About Me

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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of four. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A visit from the game warden

The game warden paid me a visit yesterday. Some local readers contacted him to express concern that my occasional use of baits may be contributing to their problems with local wildlife.

I apologized for using syrup recently and explained that for the past several months I have done very little camera trapping locally and other than the syrup, haven't used baits -- usually dead mice and gophers, for some time now.

We discussed my particular dilemma, California's game laws, and human behavior that contributes to local human-wildlife conflicts.

There are some curious ironies. Pet owners do not intend to attract wildlife when they feed their pets outdoors. Though ill-advised, it is NOT illegal to leave dog food on the porch or in the back yard. But it often has undesirable consequences when you live in the country.

We had a neighbor who fed the family dogs outside, and the neighborhood bear made good use of the food service. Then a bear broke into another neighbor's garage while they were on vacation. Guess what the bear found in the garage? Correct: a large bag of dry dog food.

It's not the animal's fault that it becomes a nuisance, but repeat offenders pay the ultimate price. The warden explained that killing nuisance wildlife is the most unpleasant part of his job.

It IS illegal in California to attract game animals with bait. The difference between this and feeding your dog outdoors is "intent". The pet owner doesn't intend to attract wildlife. A camera trapper does.

So from here on out the codger will be camera trapping WITHOUT the use of bait.


PBurns said...

Here in Virginia we tell the game warden who sticks his nose into this kind of stuff to go screw themselves. And I have 300 lawyers that will take my case, LOL. Talk about the nanny state!!


Anonymous said...

It isn't just in the country that you can have problems from feeding pets outside. Since I moved from rural eastern Kentucky to urban Austin, TX I have continually had problems with feral cats, attracted by my neighbors outdoor pet feeding, using my garden as their litter-box. I've also caught opposum, ostensibly attracted by the bounty of pet food next door, nosing about in my strawberries. I think your placement of a mouse or a gopher by a camera trap is a far cry from (and much less likely to "create pests" than) leaving out pet food. But, I don't write the game laws.

Beverly said...

Feral cats; don’t even get me started. Yes, I live in the country where people think it’s ‘natural’ to keep cats outdoors…consequently I have cats in my yard regularly. And yes, I resent it when they use my garden as a litter-box just because I cultivate mine and the neighbor’s is hard-pan or when I find one running off with a bird from my feeders. I try not to go on and on about it because I used to have outdoor cats too…but never again. It irritates me that I try to gently enlighten others and they look at me like The Bird Lady is off her rocker…

I agree with Jeremy regarding your placement of a mouse or a gopher, or even some of your magic musk-stuff, out in the woods, on a stump or a rock. A wild thing will find those sorts of wild things all the time, while out wandering in the woods. The creatures would not associate such a discovery in such a place with people or places people live.

But an ever-full bowl of kibble is a bountiful feast, as are bird-seed and nectar feeders…and let’s not even talk about garbage! That people feed pets outside where bears and mountain lions roam, and do not bring in bird-feeders at night or take out their trash the night before pick-up is to occur do a lot more attracting of wild game into the neighborhood than you are doing!

A couple years ago, when the drought was at a 300-year high, we had over 30 bears in town; fat and happy. That they were learning to remove siding and windows, something like opening a sardine can, didn’t make summer visitors happy. I actually had someone ask me where they might find a bear-resistant hummingbird feeder. Sheeshhhhhhhhhh, like there is one.

People are weird. They move to the country, some even try to raise small animals where lions live…and then get all bent when the critters show up. I know of one group that hired bounty-hunters, perfectly legal, to remove the big cats; about a dozen were taken that year! But, do you think we have no more lions? Naw, the big girls just had larger litters for awhile. [smile]

Like you and your red-head, I love living where I do and would love it if someone as sensible and concerned for wildlife as you are, lived in the area. You’re not drawing in critters…and I’m sorry your neighbors would sic a game warden on you without so much as a second thought.

Quite frankly, I wish people would use their heads for something besides hat racks.

Anonymous said...

So are scent lures and things like the Furfindr considered bait? I've been scolded (gently) by a biologist friend of mine, who reminded me that "a fed animal is a dead animal". So I stopped using meat, but I still push the limit with castoreum, sardine juice, etc. I figure, it may draw them in if they're passing nearby, but they don't get a food reward that would bring them back repeatedly, or make them seek out humans as a source of food. And I've been tempted to grab a roadkill squirrel here and there - as Beverly said, it's not like the animals aren't going to find it on their own - why not find it in front of my camera?? ;)

I like Wildlife said...

Feral cats are a major problem where I live. In the state parks near me, about 3/4 of the dogs are allowed to roam around leash free and harass wildlife and people at will.

I think the game warden would be more useful if he would look into the use of PAPP than to fret over some guy baiting a camera in the middle of the wood. The game warden probably passed twenty people allowing dogs and cats to roam wild on the way over.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks for the comments, y'all. Let me add that the warden said no one was after my tail or demanding that I be taken into custody; what they wanted to know was if the codger was creating their wildlife problems. I'll soon post again about bear proofing garbage cans, since this seems to be one of the wildlife problems around here.

As for Cougarmagic's question: I'm still studying the state game regulations, but baiting game animals in CA is illegal. The use of a non-food scent as lures is "iffy", and doesn't appear to be clearly defined by the law. Using recordings to attract game species is illegal, but using hand or mouth callers is not. You can download a pdf of the state game regulations from the California Fish and Game website.

BTW, this warden was quite professional. He knew he was dealing with an eccentric old zoologist and not a poacher.

Anonymous said...

Good, we can't have him interfering with the blog. There are now several of us living vicariously through it.

Buford Nature said...

Thanks for the heads-up. Now I am aware of yet another inequity perpetrated by inconsiderate pet owners and their lapdogs in the state legislature. Fortunately, we naturalists are always more clever than they, so I'll know what to say and not to say at the appropriate times.

We naturalists must look out for each other in this world overpopulated with people who don't believe in evolution.

Owlman said...

I agree with Beverly that people like to live in the country or out of the city at the very least and then as soon as wildlife appears around them, they freak out and want to kill it. I had/have a Raccoon nesting in a dead tree at the back of my 1 acre suburban property and when I told people that they freaked out. “Raccoons are dirty and carry all sorts of diseases you should try to remove them or cut down the tree”. I haven't done either and for the most part the Raccoons leave me alone and do their thing. I wonder what these people would say if they knew I had a Fox den a couple of hundred yards behind my house...

Thanks for a great post Codger. I plugged it on my blog at http://owlbox.blogspot.com/2008/06/news-flash-zick-dough-is-crack.html

I love reading your posts and I am a regular even if I seldom post comments.

Ellen in NC said...

Very interesting! So, are bird feeders illegal in California?

Camera Trap Codger said...

As I understand the law, if attracting bears is your intention (under the guise of feeding birds), its illegal. If you only want to attract birds, it's legal. I gave up feeding birds when the bear climbed the tree to knock the feeder down.

Rolandisimo said...

First, lame that you are having any trouble about the type of baiting you are doing.

However, second, I wonder if baiting camera traps is overrated. We are getting great results with purely randomized cameras. Two highlights can be found here.



Note that we are using 20 cameras at a time, and moving them every 8 days, so a bum site every now and then doesn't kill us. However, I doubt we'd get clips like these two if we were using bait or setting only along game trails.

Anonymous said...

Beverly wrote: "I actually had someone ask me where they might find a bear-resistant hummingbird feeder. Sheeshhhhhhhhhh, like there is one."

Ahhhhh... if those folks could see what those Oklahoma black bears did to our camera traps that were place inside a bear box they wouldn't ask such silly questions.