I think I can speak for nearly all conservation professionals when I say that our overall goal is to leave the environment in a better condition than we find it. Usually this means making it appear as if we were never there, giving the natural area the appearance of unaltered, pristine habitat. During a recent trip to one of our project restoration sites in a nearby State Game Area, it occurred to me how often we leave our mark without even realizing it.
The site had a prescribed burn a month prior, and I had not been back since the day of the burn. Upon my arrival I expected to find a landscape dominated by the brown and black colors of the scorched ground and maybe an iridescent green hue of the returning vegetation. You can imagine my surprise when the trail opened to reveal a field covered in a layer of vibrant, green vegetation. As I stood there in awe at how fast the vegetation had returned, a flicker of bright blue caught my eye amongst all the earth tones. I parted the newly emergent grasses to get a better look and quickly realized that I had stumbled upon a blue jay feather that had most likely been left behind as the bird picked insects and seeds from the exposed ground. The bird had unintentionally left behind this feather that caught my attention.
I continued along my way keeping an eye out for more interesting things that may be hiding beneath the new micro-canopy. The sun reflecting off something caught my eye as I approached a more heavily used part of the game area only to realize that I stumbled upon a scene that is much too common of areas designated for public recreation. I had not discovered another trace of wildlife as I had hoped, but rather a pile of cans, wrappers, and a few empty shotgun shells.
As an avid outdoorsman, it pains me to see that a fellow hunter had left this shared area in such a poor state. We are supposed to be the front line for promoting good stewardship of the land, yet it is a rarity to find a recreational area free of the littered scene that I just described. As the great philosopher Aldo Leopold once said, “We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Remember the next time you find yourself immersed your favorite natural area that the most important mark to leave is none at all.
Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator