Friday, June 28, 2013

Spending Time in Iowa

“Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it...."  Terrance Mann as played by James Earl Jones in the movie “Field of Dreams.”

Much to the probable chagrin of the Iowa Tourism programs, the Hawkeye State doesn’t really rank highly on most people’s list of places to spend a vacation.  When most travelers think of Iowa typically three things come to mind.  First and foremost are endless corn fields growing on top of other endless corn fields that seem to stretch endlessly from one horizon to another.  The only thing more endless than Iowa’s endless corn fields are the endless corn fields of Illinois and Nebraska.  Second, with few exceptions, people think of the word “flat.”  The third thing most people think about when traveling in Iowa is getting across it to their final destination as quickly as possible. Despite Iowa’s less-than-glamorous image those who think there is nothing that Iowa can offer them are wrong. In fact they are dead wrong.

Airfare to Minneapolis to attend my daughter’s recent wedding was $460 roundtrip from Tampa and even more ridiculous from Sarasota.  However Allegiant Airlines flew from St. Petersburg airport to Des Moines Iowa and returned me to Orlando Sanford airport for $126 roundtrip.  Rental cars in Minneapolis were about $100 more expensive a week than those in Des Moines for the same period.  Considering options I quickly chose to fly on Allegiant to and from Des Moines and to spend time before and after the wedding exploring the Hawkeye State.

I had spent time in northwestern Iowa in the mid-1970s when visiting my former wife’s extended family in that area.  My second trip as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee was to Clear Lake Iowa in September 1977 when my supervisor and I established the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Waterfowl Production Area Acquisition Program using Duck Stamp dollars to protect a bit of what was left of Iowa wetlands.  Later when I was a resident of Nebraska I spent a great deal of time in southern and southwestern Iowa exploring and eventually with the passage of time I had visited each of Iowa’s 99 counties.  Based on past experience I didn’t think there was much to see in contemporary Iowa until I pulled back the sheets and looked more closely at what the state has to offer.

My arrival in Des Moines was early which seems to be a pleasant trait of Allegiant Airlines.  I have now flown them on nine different trips and have arrived before the scheduled arrival time on each trip.  United Airlines or Delta – eat your collective hearts out.  My rental car was from Alamo and I chuckled as I told the Alamo agent that this was the first time since January 1978 that I had landed in the Des Moines airport and then it was on a brightly colored Braniff Airlines jet.  The Alamo agent snickered as she said “Sir, I wasn’t even born until January 1988.” 

Departing the airport and finding my way to I-35 and then I-80 I was immediately struck by the actual kindness and courtesy Iowans demonstrated to others on the freeway.  Iowa drivers slow down to allow cars to enter the freeway!  Iowa drivers (and those from Nebraska also) actually turn on their turn signal lights and move over one lane so they don’t impede other drivers.  Iowa drivers actually wave at you like you’re a long lost friend as you zip past them on the freeway going 75 mph.  During my entire 2,212 mile journey in a rental car not once did I see an incident of road rage.  When you approach a stop light in Iowa and the light turns yellow everyone comes to an immediate stop.  In Florida a yellow traffic light means “Speed up and get through the light and too bad for the other drivers if it turns red while I’m in the intersection.”   In Iowa a yellow traffic light means “slow down and stop so my neighbor can get to the grocery store before I do.”  In Florida where most people seem to be carrying a firearm you need to be careful not to instigate a case of road rage and become a death statistic.  In Iowa everyone treats you like you just walked into Floyd's barber shop on the old Andy Griffith Show.  There is actually a place left in America where everyone seems to like each other and get along.  It’s called Iowa.

Iowa has an extremely rich baseball history having supported professional baseball teams since the 1870s.  When you are not exploring the State Historical Museum in downtown Des Moines and learning about the glacial history of the state, or spending an afternoon at the Living History Farms in Urbandale, be sure to show up at Principal Park for an Iowa Cubs AAA level baseball game.  The night I was there I watched a double header between the Cubs and the Nashville Sounds.  The Iowa Cubs swept the doubleheader which makes me wonder why they’re not all in Chicago.  Dave Sappelt, a 2009 Sarasota Reds outfielder is now the starting left fielder for the Iowa Cubs.  Earlier this year Dave made it to the Show and made his major league debut in Wrigley Field.  It was awesome seeing another of “our kids” make it to the Bigs.

Principal Park - Home of the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines

Most appropriately the Iowa Cubs game was preceeded by this clip from "Field of Dreams" shown on their Jumbotron

Follow Interstate 35 north from Des Moines through those endless corn fields and notice all of the wind farms that have been constructed to harness nature’s power.  Stop at the Fossil and Prairie Park in Floyd County to see a small patch of what Iowa once looked like and collect some brachiopod fossils while you’re there.  
A microscopic reminder of how Iowa looked before the corn fields and soybean fields and before the tile drains destroyed the natural basin wetlands - at the Fossil and Prairie Park in Floyd County

In 1880 there were an estimate 4 million acres of wetlands in Iowa.   In 1977 when my supervisor and I began the wetland acquisition program there were 27,000 acres left.  That’s right.  99.3 percent of the natural basin wetlands in Iowa had been destroyed.  Most wetlands in Floyd County have been destroyed and the interpretive center at the Fossil and Prairie Park tells visitors the story.

The Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  Take I-80 south at exit 1B to the Center

At the west end of the state before crossing over the Missouri into football-crazed Nebraska, history buffs will want to make sure they stop off at the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs where you can learn about the western expansion of settlement of the country as pioneers moved west along the Mormon, California, and Oregon Trails.  Dash north from Council Bluffs 100 miles to Sioux City and visit the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and learn about the epic journey of those two explorers who set out to find the western edge of America.

Further east in Waterloo you can visit the Iowa Veterans Museum where you can learn about the contribution of Iowan’s to the nation’s defense.  Probably most moving to me was the story of the “Fighting Sullivan” brothers – five Waterloo Iowa brothers who joined the Navy in January 1942 with the stipulation that they had to serve together.  It was for these brothers that the museum was built.  All five brothers were aboard the USS Juneau on November 13, 1942, during the Battle of Guadalcanal when the Japanese sunk the Juneau and the five brothers perished together.  Their tragic story was immortalized in a 1944 movie titled “The Fighting  Sullivan’s” that I watched many times as a child.  Now that story comes to life along with the stories of hundreds of other veterans at this wonderful museum in downtown Waterloo.

The National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque interprets the importance of the Mississippi River to the culture and well-being of the nation.  Nearby the Mines of Spain Recreation Area at the edge of town tells you about the early mining industry (lead and zinc).  Further south the Putnam Museum in Davenport interprets the natural world and how humans interact (and interfere) with that world.  Traveling southeast from Muscatine you'll see signs directing you to Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge, a patch of public land along the Mississippi River that welcomes visitors with open arms.  It used to be that the refuges were described as "the best kept secret in conservation" and it was intended that way.  Port Louisa seems to have broken that mold and invites visitors as they drive south along the river.  At the southeastern most point in the state is Keokuk a classic Mississippi River city and home to a massive Lock and Dam that supports the shipping industry on the river.

The University of Iowa in Iowa City has been a wrestling powerhouse (this is real wrestling not the fake WWE drivel on television) for as long as there has been wrestling.  The University of Iowa produced one of my college biology professors, Robert Calentine, who was the best all-around field biologist I have ever known.  Just east of Iowa City in West Branch is the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and Presidential Library.  The three most recent and debilitating economic depressions in America were each caused by Republicans and Republican economic policies (Hoover, Bush I, Bush II).  Here at the Hoover National Historic Site you can get a glossed over interpretation of just how badly old Herb screwed up.  

The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and Presidential Library is located just off Interstate 80 in West Branch

Cedar Rapids is home to the National Czech and Slovak Museum which does a fantastic job of interpreting the contribution of Czech and Slovak immigrants in the development and settlement of the central United States. 
The best kolaches I've had in 30 years were at the Sykora Bakery in the Czech Village

A block from the Museum is the Sykora Bakery that had kolaches – a traditional Czech pastry – as its main menu item.  I had not had a kolache since the last one my maternal grandmother made for me in 1980 so I had one for each decade I had been kolache-deficient.  Those at the Sykora Bakery were almost as good as the one’s my grandmother used to make.  In fact they were so close to grandma’s that I went back a second day for more.

Not my Grandma Beranek's kolaches but close.

Across town from the Czech Museum is the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art that contains a very good collection of Middle American art.  It is certainly not the Musee d’Orsay in Paris or the Metropolitan in New York City (and you should not expect it to be) but you will find yourself mesmerized by the beauty and complexity of the art that is available here to enjoy.  Not far from the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is the Grant Wood Studio where the iconic painting “American Gothic” was painted in the 1920s.  Southeast of Cedar Rapids are the Amana Colonies, a National Historic Landmark and a well-preserved community of communal living German immigrants.

The iconic American painting "American Gothic" by Grant Wood of Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Despite my rabid interest in history and especially immigrant history I was not ready for the fascination and fanaticism that Iowans possess for baseball.  Just west of Des Moines off Interstate 80 is Van Meter, the boyhood home of “Rapid Robert” Feller, the best pitcher ever in the history of the Cleveland Indians.  Stop here and spend an hour and notice how quickly you are transformed back to your youth following baseball. The center piece of everything in the Bob Feller Museum is the iconic bat that Babe Ruth propped himself up on when he gave his farewell speech in Yankee Stadium shortly before his death.  As luck would have it the bat he used was Bob Feller’s bat and Feller had the Babe sign the bat after the game.  Both the bat and the signature are preserved for everyone to see in this Van Meter museum.
Exterior of the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter Iowa

The bat used by Babe Ruth to prop himself up as he gave his farewell address in Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948 

The Babe and Bob Fellers bat 

Across the state to the northeast is the small town of Dyersville and the farm where the movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed. I was one complete goose bump as I drove up to the baseball diamond where, as the voice told Ray, “If you build it he will come.”  Maybe 50 people were there when I arrived at the field of dreams.  More than 65,000 people a year flock to the farm to be taken back to an easier time in their lives.  Here you can sit on the same bleachers used in the movies and you can walk into the same corn fields where the players disappeared each day.  You can stand behind home plate and fantasize about what could have been and you can play catch with your dad one more time.  I honestly had tears streaming down my cheeks as I took in everything I could about this field and everyone’s dreams.  Baseball history in Iowa doesn’t stop with the Field of Dreams.  Tucked away in a Benton County corn field is the tiny village of Norway that proudly proclaims itself to be the “Baseball Capital of Iowa” (and has a t-shirt to prove it) where the movie “Final Season” was filmed. 

Entrance to the Field of Dreams, Dyersville Iowa

From behind home plate on the Field of Dreams

Father and son playing catch on the Field of Dreams just like Kevin Costner's character wanted to do with his father in the movie

The house from the movie "Field of Dreams"

This scene from the movie comes alive and overwhelms you as you look out over the field.  You can almost hear James Earl Jones' voice booming from the baseline as you sweep yourself back to your childhood at the Field of Dreams

The baseball highlight of the trip was attending minor league games in the Quad Cities, in Burlington, and in Cedar Rapids. I thought before this trip that Bradenton Marauders fans were among the most demonstrative of minor league baseball fans. We don’t even come close to Iowa minor league fans.  Not by a mile. 

Exterior of Modern Woodmen Stadium on the banks of the Mississippi River in Davenport Iowa

The Quad City River Bandits hosted the Kane County Cougars at Modern Woodmen stadium in Davenport on Saturday night. Parking at Modern Woodmen cost $2.00 per vehicle but when you pay the $2.00 you are given a certificate for $2 in “Bandit Bucks” to go toward the purchase of any item in the stadium concessions.  Among the 64 minor league stadiums where I have watched games, Modern Woodmen has to have the most spectacular view of them all – possibly combined.  It sits beside the Mississippi River within a long homerun of the river’s bank and a tall bridge over the river passes just to the south.  American white pelicans soared gracefully over the outfield occasionally dipping down to the water’s edge.  
The setting for Modern Woodmen Stadium is one of the most scenic if not THE most scenic of any baseball stadium in minor league baseball!

The game I watched (the River Bandits won in 11 innings) was preceded by a game of “vintage baseball” played using rules that were in effect in 1858.  An announcer best described as a baseball historian explained how the game was played in the days when nobody wore a glove, when there were no umpires, and when if you hit a ball and it was caught on the first bounce you were out.  Batters were known as “strikers” then and pitchers were known as “hurlers” and an out wasn’t an out it was an “ace.”  As the historian explained the game I learned that there is a historical basis for those annoying cowbells that fans ring all the time at Tampa Bay Rays games because in 1858 when you crossed home plate you still had not scored a run until you rang a cowbell that sat by the edge of the field.  We also learned why we have the seventh inning stretch.  It seems that President William Howard Taft was attending a game of the Washington Senators and he sat on a wooden bench.  After the third out in the top of the seventh inning, Taft’s ass was sore from sitting so he stood up to stretch.  When everyone else saw the President stand they too stood and from that simple act we have the tradition of the seventh inning stretch.

Here in Modern Woodmen Park just like on Iowa highways, everyone was friendly and kind and amazed that someone from Florida would travel all the way to Iowa just to watch a minor league baseball game.  Landshark Lager beer is sold in Modern Woodmen Park as a “specialty” beer and one of the food vendors sold foot-long bratwurst.  I very much enjoyed going to a game here with 4,402 other fans on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Exterior of Community Park, home of the Burlington Bees

Sunday at 2:00 p.m. the Burlington Bees hosted the Clinton Lumber Kings in a Midwest League battle.  Baseball has been played in Burlington since about 1880 and its local stadium (that does not charge for parking) is called Community Park and it was built in 1971.  Here most of the seats in this retro ball park are bleacher benches and Landshark Lager was only $3.00 a can.  The Lumber Kings demolished the Bees and at the end of the game everyone stood around talking with their neighbors just like people do all over the rest of Iowa.

The Burlington Bees are the Low A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels

My last game of the trip was between the Burlington Bees and the Cedar Rapids Kernels in Perfect Game Park in Cedar Rapids.  Because the Kernels are an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins I was cheering for the Bees even though I was wearing a Kernels baseball cap.  Before the game I was given a personal tour of the stadium by an enthusiastic Kernels employee who showed me the shrine she had built to the history of Cedar Rapids baseball.  Way back when baseball great John McGraw played in Cedar Rapids and more recently Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout was there.  She told me about both of those great players and would have told me about everyone else who played here but we simply ran out of time.

Perfect Game Stadium, the home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels the Low A Affiliate of the Minnesota Twins

This game was played at noon to accommodate a bunch of youth groups and I sat directly behind home plate with several Burlington Bees pitchers.  Before the game we were treated to the playing of the national anthem by the Garnett Bell Ringers who call themselves the “Ding a Lings.”  This group of 900 year old ladies was classically Iowan to the core and did a very good job of playing in harmony through the anthem. Just before the first pitch the announcer admonished everyone in attendance sitting in the 80 degree sun to put on extra sun screen and he then added that we should all “drink extra water on this very hot summer day.”  Ah, I hate to tell you Iowa, but after living in Florida for six years 80 degrees is nowhere near hot!  I actually felt a little chilled sitting out in that sort of weather. When the game ended the Kernels had beaten the Bees by 6-4.  It was not a good couple of days for Bees fans.

I flew home from Des Moines to Orlando Sanford airport the next day and found myself sad that I was leaving the endless cornfields of Iowa.  A lot has changed in Iowa since I first started traveling there.  Farm land that we purchased in 1977 for $1,500 an acre is now selling for $11,000 an acre if you can find someone willing to sell.  There are signs everywhere telling everyone that ethanol is “home grown fuel” and there are hardly any fence rows remaining.  Gasoline was $0.17 a gallon in Vinton Iowa in April 1972 but now in Vinton it's $3.39 a gallon. And despite traveling all over most of the state I did not see a single hog farm where there used to be hundreds.  I wonder if the hog farms were turned into corn farms in response to the market for corn brought on by the production of ethanol? Through all of these outward changes however Iowans have not changed.  They like most Midwesterners would give you the shirt off their back not necessarily because you need the shirt then but because they thought you might need it at some time in the future.

Departing the Orlando-Sanford airport I entered Interstate 4 and drove west through the mid-day madness of Orlando traffic.  There are very few cities that bother me to drive in - Bangkok and Johannesburg and  New York and Miami and Los Angeles are fun.  Orlando is pure hell.  I’m not sure if it’s because the roads are all clogged with thousands of Tommy Tourists not knowing where or how to find a rat named Mickey but for whatever reason I detest driving in Orlando.

A "normal" day in traffic headed to Ratworld

Traffic moved along slowly with Florida drivers cutting people off and blasting their horns and making quick and dangerous lane changes. As to be expected nobody used their turn signals and several people were seen with their heads out of the window screaming at other drivers.  It was a typical Orlando scene and as I approached the Amway Center all traffic on the Interstate came to a complete halt.  More horns were blaring and more fingers were flashing and blood pressures were rising and everyone was getting mad.

Everyone, that is, except for the van in front of me.  It had an Iowa license plate from Linn County and the driver had his turn signal on as he waited patiently so he could safely change lanes.

Pinellas County Waterspout/Tornado

The National Weather Service office in Ruskin Florida received this spectacular video of a waterspout/tornado near Pinellas Park, Florida on June 24.  What a great way to be up close and personal with one - and still be safe!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Family Group of Four Sandhill Cranes

The number of eggs a bird species lays (it’s “clutch size”) is genetically determined.  Some birds like ostriches and albatross lay only one egg during each nesting attempt.  Others like ring-necked pheasant and northern bobwhite lay up to 18 eggs in a clutch.  For an important ecological reason, most birds with a clutch size of two or more eggs do not begin to incubate their clutch until the last egg is laid.  This ecological adaptation is programmed into them genetically so that all young hatch at essentially the same time.  This has huge implications for species survival.

Sandhill cranes do things a tad differently.  Sandhills are a determinant layer at two which means that they are genetically programmed to lay no more than two eggs in a clutch.  Despite laying only two eggs when the first egg is laid the adults begin to immediately incubate that egg.  Two to three days later when the second egg is laid, the embryo in the first egg has a two to three day head start in development.  That means that a couple of weeks later when the young in the first egg hatches that first young has an advantage in growth and strength and survival over the second young.

After the first young (known as “colts” in cranes) is born it receives all the attention of the adults including all the food they can provide.  However two or three days later when the second colt arrives, suddenly the first colt receives half of the attention and more importantly half of the food it was receiving just a day earlier.  Human parents who bring their second or subsequent child home from the hospital are frequently familiar with the sibling rivalry that follows.  The same concept happens in cranes only with more deadly consequences.

The older colt senses that the younger colt poses a threat to its survival and almost 100 percent of the time the older colt kills the younger one.  It’s a practice called fratricide, it has been genetically programmed into cranes for tens of thousands of years, and as much as the PETA-types want to moan and cringe and turn their heads at the thought, it is a survival strategy that works for cranes.  If it didn’t they would have become extinct long ago.

The words “almost 100 percent of the time” in the previous paragraph are the reason for this post.

In the last several days I have noticed that my resident pair of adult sandhill cranes has with them two nearly-fledged colts!  This is the first time in my crane watching career that I have seen two nearly-fledged colts with an adult pair.  Once on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula about 105 miles north of Nome I watched a three day old colt kill a newly hatched young in the nest.  Never before however have I seen two colts this old with the same parents.  Granted when you are looking at a corn field filled with 20,000 sandhill cranes along Nebraska’s Platte River it’s highly likely that one or two family groups in that throng are made up of four birds but good luck in figuring that out.  In my local sandhill crane family it is a certainty that the adults are raising two colts to fledging.  After seeing millions of sandhill cranes in my life this is a pretty spectacular sight!

In the image above you can tell the adult birds from the colts by the color of their foreheads.  Adults have a deep cardinal red colored forehead while the colts have a rusty brown forehead.  For the colts it remains rusty brown until their second year when their forehead turns cardinal red and humans can no longer tell their age.

How and why this adult pair was able to raise two colts to near fledging is a mystery. Could it be that it’s because the colts were hatched in an urban environment?  Could it be that the adults were able to collect so much food for the oldest colt right after the birth of the youngest colt that the oldest was too sated to care and just left the young colt alone?  Could it be that these two adult cranes are passing along a gene that precludes fratricide from the genetic makeup of their offspring?  A friend of mine who lives six miles away told me just this morning that she has a family group of four near her home east of Interstate 75.  Maybe it is something peculiar to the Florida race of the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis pratensis) ? 

The possible explanations for this very unusual sighting are many.  The only entities that know the answer are the adult sandhill cranes and they are not saying much so it’s all speculation.  However it may have something to do with why sandhill cranes in Florida are able to survive in heavily urbanized areas.  Regardless, it’s sightings like this that make ornithology such a fascinating topic and why I remain excited that I chose it for a career long ago.  

I think I’m going to go back outside now to see if they adults want to give up a few more secrets. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Clearing Customs in Calgary

Research I conducted on the issue of birds colliding with power lines and the subsequent papers I wrote and published on the research findings provided an avenue for me to consult with power companies and regulatory agencies proposing to construct structures in areas where birds congregated in large numbers.  I was able to apply those findings to potentially devastating situations ranging from Fairbanks, Alaska to Lawton, Oklahoma to Hartford, Connecticut.  I was once called in on an issue in Switzerland and another in Germany but unfortunately had to deal with those projects by phone.

In the early 1990s a major energy producing company in Canada was proposing to construct a massive 550 kilovolt power line across the heart of Alberta. The proposed routing would require that the line cross a large river that passes through the megalopolis of Edmonton and casual observations by the Canadian Wildlife Service and others suggested that the potential for major mortality among migrating birds (especially geese and ducks) was substantial.  Before various permits were to be issued to allow the project to proceed, the Canadian Wildlife Service (sister agency to my U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) contacted me and requested my presence in Edmonton to give them a hint of how much bird mortality to expect.  Other research conducted by my agency and by others showed that there were simple measures that could be implemented when power lines are being constructed to reduce or eliminate the bird mortality hazard.  However first it was necessary to know if there was going to be a problem.

With a letter of invitation from the Canadian Wildlife Service in my day pack I boarded a United Airlines Express flight in Grand Island Nebraska and rode it to Denver where I connected to a real jet bound for Spokane, Washington.  In Spokane I caught a different United jet bound for Calgary where I could connect with an Air Canada flight to Edmonton.  The “Fly America” Act, a ridiculous piece of nationalistic legislation passed by the United States Congress required that I fly to my destination using American carriers and if an American carrier didn’t go to that destination then I had to fly one to as close as possible to my destination.  It was only there that I was allowed to use a foreign carrier.  It didn’t matter to Congress that following this rule not only increased the amount of time that federal employees had to be in the air, or did it matter to Congress that this ridiculous rule invariably cost the Treasury more money than if the foreign carrier was taken for the entire route.  Congress wanted to project an image of protecting American business no matter the cost.  At least I earned a lot more frequent flier miles this way.

Filling out the Canadian Customs and Immigration paperwork on approach to the Calgary airport I checked the box “business” under the heading of the purpose of my trip.  It really wasn’t business because I wasn’t buying or selling anything. At the same time it wasn’t a vacation or pleasure trip either so I chose to be as honest as possible.

Seeing that I had checked “business” on my entry card the smarmy Canadian Customs agent began grilling me over the business I was conducting.  It didn’t seem to matter that I was carrying and using a red United States passport with the word “Official” boldly stamped in gold on the cover.  Sgt. Preston wanted to know what was up and what I was selling.  He didn’t buy my story about evaluating a power line so he directed me into a small conference room, with no windows, where the interrogation began.  All this over checking “business” for the purpose of my trip!  I played their game as they played good cop – bad cop with me until I reached my limit of putting up with this nonsense.  It was then that I demanded that Canadian Customs immediately call the United States Consulate in Calgary because I was tired of thirty minutes of harassment over a box checked on a form.  When I demanded State Department intervention the bad cop of the good cop-bad cop duo asked me if I had any evidence that I was actually invited by the Canadian Wildlife Service to consult.  Reaching in my day pack I removed the Canadian Wildlife Service letter, signed by the agency director in Ottawa and handed it to the agent.  Reading it quickly he snapped “Why didn’t you tell us this before?”  As politely as possible I replied, “I did.  You just weren’t listening.”  Canadian Customs then escorted me to my Air Canada gate and wished me a safe and happy journey.  At the gate the good cop agent said, soto voce, “Next time lie and say you’re on vacation.”

Three days were devoted to evaluating the potential power line crossing routes and at the conclusion of the time I returned to the Edmonton airport for an Air Canada flight to Calgary where I would follow the same circuitous route back to Grand Island because that was the way the United States Congress wanted me to fly.  Sitting in the departure lounge awaiting my flight I noticed an American in a plaid shirt waiting with me.  The curious thing about the American is that in his carryon baggage he was transporting the rack of antlers of a moose!  He had apparently been hunting somewhere in Alberta, shot a sizeable moose, and was taking the antlers back home so they could adorn his office wall.  This was back in the days before baby’s milk and bottles of Evian water were considered weapons and the airlines allowed him to carry moose antlers in the cabin of the plane.

Being a former hunter who had twice unsuccessfully sought moose, I approached my fellow American to ask about his hunt and to find out about the moose.  Asking him politely about his trip he snarled at me in a heavy New York accent, “It’s none of your fucking business where I got this moose.”  True, it wasn’t, but I was just asking a question out of curiosity.  Telling him I had tried unsuccessfully to bag a moose during the two times I tried he barked,” Too bad. Now what the fuck will it take to make you leave me alone?”  The last three words were spoken in a volume much higher than the earlier words. Taking the hint I returned to my seat where I stewed. Eventually the flight was called, we all boarded including Manhattan Mike and his moose, and we headed to Calgary.  There it turned out Manhattan Mike was following me at least to Spokane.

With few exceptions all flights from Canada to the United States clear United States Customs and Immigration in the originating Canadian city.  Given the volume of flights from Canada this is probably done to reduce the number of people who have to clear Customs in their American city.  Doing so means that the flight I was to take from Calgary to Spokane would operate as a domestic flight and we wouldn’t have to waste time in Spokane doing what we were doing in Calgary.

When the Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 3371–3378) was passed in 1900, it became the first federal law protecting wildlife. It enforces civil and criminal penalties for the illegal trade of animals and plants. Today it regulates the import of any species protected by international or domestic law.

Under the Lacey Act, it is unlawful to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase fish, wildlife or plants that are taken, possessed, transported, or sold: 1) in violation of U.S. or Indian law, or 2) in interstate or foreign commerce involving any fish, wildlife, or plants taken possessed or sold in violation of State or foreign law.  The law covers all fish and wildlife and their parts or products, plants protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and those protected by State law. 

I was well aware of the Lacey Act from my dealings with my agency’s Special Agents who enforced federal wildlife law.  As we stood in line waiting to clear Customs in Calgary I saw Manhattan Mike standing in line behind me grinning and looking stupid with moose antlers protruding from his back pack.  Still upset with the way he treated me in Edmonton I quickly devised a plan.  As I handed my official United States government passport to the US Immigration and Customs person I also handed him my U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identification badge.  Stating to the Customs person that I was not in law enforcement so I had no authority to handle the issue myself, I said that I was concerned that they guy behind me in the plaid shirt with the moose antlers might be in violation of the Lacey Act and as a professional courtesy would he mind shaking him down for a potential Lacey Act violation?

The agent, most likely someone who spent 99 percent of each day checking out Maude and Edna as they returned to Poughkeepsie from a week in Banff National Park leaped at the chance to actually do something he was trained to do.  With a huge smile he said, simply, "sure."

Once I was cleared to leave I stood to the side of the flow of passengers and watched what happened.  When Manhattan Mike approached the Customs agent who had cleared me, I heard the agent talk into a microphone and suddenly two other Customs agents appeared. They began grilling Mike with all manner of questions.  They were on him like a wolverine on red meat.  They had his bags open and the moose antlers exposed and after a few minutes they collected him and his belongings and took him into a separate room where they likely continued the interrogation.  As they did I casually walked to my gate and boarded the plane. Manhattan Mike never made the flight.  

In all likelihood Manhattan Mike was clean as a whistle and was nowhere near in violation of the Lacey Act or any other federal law.  However maybe the next time someone asks him a polite question he will wonder if the person asking knows something he doesn't know and he won’t be so cavalier and snotty in his response.