Fishermen: Let’s Start Getting The Lead Out!

This blog post will start my annual series of posts leading up to the Minnesota Fishing Opener beginning this Saturday on most of the state’s inland (non-border) waters.   To many sportsmen living in the Upper Midwest, the walleye fishing opener (an event that’s also celebrated in several other states not necessarily on the same weekend) is a much heralded social event during the sportsman’s calendar year.   In fact, in Minnesota, the “Fishing Opener” is celebrated by roughly twice as many sportsmen than choose to participate in the state’s deer opener during a typical November.   Indeed, flocking to the lakes to catch ol’ glass eyes IS that big of a deal!   Come along as we prep for this great annual event.

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Let’s begin this series by taking a serious look at a growing health concern that involves fishing.   Over the years safety experts have pushed the importance of getting the lead out of our household paint.   They’ve taken the lead out of our gasoline (1986).   Gone are the days when a plumber might come to your house and use a lead pipe or even a lead-based solder to secure the joints in your water system.   Heck, purchase a new radio today and you will likely have a unit completely free of lead that wouldn’t have been that way 30, maybe even 20 years ago.

But times, they are a changin’, my friend.   The existence of lead today is seeing fewer and fewer applications in our society.   Fact is, there are often perfectly acceptable heavy-metal substitutes for lead that essentially means the material is no longer needed.   And that holds true in the sportsman’s world, as well.

Imagine a day…let’s say 20 years from now…when you explain to some young child with fishing interests that we used to use lead to catch fish.   Yup, that’s right…imagine the disbelief written on the young child’s face when you try to explain that we put poisonous metals into our lakes.   In fact, many of our tackle boxes were full of it.   Sound far-fetched?   I don’t think so.

LoonWhen you consider it only takes one little lead sinker ingested by a common loon to kill the bird that fact alone should wake us sportsmen up.   After all, this weekend when I travel five hours north to my special fishing lake I’m not just hoping to see walleye from my boat seat.   Nope, each year I get almost as excited to see and hear the loon as my boat bounces along the choppy waves.

Hey, that’s what headin’ up north is all about.   It’s the total experience of seeing the lofty pines, smelling the fresh, clean air…and, of course, occasionally being entertained by the wildlife as you pass the time fishing in your boat.

Experts now tell us fishermen we have to begin cleaning up our act…and the time is now to do it.   Consider this study conducted recently by the Minnesota DNR:

Researchers performed 8,068 interviews with anglers on five popular walleye lakes, Rainy, Namakan, Leech, Mille Lacs and Lake of The Woods about how much fishing tackle they lost on each trip.

It was remarkably little, the study found, but it added up. About one jig of any type was lost for every 40 hours on the lake. A piece of lead tackle was lost about every 31 hours.

Anglers on the lakes told surveyors they lost 215,000 pieces of tackle to broken line and snags. Of that, about 100,000 pieces were made of lead. In total weight, that’s about a ton in one summer.

Using DNR survey data from 1983 to 2004, the study’s authors estimated that anglers left more than one million pieces of lead in Lake Mille Lacs alone. Over 20 years, that amounts to about nine tons of lead.

I know what you’re probably thinking.   Losing one or two lead jigs in the lake isn’t much.   Even if it amounts to a ton of lead over time in the whole scheme of things that’s a pittance to a big body of water.   Maybe so, but as stewards of the outdoors we need to take a serious look at how we conduct our activities on the lake.   I’m not suggesting that come Saturday I will be completely lead-free as I cast my line into the lake.   No, but I am thinking about it more often and for the first time I did purchase some non-toxic sinkers for my tackle box recently at the sporting goods store.

If you need further convincing there are several great web sites that discuss the issue of fishermen getting the lead out.   Check two of them out by linking here and here.   There’s also a great article on the topic that establishes a good argument for why fishermen need to start thinking about what types of tackle they are using on the lakes and in the rivers.

It seems when most of the proposed legislation comes along attempting to ban lead fishing tackle fishermen in the past have largely rejected that notion asking for further study to legitimize the problem.   Studies are fine…and they certainly should continue to be conducted…but are we really that stubborn to make a change when deep down most of us can logically reason that the change makes perfect sense?

As for the fishing tackle manufacturers…are you going to tell me that in almost every instance where lead is now being used there isn’t a suitable alternative?   Okay, maybe the cost of the lures or the terminal tackle might be a bit more expensive…but what’s paying a few more pennies for a lead substitute when the cost of our fuel to get to the lake has doubled in the past three years?   As an industry…the tackle manufacturers need to quit hiding behind their old habits and feeding us with those poor excuses.

So, what are your thoughts about using safer, more eco-friendly tackle while fishing?   Don’t you agree it’s time fishermen start voluntarily getting the lead out before we are mandated to do so anyway?   In a few states legislation has already been enacted.   That day is coming for all of us…and it might be a whole lot easier to accept and to embrace the change if we all start doing it little by little beginning this fishing season.

2006 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Deer Crossing Road Signs Slowly Disappearing

With our fast-paced lifestyle who takes the time to read road signs these days?   Seriously, as you venture down the highway do you really pay attention to all the road signs in the ditch meant to inform, warn or otherwise direct you on your safe journey on the highways and byways?   Apparently not enough people are heeding the message on some signs so the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MDOT) has decided to do away with certain road signs.   It might be a radical approach, but honestly I haven’t heard many complaints about it quite yet.Deersign

That’s right.   The fact is researchers are discovering that the leaping deer road sign meant to warn motorists they are venturing into an area with a higher than average likelihood of a car/deer accident just isn’t fulfilling the purpose it was intended to serve.   As people drive they are bombarded with so many signs that eventually it just becomes another sign that blurs by in the peripheral vision.   And even more importantly, with the growing deer population in Minnesota, as well as in most states, you’re just as likely to hit a deer with your vehicle where there wasn’t signage to warn of the danger…so in that case what purpose does such a sign really accomplish anyway?

The trouble with deer is that when you see a sign, you almost never see a deer. Pretty soon, drivers will stop believing the signs.

“Warnings mean nothing without an actual threat,” said Curtis Hammond, a researcher with the University of Minnesota.

Faced with the information that the signs don’t really work, the state decided it was time to stop the buck.

“We are the first state to officially say we aren’t putting them up anymore,” said Bob Weinholzer with MnDOT.

Weinholzer led the state’s decision to not install any new deer crossing signs. All existing signs will stay up until they wear out, even though the state ranks sixth in the nation for deer crashes.

Fact is I’m not completely saddened to see the demise of these archaic signs.   For years I have wondered who decided to erect the signs in the locations they picked anyway.   Just from personal experience in driving the roads in my area, it’s my opinion the signs have often been poorly placed.   The MDOT states they put the signs in places where the Minnesota DNR recommends…but the decision makers obviously aren’t always making choices based on any first-hand knowledge of deer crossing tendencies in local areas.

Personally, I’m becoming more of an advocate of just leaving the dead, decaying carcasses of deer along the roadside.   For me, when I see a dead deer laying just off the road it does much more to remind me of the possibility of deer in the area than some suggestive bright yellow sign.   Besides, the dead deer might as well serve some purpose rather than being quickly hauled off to the landfill.   Forget the fact that the decaying process is grotesque and not aesthetically pleasing to most motorists.   The impact of this message would likely be much more noticeable.

What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of these deer crossing warning signs?   Do you think their use really makes a difference in most situations?   I’m anxious to hear your comments on this issue.

2006 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Ward Burton Shows How To Win Beyond Racing

WardBurtonI became a NASCAR fan only in recent years…in fact, the first race I can honestly say I watched from start to finish was perhaps one of the most dramatic Daytona 500s in the history of the sport.   It was February 2001, and in the closing lap of that first race I witnessed the legendary Dale Earnhardt (Sr.) die in a horrible crash.   Oddly enough…this weekly soap opera called racing was slowly capturing my interest to the point I have now eventually become a serious fan of the sport.

A year later…and with the sport of stock car racing still having heavy hearts due to the loss of Dale Sr, the February 2002 Daytona 500 race was once again the all-American spectacle that it had been built up to be.   Again there were several dramatic wrecks, but this year fortunately there were no major injuries or fatalities.   In the end, a driver in the #22 Caterpillar Dodge known as Ward Burton celebrated his first and only 500 win in Daytona’s “Victory Lane.”   Two years later this popular racer would find himself on the outside of the racing world now looking in.   You see…the world of motorsports is a fickle one…and Ward Burton knows that better than anyone.

So what does a popular NASCAR driver do when he is no longer an active participant in the sport from week to week?   The answer is quite simple…at least it was for Ward Burton.   You start The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation and commit your life to a passion of saving land from development while also striving to educate both children and adults about the importance of being good stewards of that land.   Indeed, Burton has used his notoriety to positively channel his endless energy for the outdoors into a very worthwhile cause.

In many ways Burton’s life is not much different than for most sportsmen.   It began at an early age with a grandfather and father showing Ward the wonderful aspects of the outdoors.   Interestingly, even though his life eventually took a major turn finding him on the race track 36 weeks out of the year…he somehow never forgot about his outdoor roots.   In fact, now that his storied NASCAR career has been temporarily put on hold (while he waits for another “ride” as they say in the biz), I find it somewhat heart-warming to see a man put so much effort and money into doing what he believes is his life mission in the outdoors.

To learn more about Ward Burton’s outdoor legacy, click here.   If you don’t have time to peruse the entire web site, at least read this ESPN article by clicking here.

Meeting Ward recently got me contemplating about my personal outdoor legacy.   Will I have one…or will my time spent tromping through the woods and fields be lost once I take my last breath?   Often we don’t like to dwell on it…but our life as healthy sportsmen is sometimes cut way shorter than we expect.   A person never knows when a major health ailment could strike ending our days afield…or worse, even facing death.   Now understand I don’t want this to become depressing or morbid, yet, if we want to do something positive for the outdoors we can’t keep putting it off in our lives.

Ward Burton certainly has had many good fortunes in his life mostly as a racer…and in so many ways has created a legacy for himself on the race track.   But I think if you ask Ward what he is most proud of in his life it would probably be the efforts he has put into giving back to the outdoors.   That’s what is truly important to this man who easily has made his life complete by his time spent in the race car.   Yet, that wasn’t enough.   As soon as opportunities ended on the oval track…new opportunities were created in the woodlot.

Believe me, Ward Burton should serve as a hell of a role model for all of us sportsmen.   Granted, it is unlikely that most of us can aspire to create a wildlife foundation as successful as what Ward has already accomplished, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still significantly contribute to the outdoors in our own unique way.   When one door closed for Burton (his racing career) he quickly refocused his energies into doing something positive for the outdoors.   In time, folks will likely start forgetting about the many achievements Ward has assembled in his racing career…but his work for the outdoors could easily blossom into someday becoming his real claim to fame.

A large portion of Ward Burton’s life, much like it is for most of us sportsmen, has been built on a strong foundation of conservation values.   One of the fundamental tenets of conservation is finding a way to give something back when you have taken.   Maybe creating a legacy isn’t your objective in life…or maybe it is.   The bottom line is we all should be inspired by the likes of role models such as Ward Burton who could have easily slipped from the limelight to enjoy the fruits of his racing fame.   Instead, he realized the importance of making the outdoor world where he lives a better place in which to live.

No doubt about it…Ward Burton is one race car driver who knows how to win both inside and outside of his stock car.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.