T HE SHELL OF an alligator snapping turtle is unmistakable.
Giant ridges rise up giving the species an ancient look. In reality, these creatures are not much different from dinosaurs of the past.
Seeing pieces of shell and remnants of the skull of a large alligator snapper in a hoop net was an early lesson in conservation.
My cousin Frank Moore and I found it in a slough on Adams Bayou on a low tide back in 1996. It was sticking out of the water in a place we used to go bank fishing.
Hoop nets are large, round nets that are designed to catch catfish by allowing them to swim in, but offer no way to get out. The problem is nothing else can get out either.
As we saw the remnants of the shattered giant in the net, I realized just how harmful these nets are. This was one we found and pulled out of the water because they are illegal in Texas. We called and reported it to a game warden when we got home, and he said he has pulled numerous nets out of that bayou and others in the area.
They are legal for use just across the border in Louisiana and in other states.
They kill untold numbers of turtles and nontarget fish, and they are extremely wasteful. I have no doubt that a large part of the alligator snapping turtles demise in many areas is because of the presence of hoop nets that add to the problem of illegal harvest and dams blocking migration routes.
This is not unlike the problem of “ghost” crab traps along the bay systems of the United States. Commercial crabbers sometimes lose their traps to storms and other factors and they lie on the bottom continually killing crabs, various fish and the rare diamondback terrapin, a small turtle that sometimes finds its way into these ghost traps.
Problems like these are big for wildlife. They are a constant enforcement stress point for the hard-working Texas game wardens who put their lives on the line to protect our resources.
Some poaching problems involve illegal methods to collect legal fish. Others are illegal, unethical and just plain wrong in every way.
We addressed youth poaching in the March edition, but there is much more. Take for example, a 17-year-old Harris County boy who 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.
A BALD EAGLE! —the symbol of the United States of America. Yes, a bald eagle.
This was close to home, so I started investigating eagle poaching and found numerous instances of teens killing eagles. The most heinous instance came from the Pacific Northwest.
Washington Fish and Wildlife police said a sheriff’s department officer found evidence of teens purposely hunting for and poaching eagles.
“Officer Bolton and the deputy searched the area for downed wildlife and soon discovered a relatively fresh doe deer on the hillside near where the suspects had parked. Four older deer carcasses in various stages of decomposition were found in the same location.
The officers learned that one of the young men shot the doe the night before by using a high-powered spotlight,” police wrote in a Facebook post. “The animal was then placed near the other carcasses in an effort to bait in and shoot eagles.”
Multiple eagles killed across the country have been killed by teens including the Washington case where they actually baited up the eagles and illegally shot deer to do it.
Poaching is vile.
And when our young people are involved in so much of it everyone the hunting industry should be asking why.
This has to change and we must take off our blinders for not only the sake of wildlife but the teens themselves.
Poaching is not hunting. It is the antithesis of legal, regulated hunting, and it damages wildlife populations in terrible ways.
We need to confront it here in America before it becomes an epidemic. We have already covered how teen poaching of endangered and protected species is on the rise—it is nothing but contempt for wildlife.
Unfortunately this kind of contempt can be contagious.
I cannot help but think back to the shattered snapping turtle that died a terrible death in a hoop net less than a mile from my home.
If humans had used the many legal and effective methods for catching catfish that turtle would not have died. It is important that we find ways to balance human activity and wildlife needs.
Hoop nets kill snapping turtles and something is inspiring teens to kill eagles-in Texas and beyond. We might not want to admit that, but both of the statements are true.
We must come to a place of honest discussion where we can find real ways to conserve wildlife in the face of gigantic obstacles. We must hit on issues that no one seems to want to address.
Email Chester Moore at [email protected]