by Chris Jennings
Author's Note: I traveled to the Mississippi Gulf Coast recently to meet with waterfowl hunters and conservationists who could be affected by the oil spill. The goal wasn't to seek out oil globs—it was to show what's at stake in Mississippi and Louisiana waters. I learned that the true cost of this spill could be a way of life.
A waterfowl hunter can be defined in several ways, but Tommy Ware, from Diamondhead, Mississippi, can only be described as a duck hunting fanatic.
"I love it. I think about it every day," he says, wearing his Ducks Unlimited visor and committee shirt. "I love to fish and deer hunt, but duck hunting is what I live for."
Ware is an avid hunter and dedicated conservationist. He understands the importance of conserving the Prairie Pothole Region and other key habitats in North America, which in turn will help waterfowl numbers in his area come fall. That's why he is a volunteer for DU and has been for several years.
"I learned about DU right before I joined the Army," he says. "That was in 1990, and I've been involved ever since."
Sitting in the back seat is his favorite fishing partner, his daughter, Emmery "Emmy" Ware. At 6 years old, she's excited for a day on the boat with her dad and the possibility of catching some fish. Her blond hair is tucked under her Greenwing DU hat, and her blue eyes light up at the thought of catching some fish with Dad today. Emmy is a Legacy Greenwing member, and her name is etched onto the placard at Trim Cane Wildlife Management Area, something that Ware hopes she will come to appreciate and value in the future.
Ware launches his 21-foot Carolina Skiff along the Pearl River, which winds through a stretch of marsh where he hunts in the fall before it runs toward the Gulf of Mexico. Here, the marsh is a lush green, and mottled ducks and whistling ducks flush from the banks. An occasional alligator, egrets, herons and hundreds of other birds weave in and out of the bayous.
"I like to get up in here in my pirogue with a bag of decoys," Ware says, as he points out a small cut in the marsh, which leads to a pond visible only when one is standing on the bow of the boat. "We have had some great hunts in there."
The marshes around here have not yet been impacted by the oil spill, and Ware, along with everyone else, hopes they never will.
"In some of these areas there is a really strong tidal surge," he says. "When the water comes in, it all floods. That would put oil into the heart of the marsh."
At every stop along the way, Emmy asks if it is time to fish. She reaches for her short spin-casting rod and gives her dad a look.
"Not yet, we will go out and fish in a little bit," he explains. Then he looks over and says, "That's my buddy right there. She loves being out here and loves fishing."
The skiff turns toward open water after cutting through the bayous, and Ware points out several places where oil boom, left unattended, has washed deep into the marsh. The yellow and orange oil boom stretches for miles in some areas, but the current and wind have pushed it up into the tall grasses, where it clings sometimes five feet off the water.
"It's hard to maintain this boom, I'm sure," Ware says as he passes more of it dangling in the grasses. "At least they have it out right now."
Ware anchors the boat off an inshore oil rig where people have been catching speckled trout. This area of Louisiana is still open for fishing, and shrimp trawlers hastily make way in every direction. The rig is crowded as 15 boats bob around it, perhaps due to restrictions on fishing in other areas.