The large lake at Sunset Park on Sunset Road and Eastern Avenue is a magnet for people, birds and other critters. Visitors, however, are often exposed to gruesome evidence of carelessness caused by fishermen. A walk through the park is anything but idyllic, according to residents who make daily visits.
The lake at Sunset Park is a great place to spend some time lounging, walking your dog or fishing. Most fishermen are considerate to wildlife, but some are not, and the results are horrific.
Sunset Park is about as good as it gets for water fowl. The lake is a year-round home to ducks, geese and other birds who like the climate and the steady food supply, not only insects, but also the goodies handed out by bird lovers. It's against the rules to feed the birds, but there is little if any enforcement.
The birds at Sunset include rare migratory geese and more exotic waterfowl, as well as barnyard birds who've been abandoned there. Locals come to bird watch, walk their dogs or cast a lazy line into the lake to catch trout or other fish that are regularly re-stocked. That's where the trouble begins.
Annoula Wylderich uses her tools almost daily to deal with the trail of animal carnage caused by discarded fishing gear. She and a few others have been documenting the damage and rescuing birds for the past few years.
“I do not come to the park anymore without my tools to help birds,” she said.
A duck with a fish hook in its bill could be the poster bird for this issue. Other photos are far more gruesome: wings bent and broken; appendages amputated; birds in severe condition; their feet blackened by the fishing line that slowly tightens and cuts them to pieces.
“Families come here to appreciate the wildlife, and they and their children are subjected to an ongoing parade of birds in various stages of distress, whether it be a hook embedded in their eye or their bill or fishing line entangling their wing or their leg,” Wylderich said. “It upsets people, obviously. A lot of birds don't make it. They either drown or die of infection or assorted other injuries.”
The evidence is pretty easy to spot. In the branches above, the I-Team saw fishing line in two spots. A curious pigeon that had lost a foot to fishing line watched. Birds, too entangled to fly, hide in bushes or end up floating in the water.
The park has receptacles for discarded fishing gear, but people use them to stash beer cans while still tossing line and hooks on the ground or in the water.
“I was here ten minutes today. I came early, and I've already collected this off the ground. This should be in receptacles. There are hooks here. There's fishing line,” Wylderich said.
The damage extends beyond birds. Ten years ago, Sam Marber found an abandoned pup in the park and named him Boojie. They're still pals.
In December during a walk, Boojie got a three-pronged fishhook through his snout. Marber was beside himself, worried that if he tried to take the dog to a vet, it might also hook its tongue or worse. It was almost dark, and he called to the only person he could see.
“I yelled out, ‘Do you have pliers?’” Marber said. “What was the chances from a strange woman. She yells back, ‘Yes.’ I was amazed, and that was Barb.”
The woman with the pliers helped remove the hooks from Boojie who was taken to a nearby vet for treatment. Barbara Bogar is one of the park regulars who looks for injured animals while collecting hooks and line on the ground.
“I started to tell Annoula,” she said.
Bogar has been collecting the evidence and documenting the damage. She videotapes many of her frequent encounters with victims of fishing gear and the heartbreaking consequences.
“I made a list: 28 birds in two months. Every time I came. I can't even go for a jog anymore,” she said.
Some birds are killed when struck by lead weights. A few are found dead with entire poles attached.
“I carry these in my pocket – tweezers and a magnifying glass – because you have to see and, sometimes, it's so deep,” she said.
She and the other volunteers often take injured birds to the vet and pay the bill out of their own pockets. They videotape many of the success stories.
They say most fishermen are considerate, but the few they have confronted about the trash get hostile. So, they stopped making those contacts.
“They think the fish are there just for them,” Marber said. “It benefits people like me who just want to enjoy the park and enjoy looking at the birds. It's for everybody, not just fishermen.”
The folks who rescue injured birds say they are not trying to ban fishing, but would like to see a minimal amount of enforcement, especially for unlicensed fishermen who don't seem to know any better, or don't care.
The problem is that multiple agencies are involved, and they all say the same things: they lack the manpower; or they lack jurisdiction, and its some other agency's problem to fix.
The I-Team will follow up this story next week and will ask the agencies what they plan to do.
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