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!

How to Spot Signs of Spring Bear

Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for.

We always hear that we need to remove food for bear when it starts to warm up and they start raiding bird feeders. Many people don’t even know what bear like to eat. Bear are omnivores with means they survive by eating plants and animals. Bear don’t eat just honey and they will kill other animals if they want to eat it.

Bear are one of the biggest predators to deer fawn and moose calves born each spring. Bear compete with other predators such as coyote and bobcat, which also kill deer and moose calves. Source

When bear come out of their dens, most often, there isn’t even green grass, let alone abundant berries, nuts, or other goodies to eat, which is what drives them to take advantage of what’s available. That means if they live in your woods, they’ll raid bird feeders, bee hives, chicken coops, grain barrels, and garbage bins, if given the opportunity.

Bear also take advantage of roadkill, called carrion, which is why motorists may get a chance to see bear roadside in the spring. Just think of how much road kill you can see in one trip down the turnpike: deer, ground hog, raccoon, beaver, porcupine, turkey, and fox, just for starters. Bear love beaver, which has been referred to as “bear caviar” or “bear coke”, but I’ve never heard of bear specifically hunting beaver as a source of food. Beaver have some pretty nasty teeth, so most likely, it would be road kill. We actually have used beaver as a scent attractant when we initially set bait for bear hunting. It works.

A bear’s incredible sense of smell will bring them into neighborhoods and populated areas not usually frequented once natural food is available. Since I am fortunate enough to not get bear in my backyard, I have to go looking elsewhere.

photo credit: https://vtfishandwildlife.com/learn-more/living-with-wildlife/living-with-black-bears/bear-resistant-trash-containers

In our travels, primarily on paper company owned land, I’m always looking for signs of bear activity. In all the time we’ve spent in the woods and driving roads, we’ve only seen a bear three times, all at dusk, and only glimpses, because once they see you coming, they usually are gone in a flash of black.

I truly love to see the signs of bear in our travels. You don’t need a game camera to find where bear are hanging out. When traveling roads, you can also spot signs. We often get out and inspect what we find. I love to take pictures and talk with the kids about what the bear might have been eating or doing when it was there. This is also a great way to break up a long ride. Most of the time, bear sign is all around, but you’ll miss it if you don’t know what to look for. So here’s a run down of what to look for:

1. Bear scat, in the road…Yes, bear poop in the road, not necessarily always in the middle. Poop in early spring is usually very black and consists of grass that has just sprouted. This is also a way for boars to mark their territory. Since spring is the beginning of mating season for bear, this is just another calling card.

A few years ago, we were trying to get a picture of this huge pile of poop…and got caught by another motorist…not everyone understands the desire to take pictures of scat. His hand out is for reference. He wasn’t reaching for it…I promise!

2. Rocks that have been rolled out of their spots. You can usually spot when a rock has been overturned. I have scoured my files, and despite knowing I’ve taken pictures of rocks, I can’t find one. But trust me…just picture good sized rocks overturned and ants crawling about. To make up for it, here’s more poop pictures.

3. Logs and other debris in the woods and in older wood yards. These are our biggest finds, and we often find bear claw marks on the wood. Bear rely on insects as an important part of their diet throughout the year, but spring is when ants provide them the food they need.

Newly shredded log in search of bugs
Ants are a great source of protein for bear in the spring.
See how the big stump has been rolled out of the way.
Looking for ants and grubs

4. We’ll find bear tracks in the dirt if we’re really lucky. Nothing to me is more fun than spotting tracks. Which one is it? Front foot? Back foot? The size of the track compared to your hand is a great photo opportunity. ‘

Husband’s hand compared to a bear track
Twelve year-old son’s hand compared to a bear track

And finally…claw marks on trees. Some of the trees were visited long ago and the tree has started to grow, while others are freshly carved. Any way I look at these, they’re all wicked cool.

Those are some deep claw marks…glad it’s a tree and not me!
Old claw marks in a beech tree. The tree was literally covered in claw marks.

I hope this will give you a chance to find your own bear sign. Get out of that truck and take a look the next time you’re on a dirt road. While chances are you won’t actually see a bear, finding sign is almost as good. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ve been missing. Don’t forget your camera or cell-phone…you just may find your own pile of poop to photograph.

Distracted Driving of the Wildlife Kind

distracted drivingThere’s lots of talk these days about cell phone usage, texting while driving and distracted driving. Distracted driving does involve many scenarios, and I recently experienced a new sort of distracted driving even I had never considered. I’ve always prided myself in the fact that I never text and drive, only answer calls if I think I can, never make calls while driving, and never, ever, put on makeup while driving…well okay, I hardly wear makeup and I put it on at home.

My commute from home to work is roughly thirty minutes. Most of the time, I take the rural route, but with roads beginning to heave and buckle from frost and my fearing the car would be damaged, I opted for the smooth interstate route from Waterville.

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Turkey flying over the road Route 8 & 11, Belgrade. I pulled over to get this shot.

I have a tendency to speed on the interstate, so I set my cruise control and go into auto-pilot. Just like many people, I arrive at work not remembering the commute unless I see wildlife along the way. Traffic usually runs pretty good with little congestion, and I cruise my way to work. As many of you may know from my Wonderful Week of Wildlife Facebook posts, I see a lot of animals in my travels. I love spotting animals in my travels, especially ones just inside the treeline.

On the interstate, I have several spots that I look for wildlife. Once the snow starts to melt, the critters begin moving. I spend a considerable amount of time with my head turned sideways looking for them. I’ve seen more deer, groundhog, skunk, racoon, and turkeys from the road than from hunting, and this day was no different.

One particular morning, as I was cruising, a red fox ran across the road some 500 yards ahead of me. I didn’t get a good look because it was so far away. I was particularly excited since I rarely see fox, and had never seen one on the interstate before. Ahead of me, drove a black Toyota, but it was some 300 or so yards away. As I approached where the fox crossed, I cranked my head left to see if I could spot him. No luck.

I look back to driving. As I looked up I found myself almost on top of the black Toyota that had also decided to slow down for the fox. I slammed on my breaks and veered left, just missing the Toyota. I broke out in a sweat, totally embarrassed by the near miss. As I passed the Toyota, the driver never even looked, apparently completely unphased or unaware of what had just happened.

I learned my lesson, and I’m so thankful I didn’t crash. I’ve had to tame my urges to look for wildlife. If I see something, I no longer try to see it run off into the woods. I’ll still get plenty of opportunity to see wildlife…that’s why John drives when we go for rides. I get to do all the looking then!

In the meantime, my eyes are on the road. Make sure yours are too.

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