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Tough trout and even tougher weather

May 16, 2009
Joe Hackett

I've recently returned from an extended weekend in the woods which offered every conceivable type of weather available in the park. Spring weather certainly offers variety.

On Thursday, I set up camp on a remote pond under a brilliant sun and blue skies, as temperatures hovered in the low 70's. It was a typical, beautiful spring day in the Adirondacks.

Fortunately, the black flies were swarming but not yet biting and all the usual signs pointed to a fine weekend of trout fishing. Trout lilies were blooming, the ferns had unfurled and pods of white flowers again decorated patches of witchhobble on the hillsides.

Friday morning dawned cool and overcast. Although the trout were not overly cooperative, we managed to make it through the day unscathed by bad weather.

By noon on Saturday, skies appeared threatening and we were fortunate to escape rain until midday. Winds soon picked up and temperatures plummeted - forcing an early return to camp by mid-afternoon.

The arrival of more severe weather soon canceled an attempted return to the water, as fierce winds turned the small pond into a sea of whitecapped waves. Huddled in the back of a leanto, we watched the storm descend over the landscape and obscure the nearby mountaintops.

The skies darkened as thunder rumbled in the distance and a wall of rain marched across the pond. As lightning flashed, hail stones began striking the leanto roof with the staccato beat of a machine gun.

Soon, golf ball and marble sized hail bounced off the ground and peppered the interior of the shelter, as surrounding pines swayed and lost limbs to the breeze. The air turned much colder and a slight fog appeared with each breath, as we rummaged through our packs for long johns and down jackets. Warm gloves and fleece hats completed the spring fashions.

Temperatures continued to fall through the night and in the early morning, ice was evident in the bottom of our pots and pans. Snow showers and a stiff breeze soon put an end to our early morning attempts at trolling for brook trout By noon, we decided to cut our loses.

The first fish landed was taken immediately upon our arrival on the first day, soon after camp was set. A second fell to a trolled fly as we made our way out, during an abbreviated pass across the pond. They were the only piscatorial delights of the entire adventure.

However, we all learned a valuable lesson about spring trout fishing in the Adirondacks. Despite dreams of summer, always be prepared for winter; because you never know what weather's going to blow your way.

Turtles, salamanders

and bear paws, Oh my!

"It's a dirty business! It's a nasty trade, but it is a huge, huge business", explained Captain Larry Di Donato, commander of DEC's, Region 5 Environmental Conservation Police in the small Ray Brook.

Capt. DiDonato ought to know. Before coming to the Adirondacks, he served with DEC's Region 2 which covers the boroughs of Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island.

Region 2 encompasses major ports of entry, serviced via land, air and sea. It includes the Chinatowns of Brooklyn, Flushing and Manhattan, and is home to a diverse Asian population.

There is a large and active black market in the trade for exotics, which has conservatively been estimated to be part of the $15 billion annually spent in the United States.

The trade in exotics species and their parts has often been described as the third greatest moneymaker on the black market, ranked behind drugs and weapons.

The industry trades in all types of exotic creatures, including rare and protected snakes, turtles, birds, butterflies and every conceivable animal part.

Collectors even seek such insects as giant cockroaches, which would not really be my idea of a family pet.

Yet the public hears news on the subject only when tragedy occurs, as was the case when a pet tiger nearly ended the partnership of Siegfried and Roy or the recent chimpanzee attack which disfigured a lady in Connecticut.

Just a few evenings ago, David Letterman joked about a smuggler recently apprehended at LA Airport, found with 14 Asian song birds birds taped inside his clothing.

Letterman claimed that "Homeland Security inspectors were alerted when they heard a gentle cooing and feathers peeking out from under a pant leg."

Throughout the 1950's and '60's, there were a number of exotic animal attractions along the roadsides of the Adirondacks, ranging from the Animal Kingdom in Lake George to the Serpentarium in North Hudson and to the Land of 1000 Animals in Lake Placid.

I remember driving by these places, watching to see if the black bears had climbed to their posts in the towers. When our family was camped at Sharp Bridge Campsite, I recall the fear accompanying a radio announcement that warned of poisonous snakes which had escaped from the nearby Serpentarium.

Today, exotic snakes, reptiles and animals are becoming more visible and available in both the marketplace and in the media. Whether it is a leopards on the Discovery Channel, a gecko in a Geico commercial, pythons on a music video or a wolf-hybrid captured on the Akwasasne Reservation. Such pets are becoming less exotic and more commonplace in today's society.

A thriving black market exists due to a wider acceptance and little public awareness of the dangers posed by the industry. Exotics are readily available and are a far less regulated commodity than either drugs or weapons.

Yet a segment of the public believes that such pets can't be bad because they are the choice of Hollywood stars, professional athletes and television personalities. However, exotic species care dangerous! Examples of some of the current threats posed by exotic pets and the game farms that breed them include giant anacondas released in the Everglades invading nearby suburban neighborhoods, outbreaks of monkey pox that threaten to infect native prairie dogs, snake fish infesting New York ponds and the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk herds across the country. In just the last five years, there have been over nine people killed by tigers.

The industry has benefited greatly from the electronic age with access provided by the internet and the huge audience it can reach. The anonymity provided by the internet shields the criminals.

Earlier this year, the NYSDEC in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Pennsylvania Fish and Game officials conducted a highly successful undercover operation that lead to the arrest of 25 alleged poachers in New York, Pennsylvania and Canada. The investigation included information gleaned from internet chat rooms and website sales.

Dubbed "Operation Shellshock", the investigation included charges for illegally trapped New York snapping turtles shipped to Louisiana and the sale of dozens of endangered Masasauga rattlesnakes and wood turtles, among many other violations.

In addition, investigators confiscated copperheads and eastern hognose snakes, Blanding, spotted and box turtles as well as spotted salamanders.

When asked about the extent of the trade conducted in the Adirondacks, Captain DiDonato explained, "We don't know what we don't know, about how much of this is going on."

It is difficult for the department to estimate, but it may be considerable. Black bear gall bladders from New York firms are sold to Korea and China for use in traditional medicines and are sought as prized aphrodisiacs. Bear paw soup is a considered a delicacy in China and the consumption of meat from long lived turtles is thought to bring strength and wisdom.

Local taxidermists purchasing black bear gall bladders or claws from hunters have to accept only a handwritten tag. This constitutes a major loophoe in the law according to Capt. DiDonato.

Though it is illegal to sell bear meat, it is permissible to sell other parts of bear other than flesh.

According to the law, the only requirement is that "each part must be tagged with a tag provided by the taker or buyer. The tag must contain the big game license number, name, address, date of birth and signature of the taker and the town and county where the bear was taken."

The extent of poaching of other local species such as snapping, box and wood turtles, snakes and even spotted salamanders is impossible to know - which is why the DEC welcomes the cooperation of the public.

"We need the support of hunters, trappers and other sportsmen", the Captain emphasized, "Suspected violations can be reported at 1-800-TIPP DEC."



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