I will admit that Action Tomales Bay, an organization of people who would like to end waterfowl hunting in the Tomales Bay Ecological Reserve, has always made me feel conflicted. As a waterfowl hunter that grew up close to Tomales Bay and who knows families that have hunted the Bay for generations, I feel protective of one of the last public lands for legal waterfowl hunting available in our neck of the woods. On the other hand, I know how the sound of a shotgun travels across the water, and I know that not everyone understands or is accepting of hunting for food. If I had to listen to something that morally bothered me 100 days a year, I would not be a happy either.
It’s the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to try and understand their perspective that allows us as a society to engage in civil discourse. If someone who is anti-hunting or anti-guns is open to having a discourse with me about why I choose to hunt or own guns, I love the opportunity to not only present my perspective, but to learn about theirs. There is no harm in disagreement, and it is not necessary for a difference in opinion to breed animosity. If someone hates me because I hunt, it makes me sad for both of us.
What troubles me more than anything and has the most potential to breed animosity in highly charged debates such as hunters vs. anti-hunters are the lies and accusations that can be lobbed by both sides. I believe that both hunters and anti-hunters have plenty of valid reasons for their stances, and I personally am unwilling to declare one side absolutely right or absolutely wrong. My position on hunting is based on my opinions, not irrefutable facts. Some people go down the road of trying to justify hunting by affirming our status on the food chain, or a variety of other explanations. That’s fine, but for me, my logic and stance is a product of my upbringing, my experiences and my opinions. The only “facts” I am willing to cite revolve around the well-known and documented deplorable conditions that the majority of the factory farmed animals in our country are subjected to.
My point with this discussion of facts and opinions is that it is important to know what is fact and what is opinion, and it is important to be honest and accurate about the things we put forward as fact. While looking at the Action Tomales Bay website, I noticed a photo on the homepage with the caption: “Below is a photo taken on Tomales Bay of 18 shot birds. This is the legal daily ‘bag limit’ — 18 birds allowed per hunter per day for the 100 day ‘season’.” The photo displays a line-up of between 16 and 18 dead birds in the sand, the lower-half of what looks like a child standing by, and a dog. However, the majority of the birds in the picture are not waterfowl, nor are they legally hunted birds in the State of California.
There are a few reasons this picture is so upsetting to me. First, as a hunter, I believe the laws and guidelines that regulate hunting are valid and have a scientific basis; the “bag limit” of waterfowl is subject to change every season in response to state, national, and international biologists’ review of things like population strength, breeding habitat conditions, and other data. Second, hunters who flaunt the law not only negatively impact waterfowl and other species, but also they make all hunters look like scofflaws and make it harder for me and my hunting friends to engage in a civil discourse with people who don’t like or understand what we do.
Because of this upsetting and confusing photo, I sent an email to the address listed on the Action Tomales Bay Website:
Hello,I was looking at your website home page, and noticed that the photo you state is of Tomales Bay and claim is a bag limit actually has several birds in it that are not ducks, geese, or birds otherwise legally hunted in Tomales Bay or anywhere else in California. I can’t say that I particularly support your cause, but I thought it might be prudent to let you know that portraying that photo as a result of a legal day of hunting is not accurate in any sense.I’d be interested to know where you got this photo. If you know who it belongs to, I encourage you to report these people to the California DFG as they have violated several Fish and Game codes. If you don’t know who it belongs to and cannot verify that it is Tomales Bay, a hunter, or anything thing else you claim on your website, I would suggest it is disingenuous to claim it to be such.
Needless to say, no one responded to my inquiry.
So, I sent another email:
6/15/14Hello,I recently wrote to you regarding a photo I saw on Action Tomales Bay’s website labeled as a “bag limit” of waterfowl shot on Tomales Bay. As you did not respond to my inquiry, I would like to formally request that you remove the photo, as I believe it to be wholly disingenuous to depict this photo as representing a “bag limit” of waterfowl harvested on Tomales Bay. A “bag limit”, by definition, must contain only species that can be legally hunted under state and federal law. Most of the birds in the photo on your website are not waterfowl, and are not legal species to hunt in Tomales Bay or the state of California.As I stated in my previous email, if you know the origin of the photo and know for a fact that it was taken in Tomales Bay, in the interest of the environmental conservation and preservation you claim to support, it is your duty to report these blatant offenders to California Fish and Wildlife. I can provide you with the CAL-Tip number to make such a report if you do not have it. If you do not know the origin of the photo, making a claim that it was taken in Tomales Bay by hunters is disingenuous and undermines the spirit of honest dialogue that we as members of this beautiful community must strive to embrace.If you do not reply and engage in discussion with me on this topic, and/or you do not remove the photo in the interest of honesty, I am inclined to write a letter to the editor of both of our local papers about my efforts to discuss this important topic with you. It is not my objective to slander your efforts, as I firmly believe everyone has a right to their opinion and should engage in a spirited effort to educate people about the basis of that opinion.However, education should be based on fact, and in some cases educated opinions or the results of scientific inquiry. However, there should be no room in education or informed debate for willful lies, omissions and mischaracterizations. In the spirit of honesty and transparency I hope you respond or remove this photo from your website.
Alas, still no reply. I suppose by now you get the point of me taking the time to write this post. I don’t want to embarrass anyone, call anyone out, or try and assert the moral high-ground for the sake gloating about it. What I do want is for Action Tomales Bay to be responsible and be honest. They have plenty of valid underlying claims to support their cause. Based on the birds displayed in the picture, my personal judgement is that this photo was not even taken in the United States, and I am nearly positive it was not taken on Tomales Bay.
It is my personal opinion that the West Marin community has faced enough divisive rhetoric and strife about contentious environmental issues in the last few years. That being said, these issues are important, worth our time, and deserve honest, transparent debate. I don’t think that is too much to ask for, and I hope that Action Tomales Bay either removes the picture and admits that it does not know the origin and that it is not Tomales Bay, or that it does the right thing and reports the poacher that took the picture to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.