By John Bradley
We have all seen it, the empty beer can in the ditch, the plastic bag that tangled in a branch – anywhere humans go we tend to leave trash behind, including sportsmen and women. While we should all strive to leave no trace when are in the woods and water, we can make a positive impact by cleaning up after each other, and summer is the perfect time to take care of the areas we flock to in the fall. Sure, you can (and should) pick up trash when you see it in the spring and fall, but summer, when there is no pressure to fill the freezer, is the best time to make a trip focused on cleaning up our public lands and waters.
There are numerous groups that have specific days for clean ups – I’m sure your favorite conservation organization has a date already planned that you could join. One group that I personally have worked with is Keep It Public, a non-profit dedicated to public land management and access. Their projects, based in the West benefit the public and wildlife. I’ve participated in their “Conservation Campouts” on the C. M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the Dakota Prairie Grasslands. They are on year five of pulling old, abandoned fence off of the CMR Wildlife Refuge – fence that was limiting deer and pronghorn movement. They promise rewarding work, a great wild game cookout, and cold beverages. They held up their promise – after a long weekend of removing wire and pulling posts, a cold beer and seeing pronghorn moving across that now open landscape mere hours after we pulled fence was a great reward.
If you aren’t interested in working through an organization, you can still make an impact anytime you take to the field. Throw a garbage bag in your backpack and fill it up with any trash you come across while scouting. You will be surprised at how quickly you’ll fill up that garbage bag. I have found hundreds of spent shells (waterfowlers clean up after your hunt!), beer cans, balloons, a broken and abandoned game cart, and so many candy wrappers. Even if the spot you are scouting is a dud for wild game, you’ll leave the place satisfied knowing you left it better than you found it.
As responsible hunters and anglers, it is our job to protect the resource, be good stewards of the land, and clean up the natural environment – even if we didn’t trash it. In fact, it’s one of the easiest things we can do to improve hunter-landowner relationships and the image of sportsmen and women overall.
Whether it’s signing up for a workday with a national conservation group or just picking up litter when you are out scouting – there is no shortage of habitat improvement projects that you can get involved with this summer – find a project that suits your interests and get out there. Now is the perfect time to give back to the land that gives us so much.
John Bradley is a Dakota Edge Outdoors Contributing Writer and the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.
Featured Photo: Hands on for Hunting. The author with barbed wire fence cleared off of the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge in partnership with Keep It Public and US Fish & Wildlife Service.