Friday, July 27, 2012

BLOG 17. Selective Environmentalism, by Cliff Jacobson

BLOG 17.  SELECTIVE ENVIRONMENTALISM
by Cliff Jacobson


At the outset, I should make it clear that I am an environmentalist.  I taught environmental science at a Minnesota Middle School for many years.  I deeply believe that we are stewards of the earth and it’s our job to take care of it and to pass a caring attitude on to the next generation. 
Cliff: Bell Yellowstone Solo canoe.  Along the Frost River, BWCA
This said, I take issue with selective environmentalism. Selective environmentalists mean well but they lack the knowledge and/or experience to make smart decisions.  Here are some examples:

SAVE TREES: A TRAIL STOVE IS BETTER THAN A CAMPFIRE!
There are, of course, sensitive environments where you shouldn’t make a campfire, and Federal and State authorities have pretty much defined them all.   But properly maintained campfires don’t harm the northern forest environment—the BWCA.  Those that say they do need to have a long talk with a forester.  Gathering fallen wood for campfires does not impact  the northern confierous forest. If anything, it benefits the area by removing dead wood which builds up and compacts the “litter layer” on the forest floor.

There’s also the argument that campfires produce carbon-dioxide that causes global warming.  Evidently, it’s okay to drive 400 miles round trip to the BWCA and burn 340 gallons of gas in your car.  Let’s see now;  40 gallons x  6 lbs/gal =240 pounds of hydrocarbons.  Compare this with the weight of dead, downed wood you’ll burn in your campfire.

PITCH YOUR TENT AT LEAST 150 FEET FROM WATER
The first edition of my book, “Basic Illustrated: Camping” came under fire because the cover photo showed a tent that was pitched close to a lake.  Frankly, I see no problem here unless one urinates into or near the water or throws left-over food or garbage into the lake. The real danger is rising water or a very unlikely “land wind” that could blow the tent into the lake. There are lots of campsites in the BWCA that are close to the water’s edge.  Most campers consider them “treasured spots!”

WASH YOUR FACE AND BODY, AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH 150 FEET FROM WATER           
The solution to pollution is dilution.  One hundred and fifty feet is a long ways.  Where did the feds come up with this obscure number? I can’t believe that a quart of soapy water dumped 50 feet from shore is any more problematic than one dumped another 100 feet away. We’re talking about a very small amount of contaminant here. Fifty feet is reasonable as long as you don’t pour the water down a barren rock that slopes to the water. I once knew a whacko backpacker who swallowed his toothpaste—he said that spitting it out would harm the enviroment.  Evidently, it didn’t register that what went in one end of his body came out the other!
 Federal authorities recommend you wash up 150 feet from water--but that's a very long ways.  Some people may get lost in the woods going that far!
LEAVE YOUR AXE AT HOME!
 Show up with an axe on a canoe trip and you can expect some stares.  But axes don’t damage trees; people do! In fact, saws cause most of the damage done to trees in the BWCA these days. The best way to protect the environment is to educate, not legislate—the point is that you should use the axe to split dead, downed logs, not cut living trees!
BWCA campsite.  Littlbug stove (yes, it's legal!) burns hot and saves fuel. Gransfors mini-hatchet
DON’T BURN PLASTIC IN YOUR CAMPFIRE; IT CREATES POISONOUS HYDROCARBONS. 
Yeah, and so do campfires and burning gasoline in your car and trail stove.  When you compute the amount of hydrocarbons burned by just one jet plane flying from LA to New York, your campfire is small potatoes.

DON’T CUT LIVE VEGETATION!
Well, generally yes, but there are exceptions, most of which depend upon the situation and where your are.  Some examples:
1.    Fond du Lac River, Saskatchewan, 1979. I was hoping to get a nice photo of my Old Town canoe set against a spectacular background.  So I set the canoe near the edge of a high falls and was ready to snap the picture when I observed a tiny seedling blocking the T in Old Town.  I snipped it off and took the photo, after which, a man laid into me for cutting that tiny tree.  Later that day, a float plane chugged up to our camp. The pilot said that a survey crew would soon be arriving by helicopter.  If we would cut out a landing spot for the plane—about 150 feet by 150 feet—he’d give us all the porkchops we could eat and beer we could drink. We complied.  And the man who swung the machete the hardest was the one who chided me for cutting that little seedling.
MacFarland River, Saskatchewan.  We had to cut hundreds of trees to clear this portage
2.    The last three miles of the MacFarland River (Saskatchewan) are characterized by impassable falls and rapids. The river is very remote; hardly anyone ever canoes it, hence, portages are not marked or maintained.  The seldom used portage was choked with trees—there was no way to get canoes across. Good thing we had two full-framed saws and two axes: we had to cut over 1000 trees to clear the three mile trail!  Naturally, this practice would be unacceptable in the BWCA.  But this was northern Canada and as remote as it gets. The point is that what is acceptable behavior in one environment is often not acceptable in another. Boundary Waters portages are cleared by federal authorities; Canadian ones are not!  Blanket statements, like “zero tolerance” are always bad ideas!

 3.  Steel River, Ontario: A long dead tree leaned precariously over the best tent spot in camp.  A good wind could send it crashing down on us.  So we cut down that tree and sawed it up for firewood.  
BWCA trail: Cr. Larry Ricker
WALK THROUGH MUD-HOLES NOT AROUND THEM
Park yourself along a mucky Boundary Waters portage at the height of the traffic flow in July, then note how many people take this recommendation seriously.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to wade through a foot of mud if I can sneak along the edge of a trail and stay dry.  Slopping through mud when you can walk around is advice only desk-bound campers take seriously.

XXX


3 comments:

MichiganDave said...

Well stated Cliff, so many people just repeat stupid stuff they have read somewhere, thoughtful care of the land can go a long way. Really like the contrast of burning gas to travel to the Boundary Waters and then not burn wood in a campfire!

Cliff Jacobson said...

Thanks for the comment, Dave.
Best,
Cliff

CurtNM said...

Well-written with relevant discussion points dealing with common wilderness management regulations.

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