Recent weather patterns have been largely conducive for big-game hunters, with a little snow, a bit of rain, some cooler nights and a string of several nice days.
I was contemplating the weather while walking into camp last Friday evening in anticipation of the regular season opener. The surrounding landscape was illuminated by a brilliant full moon, and the air was crisp.
It was a hunter's moon, which many believe signals the beginning of the whitetail rutting period. Encompassing the moon was a rainbow halo, and as weather observers know, a halo around the moon is typically a sign of rain. It arrived the following day.
In last week's column, I had joked about a camp regular missing a shot at a deer while he was walking into camp on the opening day of muzzleloader season. Despite the missed shot, he survived the experience with both his shirttails and his pride intact.
Many camps still abide by the long held hunting tradition of cutting off the shirttails of an errant shooter. The clipped shirttails are then used to adorn a camp's doorframe as a reminder to all to take careful aim.
Fortunately, the camp I belong to abides by tenets of the Hackett Handicap, which requires the removal of a shirttail only if a shooter misses a deer which is standing broadside in open cover with its head down and its eyes closed. Without enforcement of this provisional exemption, I'd be known as Shirtless Joe rather than Fishless Joe.
Regardless of such technicalities, the misser in question promptly restored his heralded hunting reputation while walking out of camp on Sunday afternoon. With an impressive off-hand shot of more than 100 yards, he dropped a buck with a bullet through the heart.
Fortunately for the camp chowhounds, his most recent harvest will keep the venison frying on the stove. It was an especially convenient harvest since we had almost finished all of the venison from the deer he took during archery season.
We joked that he will no longer be required to hunt to the top of the mountains or through the thick swamps. Rather, it was determined that if he would just continue coming and going into camp in his normal manner, we would all remain well fed.
Shakeup at DEC
Over the past few weeks, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has been embroiled in major turmoil. Last week, the situation finally came to a head.
Initially, trouble began with the department's effort to shed staff in an effort to meet a host of budgetary constraints requested by Gov. David Paterson and the Division of Budget.
In the span of about a month, more than 260 DEC staffers departed the agency under early retirement program incentives. Eventually, DEC Commissioner Grannis balked at additional requests that requested cutting an additional 209 jobs.
Grannis recognized that the department was losing staff members who possessed vast institutional knowledge. Most departing staffers averaged decades of service, and nearly a quarter of the retirees were experienced fish and wildlife biologists from the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources.
The group included such notables as Peter Nye, who headed up the state's highly successful peregrine falcon and bald eagle restoration programs; Al Hicks, an expert on moose restoration and bat decline; and Dr. Ward Stone, a wildlife pathologist of wide acclaim. How will the department replace their accumulated knowledge? How can it recover their years of experience?
Locally, the impacts will be felt with the retirement of Edward Grant from the Lake Clear Fish Hatchery. Fisheries personnel have already expressed concerns about staff shortages at both the Lake Clear and Chateaugay state hatcheries and the disruption of state stocking efforts.
The impact may not be readily apparent since anglers are currently harvesting fish that were stocked several years ago. However, a lapse in stocking or a failure to raise a year-class of fingerlings to maturity could have serious ramifications on the quality of angling opportunities on area lakes and streams.
In turn, such impacts would also have a negative effect on the local economy as word spreads of the diminishing quality of local fisheries among the angling community.
The situation at DEC has created a top-down spiral of diminishing skills and knowledge as experienced staffers depart and their replacements struggle to maintain the current levels of quality.
I expect Commissioner Grannis recognized the dire implications of the situation as he attempted to meet the budgetary constraints requested by the governor.
Although a lifelong politician, Grannis was an avowed environmentalist, which at times put him at odds with the sporting community. Like many, I was critical of his initial appointment. However, I came to recognize the importance of having a politician as the agency's chief administrator, especially in these tough times.
Apparently, a memo detailing how the agency was being gutted by budgetary concerns was leaked to the press last week. The governor's staff immediately excoriated Commissioner Grannis, and he was instructed to submit his resignation. He refused and was subsequently fired.
Was it wrong for Grannis to tell the truth about the dire circumstances facing the agency in light of staff shortages and the request for additional budgetary constraints?
According to reports, DEC's staff has been reduced by nearly 16 percent, or about 595 jobs, since 2008. That doesn't count the 209 they are asked to cut by the end of the year.
In the same time frame, the department has been confronted with issues ranging from invasive species to air quality to a litany of sportsmen's concerns, all while operating under the continuing challenge of climate change.
They were asked to accomplish more with fewer resources, even though it was a struggle to simply maintain services at current levels.
While staff shortages at the department will certainly have an effect over much of the state, the Adirondack region, with nearly a 50-percent ratio of public and private land, will feel a major impact from the department's upheaval.
Fortunately, the concept of forming partnerships between the department and local communities has already reaped rewards, as evidenced with the announcement that the DEC reopened four roads previously closed due to budget cutbacks in time for the opening of the Northern Zone's big-game season.
In our region, environmental quality is intrinsically linked to economic quality. The woods and waters are key to our economy. In this regard, the DEC's role is equivalent to the role played by the Port Authority or the Thruway Authority in other parts of the state.
Unfortunately, for residents of our region, it has become increasingly difficult to get state legislators to focus on the environs located north of Albany. The governor's recent move amplifies Albany's apparent lack of legislative vision and confirms his obvious disregard for all points north of Yonkers.