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For Mother Nature, inappropriate gifts

The Baltimore Sun

Let's talk trash.

Not the nasty verbiage or playground hoops variety. Garbage. Rubbish. Trash. You know, the kind of stuff that decorates our landscape.

On the opening day of put-and-take trout fishing, I was grossed out by the amount of fishing line hanging from tree limbs and wrapped around bushes and rocks at a number of spots. Equally disturbing - the number of discarded white cardboard bait cartons floating in back eddies and bumping along the shore.

Several of you have noticed, too. You've gotten in touch with me in recent weeks to comment about the volume of crud you've found streamside, trailside and roadside this spring.

It's only going to get worse as more folks get outdoors. And it's a lousy commentary on this Earth Day.

I like to tell people that, somewhat like a symphony orchestra musician or college professor, I occupy the Rachel Carson Chair. Decades before she wrote Silent Spring, she wrote outdoors articles for The Sun under the byline R.L. Carson.

She wrote about Maryland's deer herd, the outlook for duck, trout and shad seasons, and an outdoors convention in Baltimore that was sure to turn the Free State into a sportsmen's paradise.

Why "R.L.?" Her biographer, Linda Lear, says it's because no one in the 1930s would have taken seriously a writer named "Rachel." Women weren't involved in science except as secretaries to scientists back then, Lear says.


It's morbid curiosity that makes me look at the annual inventory of junk hauled out of the Potomac River watershed during the volunteer cleanup effort. This year was no different: 60,550 plastic and aluminum beverage containers, 7,088 plastic bags and 608 tires. That's to say nothing of the 1952 Chevrolet, the Honda Civic dashboard, crab pots, lawnmowers, a bag with a lime and three coconuts (calling), a glass-blown bong, child safety seats and two-thirds of a pier.

Stacey Crossland-Smith, a fly-fishing guide from Baltimore County, e-mailed me photos labeled "Loch Raven - water supply or trash dump?"

They were horrible, and unfortunately, fit right in with the scene down along the Potomac.

Then Crossland-Smith e-mailed me another batch of photos and a note:

"Went out this morning and tackled one of the uglier spots [Morgan Mill Road Point]. Just did about 100 yards and came out with four large Glad bags, and a combined [amount of] fishing line ... the size of a basketball. Worst part is the dirty diapers thrown in woods [found about eight]. ... Guess people don't realize this is their drinking water."

When I called him, Crossland-Smith said he was glad to do it, but hoped not to make a habit of it. And he had a suggestion for the Baltimore public works staff: Replace the trash barrels with plastic bag dispensers and put up signs telling people to "pack out" their trash.

That might sound counterintuitive, but Rick Barton says it works.

Until his retirement April 1, Barton was the longtime superintendent of Maryland State Parks. After seeing a successful "pack it out" program in Rhode Island, he instituted it here in 1991.

"It was not to save money. It was for behavior modification, to get people to realize that their trash is their property and they have to take responsibility for it," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that the parks got cleaner."

When he ran Gunpowder Falls State Park, Barton said, he could always tell when Baltimore County's nearby landfill wasn't accepting tires.

"People tend to point fingers. It's the anglers. It's the campers. It's the hikers," he said. "But it's just people, people and their bad behavior."

Sam Price, another longtime angler and reader, called to commiserate and then sent me his observations in a pithy note:

"Ah, finally spring has arrived. Everywhere you look, the signs just cannot be ignored.

"There are fishermen lining the bank, elbow to elbow as if waiting for the next Oprah giveaway. The buds and the daffodils with their brilliant yellow, the yellow that goes so well with the royal blue of the farm-store coffee cups.

"It looks like a bumper year for empty Power Bait jars. Ten years ago, you would be lucky to see one or two all season; now they are as common as the aluminum beer cans.

"If you go jar hunting, look around those large, green containers marked 'trash.' But remember they are timid creatures. I've never seen one within four or five feet of such a container.

"And, of course, the old springtime standby - the plastic soda bottle. When these start to show up in fair numbers you know spring has arrived. But be careful because a hybrid bottle marked 'spring water' has been showing up.

"Last but not least, the white foam worm cups are making their way out of hibernation, showing up in good numbers around our trout streams. I think the appearance of empty cigarette packs may have triggered their move early this year.

"As a 'good sportsman,' I am baffled as to how we help Mother Nature prepare for spring. I wonder what she did before we got here?"

A heck of a lot better, Sam.

He who hesitates

If you haven't bought a fishing license yet, you'll want to do it before July 1, when the new license fees take effect.

The increase is an attention-getter. The controversial bill that passed earlier this month nearly doubles the price of a resident freshwater license from $10.50 to $20.50. The resident tidal license will rise from $9 to $15. The Consolidated Bay sport fishing decal will go from $40 to $50.

And, as the TV announcer says, "But wait, there's more."

In less than three years, Maryland and other states will have to tackle a federally mandated licensing of all ocean fishermen, too.

Happy Earth Day, gang.

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