The View from the Can Club
by John Hart on July 01, 2007
Photo by David Sanger.
On a fall day in duck hunting season, the sound of shotgun fire echoes across the Napa-Sonoma Marshes. It will continue to do so. Here as elsewhere, hunters have paid a good share of the cost of habitat protection, and they are welcome in principle on most of the region’s public wildlife lands. Ducks Unlimited, a conservation organization firmly rooted in the hunting world, is doing much of the on-the-ground engineering for marsh restorations. To the people out there with their boots in the mud, hunting and environmental conservation are old friends.
To many urban environmentalists, though, the alliance seems a little uncanny. Despite common interests, a cultural gap yawns wide between those whose enjoyment of nature is centered on hunting and those whom the sport leaves cold, or worse. All the more interesting, then, is the coalition that arose in defense of one of the region’s oldest hunting institutions, the Can Club at Pond 2.
When Leslie Salt bought and flooded the former Hantaberry Ranch in 1952, it inherited an already 60-year-old hunting establishment and created an ideal habitat for diving ducks. The club renamed itself the Can Duck Club, after the canvasbacks that thronged to the deepened pond, and signed on for a 50-year stay.
In 1994, with 47 of those years gone by, the landlord changed. The new owner, the Department of Fish and Game, wanted this private enclave out and the general public in. To buy a little more time, club president Lew Allen reached out to environmental organizations like Save the Bay, the Sierra Club, and Marin Audubon, inviting small groups to the rustic diketop clubhouse. The guests shared meals in the wide, high-ceilinged room with its decor of mounted birds and hunting art, heard some of the hunters’ favorite stories, and got their view of the world: how the club restricted its numbers to avoid over-shooting, how it helped the cash-strapped state maintain dikes and watergates. On gray winter evenings around the big fire, real friendships arose. “In a way,” says Allen, “those years were our high point. We made it a beautiful place to go.”
Out of those evenings came a crosscultural lobbying group called Friends of the Can Club. Partly due its efforts, the club received two five-year lease extensions. As we go to press, a third has been denied. This was probably inevitable, Lew Allen concedes. Many more hunters and fishermen now will have access to the pond. But the end of the Can Club also signals the end of a pretty good conversation—the kind of exchange that’s important for all concerned.