I don’t usually get very preachy about conservation and leave no trace style practices. I think after all these years of being an outdoor educator, I’d rather instill a sense of understanding and fascination that builds up a respect for the natural world in people. If you respect and enjoy something, there’s a tendency to want to preserve it and treat it well.
Today is a little different though. To be honest, even though what I’m about to describe happened a few days ago, I’m still a little hot under the collar about it. This past weekend was the final session of our year long Friluftsliv program, and the students and I took to the water to dial in some of the skills they’ve been learning before we head to Maine in July for the final trip of the course. When we reached the boat launch here in Brattleboro VT, we were greeted by a tire floating in the water right at the shore line. I grumbled a bit about it, but started loading my boat up and getting ready for the day of paddling. One of my students however, floated over to the tire and noticed something odd about it. He said there was a turtle inside the tire. I assumed he meant a small slider or some other water turtle that was using it as a sunning raft.
That wasn’t the case. When I paddled over I saw the hind feet and tail of a clearly dead snapping turtle. I believe that the poor thing had tried to swim through the tire and gotten wedged in it and probably drowned. I don’t use the phrase lightly when I say that it broke my heart. The rivers we use for courses here in southern Vermont (particularly the Connecticut) are all notorious for being filled with trash, and I usually come back from trips with a bag full of junk that’s been floating in the river. This is the first time though that I’ve seen such direct effects of people’s disregard for the damage their laziness can cause to wildlife.
I pulled the tire out of the water and removed the dead turtle, and brought them both back to our campus. The tire will be disposed of and the turtle is buried in an old compost pile, having it’s bones cleaned for future educational uses on programs. Its the best I could think to make out of the completely avoidable situation.
Here’s the thing about trash in rivers, or any wild space. It shouldn’t be on a few people and groups to take on the responsibility of cleaning up after everyone else, but it is. This is isn’t me repeating some tired old trope of “we all need to band together”. It’s the opposite of that. This is a call to real, in the moment action. If you use a river, trail, or any other public outdoor space that often has trash along it, and you aren’t coming back with at least a couple of things in your pockets to dispose of, then you’re accepting the problem as the norm. You might not be adding to it, but I personally don’t see that as helpful at this point in the game.
I really don’t like to speak harshly. It’s not in my Midwestern wiring to say hard things in a hard way, but I’d like events like this one to become outliers, rather than the norm, and they won’t unless people stop giving lip service to, and patting themselves on the back for “leave no trace” practices and start practicing “remove existing traces” instead.
I’m certainly going to be making use of any space in my boat to haul things out everytime I use the water systems. You can put a few things in your pockets.