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    Tailfeathers

    In Detritus Est Fabulum

    One of my favorite lines from the movie Tombstone comes early when Doc Holliday who, upon meeting Johnny Ringo, immediately wise-mouths him. Ringo bristles.

    TOM CARNEY is an award-winning writer/photographer based in Michigan. You can find him at www.tomcarneywriter.com and on Facebook at Tom Carney-Writer.
    TOM CARNEY is an award-winning writer/photographer based in Michigan. You can find him at www.tomcarneywriter.com and on Facebook at Tom Carney-Writer.

    Wyatt Earp tries to cool things down: “He’s drunk.”

    Doc replies, “In vino veritas,” or “In wine there is truth.”

    That phraseology popped into my head as I cleaned out my Suburban after an autumn’s worth of hunting trips.

    An aspen leaf nestling halfway down the open-topped bag of dog gear: northern Michigan grouse.

    Six or eight sorghum seeds rolling around with spent 12-gauge shells in my hunting vest: South Dakota pheasants.

    A clod of muck hardened around a few strands of swamp grass resting out of the way on the driver’s side floor mat: Ohio waterfowl.

    Some detestable briars and a section of multiflora rose cane tugged from her coat by one of the dogs and remaining in her kennel: northwest Appalachian woodcock.

    After nearly 50 years of hunting, I was finally hammered with the lesson I think all sportspersons eventually need to understand if there is to be any hope for the future of our pursuits: In detritus is the story.

    Those leftovers remind me of each specific habitat I hunted. And each habitat tells the story of the game birds we sought there, or to be more precise, each tells the story of why we hunted there.

    For so many years, at conservation group fundraising dinners I would go all blank when people would get up and start talking about all the habitat projects in which the groups were engaged. Boring stuff, I thought.

    Likewise, when reading about game animals. I’ve tended to let my eyes glaze over as I somehow make it through the parts about habitat protection and creation. But no more of that. As with St. Paul, the scales have fallen from my eyes, and now I realize we mustn’t gloss over the importance of habitat and the need to conserve it. Not if we are going to conserve the animals on this good earth, both game and nongame species.

    A few things happened last year that led to this change.

    First, last summer, at an invitation-only, small group reception for Chris Wood, president of Trout Unlimited, etiquette demanded I pay attention and not offer the appearance of one who has gone blank when talk turned to habitat. But the more Wood elaborated on TU’s state-wide projects and the more people he introduced who were working on projects beneficial to local waters and, thus, the fish, the more it became clear: Habitat is the name of the game.

    Then at last summer’s local banquet for the Ruffed Grouse and American Woodcock societies, I found myself donating more cash than usual — not because I needed another cooler, orange hat or shotgun — but because the thought finally dawned on me that the group needs the money to do its good work.

    And so it is with Pheasant’s Forever and Quail Forever whose slogan is “The Habitat Organizations.”

    Next, in the Autumn 2019 issue of this magazine, Jodi Stemler’s article showed that the population of South Dakota’s pheasants rises and falls in direct correlation to the number and intensity of habitat conservation programs in the state.

    In September, The New York Times reported, “The number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by 29 percent since 1970. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds taking wing now than there were 50 years ago.

    “Kenneth V. Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University and the American Bird Conservancy, and the lead author of the new study said, ‘Grassland species have suffered the biggest declines by far, having lost 717 million birds. These birds have probably been decimated by modern agriculture and development.

    “‘Every field that’s plowed under, and every wetland area that’s drained, you lose the birds in that area.’”

    As a prime example of this, consider the Lake Erie Marsh area of northern Ohio. This area was once covered by the “Great Black Swamp,” a 140-mile long and 40-mile wide swath of impenetrable nature that ran in a southwest line roughly from Sandusky Bay, Ohio, to Fort Wayne, Indiana; and to the south from Toledo to Findlay, Ohio. Then humans drained, cultivated and developed the region.

    Now Ducks Unlimited works diligently with both public and private concerns to re-establish some of the wetlands that originally existed. Since the mid-1980s, DU has restored about 93,000 acres in Ohio at a cost of $36 million. Habitat preservation is not inexpensive.

    In an ideal world, Mother Nature would be free to keep both the landscapes and the animals in healthy balance and harmony. In the real world, though, man has handcuffed and harassed her in her efforts. If we seek the results she can produce, we need to help her with her job.

    Wolfe Publishing Group