<H1 class=red>Can't punish everyone for antics of a few


Sunday, May 25, 2008

The battle over recreational use of Alabama's waterways and forests has been nonstop throughout my 21 years as an outdoors writer for The Birmingham News. On land it has been a never-ending battle between dog hunters and non-dog hunters. On the water it has been a never-ending battle between people who own property along Alabama's lakes and rivers and those who play and fish on those waters.

I spent much of this past week weeding through e-mails and phone calls from fishermen angry over a proposed 100-foot idle rule around inhabited lakeside areas. I also got an earful from some landowners outraged that I had the audacity to think it was a bad idea.

It was a bad idea, and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Barnett Lawley, after a multitude of fishermen explained their side of the story, apparently agreed. On Thursday he announced that the brakes had been put on the proposal until it can be amended.

The stories told to me by lakeside landowners last week were compelling. They are tired of fast boats causing huge wakes that constantly erode their banks and bash their piers and docks. They are sick of being awakened at daylight every Saturday by bass boats zipping past as tournaments start. They are sick of rude and uncaring fishermen who zip up and down the lake all day, causing nonstop wakes.

I'm sure if I owned lakeside property, I would feel the same disgust. I can understand the frustration of building on what you thought to be Golden Pond only to learn that instead you live on a lake's version of U.S. 280.
One of the dozens of e-mails I received from landowners stuck out above the others. It pretty much got to the root of the real problem in a line that read: "The landowners have paid for a product and you (boaters) are just using it."

I pointed out in a reply that the landowner had not purchased any portion of that lake. She purchased land next to the lake and built a house there. She is nothing more than a user group, same as bass fishermen, crappie fishermen, water-skiers, wake boarders and riders of personal watercraft like Jet Skis and Sea-Doos.

And therein lies the rub. It is an uneasy alliance when one often wishes the other didn't exist. All must try to peacefully coexist. That's a pretty tall order.

I explained to the woman how I detest personal watercraft. They are pesky little mosquitoes that often disrupt my fishing. Their presence has pretty much relegated my fishing to weekdays when I can find some peace and calm.

That said, I realize I have no right to try to regulate them out of existence. They have as much of a right to use the lake as I do.
Several lakeside landowners were correct in stating that the real problem lies with boaters who are uncaring. Most boaters wouldn't dare run a boat at full speed 50 feet from someone's pier if kids were swimming there or if the homeowner were on the dock fishing. But there are those who do.
There are boaters who drop litter, boaters who drive recklessly and boaters who just plain have no business being on the water.

The real problem Alabama has on its waterways is the same problem it has on its roadways. There are too few enforcement personnel to catch those who misbehave. Penalizing all was not the right answer. Mike Bolton's outdoors column appears on Sunday.

Write him at mbolton@bhamnews.com
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