Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wild Land and Laws

(Click to Enlarge)
I love the outdoors. I’ve met dear, bear, elk, pine martin, fisher, otter, beaver and many other animals face to face in the wilds of my own property. Mosquitoes, biting flies, poison ivy, poison sumac and timber rattlers (baby and mother I found last fall, shown above) are all part of that. My parents and grandfather, a lifetime farmer and avid sportsman, introduced me to the outdoors at a young age. The picture below is of my grandfather (boy, left) and an uncle of his, moving stone from a field with a pair of oxen – back in the “good old days”.
Since there’s always been plenty of family farm and woodlot land in the family, we haven’t been limited to enjoying the outdoors on public land. I acknowledge the need for public parks, nature sanctuaries and the like, but sometimes I wonder how much is enough. I’ve been notified that the minimum fee has been upped to $86.35 a year for the use of a National Forest road into my property up north, and I need to pay $100 for forest service personnel to determine if I still need to use the road. When I first bought the property, the forester I contacted asked why I wanted a “Use Permit” for the road going in. He said, “It’s what the law requires, but most people just drive in without a permit.” I guess he was hinting I should do the same. I told him I wanted to obey the law, and he sighed. It meant a lot of paperwork. The Forest Service sells timber there on a regular basis. It’s OK I guess, because their clear-cut areas grow back into young trees that the deer and other game use for food and cover, but it’s no different than a lumber company when it does that. The land is open for people to walk through, but if you want to drive legally, you’re supposed to have a permit, use a designated ORV trail, or share designated forest roads with logging trucks. I can see the purpose of protecting redwoods, geysers at Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the like. I can see protecting virgin forests, as well as examples of bogs and fens full of the remnants of wildlife once common to early settlers, but rare now. The question is, how commonplace do these things need to become? When are enough areas set aside that uses of private land need not be restricted? Many people are finding the only recourse is to sell conservation easements (or donate them for the tax benefits) to be able to afford keeping the land in their families. Without a permit, I don’t think that a person in this state would be allowed to remove a tree fallen across a beaver channel through a swamp on their own land if they want to get their canoe through the channel to the lake beyond. Dragging the canoe around the log is the only legal option. The law in this state also prohibits driving an ORV through a swamp, even on your own land. And a wetland here extends 500 feet from a pond or lake by legal definition. Agricultural activities are partially exempt. A bog can be plowed up and planted in cranberries if you want - it just can’t be dammed or drained without a permit. Beavers, of course, don't need permits. Here's one heading for a spatterdock blossom for breakfast. It’s interesting how things vary from state to state. The common wild grape, native to this country, is endangered in Maine, but prohibited in Ohio as an invasive species. It’s easy for me to consider an imported species as being invasive – like foreign troops “invading” the countryside. It’s more difficult when they are part of our nation’s heritage. If passenger pigeons had survived rather than being shot to extinction, still clouding the skies today as they did in the 19th century, would they also be called invasive today? It would be a pest, certainly, like the sandhill crane, protected in eastern states, but hunted in many western states because its migration flocks cause damage to crops. I guess if you’re a protectionist in this case, you can choose to live in the east, and if you want to put one of the beautiful big birds in your freezer, go west. We have that much choice in the matter, at least.

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