When Litter Kills

A few days ago a post on the Pennsylvania birding list serve caught my eye. It read: Late this afternoon I decided to take one last walk down to the creek at the back of the yard. There I spotted a female Baltimore Oriole dangling from a tree branch struggling to free itself from a tangle of monofilament fishing line. Maybe she was looking for nesting material.

“By the time I got to the other side, the bird was sitting quietly, clamped onto the branch as best it could. Fortunately, the branch was hanging over the water near the bank and not particularly high. After snipping off a few branches, I could secure her enough to cut and untangle the fishing line which was completely wrapped around the poor bird. I opened my hand, and off she flew.

“They say timing is everything. It would have been a very distressing situation for both of us had I decided to stay in the house until tomorrow morning. (And yes, I removed all the remaining fishing line I could find in the tree).”

“A follow up post described a similar snafu. “I once saw a Baltimore oriole struggling in fishing line. Fortunately, I was able to release it.

“But another time at a bridge in Moraine State Park, I observed a macabre lifeless cliff swallow dangling from fishing line incorporated into the mud nest under the bridge.”

Scenes like these are completely avoidable. All it requires is for anglers to stop littering waterways with used fishing line. And this is not a new phenomenon. I first encountered death by fishing line back in 1993. My notes are as distressing today as they were 25 years ago.

“The lifeless body of an adult cliff swallow dangled in the breeze beneath its globular mud nest, suspended from a tangle of fishing line. Just above the swinging carcass another adult, probably its mate, fed the chicks inside the nest. I scanned the other nests in the small swallow colony and discovered fishing line hanging from at least half of them.”

I’m inclined to give most anglers the benefit of the doubt because the ones I know are angered and embarrassed by trash that spoils the beauty of the places they love to fish.

Most anglers are dedicated conservationists, but some are serious litterbugs. It’s hard to visit a lake or roadside stream and not find used fishing line, beverage containers, fast food boxes, candy wrappers, and Styrofoam cups and bait containers littering the landscape.

Apparently, it’s asking too much to expect anglers to carry their trash back to their vehicles or at least stuff used fishing line into their pockets. What a difference it would make. And not just for songbirds. Over the years, I’ve seen ducks, geese, herons, gulls, kingfishers, frogs, turtles, snakes and even fish snarled in monofilament line.

Sadly, anglers aren’t the only litterbugs. Hunters, hikers and birders can be equally guilty. And don’t get me started on pipeliners and gas and oil workers who trash rural roadsides with impunity.

Surely we can do better. Set an example. Use trash cans and recycling bins when available. Pick up trash when you see it. And especially, collect all discarded fishing line you find along streams and lakeshores. And teach kids to do the same.

One fishing line manufacturer, Berkley, has recycled more than nine million miles of fishing line since 1990. That’s enough line to fill two reels for every angler in America. Plus, retailers and marinas have provided their support by displaying more than 17,000 recycling collection bins. Drop off discarded fishing line at any of these recycling bins, or mail it directly to Berkley’s collection center at: Berkley Recycling, 1900 18th Street, Spirit Lake, Iowa 51360.

It’s up to all of us to police our own ranks. States can outlaw littering. The fishing tackle industry and its retailers can educate at the point of sales. Ultimately, however, the responsibility to keep waterways litter-free lies with everyone who enjoys the outdoors.

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Dr. Shalaway can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com. Visit Scott’s web site www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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