Eagle Poachers and Dolphin Shooters: TX Must Address Youth Poaching Problem

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A 17-year-old Harris County teen last year was charged in connection with a shooting of a bald eagle near White Oak Bayou. It was one of a pair that actively nested in the area for several years.

Last fall a bald eagle was euthanized after being shot and wounded to an extent beyond recovery in an incident near Beaumont.

A bald eagle.

The symbol of the United States of America.

Yes, a bald eagle.

Last year, someone shot two whooping cranes that had taken up residence on a rice farm in the Nome area.

Yes, someone shot not one but two whooping cranes that everyone knows is an endangered species.

But it doesn’t end there.

How about the dolphin shot with a fishing arrow here in Texas in 2015?

A dolphin.

Someone actually shot a dolphin, one that was disillusioned after wandering into freshwater nonetheless. This is a very ugly picture of the problem of poaching that has always plagued Texas  and is worse in certain regions but in recent years has reared its ugly head in a very public way.

At the time of this writing the identification of the eagle shooter had not been ascertained but both the whooping crane and dolphin killers were teenagers. They were not hardened criminals but teens who probably spend a lot of their time fishing and hunting in our area.

At the end of the day those who kill protected animals do so because they want to. They choose to do so. But I wonder what contributing factors are at play. Is it the hardened stance against anything labeled “green” or “environmental” or “endangered” that is pervasive in sectors of the hunting community?

I can’t tell you how many people have told me jokes about spotted owl and whooping crane gumbo I have been told over the years. In fact, someone cracked just such a joke just before I wrote this column.

Is it a rural version of the mall fights and other random violence we have seen in larger cities or some kind of other pent up anger? There is probably no way to tell but it needs to stop and a true respect for all wildlife needs to be front and center here in Texas.

Unfortunately the vast majority of hunters who would never do the heinous acts described above get lumped in with the poachers and it has always been this way. See any national news headlines on any illegal game killed and it is never “poachers”. It is always “hunters”.

There is a big difference.

A prime case of the difference between “poachers” and “hunters” is one I came across early in my career. A man broke into a new defunct wildlife drive-thru park, shot a huge American bison, cut its head off and took it. It was found in his garage where he planned to try and sell it.

Hunters have a history of actually caring for the resource.

The waterfowl hunting community in particular are extremely conservation conscious raising hundreds of thousand of dollars for wetlands conservation and restoration. Poachers just take for their own pleasure. And although cases like dolphin shooting are thankfully rare I would say there are deer shot every night of the year somewhere here in Texas. If you don’t know that is very illegal. There are also wood ducks shot on the roosts at night. That is also illegal.

We need as a community of outdoors lovers rebuild the platform by which we teach conservation to the young and instill pride in the fact that we have incredible wildlife resources here and that taking beyond what the law offers depletes them.

We need to use these shameful moments as teachable ones and talk about consequence.

And maybe the perpetrators of poaching who have changed their ways could speak up and lead the charge to talk about the impact it has had on their lives. Besides getting a stiff fine, anyone with a conscience knows these acts are wrong. I welcome those who have lived a poaching lifestyle to speak up and talk about conservation.

I have in my entire career as a wildlife journalist never seen that kind of testimony but it would certainly be powerful.  Honesty has an impact.

And to be perfectly honest right now, the Texas outdoors community needs to take a hard look at the poaching issue and stop tolerating it at any level. And maybe its time to start teaching our young hunters and anglers that you don’t have to be one of the climate change advocates that marches on Washington in a polar bear suit to support clean water and healthy wildlife populations.

A clean environment and abundant wildlife benefits everyone.

That’s a simple message but it is one that has been lost to some along the way. It is time we get to fixing that and the good news is it is as simple as being intentional and changing dialogue.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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