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Original Issue


A House Committee stokes the refuge fire, a northwestern airline gets skunked, South Carolina may be lionized and nature gets out of balance in Yellowstone

Based on regular weekly dispatches from SI bureaus and special correspondents in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and overseas; and on reports from fish and game commissions of the 48 states and Alaska


When Conservationist Ira N. Gabrielson and Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay tangled over the question of oil and gas leases on National Wildlife Refuges (SI, March 19), a vital problem received much-needed airing. Now, after hearings, the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee composed of 17 Democrats and 12 Republicans has issued a unanimous report which strongly backs Dr. Gabrielson's contention that Interior's recent moves to grant oil and gas leases within wildlife refuges were "a long backward step in the cause of conservation."

The committee notes that although under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 the Secretary of the Interior has always had the right to issue such leases, only 11 were allowed up to August 31, 1953. On that date Secretary McKay suspended further leasing until new regulations for the protection of wildlife could be written. Yet between the "stop order" and December 2, 1955 when the new regulations went into effect, 60 new leases were actually granted. As the committee put it: "Such increased activity in the issuance of leases...can only result in serious damage to the wildlife refuge system in this country.... The new regulations fall far short of providing the degree of protection to the refuges which the activities of recent years prove to be necessary.

"Superficially," the committee report continues, "these regulations appear to give a veto power to the Fish and Wildlife Service. However, under applicable laws, oil and gas leasing in wildlife lands is a matter solely within the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior. Consequently, the veto power exists only so long as, and to the extent that, the Secretary permits the regulations to control. The hearings clearly demonstrated the necessity for some legislative check on the authority to make disposals which might lessen the value of wildlife refuges for conservation purposes."

Uncertain how the "requisite control should be exercised," the committee meanwhile announced an "experimental" arrangement between it and Secretary McKay whereby he would notify the committee at least 60 days in advance of any intention to allow gas or oil interests within a refuge. The committee could then register its approval or disapproval of the contemplated action.

"If this arrangement does not work out satisfactorily," the report states bluntly, "the committee intends to reconsider the problem, as well as alternative solutions thereto, including the enactment of appropriate legislation."

The report further called attention to "extreme administrative confusion" within the Fish and Wildlife Service, "incredible" lack of liaison between Fish and Wildlife administrators and field workers and what it considered "the necessity for changes either in personnel or organization."

Conservationists can find much to cheer in the committee's bipartisan report, but their battle is far from won.

North Central Airlines, which serves many northwestern states, has had a high rate of wildlife problems, including an unexpectedly odoriferous one. Recently a skunk sauntered into Central's office at Hibbing, Minnesota and settled down for what threatened to be a lengthy visit. Manager Charles M. Cox promptly and logically evacuated his headquarters and paced up and down in mounting frustration. Passengers were arriving, an overhead flight was insistently demanding a report on field conditions, and the skunk was in undisputed command. About the time airline operations lapsed into a state of total confusion, Hibbing's station WMFG started its morning broadcast. The Star-Spangled Banner blared from the office radio, the skunk rocketed out the door, and the airline's day, if not the nation's dignity, was saved.


Felis concolor, better known as cougar, panther, catamount, puma or just plain mountain lion, once inhabited a lot of territory where it is now thought to be extinct. Yet reports of its presence still persist in some of these areas, and South Carolina is one of them.

Last week, for instance, the wives of two plantation owners were riding along a road near Congaree swamp, 10 miles south of Columbia, when they spotted a pair of animals "big as Chesapeake retrievers, tawny-colored and with tails dragging the ground." Both women know bobcats, insist what they saw must be "panthers." The following day a pack of cat hounds were put into the Congaree area and ran something for 12 hours before giving up. During the chase a field hand, unaware of the panther report, claims that "a big brown cat with a long tail came across the field with the dogs about 100 yards behind it."

To bolster the women's story there are statements by swamp hunters over the past year which tell of finding tracks twice the size of any bobcat's.

Skeptics, meanwhile, are holding out for a carcass.

Yellowstone National park affords a fundamental example of what happens when nature is thrown out of balance. Recently it became apparent that 12,000 elk were many more than Yellowstone's browse could support. The animals stripped hillsides of grass and small trees. Rain washed the unsupported earth, streams became silted, erosion set in. With too many elk and too little range, wildlife officials had no alternative but to reduce the herd. Hunters outside park limits were permitted to kill almost 4,000 animals. Park rangers harvested some 2,000 more, and 645 were trapped to restock depleted elk ranges in Montana and New Mexico. Yellowstone elk now fit their range. They may increase again. The size of their range never will.

Among last week's notable catches: a 19-pound 12-ounce STEELHEAD caught in the Skagit River near Mt. Vernon by Mike Cook, age 5, after a one-hour tussle. A veteran steelheader, with four fish to his credit this season, Mike was unassisted except by his grandmother, Mrs. C. L. Cook, who held on to his shirttails lest the rampaging rainbow haul him into the fast-running river; an 11-pound 2-ounce LARGEMOUTH BASS caught at Center Hill Lake's Indian Creek by Louis C. Purcell, of Madison, Tenn.; a 9-pound 2-ounce BONEFISH caught by K. K. Knickerbocker of Charlottesville, Va., who also took 72 other bonefish with fly and spinning tackle in four days of fishing the flats of Andros Island in the Bahamas; a 33-pound STRIPED BASS caught in the surf at Virginia Beach, Va. by Maurice Davenport of Lynnhaven, Va.; a 471-pound GIANT SEA BASS caught off the Enyu Dock at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands by Servicemen Robert Schook and Pitts Joyner, using a specially forged hook attached to an airplane cable leader and an 800-pound-test nylon line; a 34-pound STRIPED BASS caught by George Rebelle of Knightsten, Calif., near Frank's Resort; a 136-pound YELLOW-FIN TUNA caught by George Goodell of Grandville, Conn., fishing out of Tavernier, Fla.; a 20-pound STEELHEAD caught by Vance Reeves of Tacoma, Wash, in the Cowlitz River near Kosmos; a 9½-pound LARGEMOUTH BASS caught at Tennessee's Center Hill Lake by Walker Barnes of Winchester, Ky.


SO—season opened (or opens); SC—season closed (or closes).
C—clear water; D—wafer dirty or roily; M—water muddy.
N—water at normal height; SH—slightly high; H—high; VH—very high; L—low; R—rising; F—falling.
WT50—water temperature 50°.
FG—fishing good; FF—fishing fair; FP—fishing poor; OG—outlook good; OF—outlook fair; OP—outlook poor

TROUT: CALIFORNIA: SO April 1 for Topaz Lake on California-Nevada border and OG as lake is almost full and weather is warm.

NEVADA: Walker Lake continues to produce outsize cutthroats on trolled or spin-cast surface lures; OG and improving.

IDAHO: FVG along middle fork of Salmon with fresh steelhead roe getting best results; outlook is doubtful as melting snow was raising stream level at press time.

MISSOURI: Anglers still swarming at Bennett Spring and doing nicely with live bait. Water is L and C, outlook is excellent. Montauk State Park is providing consistent catches of trout to 14 inches on flies and OG.

NEW JERSEY: When SO April 7, state will have planted 250,000 legal trout in public waters and will stock same number during season. Forecast is for high, cold, discolored streams and slow sport even for wormers on opening weekend.

CHANNEL BASS: NORTH CAROLINA: Huge schools of redfish have been sighted in vicinity of Pamlico Sound shoals by airmen on rescue missions recently, and big reds are still turning up in local pound nets; OG for some surf action and inlet trolling on second or third day of next southwest wind, due any minute.

FLORIDA: Keys spy says Sam Snead and two friends caught 300 pounds of channel bass off Flamingo last week; largest was 10¼ pounds.

WALLEYED PIKE: ONTARIO: FF and OF in most provincial waters; top spots are Lake Temagami, north of North Bay, and Lake Penage, west of Sudbury.

TENNESSEE: Carroll Earl of Chillicothe took 14½-pound walleye last week; this is heaviest of species reported in several years.

STEELHEAD TROUT: WASHINGTON: FP generally as rains came; nearly every stream H and D, but good runs are now in most rivers, and OVG when they clear. Guide boats on upper Skagit still doing fairly well on drifts from Rockport to Sedro Woolley. Baker River muddy and is murking Skagit below junction. Cold weather needed to clear Nooksack and Skagit for good fishing before SC April 15. (Many streams closed March 31, and careful study of regulations is advised.)

OREGON: OVP for rest of season as warm rains and snow runoff have raised rivers above fish-able level and heaviest snow pack in history threatens worse flooding.

IDAHO: Weiser River FG, main Salmon still FVG with best reports from stretch above French Creek; a few fish being taken near town of Salmon. Flying anglers using Flying B Ranch airstrip report FG on Camas Creek in Primitive Area. Big Creek starting to produce and should be at peak about April 10.

BRITISH COLUMBIA: Runoff has started at lower levels; Quinsam, Cowichan, Capilano and other mainland streams H and D but clearing, and spy says high water may bring late run of fish into Salmon, Capilano and Seymour. In general OF/G if you don't mind catching kelts and spawners.

BONEFISH: BAHAMA ISLANDS: FG and OG for fly and spin fishermen on flats in the north right off Andros Island (see Fish Box).

BLACK BASS: TEXAS: Casablanca Lake at Laredo producing 4-and 5-pounders on surface plugs; Whitney, Caddo and Black lakes report FF/G with shallow running lures, but Medina, Travis and Highland Chain lakes are slow, and OF.

FLORIDA: FG all over state despite low water. In northwest Florida Crescent Lake is best bass bet, but Wakulla River is running close second. Rain is still needed to improve fishing in all fresh waters.

TENNESSEE: FF/P at Tenn-Tucky Lake but OF/G as weather improves. Despite dingy water at Dale Hollow, fishing was generally good last week; you had to catch a bass over 6 pounds to get much attention and 8-pounders were not unusual.

NORTH CAROLINA: As largemouths start hitting in fresh-water ponds of Nags Head area and river tributaries of fresh-water sounds in northeastern part of state, consensus of experts is that salty hurricane tides of last fall did no serious damage to black bass population where it encroached on fresh waters.

SOUTH CAROLINA: High winds, cold weather and muddy water slowed fishing last week but a few diehards made fair catches with spoons at Santee-Cooper and Lake Murray.

ARIZONA: Lower Colorado River lakes from Mead to Martinez producing a number of lunkers, mostly on bait; warm weather and calm water makes OVG.

ONTARIO: Following Quebec's lead, Ontario may lift the 13-inch size limit on black bass. (Quebec has announced open season on bass in all lakes north and west of the St. Lawrence and north of the Ottawa River.)

STRIPED BASS: CALIFORNIA: Heavy run of 20-to 25-pounders heralded the spring peak last week; the Napa River yielded a long list of good-to-excellent catches; San Pablo Bay and San Joaquin rivers were still hot at press time; in general OVG.

NORTH CAROLINA: Although trollers are taking stripers in rivers and bays and some big fish are being captured in surf seines by commercial fishermen, outer banks agent says no bass have yet taken bait or lures in surf, and OP.

NEW JERSEY: Best striped bass surf fishing still confined to stretch between Island Beach and Seaside Park, with some fair fishing in Toms River and Barnegat Bay. Best spot in river is deep hole off the golf course, almost within limits of town of Toms River; most fish run between 4 and 15 pounds. FF in Delaware Bay, with run in Cape May surf due any time.

KINGFISH: FLORIDA: Migrating kings are abundant from Sarasota to Tarpon Springs, with bulk of schools from five to ten miles off the Keys and wind too strong for small boats on most days. Best results are had by slow-trolling spoons in sizes seven to 10, and fish average 10 pounds; biggest king of week was 37½-pounder weighed in at Sarasota dock. Some big kings are also reported in Keys area, with top fish a 48-pounder.

TARPON: FLORIDA: Bridge fishermen along Overseas Highway taking tarpon from Jewfish Creek south, and OF. In upper Myakka River, east of Venice, baby tarpon found in small schools will take ordinary trout bucktail fished on light fly rod and provide fine fun.

TEXAS: First tarpon of season, a 27-incher, reported at Freeport. Schools sighted several times off Port Aransas and Padre Island, and pier fishermen have had a few strikes, but so far nobody has caught any.

WEAKFISH: TEXAS: OG all along coast as water gets warmer and fish get hungrier. Laguna Madre weaks averaging over a pound with frequent schools of 3- to 5-pounders reported. East Galveston Bay, Caney Creek and Offats Bayou report FG and OG. Port Isabel and lower Laguna Madre are other good prospects as flats warm up.

LOUISIANA: "If weather ever settles down," complains Lake Pontchartrain agent, "fishing should be terrific." Meanwhile, FVP.

PACIFIC SALMON: CALIFORNIA: Trollers report best sport of season from Monterey to Golden Gate after blustery weather last week; weights picking up, especially near Santa Cruz where 20-to 25-pounders are not unusual. Skiff fishermen hit big school last week between Capitola and Moss Beach, and OVG through coming week if weather stays calm.


AIRBORNE TROUT: Trout fry, 20,000 of them, shower from a plane into Mountain Lake, Orcas Island, Wash. This method is used widely to stock inaccessible areas in many states.