Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Not You, It's Me.

It is unfortunate that John Morony, a member of the Queen Anne's County Republican Central Committee, and Sharon Carrick, a former chairperson of that same committee, found it appropriate recently to personally attack a sitting Republican County Commissioner in the pages of the local newspapers.

Ms. Carrick and Mr. Morony clearly illustrated what so many think is wrong with politics in America today; namely, an obsession with partisanship that mandates jack-booted adherence to the party line, no matter how hypocritical that party line might be. When it suits them, Ms. Carrick and Mr. Morony profess their love for limited government and low taxes, but on the other hand (and often in the same breath) support policies that lead directly and clearly to bigger government and more taxes.

For Ms. Carrick and Mr. Morony, Martin O'Malley is a villain with malicious motivations. Not content to thoughtfully disagree, Carrick and Morony seek to denigrate all of his positions, and anyone who might find some good in his ideas. Instead of debating the merits of an issue, they reflexively resort to personal attack, caring little about the message, aiming only for the messenger. This obsession with partisan purity is the reason why leadership in the United States has been replaced with ambition and brinkmanship.

Continuing to scatter development across the landscape is an unwise use of resources. As a member of the Task Force on Government Sustainability, I saw first hand what our quickly increasing population (Queen Anne's County was the fastest growing county in Maryland from 2000-2010) did to the county's budget. More people demand more government services, which means more government. If you count yourself a small government, low taxes conservative, and you support wanton and unfettered development across the countryside, you are sowing the very seeds with which government and taxes will inevitably and unarguably grow, an untenable dichotomy that doesn't bother party officials like Carrick and Morony.

Commissioner David Dunmyer has put more earnest time, effort and energy into his job as county commissioner than any of his colleagues, without exception. His positions are not arrived at through a partisan filter, but rather by an idealism that seeks to do what is best for our county today and in the future. Like most people that I meet, I do not agree with anyone all of the time, and certainly not a politician. The best we can hope for are elected leaders that keep an open mind and spend time actually thinking about the implications of the policies they champion. On this rubric alone, we in Queen Anne's County would do well to have five David Dunmyers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Posted: No Funding.

(This piece was first published in The Hill newspaper on November 29, 2011)

Before breaking for Thanksgiving, Congress voted to de-fund the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) as part of the FY2012 agriculture appropriations bill. It is ironic that funding for a program that encourages landowners to make their property accessible to hunters and anglers would be eliminated just as millions of hunters nationwide prepared to hit the woods over the holiday weekend. And whether or not they hunt themselves, all Americans benefit from sportsmen’s dollars and the conservation investments provided by license sales and excise taxes, and therefore, the elimination of VPA-HIP deserves some attention.

The number one reason cited by hunters and anglers for forgoing the sports they love? Access – or rather lack of access – to quality fish and game habitat. Increasingly, sportsmen encounter “hunting prohibited” or “no trespassing” signs as they venture across the countryside.

In response to this very real challenge, the sportsmen’s community developed VPA-HIP, a federal program intended to address the problem of diminished access by sportsmen and others by providing small incentives to landowners to provide public access to their lands for wildlife-dependent activities such as hunting and fishing.

The Voluntary Public Access program was included in the 2008 Farm Bill for the first time. Federal monies were released to implement the program beginning in 2010. In just these first two years, VPA-HIP has succeeded in opening millions of acres of fish and wildlife habitat to hunters and anglers.

The economic impact of programs such as VPA-HIP that facilitate sportsmen’s access is substantial. A decline in license sales – both hunting and fishing – has severe implications for state fish and wildlife agency budgets and the continued funding of fish and wildlife habitat conservation projects that depend on sportsmen’s dollars.

In addition, sportsmen open their wallets at a range of businesses – many located in rural communities and locally owned – including motels, restaurants, sporting good stores, gas stations and guide and outfitting operations. Hunting and angling in this country, each and every year, generate more than $95 billion in economic activity.

In this era of budgetary austerity, a good-faith effort clearly must be made to reduce our nation’s debt and deficit. Sportsmen and women do not presume that they are exempt from shouldering their fair share of this burden. Yet funding for vital conservation programs should be maintained at reasonable levels, and not eliminated entirely.

Hunting and fishing have long been equal-opportunity American traditions enjoyed by anyone with a love of the outdoors. Yet Congress’s decision to eliminate the Voluntary Public Access program will effectively bar sportsmen from accessing many of our increasingly rare and precious open lands and waters. This hunting season, millions of hunters may find themselves on the wrong side of a barbed-wire fence.

In the future, Congress should restore funding to VPA-HIP and ensure the program is reauthorized as part of the next Farm Bill.

Steve Kline is the Director, Center for Agricultural Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Closing Windows. Opening Doors.

I was born on Thanksgiving morning thirty years ago. I often say that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and some assume that is because of the proximity of my birthday. But I like Thanksgiving because it is a celebration of family, of togetherness and of warm spirits. It also happens to fall during my favorite time of year, autumn, and at the confluence of a variety of hunting seasons that give me good excuse to be outside enjoying brisk weather and good company.

This year was my third year cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and I enjoy it thoroughly. After a morning goose hunting with my dad and my good friend Neal Jackson, it just felt right to be in the kitchen, with some good music and great conversation. I remember yesterday, and every other Thanksgiving with a smile.

Tomorrow I turn 30. I am not the kind of person to wax nostalgic or seek to say something especially profound. I tend not to get overly sentimental about these types of things, and that will remain the case with this blog post, or so I hope.

But Kim's grandfather, who I have come to adore as my own in the six years we've been together is not well. He puts on a brave face, smiles and laughs heartily, and in his company you do not always remember that cancer is eating him alive. But from time to time, just for a second or so, the reality sinks in that life is fleeting, for some of us -known in some cases, unknown in others- more quickly than we might like. We have so much to be thankful for, and we are not always so great about letting others know how we feel. Perhaps if we all made a better effort to carry forth the spirit of Thanksgiving throughout the year, we could improve the quality of our lives. Not end wars or solve the worlds problems mind you, but maybe find the antidote to the comparatively minor things that often stand in the way of meaningful happiness.

I am of course thankful for my wife Kim, who frankly makes life worth living, good days and bad. In a world full of people perfectly willing to let you down and disappoint, Kim is the exception that proves the rule. For her love and company, I count myself among the very luckiest of God's creation. My dad Bill and sister Jenn have long been the solid foundation on which a successful and happy life have been built, in their own separate ways they offer a unique structure of support that is light on sap but heavy on strength, my victories are as much their victories. I hope my dad retires soon, and enjoys good health as he embarks upon filling his days with the things he really likes doing. I hope that I get to spend more time with the both of them over the coming years. Over the coming year, I must also make things right with my own mother, my separation from whom has grown to proportions that I neither expected nor desired; she can expect a phone call from me one soon evening.

Over the past few years, Kim and I have made a concerted effort to reduce the materialism in our lives. We have given up gifts at Christmas and birthdays, and lead the type of life heavy on content, light on fluff. Home is the place we prefer to Black Friday shopping, and books and board games beat out television most nights of the week. We have come to discover that, for us at least, togetherness is what life is all about, not stock markets or elections. It is a simple life, really, a quiet life spent among the few people who I can count on not to let me down; we don't preach about it, we don't encourage others to live the life we live, it is simply what we have found works for us. Good luck to all similar families searching for the right recipe.

It is possible that this is a defense mechanism on my part, against a world that has gone, in my view, incredibly awry. I do not want to close my eyes to the goings on of the world, but I have increasingly found that what is most important is what happens within the four walls of my own home. I don't imagine that the state of things will much improve in my lifetime, at least not without a Renaissance of the human spirit and a collective dulling of the razor-sharp blades of partisanship, so I will seek to make a difference where I can, starting with my own friends and family.

But especially important this Thanksgiving to Bill Fales, 'Poppy' as he is affectionately called around our place, thanks for sharing some very special moments with me over the past six years. Never before have I been welcomed into a family with such open arms as yours, and I fully anticipate returning the favor in your own hours of need, whenever they arrive.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. God bless you all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Danner Boots and Iowa Pheasants

This past weekend I had the chance to hunt wild Iowa pheasants with some good friends in the conservation field, including Howard Vincent, CEO and Dave Nomsen, VP of Government Affairs, both with Pheasants Forever. Also joining us on the trip was Ron Regan, Executive Director of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Steve Williams, CEO of the Wildlife Management Institute, and a former chief of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It was a great chance to talk fish and wildlife habitat conservation with some of the leaders in conservation policy. It was also a fantastic opportunity to walk literally hundreds of acres of unbroken prairie with great dogs in search of crafty ring-necked roosters.

I got advance knowledge of the rigorous terrain from a colleague, who said the miles long walks through head-high cover was tough on gear and tough on bodies. Knowing full well that my hunting experience, which consists mostly of short walks through harvested corn fields to goose blinds or deer stands, had sorely prepared me for long dusty days in the tall grass prairie. So a few weeks before I left, I started going to the gym in the evenings; and I ordered a pair of Danner Sierra boots. I thought at least this half-hearted attempt to prepare would pay off somehow.

The boots weren't cheap. At more than $300, they were purchased from after a lot of research. The customer reviews for the Danner Sierras is almost unbelievably good. Customers boast about owning these boots for a decade or more, wearing them for every sort of outdoor activity, from hunting and fishing to farm work. The impression one gets from reading the reviews is that these boots aren't so much expensive, but are rather an investment in your feet. I figured that if the boots lasted for ten years, I would come out ahead: like just about every hunter I know, I spend way more than $300 on boots over a ten year period.

The Sierras are made in the USA, are waterproof, and are the Thinsulated cousin of the uninsulated Danner Grouse boots. Since I do most of my hunting in weather that one wouldn't call balmy, I decided to opt for the warmer shoe. Available in regular, wide, and extra wide, as well as in half sizes, it is easy to find a Danner boot that fits, and the 9.5 wides fit my feet very well.

I wore the boots as much as possible in the two weeks prior to the hunt in order to break them in a bit. The first day I wore them they were understandably stiff, and there was some slight discomfort. Day two, the boots were sufficiently broken in that any discomfort disappeared, and from there on out they were a pleasure to wear.

Fast forward to Veterans Day morning, when I laced up my Danners for their first trip into pheasant country at the Hole N The Wall Lodge in Akron, Iowa. Early morning conditions were chilly and in the 20 degree range, but the day warmed up to the high 50s by lunch. Despite this nearly forty degree variation in temperature, my feet were never cold or hot, but those temperatures probably aren't extreme enough to measure the boots' performance, a January day in the goose pit might be a better judge than a day spent walking.

The real test of these boots was walking for two full days through tall grasses and uneven terrain dotted with badger and gopher holes. They performed very well. After hunting each day, my feet weren't in any pain, I had no 'hot spots' or blisters, and there was no pinching at all. My ankles felt great despite hitting a few of those aforementioned badger holes with precision accuracy. I also inadvertendly put my right foot up to the mid-calf into a small creek while chasing some roosters, and my foot never got wet, a real victory when the boot has essentially been submersed. A wet foot with much walking left to do would be a losing proposition.

Generally speaking, when I spend a day in boots I can't wait to get out of them at the end of the day, eager to trade them in for lighter, more casual shoes (or if it has been a particularly tough day, bedroom slippers). But there was no such feeling at the end of the day with the Danners. Now to be sure, at the end of the hunting days in Iowa I was dog tired, perhaps more tired than I have been in a long time. I was dusty (it was so dry that despite 20 degree temps at night, there wasn't a lick of frost on the ground, and you couldn't even see your breath in the morning because of the lack of moisture), my legs were sore and my feet felt as heavy as lead weights, but that wasn't the fault of my Danners, it was more the result of a tough but memorable day of Pheasant hunting with great dogs, good company, and the nicest pair of boots I've ever owned.