Maine: Are There Enough Game Wardens ?
By Mike Gorey

As my twelve year old son proudly steered the canoe in to the boat launch area of Jim Pond (it was his first time in the stern, and he adopted the title of “guide” eagerly), I looked over at the huge wind turbines on Kibby Mountain. Yes, they look strange sitting up there. And no, I don’t know how much noise they will make, or whether they will adversely impact birds or lynx in the area. Big business, engineers, LURC, and politicians, not the average Maine voter, have put those turbines up there.

Given the recent fires in Russia, the flooding in Pakistan, and the warm temps in our Maine lakes this summer, I don’t doubt that global warming is real. So, while I hope these turbines deliver the promised power, I sit listening to the steady stream of vehicles gassing past my rural Edgecomb window, and I know that much larger systemic changes than building twenty odd wind turbines will be needed to slow global warming. And this realization can make this citizen feel very small, almost powerless, indeed.

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There’s a much more preventable despoliation going on, however, not only at Jim Pond but across the State, which all of us can do something about. Let’s start with the convenience store coffee cup chucked in the grass by the boat launch. Not all of today’s conservation problems require high tech solutions. Basic respect for our public access properties and for the people who come to enjoy them is critical to ensure that all of our kids and their kids continue to have access to Maine’s natural beauty.

My main concern at Jim Pond is the avoidable degradation of the campsites and surrounding woods. In the pond-side campsite we took, a once beautiful and now leafless paper birch loomed high overhead. Glancing to the base of the tree I saw how years of stripping birch bark off the tree had killed it. Less than a hundred yards up the trail, on the ground I found plenty of birch bark that could be gathered for starting a fire.

In the adjoining campsite, someone has hacked half way through a forty-foot live fir tree. Sap oozes from the “wound.” This tree is rooted in the bank of soil next to the water. I wondered, “what was this camper thinking?” Even if he succeeded in cutting through the trunk, because of the direction of the cut, and the surrounding trees, it would get hung up. Second, the green wood would not burn. Third, and more importantly, to cut the tree down would lead to significant erosion, as well as destroy the welcome protection from the summer sun. As far as I can tell, the camper was not thinking.

The woods along the pond behind this campsite are strewn with toilet paper and feces. It’s appalling. Just up the hill, there are two outhouses, which are rotten and collapsing. The State will not replace them one fellow camper from Farmington told me. He and others have called to ask. These sites also used to have tables. According to this same gentleman who has been coming to Jim Pond for years, a group of “yahoos” came in one night and burned a table. After the vandalism, the State stopped maintaining the campsites, and they reverted to primitive status.

Jim Pond, of course, is not an isolated example of the degradation of public access sites. This past Memorial Day at Nahmakanta Lake, which is the heart of the largest unit in the public reserved lands system, things were out of hand. At 11 AM, that Saturday, we had to squeeze through the illegal campsite of a group of young men drinking Twisted Tea just to take our canoe to the launch. No doubt this group arrived and the two official sites were taken already. So they set up this illegal site thinking no one would be out to check. I know for a fact, however, that two additional sites located a short boat ride up the lake were open; my son and I canoed out and took one. These men could easily have done the same since they had a motorboat.

I’ve never seen a warden at Nahmakanta, and I’ve probably camped there a dozen times. I don’t like to think that we need warden presence to deter people from treating this invaluable resource thus, but obviously some people left unmonitored will make poor choices that affect everyone else.

A little later that day, yet another group went in with a four-wheeler (to protect the lakeshore, the State has set up two boulders so people can’t drive trucks to the water or campsites) and set up an illegal camp on the beach. Again this group set up their camp in such a way that anyone wanting to travel to Nahmakanta Stream to fish had to walk between their pitched tents to get to the water that’s there for all.

All of this disrespect for fellow campers and damage to the physical properties begs the question, “where are the wardens responsible for these areas?” Why are people not being held accountable? No doubt many of us are doing a great job leaving “no trace behind,” but there are individuals who will act irresponsibly and illegally if they believe there is no supervisory presence. I’m assuming the answer is that, in these times of fiscal austerity, there are not enough wardens to do the job.

What then is the solution? Short of an altercation with the guys drinking the Twisted Tea, we’re all going to have to do a better job noticing what’s going on around us, and if need be, step forward and speak up when we see disrespect and damage occurring. Personally, I can’t afford to buy access to privately owned lands and waters, so I must help take care of the properties reserved by the State for the rest of us to enjoy.

Mike Gorey is a concerned sportsman who lives in Boothbay Harbor.

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