02/05/06 — Outdoors - Is Navy up to old tricks?

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Outdoors - Is Navy up to old tricks?

By Gene Price
Published in Sports on February 5, 2006 2:17 AM

"We want to do the right thing." That assurance came last week from Jim Brantly, spokesman for the Navy's Fleet Forces Command at Norfolk, Va.

He was speaking of the Navy's environmental findings concerning its proposed sonar training range off the North Carolina coast.

Some may be having difficulty reconciling the Navy's desire to "do the right thing" with its omitting or downplaying potential effects the sonar could have on marine life, especially on endangered whales.

The range will cover 660 square miles of ocean 47 miles off the North Carolina coast.

Sonar bounces pulses off underwater objects to pinpoint their locations. Scientists fear the pulsations can have a disorienting or otherwise adverse effect on whales and could be responsible for their becoming stranded on or near shores.

Sonar was linked to the sounding of whales in the Bahamas. An investigation is still underway to determine if it also could have been a factor in the large number of whales being stranded on the North Carolina Outer Banks last year.

The Navy contends the endangered right whales that migrate up and down the state's coast hug the shoreline and would not be affected by activities on the range. But GPS monitoring has shown the whales travel much closer to the site than the Navy contends.

Also, the Navy makes no mention of or denies the existence of some marine species in that area.

It also used outdated charts in its preparation of the potential environmental impact. The old charts fail to show the existence or size of coral reefs depicted on more recent maps.

Critics also say the Navy failed to communicate with North Carolina and federal agencies when it began preparing its environmental studies. These agencies could have provided important data -- including up-to-date charts -- that should be important in determining the potential of the proposed sonar operations.

It is all too obvious that the Navy has learned little from its experience in addressing environmental issues involved in its efforts to acquire thousands of acres of land in Washington and Beaufort counties for an outlying landing field. So shoddy was that effort, a federal judge blocked the progress and sent the Navy back to the drawing board.

But the public did learn a valuable lesson from that experience. Whatever the Navy presents demands close scrutiny.

Wildlife arts festival

Some of the nation's top wildlife carvers, artists, photographers and jewelry makers will be offering their wares at the East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival in Washington Saturday, Feb. 11.

The event, which also will include competition between carvers and duck, goose, swan and turkey callers, will be held at the Washington (NC) Civic Center.

A reception will be held the night before, featuring the unveiling of the painting of the 2006 North Carolina Duck Stamp.

Impressive catch

Retired Community College instructor Bo Wessell fired off an e-mail to me after reading a recent segment of this column referring to the huge baits anglers use to catch big stripers.

He had just returned from Oregon Inlet where he and friends caught their limits on stripers -- 16 that weighed a total of 376 pounds!

The youngest member of the team, Parker Webber, landed a 35-pound citation striper. Other catches weighed up to 33 pounds.

And yes, Bo reported, they were trolling with baits that weighed two pounds!

They were fishing with Captain Devin Cage aboard his Poacher. Wessell and his friends have been fishing with Cage for the past few years, reserving December trips.

The weather couldn't have been nicer this year. Some one counted 149 boats in the area where the Poacher was trolling.

Bo shared some of the big fillets with me and they were excellent -- broiled and fried. And I have enough in the freezer to make a fish stew!

CCA Thursday

The Wayne County Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association will meet Thursday at Walnut Creek Country Club. The social hour starts at 6:30. The chapter's events have been a favorite gathering place for area residents interested in recreational fishing and preserving our coastal marine resources.

It was one of the most aggressive chapters in the effort to promote a salt water fishing license that was adopted by the General Assembly and goes in effect next year.

For information: Dr. Keith Hinnant at 921-2527 or Andrea Heekin at 738-5805.

Also coming up

The Mount Olive Chapter of Ducks Unlimited has scheduled its annual meeting for Friday, Feb. 24, at Southern Wayne County Club. Advance reservations are required. Ernie Taylor at 738-1393.

Urban deer

That deer folks at the Arts Center saw out the window recently was no surprise to Mark Smith. He says he has been seeing deer along the banks of Stony Creek in that area for the past 10 years.

And a big cat sighting, too! Mark said that about three months ago he was on Grantham School Rd. when a big black cat crossed in front of him. "This was not a bobcat. I estimated it to be between 75 and 100 pounds!"

His stepfather saw a big cat of the same description cross Highway 55 in the Thunder Swamp area a few years ago. Numerous sightings have been reported across the county since then, he noted.