Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nebraska's Public Lands for Hunters Only?

Much of Nebraska’s public lands are managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Here in Lincoln County we have about 9,000 acres of public land from the 6,000 acre Sutherland Reservoir State Recreation Area, the 1920 acre Wapiti Wildlife Management Area, a couple of areas from 600-800 acres all the way down to 25 acre Interstate Lakes.

We had the opportunity to tour these lands recently with a District Manager from the NGPC to assess their tourism potential – how we could market them better, what activities might be suited for them. There are LOTS of rules and regulations governing their use. There is a law that if they don’t have “services”, there can only be a certain amount of signage for them. Understandably, no powered vehicles are allowed. There aren’t any trash cans at many of them. Why? Besides the personnel costs to service the trash cans, “they would just get shot up.” Those were also the reasons for not installing pit toilets at many of the sites, with probably the added concern of construction costs.

Which brings me to the main complaint of this blog post.
Photo above shows target-shooter litter at Box Elder Canyon WMA
I fully understand that the majority of conservation efforts in the United States is possible because of the Pittman-Robertson Act. This act creates an excise tax on all fishing and hunting equipment. The funds generated from this tax, as well as the fees from hunting licenses and special stamps needed by hunters and fishermen. Everyone who enjoys nature and wildlife watching benefits from the hunting and fishing on public lands.

My complaint is that NGPC public lands are managed EXCLUSIVELY for hunters, at least here in Lincoln County. Even our most basic request to be allowed to get a group of volunteers together to construct a walking/hiking trail system was met with this stonewall. “We wouldn’t want hunter/non-hunter interaction. All we need is for a deer hunter to go to all the work of setting up a deer stand only to have twenty hikers walking under his tree.

My question is: Yes, fees from hunting may fund the purchase and management of this land, but how much is it costing? Trash, shot up signs, dumped deer carcasses. NGPC can’t even put up signs, trash cans or toilets without them being shot up? No matter how much money they pay, do the hunters deserve these privileges?
Photo above shows a shot-up sign at Muskrat Run WMA
There are hunting seasons from early August (squirrel season – who hunts squirrels?) through May (late spring turkey). That’s ten months of the year? What if… during March, the peak migration time for the Sandhill Cranes from Ogallala to Grand Island, there was a break in the hunting seasons? We could have March, part of May, June and July for hiking, walking, geocaching, letterboxing and bird watching on the public lands managed by NGPC. We could build trails, construct photography blinds, run in adventure races, and not worry about disturbing hunters or getting shot while enjoying these great outdoor activities.
Photo above shows deer carcasses dumped at Muskrat Run WMA

Maybe only one or two WMA’s would be designated for non-hunting uses, not all of them. We’re not asking for much. But here’s the rub: Who would be willing to pay? Hunters and fishermen buy licenses EVERY YEAR, they buy duck stamps, they buy habitat stamps, they buy trout stamps, they pay excise taxes on their equipment. Everyone else complains when they are required to purchase a PARK ENTRY PERMIT. How are we going to generate funds to develop alternative uses for these lands if the alternative USERS aren’t willing to pay?

I don’t have answers, only questions.
Food for thought.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee’s always on.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Exuberance of Sandhill Cranes

Crane season lasts only about a month here in Nebraska, which still makes us incredibly lucky as they just fly through most other places.
The first thing you notice, about mid- to late-February is their song. They'll be flying high overhead and you'll hear hoots and trills.
Then you'll begin to see small groups of them in the corn fields along the highway.
Finally, you'll see large groups of them covering the fields and pastures. The sound of their song fills your ears when you take the time to stop and listen.
Morning and night you'll see large "kettles" of them flying in the distance as they travel to and from their roosts in the Platte River.
On this beautiful March morning, I was fortunate enough to find several medium-sized flocks along North River Road just north of Sutherland.
I was tempted to get out of my car and try to sneak closer, but they are hunted in many other states along their migration route and are very wary of people on foot.
As it was, they were very close to the road when I first stopped, but before I knew it, they were several hundred feet further away.
They just kind of nonchalantly eased away without my even noticing it. Then when they felt they were a safe distance, they just stayed put.
The Sandhill Crane migration in Nebraska is something that those of us who live here take for granted.
We don't understand how magnificent these birds are and how rare it is to see so many of them in one place at the same time.
In fact, people who live near the river and fields they flock to even get tired of the constant noise of their songs.
I am just as bad as the next person, driving past the flocks in my hurry to get to and from work each day, oblivious to the beauty of their song and dance.
But when you do take the time... take a slower route home from work... drive with the windows down... pull over when you get the chance...
Their songs and the exuberance of their dance fill your heart with joy.
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handedI hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
When one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance... I hope you dance
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances, but they're worth takin'
Lovin' might be a mistake, but it's worth makin'
Don't let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin' out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
Of course, those words are from the LeAnn Womack song "I Hope You Dance."
There's an Irish drinking song by the Blarney Rebel Band: When You're Dead, You'll Wish you had Danced.
Who knows where we’ll be tomorrow We only know today
And what the future will bring us None of us can say
So drink up while you can, you may not get another chance
When you’re dead, you’ll wish you had danced.
Don’t live your life worrying about what people might say
Don’t stand and watch the others have all the fun
Don’t put off until tomorrow things you want to do today
Don’t leave regretting things you left undone
Though I’m still not the dancing kind there’s little else that I won’t do
And I’ll try my best to do it all before my time is through
And I won’t live my life based on what other folks might think
I’ll smile at them and tip my cap and offer them a drink and say
Who knows where we’ll be tomorrow We only know today
And what the future will bring us None of us can say
So drink up while you can, you may not get another chance
When you’re dead, you’ll wish you had danced.
Thanks for stopping by. Forget the coffee. Get out there and dance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Fever

With daytime highs reaching into the 80's, you can't blame us for succumbing to Spring Fever, since it is only March. St. Patrick's Day was beautiful and started out with North Platte's first annual St. Patrick's Day parade.
The Mister can trace his Scots-Irish heritage back to ancestors who fled from Scotland to Ireland following the 1715 rising, before emigrating to Pennsylvania later in the 18th century. He is proudly wearing his Maclaren clan tartan. Other Scotts-Irish surnames in his genealogy include Bailey, Knox, Cooney, O’Brien and MacDonald.

After that a trip to the river was definitely in order. All day we had toyed with actually getting IN the river and making it the first kayak trip of the year, but better sense prevailed and we settled for a scouting trip.

We were rewarded with three bald eagles just east of the Sarben bridge.
Yes, the water is going to be cold in mid-March even if the thermometer says 80 degrees.
Obviously a beaver has been hard at work, though why he would choose a tree so near the road isn't clear. Maybe it just tasted better than others.
Lots of fish, though they're only just carp.
Here's a picture of the North Platte River as it was on March 17, 2012.
And here's exactly the same stretch of river on June 11, 2011. What a difference less than a year makes. Last year tanking was tough because the water was too high, fast and dangerous. This year it may be tough because there isn't enough water. Thank goodness we have the optional kayaks.
To round out the trip we took the road west along the canal north of Sarben. Obviously some early pioneer spent a lot of time and effort building a stone house for themselves. Sad that it has fallen into disrepair.
A Union Pacific coal train crosses the North Platte river.
It was a beautiful end to a wonderful day.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Through The Seasons Part 2

The morning sunlight kisses the hills of the Birdwood valley just after sunrise on the morning of March 18. Approximately 8:15 a.m.
This photo was taken at 9:00am CT on Sunday February 5 on Birdwood Road looking south into the valley of the Birdwood creek.
Hopefully one day soon we'll see some green on the hills.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Taking a day to prepare

The news this week has been devastating. Storm after storm demolishing communities, destroying homes, killing people. Families begin their days in a normal life, preparing for school, work, fun... and end the day in a nightmare of death and destruction.

But life goes on... for those injured in a tornado, hospitals and doctors are still going to ask - do you have insurance? Can I see your card?

For those who lost loved ones - where is the insurance policy? Who should be notified? Where are the bank accounts?

For those whose homes or businesses were destroyed - where are those insurance policies? What did you own? Are there lists, photographs? How do you begin to make a claim? How do you start over?

You've survived. How do you live? What medications do you take? Where are they? How do you get more? It's cold, rainy. How do you stay warm? What will you wear?

Now it's before the disaster. Your community is in a high "Tor:Con" index. The NWS has issued a watch. Now it's a warning. Now the sirens are going off. Where are you? Where are your kids? Where is your husband? Other family? WHERE WILL YOU GO? WHAT WILL YOU DO?

I don't know the answers to any of those questions. So today, after this blog post, my day is going to be spent taking pictures (I'm going to have to clean house first!), finding and scanning documents, making a plan.

Won't you join me?

There are resources to help you get started. Here is the "Next of Kin Education Project"
Here is the Ready.Gov Preparedness page.
Here is the Life and Safety page.
My friends over at Chasing 4 Life have great resources. You can download free information, but you should also check out the links to the Red Book (How to develop a personal and community preparedness plan), or MyInfo911 - a cloud based service that keeps all of your information in one place, that can be accessed anywhere.

That should be enough to get started. Now... clear your calendar and DO THIS!