I have noticed a disturbing trend this year – more and more people blatantly and blithely overlooking signage on both private and public lands that clearly states an area is closed or clearly states its intended usage.
Have we become so desperate to fill tags, get that perfect photo, and be the first to report a rare bird or wildlife sighting that we have forgotten the reasons behind the refuges, rest areas, and restricted areas? Since when did it become okay to trespass on privately owned wild areas?
A public land area may be closed for a variety of reasons. From serving as a rest area or refuge for migrating waterfowl and birds, to being closed to hunting so that hikers, birders, etc. have access to the trails in the area without interfering with someone’s hunt. It may be an area on a body of water that is restricted to access for safety reasons.
Let’s get something straight right now – these restrictions apply to EVERYONE and are there for a reason. Don’t give me the song and dance about your rights as taxpayer to any and all areas of public land. It simply doesn’t work that way.
Also, please spare me the argument I keep hearing from photographers and birders that trespass on the waterfowl rest areas and refuges – “I’m not hunting so it doesn’t matter.” It does to matter! Those rest areas and refuges are a vital part of maintaining and conserving our migratory birds. Without these areas for them to rest and feed undisturbed by human interference many would not survive migration each year. The argument from many birders especially during the Christmas bird count period is that they are collecting important data on the various migratory bird populations. I won’t argue at all the contribution that these folks make, but unless a site has permitted them for access to a closed area they are just as much in violation as any other person who sets foot across that refuge line.
If any area says no hunting – it means just that. Don’t creep the line, don’t shoot into an area that is closed to hunting. It greatly increases the risk of accidently injuring someone who is that area, thinking that they are safe from flying arrows and shotgun shells.
After seeing so much utter disregard for use age regulations this year I have come to the conclusion that sadly this has become our reality.
- A photographer trespassing on private land, with climbing spikes, all in an effort to get photos of an eagle on her nest. News flash – that camera does not give you any special rights or access.
- A firearm enthusiast set up and sighting in a variety of his rifles in a no hunting, no firearm zone. A squirrel hunter across the line in a designated hunting area was nearly maimed by flying brass hurled into the woods. Not every area on public land is open to every activity and shooting an AR-15 blindly into the woods at a target you hung from a tree in a designated hunting area is just plain stupid. There are designated areas for things like this – use them, not any patch of public land you think looks good.
- A birder marching across a closed refuge, scattering and disturbing trumpeter and tundra swans. The battle to restore the Trumpeter Swan population in the central and Midwest flyways has been successful; but constant harassment – yes harassment – by those so determined to photograph and log them on a birding life list threatens that success.
- A hunter on waterfowl refuge with an air rifle, picking off collared and banded geese in order to simply have more jewelry on his lanyard. Really? The acres of hunting areas that usually surround a refuge or rest area aren’t enough?
- I hate to even bring up the subject of anti-hunters crashing and smashing through designated hunting areas for the sole purpose of ruining a hunt. But I have seen it time and again.
- Ecological Areas that have multiple signage regarding the collection of species from these rare and protected areas. If it says no collections – that means NO COLLECTIONS – period. You may not remove a rare species of flora or fauna just to enhance your own collection. So take that salamander and snake out of your backpack and put it back where it belongs.
- Boaters anchored inside a restricted area near huge and dangerous power plant pumps collecting baitfish. That restriction is for YOUR safety. When your boat capsizes or gets sucked into pump, perhaps you will realize why those buoys are there.
- Hikers without a stitch of blaze orange on hopping, skipping, and jumping around a clearly defined hunting area during firearm deer season, because “I don’t have to wear orange. I am not hunting”.
- Photographers and birders accessing a closed waterfowl management area open only for youth hunters because, “If they can be in there, so can I”. Have at it fella, and don’t come crying to me when you are picking steel shot out of your lens or your behind.
These are just a few of what seems like a million examples of poor public land behavior that I have seen this year. Public land is there for all of us to use and enjoy whatever our favorite outdoor pursuit may be; but unless we are mindful and obey the various restrictions the ability for everyone as well as the conservation efforts of many can be destroyed with a single shrug of the shoulders and utterance of “I don’t care, that doesn’t mean me. “
So make it your resolution for the coming year to be mindful and obey the rules and restrictions for any public land you visit, along with obtaining permission to access any private property before setting foot across that fence line. It makes everyone’s experience much more enjoyable and safer!
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* The content of editorial posts does not reflect the official opinion of Carrie Zylka, LLC. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in this editorial lies entirely with the author.