Seriously, Leave No Trace

I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.

That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.

When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.

Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.

We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”

The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.

How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.

People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.

Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.

When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.

Even nature knows how to leave no trace.

Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.

The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.

The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.

The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.

A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.

If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.

I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.

Happy Summer!

No Land to Hunt? Ask….or Find It.

First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours.

Sperson knocking on dooro I started following a group of women hunters, and a question came up about hunting when you have no land of your own, and what to do when you aren’t very comfortable about knocking down doors to ask.

First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours. Even if the land isn’t posted, if you feel you have to sneak around, it just won’t feel right. And the last thing you want to do is be chased off land you didn’t ask to use, because you now know the answer would be no for sure.

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Town map…find your spot and then find the owner

There are ways to find available land no matter where you live. Look for access by permission only signs and find the owners if it’s not listed on the sign. Don’t be afraid to go to the local town offices to look at town maps, or get online and find landowner information from tax assessing records. You won’t find a phone number, but you will find a name and address, and that’s a start.

I was scared to death to ask a farmer to hunt turkey, especially being a woman. Low and behold, despite their surprised look of a woman asking, the owner was cordial. She had promised it to another hunter, but if I could wait until Thursday, then I could have it. Turns out she knew my Dad, and was happy that I was a Norridgewock native. Small steps may lead to a big opportunity.

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LaGrange to Medford Trail

There’s a lot of public land in Maine that’s accessible to hunters. Now I know it’s annoying that there are some places that people used to hunt that are now off limits because land was donated to a group or cause, and they make their own rules. Many of these organizations don’t consist of hunters, and because patrons might feel afraid, they restrict hunting…blah, blah, blah…it’s not going to change unless we are part of the process. The one thing that will help all hunters is making sure good landowner relations continue to protect what we do have access to use. So asking is best.

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Bigelow Preserve

So I did a little digging. I can’t give away all my spots, but this will help you find public land to hunt. Be thorough and do your homework on the area. First of all, you can hunt on public lands and even some state parks, but you have to put on your detective hat and scout the land. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has some great information on their website. Hunting is not allowed at State Historic Sites or Memorials, and there’s a list of places you can and can’t hunt right there to review. You can search by activity and these are the public lands and state parks that came up for hunting. Just be mindful to know the rules pertaining to state parks and when you can hunt. I was surprised to see so many options in southern Maine, since I’ve never really considered it anywhere near accessible to hunters…but it is. I live farther north and don’t hunt in southern Maine, but there are lots of opportunities to  hunt.

Bear hunting has more restrictions/requirements, but bear hunting is still allowed on public lands, but by permit or lottery. It’s either by straight application and the sites are split equally among requests, or a lottery is done if the number of requests outnumber the number of sites. More information about how to apply is found here.

There’s also information on gathering (berries, mushrooms, fiddleheads) which has become very popular, and as with hunting, permits are required for some types of gathering.

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My moose from zone 5 in North Maine Woods

Another source for hunting is the North Maine Woods, which is actually several timber companies that let you access their land for a fee. You pay at the gate, and the land is there to hunt. Just know the zone rules for whatever game you are hunting. Now when we hunt the NMW, it’s a trip, week long or at least three days because we live so far away, so it’s not something right out your door, but it’s nice to know it’s there. And there are several registered guides throughout the NMW that can help you get that deer, moose, bear or whatever you want.

IMG_20190826_120920641.jpgAnother source is paper company land closer than the NMW. We rabbit hunt “north” and it’s on paper company land. Some companies such as Wagner and Weyheuser, have a permit/lease system for bear hunting, and it’s pretty gobbled up by a few guide services, so don’t be totally discouraged because they hold some sites for DIY’s like us, and sometimes sites become available. They have roads to bird or rabbit hunt, deer hunt, moose hunt, and even bear hunt if you’re lucky enough to see one not over bait, so it’s not a total loss.

And a fairly new option I sort of stumbled upon is land trusts not state owned, such as the Ezra Smith Wildlife Conservation Area, donated by George Smith and family, and is managed by the Kennebec Land Trust which allows hunting on most of its parcels of land. There’s quite a comprehensive list so go to their website and check it out.

img_20191015_235710_011.jpgNow getting back to landowner permissions. The ONLY way we bear hunt on private land is because we got landowner permission, and in return, we give back by maintaining his road. We feel so privileged that we have this access and we take it very seriously. And all we did was ask.

My son hunts on land that isn’t his, and all he did was ask. And he asks every year. I’ve hunted turkeys on land that wasn’t posted, but we still asked. The landowner appreciated it and told us so.

no hunt signAnd you’ll have some landowners who are anti-hunting or what I call land greedy (it’s mine all mine and you can’t use it even if I don’t) and they have their signs posted everywhere, but sometimes conversations can lead to opportunity such as just asking to bow hunt instead of rifle hunt and a door opens. Sometimes not, but it’s worth asking.

Ask a farmer. He may hate those turkeys eating into his silage pile, and wants you to “shoot all of them.” And if all else fails, ask friends if you can hunt with them. You may just find a mentor. Many friends make a trip to hunting camp each year and/or leave their own property un-hunted. Opportunity….Ask. Ask. Ask.

You may just be surprised to find more people are willing to let you hunt than you realize. Access is only a knock away. The more we talk to landowners, the more we build relationships that will help protect the future of hunting.

Good luck and be sure to identify your target before you shoot.

 

 

Preserving Maine Wilderness

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Just a small portion of the crappy road that we travel…just not at 60 mph. (c) S. Warren

It’s not often that I plan a gripe session in my blog, but this week I am compelled to gripe a little. We’ve been extremely fortunate to be given landowner permission to hunt on land an hour and a half from home. Getting there has always been half the adventure. A good portion of the road is crappy (I mean 25 mph and you’re still cringing crappy) and it needs to be repaired. We make bets on how many moose, rabbit, deer, and other wildlife we may see on our journey. The crappy road slows us down considerably to get there. But once there, it’s always been our “little piece of wilderness”. The joy of hunting remotely is the feeling that no one else is there–complete solitude. You can totally engage your thoughts in what you’re doing and unplug from the world. For me it’s a good time to cleanse the mind and enjoy the experience of being there without listening to cars, dogs, screaming kids, blaring music, or dump trucks to name a few.

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of vehicles traveling this route. They are adorned with kayaks, canoes and bicycles..in-state vehicles too, but mostly out-of-state cars, driving like freaking mad men and women to get to their pseudo-wild destination that an organization has advertised heavily in a Maine-focused magazine that’s marketed towards the not-so-average-Mainer, but more so for the upper middle class New England Urbanites that want to “unplug” for a weekend. I’ve seen them drive the crappy road as if it was a super highway; driving at high rates of speed, passing on corners, passing on hills, and tailgating just to get to “their” spot. A number of times, we’ve simply pulled over to let them by because they won’t pass but insist on tailgating.

We’ve seen a ten-fold increase in bicyclists, despite the fact that this road is narrow, has no breakdown lanes, no bike lanes, and has hill after hill, and has blind spots throughout scattered with washouts and broken pavement. I’ve even encountered “skiers” on rolling skies who think nothing of tucking down the middle of the road and won’t get over to let you by, or who stop right in the middle of the road to chat with fellow “skiers” without so much as an eye blink when you look at them in disbelief for their inconsideration.

I’ve also noticed that this is the first summer that we didn’t see the number of moose we’re accustomed to seeing in our commute. In fact, we barely saw any wildlife all summer. We saw one moose in May (pictured above), and didn’t see another one until the very last week of September. This is more than disturbing. And I don’t think it’s a tick problem because I’ve never seen a moose in that condition in this area.

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Mowed road…seriously?! (c) S. Warren

This influx of tourists….are putting a real damper on little my piece of wilderness experience! They trample paths made accessible by the organization who’s chopped, mowed, and excavated because the trail can’t be too hard for the tourists to hike…and then the organization creates a “world class” bike trail..a trail that potentially crosses through where game travels, across water flows, wet areas, and in order to do so hack a path through the woods..oh yeah, and they nail their signs all along the road onto living trees that they don’t own. The tourists also like to yell and hoot as they enjoy their bike ride, not caring if anyone else may be bothered by it–yet it interferes with my solitude. So much for “leave no trace”.

Only once have we encountered someone face to face since we make an effort to avoid them at all cost–and what did they do? They pitched a tent IN – THE- M I D D L E of the traveled road/trail where camping isn’t even supposed to happen, and they did it all without hesitation, but instead with a sense of pride and entitlement and they with only the best-of-the-best gear that money can buy as if that somehow makes them outdoorsmen/women.Their response when we told them they can’t tent just anywhere…”We’ve done this for twenty years.”…BULL CRAP! this trail hasn’t been here that long!  They acted as if we were the ones that were encroaching on their wilderness space. It may have had something to do with one of them hanging out naked by the tent, but I really don’t care. News flash back-to-nature dudes…just because you can hike on it, doesn’t mean you have the right to camp on it, cook on it, or poop on it! Is that so hard to understand? We have access to the same land, and under no circumstances would we feel as though we have a right to bring in our camper or tent and pitch it for the weekend. We have more respect for the landowner than to do that!! We have more respect for others that use this piece of land. No one even knows we’re there when we’re there, and when we leave, we leave no trace.

Don’t get me wrong. I cherish access. Access is critical to the enjoyment of Maine and what it has to offer, and we are extremely grateful for the access we’ve been given. What I do have a problem with is the commercialization of that cherished access that is threatening the Maine wilderness experience for a lot of us.

I can only wonder how many animals were missed seeing or barely avoided being hit because people were driving so fast. I can only wonder how much further north I’ll have to go in a few years to find my piece of wilderness if this continues. I can only wonder how wildlife is being affected by all this traffic and all these tourists. I can only wonder if this is a snapshot of what it would be like for the people of Mt. Katahdin area….their wilderness being sucked up, trampled on, and used without real appreciation by tourists…I can only wonder.

Maybe perhaps Acadia National Park, Baxter State Park and the Appalachian Trail provide enough commercialized abuse for Maine’s wilderness. Perhaps we don’t need to sell off our wilderness experience with yet another national park. I truly hope we don’t if this is a sign of what could or may be.