populations across Southern California -- have been broken down into dozens of species or subspecies. Yet, if you were to capture all of the different versions and mix them up in the same field, they would happily breed together. I have environmental friends who are gasping at the very thought if it.

All those k-rats are really all the same species, just like coyotes and dogs and wolves will -- under the right conditions -- breed with each other. Sure, each of the species/subspecies of k-rats have been isolated from each other for enough time to develop individual traits, and like with wolves and coyotes, probably wouldn’t breed with each other under normal circumstances. I’m just confused why we are celebrating one type of hybridization, but not another.

If it’s so important for Steven’s and San Bernardino and Antelope Valley kangaroo rat populations be saved for their inherent worth, why didn’t we do the same thing for wolf populations introduced into Yellowstone? Those were a tundra species/subspecies released into the wrong habitat. There were still populations of native wolves of the correct type living in southern British Columbia and even central Idaho, but we brought the wrong ones into Yellowstone and released them. Isn’t that like releasing Steven’s k-rats in San Bernardino or Antelope Valley k-rat habitat?

We’ve tried to use the right wolves in the Mexican wolf reintroduction efforts, taking wild-caught Mexican wolves for the captive rearing and relocation program on going in Arizona and New Mexico. We’ve tried to salvage the southern red wolf by doing the same thing (even though that wolf has a lot of coyote and dog genetics, too).

I don’t want to be the one who points out the hypocrisy of all this (wait, actually I do), but all of it reeks of politics and not science. If all the k-rat species were lumped together, we wouldn’t have a political hammer to hold over the head of developers and extract another pound of flesh for the government bureaucracy. If we would have waited to use the “right” wolves in Yellowstone, the project will still be in its early stages, and we wanted to fast-track this baby. If Mexican wolves were the same as tundra wolves as Minnesota wolves, we wouldn’t have the hammer to leverage sheep and cattle ranchers. If red wolves were simply called big coyotes.... Well, you get the point.

Update on Bakersfield area

trout plants for this season,

same impacts felt statewide

The Bakersfield area will receive about one third the number of planted trout this fall-winter season as it has in previous years, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which held a public informational meeting in Bakersfield this past Saturday. Four years ago, the DFW was planting the region with about 22,000 pounds of rainbow trout annually. This year, the allotment is scheduled to be about 8,500 pounds.

Of course, the DFW is blaming lack of funding and increased costs for the decline.

“Basically, they came down to tell us that trout chow is up so much that we’re going to get one-third the number of trout this year. It’s not looking good,” said Clay Rutledge at Bob’s Bait in Bakersfield.

The DFW also received half its allocation from a special trout hatchery fund from the legislature, and that funding came after the DFW had to plan for this year’s trout plants. The whirling disease outbreak in the Darrah Springs and Shasta hatcheries also impacted the number of trout available statewide. Lastly, maintenance on the aging hatcheries and a fleet of hatchery trucks that are mostly antiques gobble up funding that should be used on fish if the DFW’s hatchery infrastructure had been maintained over the years.

Fishing license sales are on track in 2015 to set a new record low, with fewer licenses sold in all categories. Yet revenue from those licenses sold is trending upward because of increased license, tag, and permit fee costs to anglers. Anglers continue to pay more money for far less return on their investment from the agency.

The cutbacks in the Bakersfield region outlined during the meeting this past week apply to all of the state, with cutbacks ranging from two-thirds to half of what was planted last year.

Waterfowl opener excellent

at all public hunting areas

Opening day of waterfowl hunting season was excellent both of the main public hunting areas in Southern California, with the wildlife areas on the south end of the Salton Sea and the San Jacinto Valley producing five-plus bird averages opening day.

At the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area located on the south end of the Salton Sea near Niland in Imperial County, there were 453 hunters opening Saturday (Oct. 24) and they shot a total of 1,952 ducks, 10 coots, and three geese for a 5.55 bird-per-hunter average. The duck bag included 816 greenwing teal, 375 cinnamon teal, 240 pintail, 217 mallards, 158 northern shovelers, and a variety of other ducks. The oddities in the bag were a whistling tree duck and a surf scoter.

The bag dropped significantly for the second day of the season at Wister with 162 hunters shooting 263 ducks, 10 coots, and one Canada goose for a 1.69 average. Again, the primary ducks in the bag were greenwing teal at 128, cinnamon teal at 58, pintail at 27, and mallards at 23.

At the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge, adjacent to Wister and managed by the state staff for waterfowl hunting,there were 28 hunters opening day and they shot 177 ducks for a 6.32 average -- nearly seven bird limits. The duck kill included 73 greenwings, 55 cinnamons, 31 mallards, eight pintail, six wigeon, three shovelers, and one ruddy duck. On Sunday, there were just two hunters at Bono, but they didn’t shoot a bird.

At the San Jacinto Wildlife Area located near Moreno Valley in western Riverside County, there were 238 total hunters opening Saturday. They show 1,216 ducks and 20 coots for a 5.19 birds-per-hunter average. The duck bag consisted of 366 cinnamon teal, 364 northern shovelers, 266 greenwing teal, 114 ringnecks, 26 wigeon, 23 ruddy ducks, 20 mallards, 16 gadwall, 13 redheads, four canvasback, three pintail, three bluewing teal, and one bufflehead.

Like with Wister, the bag dropped dramatically after the opener. On Wednesday this past week, there were 142 hunters at San Jacinto and they shot 238 ducks and 17 coots for a 1.8 average. Top bird in the bag was ringneck with 58 taken, followed by 53 cinnamon teal, 52 shovelers, 38 greenwings, 16 ruddies, eight gadwall, four mallards, three redheads, three wigeon, and one each on the pintail, canvasback, and bufflehead.

Wister and Bono are open to waterfowl hunting on a Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday schedule, while San Jacinto is only open on Wednesday and Saturday. Reservations to hunting at all three are through a statewide drawning run by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, or via a morning waiting “sweat line.”

In San Diego County, Barrett Lake had 19 hunters opening Saturday, and they shot 15 ruddy ducks, 12 mallards, three cinnamon teal, and two greenwings for a 1.68 average. Reservations are made through an drawing through the city of San Diego water utilities department.

The Kern National Wildlife Refuge, which is normally open to waterfowl hunting, is currently closed because of low water levels caused by drought.

Waterfowl hunting season continues through January 31 in most areas of the southern half of the state. Hunters should consult regulations for limits and season dates.


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