Think Downstream this Spring

By Nick Simonson

Each spring, the banks of area lakes and rivers are littered with pop bottles, chip bags, Styrofoam cups, plastic bait containers, beer cans, and my personal pet peeve, spent fishing line.  The snow that lines the gutters of city streets and highway ditches this week will slowly give way to reveal plastic, cardboard and other garbage that was buried by winter. The accumulation is tough to ignore as the neon greens and blues of various plastic and aluminum objects jut out from the beige roadside grasses or bob in the foam-filled eddies of local flows.
Be Responsible

I hope each time I pick up a weather-worn bottle or a Styrofoam cup that it didn’t find its resting place at the hands of an angler or hunter.  I know most sportsmen are courteous and respect not only nature, but the rights of those that follow after them.  Much of the problem lies upstream.  Anytime a beer can is hurled out a car window into a ditch on a Friday night, it has to go somewhere.  Anytime a piece of litter is thrown in the gutter instead of a garbage can, it has a chance of making it into the water.
I have seen stretches of shoreline littered with crushed cans and other garbage which made it appear that those who were last there were too lazy or not concerned enough to put litter in its place.  I’ve seen paper fast food bags full of floorboard trash dumped casually on the side of a gravel road, no doubt a late-night stop on a cruise in the country. Sad to say, those items end up in nearby wildlife habitat or make their way downstream, whisked away by wind or carried by melt water.  I find garbage in our wild places to be an aesthetic nightmare, but for the animals it affects, it can be a death sentence.
A Tangled Web

The biggest reason to pick up trash is to preserve the wildlife that live in, on and around our public lands and waters.  I can recall several examples when fishing where animals have been impacted by discarded garbage that injured them and hindered their survival.

The most memorable – as it spurred my disdain for “line-strippers” or those who rip the line off their reels and let it lay at the water’s edge – involved a robin tangled in yards of monofilament.  The bird was caught in a mess of thick blue line which bound his already mangled leg to the end of a tree branch.
The bird flapped and struggled to free itself in vain and tried harder as I approached with the tiny scissors drawn on my Swiss Army knife.  He pecked at my hand as I cut several of the loops that bit into his foot and leg.  Finally freed, he flew a few feet away and hobbled off, foot nearly severed from his body.  I only hoped that it would heal well enough for him to survive and that I would never have to do that again, mostly because it was a pathetic display of what people can do to the environment and partly because that robin’s beak was as sharp as a razor.
Time and again, animals get caught in fishing line and plastics such as six-pack rings.  Many of them aren’t as fortunate as the robin to escape and continue living.  Most are doomed to die a slow death resulting from starvation or inability to process ingested trash that was discarded upstream.

Impact Far & Near

The animals we pursue for sport such as walleyes, ducks, deer, bass, fox, and pheasants are all subject to our actions.  The animals we enjoy watching: eagles, songbirds, owls, squirrels and others all have to live with the mess we leave behind.  Animals thousands of miles away, such as manatees, porpoises, whales, ocean fish, osprey, grizzly bears and more can be affected by the trash that washes downstream from the gutter to the gulf.

Our actions dictate the future.  Join me in making the months ahead the time that you begin or renew your commitment to being a better steward of your local environment.  Make the pledge to pick up just one extra piece of litter each day this spring, be it on the shore or on the sidewalk, while spring fishing or taking the dogs around the local loop.  Then put it where it belongs: in the garbage or in the recycle bin.  We owe it to ourselves, to generations of future outdoors enthusiasts and to everything that lives downstream.

(Featured Photo: Pristine areas need some extra looking after, and its up to spring anglers – and everyone else – to do their part. Simonson Photo)

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