Thursday, August 25, 2016

Smallmouth Eaters--- Repent!!

Smallmouth and River Runt

          If you are someone who fishes the rivers for smallmouth bass, I urge you to do this… return the brownies 14 inches or larger, and if you must eat some, eat the ones under 14 inches.

          This comes from someone who ate a million of ‘em as a kid, and guided fishermen all through my teen-age years who seldom returned a fish.  The idea was to string the “keepers” and throw back the little ones.  It was a different time.  Now, if we want to have quality smallmouth fishing, we need to think differently.

         How many times do you think I have lay on some riverbank or bluff or big rock watching river bass spawn?  Do you think twelve-inch bass are fanning out nests in the gravel and producing those fingerlings that will weigh three pounds in about 10 years?  They aren’t.  Smallmouth that are spawning are usually the 15- to 18-inch bass or bigger.

         Two thousand eggs per pound of female bass!  And I would wager that there are many nests in which no fingerling will live past two years.  You wanna make a difference?  Resolve now to never keep a smallmouth above 14 inches, even if you have to eat baloney and cheese for supper.  Or just ignore me and be a part of the reason that there aren’t near as many smallmouth today as there were yesterday.

         I cannot understand why we can’t join forces and do the simple and easy things here in the Ozarks to make the natural world better.  Our rivers are in such a declining state, and it doesn’t have to be that way.  We can’t make them the kind of streams they once were but we can improve them, and we can stop the destruction of declining water pollution from cattle, and small town sewage and manufacturing plants.  We can ease the choking of aquatic life by gobs of slime and algae, and the eroding of banks which fill the holes with gravel and sand.  It can be done… why aren’t we doing it?

         Recently I offered my time--free of charge-- to the state department of conservation to arrange for some work with landowners along rivers like the Niangua, Pomme de Terre, Big Piney and others.  I know that many of them want to help with the preservation of watershed along the rivers where they own land, and it can be done for a minimum amount of money.  They need “up-front” money, which the Missouri Department of Conservation has plenty of, and can quickly recover through Soil Conservation Service programs from the Federal Government.

         We can do this.  Why don’t we?  In fact I can do some of all by myself if the MDC will just agree to put up the money which those landowners must initially spend.  And it amounts to so little to put in water wells or buffer strips of native grass or young trees.  It is easy to do! SO WHY THE HELL AREN’T WE DOING IT?

          Is there no one who cares, anywhere?  We have clubs like the Ozark Paddlers, the Smallmouth Alliance, Stream Teams, the Nature Conservancy and others.  You cannot possible spend time on our Ozark rivers and not see the problem as it grows each year.  Where are all you folks who talk a good game?  It is time to go out there and participate in turning this problem around now.  In a matter of years it will be too late and on many of our smaller rivers…it already is.  Gosh-darn it, come and join me in helping.  You may not believe what you can learn and how a few people can make such a big difference.

     There is another idea I have that I don’t think has ever been looked at before.  Right now the Missouri Department of Conservation manages about a quarter of a million acres of land we citizens own.  It is our land, but if they wish to remove all the large trees on any tract of it, they just do it.  Roaring logging trucks and buzzing chain saws from private logging companies which are getting rich off these mature forests take away the reason it was set aside in the first place.

         Much of this land being destroyed was given to the Department by people who thought it was the way to preserve it.  They were wrong.  Those hardwood trees are worth more than they ever were because of the great demand for hardwood flooring. The department of conservation only profits from the cutting of these big trees and a devastation of our forests because the logging companies pay them a percentage of the money the trees bring at the sawmill. 

         Why then couldn’t citizens raise the money, with the help of large conservation societies and wealthy people in our state, to match the bids of the logging companies to preserve those trees, many of them between 200 and 300 years old?  That way, the trees stand, and the MDC can still have the money they want, the reason they exist nowadays. 

This tree is a den tree, cut because it was in the way. It was likely 240 years old, ----a place where year after year, all kinds of birds and mammals raised young. There may be a way for the MDC to get the money they want and for the trees to be purchased and saved.  I wish more newspapers would consider printing more about this. caption
         Since they operate on a measly 200 million or so a year, (more than all but three or four state conservation agencies in the country) that should really make them happy.  And then the den trees which are virtually worthless as lumber, the ones discarded when logging crews think they are just in the way, could remain there, dens for dozens of songbirds and furbearers. A logged-over forest has very little value for any kind of wildlife in Missouri.  Anyone who tells you different is lying to you.  Those trees will not return in any consequential form as a forest for more than 100 years.

         Years ago an MDC wildlife biologist whom I went to school with many years ago at Missouri University said this when he and I walked through a state “Conservation Area”… “It is the foresters in the department who have all the say now.  Those of us who are wildlife management people are ignored.  It’s all about the money and the trees are worth a lot more than flying squirrels and wood peckers and nature-lovers.” 

         As we walked along a ridge top he showed me that all the red oaks and white oaks and walnuts had red rings around them, marking them to be cut, hundreds of them.  My old classmate said that in a couple of months that ridge would be one of the ugliest spots you could imagine, with dead slash and stumps and muddy ruts.

         So I wonder, if I had enough money to buy those trees and the MDC could make just as much or more from me than the logging companies will give them, WHY COULDN’T WE MAKE THAT WORK FOR THE BENEFIT OF DOZENS AND DOZENS OF BIRDS AND MAMMALS AND PEOPLE WHO LOVE WILD PLACES? 

         WHY NOT?

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