Clean water rules

OK, class listen up. If you like clean water, raise your hand. Unless, you’re “The Toxic Avenger,” a B-movie superhero created by toxic waste, you probably want clean water. It tastes better, is better for you and makes for better fishing, hunting, boating and swimming than water filled with toxic waste water or even your average every day pollutants.

So why is clean water so hard to achieve? More than one third of American’s waters are estimated to be too dirty for fishing or swimming. Because fewer than 20 percent of our waterways are monitored for pollutants, the problem may be even worse. While dumping toxins directly into rivers and lakes has been cut way back, thanks in large part to the Clean Water Act, pollution running off the land has proven much harder to address. We actually have gone backwards sine 2001, when the Supreme Court handed down the first of two rulings, shrinking and muddling where clean water protections apply. As a result, longstanding protections against draining, filling and polluting were weakened for nearly 60 percent of streams in the lower 48 and more than 20 million acres of wetlands.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers are attempting to restore some of these lost protections in a new rule clarifying where and how the Clean Water Act applies. Sportsmen need to support the agencies on this. We not only drink water like everyone else, we count on it for fat bass and wonderful days on the water; for walleye and whitefish and a good chance at a limit of waterfowl. We – you and I – understand better than most the ways that waters and habitats are connected and affected. The fact is, this proposal is grounded in law and science, and the science is clear: Most waters are connected in one way or another, the sediment, heavy metals and other pollutants wind their way through those connections to larger waters the rest of us use. The pollutants move downstream to larger bodies of water through the same type of connections.

Double-crested cormorant

Quick now – without grabbing a field guide or the family dictionary – what is a cormorant? Never mind, I’ll tell you. I spent the better part of an afternoon out at Beemer’s Pond with binoculars and scope watching them. They are big and black with orange beaks, and they are about as large as a Canada goose. The double-crested cormorant is named for two tiny feather prongs gracing each side of the crown. They are primitive creatures with slower heart beats. Fossilized cormorant skeletons have been traced back more than two million years. They are commonly seen in the “spread-eagle” position, perched on buoys, pilings, rocks, trees and such, their wings arched away from their body to dry. They don’t have oily feathers like waterfowl.

Seventy-five to 100 cormorants have been resting on Beemer’s Pond for nearly a week. Not good, not good at all. Cormorants are the villains of the bird world; the scourge of our lakes and streams; the adversary of fishermen everywhere, and on the hit list of every fish and game department. Why? Because they are voracious fish eaters. Their ability to catch and eat game fish is almost beyond human understanding. They have huge appetites and consume enormous amounts of fish, seemingly around the clock. Several states, including Minnesota, have established a hunting season on the cormorant.

Almost overnight, in the blink of an eye, so to speak, a flock of cormorants will clean out a small lake or pond. The cormorant is a graceful dynamo of remarkable skill in the water, seeking its chief food – fish – through diving and underwater pursuit. Underwater, it can swim almost as fast as a fish.

Incidentally, since we’re talking about birds, have you noticed how mixed up the spring migration is this year? The robins have been arriving and departing in waves and there have been very few flickers mixed in with the flocks of robins. Green-winged teals arrived two to three weeks early. And green-winged teals are just now arriving. They are running almost a whole month late. Gulls and terns which for the most part usually stick pretty close to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers when they migrate northward are coming right up the middle through central Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota this year. They’re a fairly common sight in most grocery store parking lots lately.

And white-throated sparrows which generally arrive one day and leave the next, have stuck around for over a week. Lesser scaups (bluebills) and northern shovelers have been sitting on Beemer’s Pond for a month or so, apparently in no big hurry to continue on north until the weather settles down. This spring is going to be one for the books.

Hunt, shoot, fish

Saturday, Sept. 27 has been established as National Hunting and Fishing Day. Country Music artist Craig Morgan has been named Honorary Chairman. If you hunt, fish or shoot, thank you. Through the sale of licenses and excise taxes, you help to generate $100,000 every 30 minutes for fish, wildlife and habitat programs. Semper Fi.

And now have a good weekend.