Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

CDFW Awards Habitat Restoration Funds

The following press release is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today announced the selection of four projects to receive funding for habitat restoration projects within California’s Northern Coastal watersheds most impacted by unregulated cannabis cultivation.

The awards, totaling $1.3 million, were made under CDFW’s Cannabis Restoration Grant Program, and will support cleanup and habitat restoration at inactive cannabis cultivation sites.

“These grants mark an important step forward in our efforts to address the extensive damage to habitat and toxic chemicals threatening a host of wild species,” CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said. “Providing a resource to address the impacts of reckless cannabis cultivation adds an important piece to the complex puzzle of our existing watershed restoration work.”

Projects approved for funding through the Cannabis Restoration Grant Program include:

  • Reclaiming our Public Lands and Watersheds from the Environmental Threats of Trespass Cannabis Cultivation ($1,068,415 to Integral Ecology Research Center);
  • Bull Creek Cannabis Recovery Project ($94,510 to Eel River Watershed Improvement Group);
  • SF Usal Creek Headwaters – Trash and Toxin Cleanup ($83,840 to Eel River Watershed Improvement Group); and
  • Whitethorn Grove Clean Up ($64,831 to Sanctuary Forest, Inc.).

Projects funded under the 2017 Cannabis Restoration Program are scheduled to commence in early 2018.

The Cannabis Restoration Grant Program was established by CDFW in 2017 in response to legislation aimed at regulating the burgeoning legal cannabis industry. In his signing message to Assembly Bill 243 (Wood, Medical Marijuana), Governor Brown directed, “the Natural Resources Agency to identify projects to begin the restoration of our most impacted areas in the state.”

“I have seen firsthand the devastation to the watersheds caused by these rogue cannabis growers,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood, the author of AB 243. “They divert water, use prohibited herbicides and leave behind hundreds of butane canisters and chemical ponds that pollute our waterways affecting the salmon and trout populations. I am thankful that Governor Brown allocated $1.5 million this year to kick off this very targeted restoration program for the North Coast area and look forward to the state identifying future funds so we can continue this critical work.”

General information about CDFW’s Cannabis Restoration Grant Program can be found at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Watersheds/Cannabis-Restoration-Grant.

A Snapping Good Time In New Zealand

The editor shows off one of the Bay of Islands’ snapper. 

 

 

The following appears in the November issue of California Sportsman: 

 

Story and photos by Chris Cocoles

RUSSELL, New Zealand If I came for the trout, I left with the snapper.  

New Zealand called me for many reasons during an early October visit: mild weather, whitewater rafting, world-class wine and some of the friendliest locals on Earth to share a pint with. 

But while I anticipated any fishing I’d do would be on some crisp freshwater lake for the country’s iconic rainbows and at a cost that would inflate an already ballooning travel budget, my inner angler was satisfied and made possible by a skipper who I’m positive hasn’t walked on dry land in 50 years. 

Here I was – a couple days off a 12-hour flight from San Francisco – boarding Capt. Jeff Crooks’ boat with Spot-X Fishing Charters on a sun-splashed spring afternoon so far from home. Soon I’d forget about booking a trout trip and would be reeling in supper in the form of snapper from the Pacific Ocean and having the time of my life. 

Capt. Jeff Crooks showed us his favorite beach on the way to our fishing spot. It was easy to see why.

“WELCOME TO MY OFFICE,” Crooks said when I joined him on the bridge of the Spot-X. It’s hard to imagine a more spectacular view than from this workspace. NewZealand is blessed with some of the planet’s most diverse vistas – from snow-capped peaks, glaciers and fjords on the less populated South Island (we didn’t have near enough time to get there on this eight-day trip), to the pristine beaches, cozy fishing villages and vineyards of the North Island. 

Here in the far north of the country, Crooks pilots his fishing vessel through azure blue waters between a rocky archipelago known as the Bay of Islands, a popular getaway for residents of New Zealand’s largest metropolis of Auckland, a three-hour drive south. 

Crooks, a typically jovial “Kiwi” with a salt-and-pepper beard and spiked hair, was straight out of central casting for a grizzled seaman. 

“I was conceived on a boat,” he said, and you get the impression that he may not be joking. His dad was an accomplished sailor from Auckland who competed and won a prestigious competition, the almost 100-year-old Lipton Cup. It is New Zealand’s oldest yachting competition and features 22-foot crafts – many that date back as old as the race itself – commonly known by locals as “mullet boats” (his father won the race in 1962 and Crooks was born in 1963, so do the math on buying that conceived-on-a-boat bit).

“I knew that’s all I wanted to do,” Crooks said of having a life on the water. He too would follow in Dad’s footsteps and win a Lipton Cup trophy himself. Crooks built wooden boats for a living but escaped the big city for the Bay of Islands eight years ago, and he’s been skippering this boat for the last few seasons.

Katarina Jung and her family have owned Spot-X (fishspotx.co.nz) for the last year. They are Swedes who came to New Zealand on an entrepreneurial visa. 

“We started up a fishing shop in Russell, Screaming Reels (screamingreels.co.nz), and took over Spot-X, which had been operating in the bay for 16 years,” Jung says. “It had a very good reputation when we bought it and we work to keep that and improve it, giving the guests an unforgettable experience of the Bay of Islands.” 

Now if only more Americans would experience it. I was stunned when Crooks told me that only about 5 percent of his guests come from the U.S. “Mostly Aussies, but we get a lot of Germans and (other) Europeans,” he said. 

It’s difficult to envision anyone not being content to visit. Surely the Jungs were OK with trading the Nordic winters they endured to live here in the temperate climate of the South Pacific. 

On our way to the fishing grounds – these waters are also known for kingfish, marlin and tuna, the latter two of which are targeted on longer trips further offshore – Crooks motored us past his favorite (unnamed) beach. I could see why; it’s a magnificent stretch of white sand and crystal-clear blue water that Robinson Crusoe types might reconsider wanting rescue from. 

Then he asked his seven passengers how many of us had been through the Hole in the Rock (Motu K?kako as it’s known in the native M?ori dialect), a 60-foot-tall opening on what the explorer Capt. James Cook renamed as Piercy Island upon his discovery of it in 1769. When the weather cooperates and the tides are right, boats both small and bigger can navigate through the hole, which we did to great enthusiasm from our party. (And when Crooks suggested we do it, I laughed and mentioned that earlier that same day my travel buddy Norv and I went through the hole when we took a dolphin-watching cruise and quick visit to a nature reserve, Urupukapuka Island.) 

Enough of the sightseeing, I thought. Let’s go fishing. 

The SpotX boat also took us through the Hole in the Rock, first spied by famed explorer Capt. James Cook in 1769.

 

CATCHING SNAPPER IN THESE waters doesn’t require anything fancy. Crooks handed us all spincast rods with 50-pound test rigged with just a heavy sinker, a short leader and a hook. Our first spot was not far beyond the Hole in the Rock, around the other side of Cape Brett at the edge of the Bay of Islands. 

In about 90 feet of water, Crooks anchored the boat and pulled out a bag of cut squid, gave a 20-second tutorial on where to bait the hook, and we dropped down to the bottom, cranked up a few feet and waited. 

“I can’t guarantee you we’ll always catch a bunch of fish,” Crooks had told us earlier. “But I can guarantee you I won’t give up trying to catch a bunch of fish.” 

I was one of two Americans onboard. When I was first picked up as the last passenger at the marina in Russell, I struck up a conversation with Ethan Gaddy, an 18-year-old who hails from North Carolina’s Outer Banks. He graduated high school in June and shortly thereafter flew to New Zealand and had been there since. By the time he’d left to go home Gaddy would have visited just about every major spot in a country of just about 4.4 million residents and comparable in size to Colorado.

There was enough fish for everyone on this day.

“Enjoy this while you can,” I told the teenager regarding his ability to travel for months at a time.

The youngster of our group, 9-year-old Liam, a Kiwi, photo bomber and aspiring standup comedian who was visiting during a countrywide school holiday with his mom Jo, couldn’t stop grinning. 

My fellow Yank Gaddy talked about his experience tramping through the bigger cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, injuring his knee while snowboarding one of the South Island’s snowy peaks during the Southern Hemisphere winter – our summer – and pondering what was next once he gets back to the reality of life (though I became jealous again when he thought about trekking to Southeast Asia next whenever he could get away). 

An Australian couple on our boat fled the chaos of Sydney for small-town life inland on the border of New South Wales and Victoria, not far from Melbourne but far enough away to enjoy the good life Down Under. 

Now in New Zealand, flanked by the rugged east coast of the North Island on one side and the endless waters of the Pacific on the other, they and the rest of us were catching fish.

One guy behind me landed a feisty snapper a few minutes after we started to fish. I caught my first shortly thereafter. When little Liam reeled one up – assisted by Crooks – we all whooped and hollered for the kid.  

One of the fish we caught is known in New Zealand as a pink maomao.

We had quite a good surf-and-turf meal that night.

The skipper decided to change things up a little and we cruised closer to the rocky shoreline of Cape Brett, where various sea birds congregated. We anchored this time in far shallower water – about 27 feet to the bottom. Crooks also broke out tiny frozen baitfish to try. “Anchovies?” I asked. “That’s what you’d call them in the states,” the captain replied. 

I slipped one on and maybe two casts later, within seconds of my bait hitting bottom I felt the hardest tug yet. This snapper, my biggest of the day – maybe 5 pounds or so – gave me a little stronger fight. Earlier in the day I’d landed what’s known as a pink maomao (longfin perch), which is a type of sea bass and one that lives up to its colorful nickname; we also brought in two more odd species, a triggerfish and a moray eel.

By the end of the day, we’d stacked the back of the Spot-X with a bunch of keeper snapper, my pink maomao and the triggerfish. Since I was the only member of this charter staying in Russell – the rest were headed back across the harbor to the bigger port of Paihia – Crooks headed into a cove and filleted the three snapper and maomao. Much to his delight, I brought back the fish for Norv and I to enjoy a delicious surf-and-turf meal cooked on a poolside grill (we had so many fillets we gave some to the motel manager).  

The sun was setting after a 70ish-degree October afternoon. I was sunburned, hungry and thirsty, but during a trip when I was rarely disappointed by the scenery, food, beer, wine and activities that included Class IV-plus whitewater rafting and a jet boat thrill ride, I wondered if the North Carolinian vagabond had the right idea to spend months in a land so beautiful, mystical and prehistoric it gave the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies quite the cinematic backdrop. Or maybe it was Crooks who has it made, even if he did admit his workday lasts from dawn until at least 10 p.m.  

Spend a week or so in New Zealand and you’ll agree it’s not a bad permanent gig. CS

Editor’s note: Spot-X Fishing Charters offers a relative bargain in a country where few comparable activities are anything but cheap. A shared, up-to-eight-person, four- to five-hour fishing trip to catch snapper and possibly larger kingfish costs 110 New Zealand dollars – roughly $75 U.S. each. Check out fishspotx.co.nz/charters for more or like them at facebook.com/fishspotX.

 

Juvenile Coho To Be Released In Bay Area Creek(s)

Warms Springs Hatchery juvenile coho photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

 

Venerable San Francisco Chronicle outdoors writer Tom Stienstra reports that a tributary of the Bay Area’s Russian River  will receive a release of juvenile coho salmon as part of a plan to revive the sporadic population of silvers in Northern California’s coastal rivers.

Here’s Stienstra with some details:

In a special moment Monday, 6,000 juvenile coho salmon are being released in a coastal creek in Sonoma County.

It is part of the release of 140,000 coho salmon this fall in a public-private partnership to restore coho, or silver salmon, in 10 tributaries that feed into the Russian River.

The result of restoration efforts in the Bay Area and beyond has turned salmon watching into a spectator sport.

 With fall rains, the prospects are promising in the coming six weeks to see returning coho salmon at Lagunitas Creek in Marin. Some years, 450 salmon are counted.

The best spots include the Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area near Shafter Bridge and the small waterfalls at the Ink Wells, located along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Other good spots in the Lagunitas Creek watershed include Roy’s Pool in San Geronimo and Devil’s Gulch in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. …

Monday’s fish release is the result of cooperation between farmers, conservationists and the government. The Gallo Winery and MacMurray Estate, both of which are supporting the project and providing access, are working with conservationist volunteers, with oversight by scientists with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The juvenile coho are about 9 inches long, provided by the Warm Springs Hatchery near Lake Sonoma. Once trucked to the site, the fish are netted and placed in water-filled glass jugs in backpacks, and volunteers then transport the fish to creek’s edge for release.

 

 

 

CDFW: Rodenticides Poison Killed Two Endangered San Joaquin Kit Foxes

CDFW photo

 

The following press release is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is investigating the poisoning of two San Joaquin kit foxes found dead in Bakersfield last month. Although the foxes were found ten miles apart, the cause of death was the same: exposure to high levels of the second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide, brodifacoum, which resulted in severe internal bleeding and hemorrhaging. The carcasses were discovered by residents of Kern City and north Bakersfield who reported them to the Endangered Species Recovery Program (ESRP), a local conservation group that monitors kit foxes in the city and greater Central Valley. ESRP has been working closely with residents in both areas, as this urban kit fox population has declined in recent years due to a fatal outbreak of sarcoptic mange.

San Joaquin kit foxes are only found in California and are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Despite the many obstacles kit foxes face in the wild, most notably due to habitat loss, they seem to be thriving in the Bakersfield area and have become beloved city residents. This urban population is increasingly more important to the survival of the species as natural habitats disappear. However, city living is risky. Urban kit foxes are more likely to die from vehicle strikes, dog attacks, entombment, diseases transmitted by domestic pets or invasive wildlife, and poisoning from anticoagulant rodenticides. Rodents are kit foxes’ primary food item, which makes them terribly vulnerable to poisons ingested by rodents. When they eat rodents that have been poisoned with these baits, they’re exposed to those rodenticides.

Due to their harmful impacts on non-target wildlife — including hawks, owls, bobcats and mountain lions — second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides are now restricted in California. Since July 2014, four of these chemicals can only be legally sold to and used by professional exterminators. CDFW urges residents to help protect kit foxes by using alternate means of rodent control such as exclusion, sanitation and trapping, and to ask any pest control professionals they employ to do the same.

To learn more, please visit our webpage at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Living-with-Wildlife/Rodenticides. For more information, please call or email the CDFW Wildlife Investigation Laboratory at (916) 358-2954 or Stella.McMillin@wildlife.ca.gov.

If you find a San Joaquin kit fox that appears to be impaired, please contact the CDFW or ESRP at (661) 835-7810.

 

Great Numbers For Mokelumne River Chinook

Things are going well for steelhead and especially Chinook at the Mokelumne River Hatchery. 

 

Mokelumne River Hatchery photos from CDFW

Here’s more from Sfgate.com’s Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Salmon crowded in and around the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery on Thursday, offering leaping and squiggling proof of what so far is a near-record return of the big pinkish delicacies after several years of low breeding numbers.

Schoolchildren watched as the fall-run chinook squirmed on conveyor belts into the “egg take” building, where, with help from about a dozen hatchery workers, they engaged in the decidedly unromantic process of spawning the next generation.

“It’s going to be one of the top three or four years that we’ve seen since 1940,” said Jose Setka, the manager of fisheries and wildlife for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which supplies Mokelumne River water to 1.4 million East Bay customers. “We are getting more of our fish back where they belong.”

 The large number of salmon, which are inspired by the first rains of the season to swim upriver and spawn, validate the effectiveness of a series of streambed, habitat and health improvements made over the years by the utility and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

As of Thursday, 13,799 chinook, each weighing as much as 31 pounds, had fought their way from the ocean up the Mokelumne into the Clements facility, compared with 4,129 at this time last year. With about a month left in the season, the record of 18,000 salmon, set in 2011, is within reach.

Steelhead numbers are also way up for the second consecutive year, with more than 350 fish having returned to the hatchery — and it is still early season for the wild cousins of rainbow trout, which usually spawn through early March. Last year, a record 600 steelhead returned.

 “Before last year a good year would be about 100 steelhead, but we had over 600 last year, and we’re on track to beat that this year,” said Ed Rible, a fisheries biologist for the utility district.

 

 

 

Los Cabos Tournament Set To Begin

Los Cabos Tournaments

 

 

The following press release is courtesy of Los Cabos Tournaments and the Bonnier Corporation:  

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico (Nov. 15, 2017) — The only free-entry fishing tournament on the Baja California Peninsula is underway, as a fleet of 90 boats set out from three ports — Cabo San Lucas, East Cape and San Jose — for the Los Cabos Big Game Charter Boat Classic. Weather conditions were favorable on Tuesday for the first day of fishing with light winds and a moderate swell.

The radio start from tournament director Dan Jacobs called for lines-in promptly at 7 a.m., and the boats headed out to fish until 2:30 p.m. Several billfish releases were reported and anglers fishing out of San Jose swept the tuna category on this nearly picture-perfect day offshore. A.J. Summers from Winnetka, Illinois, landed a 66.2-pound tuna on Jacqueline to score first place in the division and a check for $1,800. Both second and third place went to angler David Martin from Hudson, Colorado, who weighed a 56.8-pound tuna and a 50.5-pound tuna caught on Killer II, worth a total of $1,535.

While San Jose had the hot tuna bite, it was the Cabo fleet that led the dorado category. Top honors on day one went to Doug Hart from Rosenburg, Texas, with his 16.8-pounder on Sol Mar VI for $1,800. Second place winnings of $900 went to Sandy, Utah, angler Robert Post for his 16.3-pound catch on Baja Raider. Taking third place was angler Tony Divino from Holladay, Utah, pulling in a 14.2-pound dorado on Baja Raider that earned him $635.

In the wahoo category, angler Lois Murray from Cranrook, British Columbia, won first place with a 25.1-pound catch on Paraquita in San Jose. Murray was the top prize winner for day one by also winning the lady angler division and splitting the third place wahoo prize for a grand total of $2,117.50. Paula Haycock from Draper, Utah, claimed second place and a share of the third place prize with her 7.9-pound wahoo caught while fishing on Baja Raider out of Cabo for a payout of $1,217.50.

Rounding out the first day awards was the winner of the junior angler category, Kieran McSween from Middletown, California. Kieran pulled in a 12.9-pound tuna while fishing on Cheers in Cabo.

The Los Cabos Big Game Charter Boat Classic continues through Nov. 17. For more information, visit www.loscabostournaments.com.

CDFW Seeking Input About Possibly Endangered Frog

CDFW photo

The following press release is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking information relevant to a proposal to list the Cascades Frog as an endangered or threatened species.

The Cascades Frog (Rana cascadae) inhabits a variety of habitats such as large lakes, ponds, wet meadows and streams at mid- to high-elevations range from the Klamath-Trinity region, along the Cascades Range axis in the vicinity of Mt. Shasta, southward to the headwater tributaries of the Feather River.

In March 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to formally list the Cascades Frog as endangered or threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. The listing petition and CDFW’s petition evaluation described a variety of threats to the survival of Cascades Frogs in California. These include direct and indirect impacts associated with airborne contaminants, climate change, disease, fire suppression, habitat loss and alteration, introduced fish, livestock grazing, recreational activities, small population sizes and Cannabis cultivation. CDFW recommended, and the Commission voted, to advance the species to candidacy on Oct. 11, 2017. The Commission published findings of this decision on Oct. 27, 2017, triggering a 12-month period during which CDFW will conduct a status review to inform the Commission’s decision on whether to list the species.

As part of the status review process, CDFW is soliciting information from the public regarding the Cascades Frog’s ecology, genetics, life history, distribution, abundance, habitat, the degree and immediacy of threats to reproduction or survival, adequacy of existing management and recommendations for management of the species. Comments, data and other information can be submitted in writing to:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Attn: Laura Patterson
1812 Ninth Street
Sacramento, CA 95811

Comments may also be submitted by email to wildlifemgt@wildlife.ca.gov. If submitting comments by email, please include “Cascades Frog” in the subject heading.

All comments received by Dec. 22, 2017 will be evaluated prior to submittal of the CDFW report to the Commission. Receipt of the report will be placed on the agenda for the next available meeting of the Commission after delivery and the report will be made available to the public at that time. Following the receipt of the CDFW report, the Commission will allow a 30-day public comment period prior to taking any action on CDFW’s recommendation.

CBD’s listing petition and CDFW’s petition evaluation for the Cascades Frog are available at www.fgc.ca.gov/CESA/index.aspx#cf.

Veterans Helping Veterans Through The Outdoors

I was recently in New York City and stumbled onto this memorial in the Astoria area of Queens remembering veterans of World War I. (CHRIS COCOLES)

 

Saturday is officially Veterans Day, but today is when the holiday is being officially observed, so take some time out to honor those who have fought for their country.

To honor our veterans on this holiday, check out this story that’s running in our November issue on a disabled veteran who is doing his best to share his love of the outdoors with fellow wounded warriors:

 

By Chris Cocoles

Photos by Warfighter Outfitters 

The veteran that Brett Miller had taken on one of the fishing trips he leads for wounded warriors wasn’t exactly opening up about anything – not his experiences in combat or if he was even enjoying himself that day. 

Miller, himself a disabled veteran and founder of a Sisters, Oregon-based nonprofit, Warfighter Outfitters, understands that some of those recovering from a traumatic injury might not be willing to bare their soul right away, but this guy seemed content to not say anything. He’d been in trouble upon his return to civilian life and was in what’s known as Veteran’s Court when Miller signed over custody of the man and brought him along to fish in central Oregon, which he did without incident, but also without engaging in any conversation of any kind. 

“He just kept to himself and fished and was catching fish. A couple months went by and I asked him if he wanted to come to a fly fishing tournament with us.” Miller says. “We drove the whole way to New Mexico from Oregon – like 12 hours. Nothing. Didn’t say a word, not a peep. He was just a mannequin, a crash-test dummy.”

Miller’s team finished second and took home a trophy, yet the man remained as stoic as ever, barely speaking on the entire drive to the Pacific Northwest. So whatever therapeutic value Miller’s efforts rubbed off on the man, he didn’t seem comfortable sharing them. 

A year went by before Miller heard from him again.

“All of a sudden on social media, he hits me up and says thanks. ‘I bought a boat and now I’m taking guys fishing on it,’” Miller says. “You never know the impact of what one day or one trip will have.”

It’s that kind of feel-good story that has given hope to Miller, who was lucky to survive a 2005 attack in Iraq that left him permanently disabled and questioning what value his life would have. It turns out there was quite a lot. Like so many of his comrades, he just had to find it again. 

Brett Miller (center) accepted his Wounded Warrior Project Courage Award in June in New York. He’s come a long ways since he essentially disappeared for over two years driving around the country seeking purpose in his life. (WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT)

THREE OF MILLER’S PASSIONS LEFT him fulfilled for most of his life. He was an accomplished firefighter, having logged 17 years of service around his Oregon home since his teen years. His other love back home was the outdoors, and his hometown of Sisters, a tiny community about 30 minutes northwest of Bend, was surrounded by some of the Pacific Northwest’s most spectacular hunting and fishing grounds. 

But Miller was also dedicated to the military, having joined the Army National Guard in 1998 and getting the call to go to combat in Iraq in 2004. The life he once knew would soon change forever in one sudden burst. 

“There was a bomb that went off 6 feet from my (Humvee) door, and it made me blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and half-paralyzed on my left side,” Miller says. “I had a pretty bad traumatic brain injury with a brain bleed. That was the end of my military and firefighting career.”

His wounds were so severe he spent three years at a Palo Alto hospital and two more in outpatient treatment before he could be released. Miller spent countless hours in a bedridden haze. His physical injuries were obviously major, but it became more of a psychological chess match than anything else, not unlike so many others who’ve fought for the Stars and Stripes.

“I think the physical standpoint is easier to deal with, because you know what’s wrong and there’s a way to fix it,” he says. “But the mental (side), a traumatic brain injury and the psychological impact, is a lot harder. You don’t have a litmus test to tell if you’re getting better or not.”

As he had all the post traumatic stress symptoms, Miller was and is against including the word disorder in what’s commonly referred to as PTSD among wounded or disabled veterans. He calls his condition a “very normal reaction to a very abnormal situation.”

With so much idle time in a hospital bed, it’s easy to think the worst. Everything Miller’s body allowed him to do in the past was no longer feasible. The long road to recovery was full of curves, switchbacks and potholes. 

“I kind of took it for granted that I was going to be a drifter and nomad. It was a career of 17 years of fighting fire, that’s gone and I can’t do that anymore,” he says. “It’s the only thing I knew how to do and liked to do. And I can’t do military anymore; that’s done and over. I thought I was going to be a mindless soul floating around life.”

And like many disabled veterans, that’s exactly what Miller seemed to endure when he was finally released from the hospital. Miller says many in his shoes will go on “hiatus into the wilderness and try to find themselves.” 

He was no different. An avid motorcyclist, Miller bought a toy hauler for his truck, loaded his bikes in and drove Forrest Gump-style back and forth from the Pacific to the Atlantic three different times over two years. 

After spending so much time in hospitals, he was through taking orders from anyone else. His new journey was one of self-discovery, reflection and pondering the future.

“I lived in RV parks, I’d hang out in shady hole-in-the-wall bars and have greasy-spoon meals and I would just go explore. Just completely away from the public,” says Miller, who essentially became incognito, rarely if ever keeping contact with friends or family back home. 

He’d befriend a fellow RV park patron, but most were retired and spent their time playing bridge or canasta. Card games weren’t going to cut it for Miller. He knew that hunting, fishing and the outdoors remained a passion and that they offered him a chance to find some peace. 

 “I went on a couple (fishing and hunting) trips (with veterans) and saw the therapeutic and physical value of it and thought, ‘I want to do that.’”

WHEN VETERANS COME HOME from combat, their physical and emotional scars are best shared with those who can relate best: other veterans. For Miller, his time tramping the American highways was needed but not how he wanted to ultimately function. 

His love for escaping whatever demons might have been lurking with a hunting rifle and fly rod turned out to be the remedy he’d been looking for. 

“And like most of these guys, you’re basically starting life over and have to clean the slate. So I thought, if there’s one thing I wanted to do with my second life, I’d probably want to be a guide/outfitter,” Miller says. 

Of course, such an ambitious goal can be expensive, but with a few other veterans who also wanted to pursue the dream, Miller sold his Harley around 2013 or so, and eventually Warfighter Outfitters was born and began to thrive, thanks to the hard work of those who came aboard as well as generous donors. 

Disabled veterans from all over the country – Miller’s group has also hosted participants from as far away as Australia and the United Kingdom – have gone on excursions free of charge. There are plenty of viable options around the organization’s Oregon base for predator hunts, jet boat fishing trips for steelhead on the Deschutes River, and Miller says a few lucky wounded warriors will win a tag draw for bighorn sheep on the Deschutes and a special trip to Idaho’s Hells Canyon to hunt elk.

“Last year alone, just on fishing trips we got over 2,000 veterans out,” says Miller, who’s done various   trips in California as part of the organization. “We have about $400,000 worth of equipment and we’re operating some of the most expensive trips for civilians that are completely free for veterans.”

In June, Miller traveled to New York to accept the top honor from the Wounded Warrior Project, the George C. Lang Award for Courage, for his contributions toward helping his fellow soldiers who were injured on the battlefield. 

These days, nothing gets Miller more excited than the camaraderie he feels when everyone gets together.

“It gets to the point where every day, I can almost clock it depending on the conversation; people will really start talking about the nitty gritty and the things that are bugging them and how to deal with family or relationships,” Miller says. “But on that drive to the event, by the time we hit the boat ramp, all these strangers you’d swear are now complete best friends and have been all their lives.”

It might not be the end-all “cure” for those troubled by their battlefield injuries, but it’s a positive step in the right direction. Miller can cite multiple cases of success from the downtrodden and depressed who have hitched a ride to a river or a duck blind.

Miller’s former commanding officer turned to the bottle after his return and nearly lost everything. But after bonding on a trip with Miller, the officer finally sought the help he was looking for and is now thriving in Montana as an outdoors writer and marathon runner. 

Whenever a wife, girlfriend, parent or friend calls or emails Miller thanking him for giving a disabled or wounded veteran a reason to be happy and optimistic, Miller feels like he’s helping others figure out a purpose in life he once couldn’t seem to find.
 “I definitely know it’s affirmation that we’re doing the right thing,” he says. 

“You really don’t know how bad you’ve got it until someone else in the boat or truck has got it 10 times worse. It gives you a little more clarity and perspective. Maybe things aren’t so bad. ‘This guy’s missing both legs and he’s wading in a middle of a river swinging a fly for steelhead.’ And then that person who sees that and experiences it, he then becomes more of a caregiver mode of, ‘I want to help.’”

“The biggest thing I’ve found is I’ve learned more about my own recovery helping others than I have being part of a recovery process.” CS

Editor’s note: For more info and to donate, go to warfighteroutfitters.org and like at facebook.com/warfighteroutfitters.

 

 

 

Reward Offered For Wolf Killed In Southern Oregon

 

OR-25, a wolf that has been spotted in Northern California, was killed in southern Oregon. A $5,000 reward has been offered to help solve the crime. (ODFW)

A wolf that has been tracked in Northern California was killed in Oregon recently, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a $5,000 reward to help determine who was responsible for the wolf’s death.

Here’s the Herald and News of Klamath Falls, Oregon with more:

The male gray wolf, identified as OR-25, was found dead near Fort Klamath on the Sun Pass State Forest. Originally part of the Imnaha Pack in northeast Oregon, the male wolf dispersed the pack in 2015, traveling to Klamath County by August of that year.

For the past two years OR-25 has spent much of its time in Klamath County, periodically relocating to Lake and Jackson counties in Oregon, as well as Modoc and Siskiyou counties in California.

The wolf was collared as a yearling, and was 4-1/2 years old at the time of its death. Recent wildlife camera images of OR-25 showed the possibility of the wolf pairing with a non-collared female.

OR-25 had been involved in two depredation incidents, the first in Klamath County in the fall of 2015, and one in Jackson County in February of this year. Though its collar batteries had been fading, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists had continued to track the wolf, which spent much of this year in the Wood River Valley and Williamson Valley north of Klamath Falls.

It is a violation of the Endangered Species Act to kill a gray wolf, which is listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of Oregon. It is also a violation of Oregon state game laws. The Oregon State Police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are investigating the incident. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) December 2016 population count, there are a minimum of 112 wolves in the state, a 75 percent increase since December 2013.

Turkey Vultures Poisoned In Ventura County

 

Brown and black turkey vulture with pinkish-red face on the stub of a tree limb, seen from the back

Turkey vulture on the stub of a tree limb. USFWS photos

The following press release is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed that several turkey vultures have been poisoned from the veterinary euthanasia drug pentobarbital in the Simi Valley area of Ventura County.

Seven turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) were found dead or impaired in Simi Valley in October. Two of these were successfully rehabilitated by the Ojai Raptor Center, but the other five died. Pentobarbital exposure was confirmed in the digestive system of one of the dead turkey vultures. The source of the exposure remains unknown.

Pentobarbital is a drug used by veterinarians to euthanize companion animals, livestock and horses. If the remains of animals euthanized with pentobarbital are not properly disposed of after death, scavenging wildlife – such as turkey vultures and eagles – can be poisoned. Veterinarians and animal owners are responsible for disposing of animal remains properly by legal methods such as cremation or deep burial.

 

Turkey vultures are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and California Fish and Game Code. Improperly disposed-of euthanized remains are a danger to all scavenging wildlife.

Members of the veterinary and livestock communities are asked to share this information with colleagues in an effort to prevent further incidents.

 

CDFW also asks the public to pay attention to and report grounded turkey vultures and other raptors and scavengers.

Pentobarbital-poisoned birds appear to be dead. They have no reflex response and breathing can barely be detected. The birds appear intact, without wounds or obvious trauma. Anyone finding a comatose vulture should report the finding to CDFW at 916-358-2954.