Don’t be a shitty public lands owner
I don’t want to write about human shit. I really don’t. There are hundreds of other things I’d rather write about and should be writing about. But I feel compelled because the last couple of years, while hunting, I came across five piles of human shit right next to or directly on public land parking areas. Huge piles of people shit. Sometimes there were unnecessarily large wads of toilet paper on top of the piles. Sometimes I’d see long strands of toilet paper with brown streaks flying off over the prairie grass, getting hung up on sage brush. When I first considered writing about this topic I thought I might go in to detail about my shitty experiences, but I think you can probably imagine what it is like. If you’ve spent any time in the woods, you’ve most likely had similar ones. Be thankful I didn't include photos of these finds. Although, to the people whose shit I found, I might offer a piece of unsolicited advice: eat better food. These piles of shit, although the most disgusting and most memorable, are not the only things I’ve found scattered about our public lands when I’m hunting. There is a type of public land user who seems to think our shared landscapes - places that were set aside for wildlife, recreation and the nourishment of our soul - are a dump. People who think these places exist only to be used how they see fit and treated carelessly. I find empty beer cans lying in my path. I find old bike helmets, used condoms, candy bar wrappers, energy drink cans, empty shotgun shells, used hand warmer packets, toilet paper and, of course, human shit. Sometimes I find animals that someone has killed and left lying - proving to his buddies what a man he is. I find ruts and tracks where people drove in places they shouldn’t have. In my walks through the prairies and the woods I never fail to find the evidence that this type of public land user has preceded me. I doubt anyone who treats our public lands like this can be reached through an ethical appeal. Although, I do point to these experiences when hunters complain about some private landowners not allowing public hunting. The stories I’ve heard from ranchers would make any ethical hunter cringe in embarrassment. This may seem like a small problem to some readers compared to the current threats to our public lands; selling them off, shrinking the boundaries of protected areas, impacts from climate change, and our current Interior Secretary’s fetish with energy dominance. The list goes on and on. To me though, all the threats, including trash on our public lands, come from the same mentality. They come from the person who thinks public lands are only places to be used, places to extract from, places for more and more consumption, whether the prize be game, oil, coal, gas or timber. I was struck by a passage out of Wendell Berry’s essay A Native Hill. And it made me think some of what our public lands need is not more owners, but more friends.
“The false and truly belittling transcendence is ownership. The hill has had many owners, but it has had few friends. But I wish to be its friend, for I think it serves its friends well. It tells them they are fragments of its life. In its life, they transcend their years.”**Photos of trash provided by a friend to our public lands, Nancy Anderson Porter.