- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

If the new director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service keeps his promise, there'll be rejoicing among millions of American anglers. Steve Williams, speaking to more than 100 state fisheries officials and angler activists during festivities last week that accompanied the annual BASS Masters Classic fishing championship in Birmingham, Ala., vowed to "restore balance" to his agency's fisheries program.
Before Williams took office earlier this year, the F&WS; had been the recipient of much criticism by outdoorsmen for its neglect of recreational fishing (as well as hunting).
Many Americans feared that the F&WS; was increasingly being run by and staffed with people who were too chummy with animal-rights activists, or who cared more for a snail darter than the mental well-being of thousands of humans who longed for soothing recreational opportunities. It seemed the primary focus of the Service was any potentially endangered species, while programs that benefited the people who paid their salaries, the American taxpayers, were ignored.
Mind you, we are not making light of those who worry about endangered species, but the perception was that the F&WS; cared a little too much for, say, a burrowing desert rat and not enough about things that appeared to be a good thing for humans.
Federal fish hatcheries were crumbling and closing. Hindered by staff and budget shortfalls, wildlife refuges could do little to promote fishing on the system's 90million acres.
Along came Williams, who told the BASS Classic crowd, "Fishermen and hunters are the first line of conservation defense."
How refreshing after having appointees of former President Bill Clinton do quite a lot to make anglers and hunters feel unwelcome on the very lands and waters they paid for.
"You all are in a position to lead the direction of conservation of aquatic resources in America," Williams said. "We need your help. Help guide us in the development of this document."
The "document" is the draft of a fisheries program strategic plan developed with the cooperation of the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council, which includes the sanctioning body of the annual BASS Classic, the international Bass Anglers Sportsman Society.
The fisheries plan's success depends a great deal on a commitment from the F&WS; boss. The fact that Williams is a fisherman and hunter, unlike previous F&WS; directors, brings hope to Americans who share his recreational passions. He also is a wildlife biologist and has served in the state ranks of resource management, most recently as secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
The plan says, "The vision of the Service and its Fisheries Program is a future of healthy aquatic systems that are populated with an abundance of fish and other aquatic organisms. To achieve this vision, the Fisheries Program will work with its partners to 1) Protect the health of aquatic habitats. 2) Restore fish and other aquatic resources. 3) Provide opportunities to enjoy the benefits of healthy aquatic resources."
The plan also emphasizes partnerships with states, tribes and anglers as the main means to achieve its objectives of conserving fish and other aquatic resources and enhancing opportunities for fishing on F&WS; lands.
Now if Williams can convince his underlings to stop acting as if they are the owners of federal lands and waters, he'll have my vote. In the past, the most memorable behavior by a goodly number of F&WS; officials regarding properties owned by the American taxpayers has been their high-handed arrogance, certainly not their devotion to public service.
Animal rights gone haywire It could have come straight from the diaries of the American animal-rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) which rates the life of a sewer rat as being equal to that of a human child but this time it was a British animal-rights group that opposes fox hunting. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) recently showed more compassion for a fox that attacked a baby than it did for the recovering child and his parents.
In Kent, England, a fox entered a home and attacked 14-week-old Louis Day as he slept. Louis' father tried to chase the animal away no doubt fearful that a wild fox brazen enough to enter a house probably suffered from rabies and was later told by the RSPCA that he could have been prosecuted if he had harmed the fox.
After the attack, RSPCA spokeswoman Klare Kennett said, "Foxes do not pose a safety risk."
Oh? They don't? Try telling that to anyone who's been bitten by a rabid fox, which has happened, the RSPCA's statement notwithstanding.
Neighbors of the Days had asked the RSPCA and local authorities to help solve the problem of nuisance foxes, but as Louis' mother later said, "They seem more interested in the foxes and tell us we can't hurt them."

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