It was day one of my first hitch with Friends of the Inyo’s Stewardship Crew, and the energy level was electric. Stepping onto the job site for the first time is like stepping off the plane into a new land where everything is fresh and you can simply soak it up like a parched sponge. Each of my coworkers’ resumes boasted a wealthy history of trail work to supplement my own and I was positively giddy with anticipation for our first project together in Lundy Canyon.
The spring snowmelt had loosened the soil on the mountain slopes, resulting in a mudslide that all but decimated the first quarter mile of trail. With direction and assistance from the Forest Service we had been charged with fixing the damage. What an opportunity!
Not ten feet in from the trailhead, we spotted something that cast a shadow over our initial zeal: the first wag bag. This is something that I have seen countless times in my travels: carelessly discarded plastic bags on the side of the trail. The pedestrian nature of this sight, however, did nothing to soften the blow to my fragile little heart. Abandoned wag bags are something that has always frustrated me and, as quickly became apparent, my coworkers feel strongly about them, as well.
Environmental stewards at any level or involvement should be concerned about the number of plastic bags appearing on the side of the trail, casually left behind by dog owners who believe that there is some sort of poo collection service, provided by the ambiguous “powers that be.” Unfortunately, there is no such service in these areas, although it would be nice (and check out the Poo Fairy disposal site program piloted by our friends at Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access!). These plastic bags will take hundreds of years to decompose if they are left undisturbed. They are not compostable, they are not biodegradable, and they are certainly your problem.
Make a Difference
One may think, “But I’m just one person. How much difference could I make, one way or the other?” The answer to that question is: more than you may think. Say, for example, one hundred people visit the same trail every week. One hundred is a gentle number, even for some of the less popular trails in the Sierra. Adding in weekends and holidays over the course of a ten-week peak tourist season, let’s say that about 2,000 people are using that trail in the summer. Statistics for dog owners who bring along their four-legged friends are a little harder to come by, but surely, the ratio is not insignificant. If even one out of every one hundred people, inadvertently or deliberately, leave a wag-bag on the trail, that is 20 pieces of garbage left to clog up the pathways into our beloved National Forests and wilderness areas.
The moment you set foot onto a public trail, you are effectively signing a contract. That contract dictates that you must observe a set of basic rules and principles of common courtesy. These rules are not in place for trivial or arbitrary reasons; they are there to protect our wilderness areas while ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to get out and enjoy them. Whether it is a local recreation path or a well-traveled and popular hiking trail, the same basic customs apply: pick up after yourself. If your dog makes waste, pick it up and carry it out. If you see someone about to abandon their fecal garbage, speak up. Being conscious of the potential impact an individual can have on our wilderness areas is more important that words can say, and it does not get said enough.
by Zak Keene, Friends of the Inyo Stewardship Crew Member
Learn more about Zak on our staff page.