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Respecting the Environment

Littering on-going problem at Upper Souris NWR, elsewhere

Visitor’s to Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge are asked to “pack your trash” to keep areas free of unwanted garbage.

FOXHOLM – It is nasty, disgusting, repulsive, ugly and illegal. It can be costly to clean up and fatal to wildlife too. Unfortunately, there’s still people who use the outdoors as their personal dumpster.

The cumulative result is a unsightly trash along a riverbank or shoreline or day use area, a mess left for someone else to clean up. Discarded fishing line can strangle wild birds and animals, or cause them to become so tangled up that they are unable to feed. Eventually they become emaciated and die of starvation.

Children and pets can be injured by fish hooks carelessly tossed on the ground. Paper wrappers blow around and create an unsightly scene in an otherwise natural area. Plastic bags blow around, easily becoming airborne and getting tangled in trees and branches. Bottles and cans, even Styrofoam coolers and minnow buckets, are tossed randomly in public use areas.

At the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge there is a growing problem with the indiscriminate scattering of trash despite the refuge’s “Pack Your Trash” policy. The amount of trash left by abusers is particularly evident at the popular Outlet Fishing Area located on the Souris River immediately below Lake Darling Dam. The OFA has shade trees, picnic tables, a fishing pier and vault toilets. It is an ideal outdoors location for a family outing or a few hours of fishing surrounded by the natural wonders of nature.

Unfortunately, it is also a dumping ground for trash that significantly spoils the outdoor experience for others. Despite being part of a National Wildlife Refuge set aside for the enjoyment of the public, signs posted requesting visitors to “pack your trash” remain ignored by many.

Sometimes people place trash inside vault toilets, thinking perhaps it is a better choice than leaving it on the ground elsewhere. Both actions are littering and can result in substantial fines.

Similar situations exist at the Grano and Greene Crossings, and at the Baker Bridge Recreation Area.

“We rely on a pack it in, pack it out policy,” said Tom Pabian, Upper Souris NWR manager. “Unfortunately some people think otherwise and throw trash in the weeds, on shoreline rocks or in our vault toilets.”

Removing trash from vault toilets is messy, difficult and expensive. Dumping trash into the refuge’s vault toilet is also illegal. People caught doing so can face substantial fines. Littering, the improper discarding of cans or bottles or bags or papers, carries fines and fees of $130, a hefty penalty but minor compared to other littering offenses.

Dumping unwanted trash from the back of a pickup, which has occurred at Upper Souris NWR, can cost the violator $330 in fines and fees. If waste is found to contain environmental contaminants the fine jumps to $1,000. The person responsible could also be held liable for the actual cost of cleanup.

Coronavirus has caused a lot of people and families to explore outdoor opportunities that they likely hadn’t done previously. That has been the case at Upper Souris, particularly when nice weather encourages outdoor activity.

“We’re seeing an increase in visitation because people were shut in, people that weren’t visitors before the coronavirus,” said Jason Greff, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warden. “We want people to enjoy their time at the refuge, have a picnic and take their garbage home.”

Should the problem with discarded trash at Upper Souris NWR continue, even worsen, it could result in closure of public use areas. It’s an extreme measure but, without staff and resources to constantly maintain public use areas, entirely possible if some visitors continue to ignore the “pack your trash” advisory.

Sometimes plains clothes enforcement officers spend time at public use areas, blending in with other visitors in the hopes of catching those who litter in the act of doing so. It is all part of an effort to penalize offenders and keep public areas open to those who respect the area and wish to preserve its appearance for others to enjoy.

“Some people treat the refuge as a recreation area rather than a wildlife refuge,” said Greff. “This place exists for wildlife and habitat, first and foremost, the preservation of wildlife for future generations.”

Greff says education is a big part of solving the problem of unwanted trash. He “deputizes” children as part of teaching them the importance of taking good care of the environment.

“I carry a roll of sticker badges and ask children if they want to become a junior game warden,” said Greff. “One of their jobs, I tell them, is to make sure nobody throws garbage all over the place.”

Although a very popular destination, Upper Souris is not alone when it comes to wanton littering. Many shoreline fishing areas in the state face similar problems with trash building up in high use areas. Everything from lunch wrappers to Styrofoam bait containers to fishing line is left for someone else to pick up.

“Fishing line is a huge problem. It can wrap up and seize up lawnmowers,” said Pabian. “People just don’t think of the damage that fishing line can do.”

Many people adhere to the “pack your trash” policy whether they are on a National Wildlife Refuge or elsewhere. They routinely carry trash bags with them and make use of them to bag their refuse and take it home for disposal, taking pride in leaving areas they have used free of garbage so that others may enjoy their stay.

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