Story by By John Holyoke | BDN Staff

 Knee-deep in a pile of debris Saturday morning, Maine Game Warden Jim Fahey spotted a prize among the assorted tires, carpets and buckets that someone, some time ago, dumped in the forest not far from Old Town. “Wow. What can I use that PVC pipe for?” the warden exclaimed. Then, as another member of the cleaning crew stepped toward that plastic treasure, Fahey shooed him away, laughing. “Get away from that! I want that for my truck.”

 Nearby, Ted Perkins of Hudson, a member of the Maine Trappers Association, stepped forward to introduce himself. “I’d shake your hand, but I just had my hand inside an old toilet,” Perkins said.

 Those light moments belied the serious nature of the work going on statewide, as crews teamed up to tackle a serious problem: illegal woodland dumping. The event, organized by the Maine Warden Service with help from the Maine Forest Service, pitted outdoor organizations and clubs against each other in a contest to clean up as many illegal dump sites as they could. “This is a landowner relations initiative trying to gather stakeholders or land-users to get together and help pick up some of these dump sites to the benefit of landowners who allow the public access to their land,” Fahey explained.

 Fahey’s group consisted of members of the LA Sledders Snowmobile Club in Alton, a pair of men representing the Maine Trappers Association, and a bear-hunting guide who accesses the land where three dump sites were cleaned up.

 After working a couple of hours, the Alton crew filled three pickup trucks and a trailer with debris, which was taken to a dumpster at the Maine Forest Service’s Old Town facility. That effort was replicated across the state, with clubs cleaning up predetermined sites where illegal dump sites had been documented.


 The Maine Forest Service has conducted similar cleanups in the past, but this year Warden Rick LaFlamme of the Maine Warden Service approached several sponsors to fund a cleanup contest, with the clubs and organizations that collect the most trash winning prizes.

 On Monday, LaFlamme, the MWS’s landowner relations specialist, said actual winners of the contest had not been determined, but several interesting statistics had emerged

Here are some of the numbers:

— In one day, contest participants collected 100,000 pounds of trash, filling 30 of the 30-cubic-yard bins that were provided. That trash, according to LaFlamme, would cover a football field with a layer 3 feet thick.

— A total of 250 volunteers from 21 organized clubs and 10 other noncompetitive groups participated in the contest.

— Ninety game wardens and 20 Maine Forest Service staffers oversaw the effort.

— Between 150 and 200 sites were cleaned up.

— The tentative winner of the contest collected 26 truckloads of debris.

 In Alton, Fahey said his crew’s effort was representative of the effort taking place in other spots around the state: A landowner who allows access to forested property had a problem, and the groups that benefit from that landowner’s generosity took action to help. “These last couple of hours have been ideal,” he said. “You’ve got a single landowner that accommodates a snowmobile trail and accommodates bear-hunting activity, and we’ve taken about three truckloads off that one landowner’s property. He’ll be pleased, and everyone benefits.”

 Participants were happy to pitch in but wished the problem didn’t exist in the first place. Bruce Roberts of Lagrange was a police officer in Rhode Island for 30 years. A decade ago, he moved to Maine and looked forward to spending as much time outdoors as he could.


 Now the president of the LA Sledders, Roberts shook his head Saturday as he looked at a pile of tires that had been discarded next to a snowmobile trail his club accesses. “That’s a shame,” he said. “You get trash pickup beside the road once a week, and [some people] feel like they’ve gotta go out and throw stuff in the woods.”

 Bob Leland of Alton, who serves as trailmaster for the LA Sledders, said he spends a lot of time addressing the concerns of landowners who allow snowmobile trails to cross their land.

 One disgruntled landowner can shut down an entire trail system, Leland said, and when people begin using another person’s land as their own personal landfill, everyone who accesses that land stands to suffer. “This [event] is real valuable, because if [landowners] have another problem, if you tell them this is going to be a yearly thing, [it helps],” Leland said. “Not only that, if the landowner … finds a mess, he will just call one of us or the warden service and identify that site for the next year, if they know it’s happening.”

 George Feero of Old Town, who owns Red Oak Outfitters and guides bear hunters on the land the crew was cleaning, said that even though he doubts snowmobile club members or guides are the ones leaving the trash, it’s important for those groups to pitch in to help the landowners. “Sometimes us guides get the reputation that it’s us just throwing the stuff out, throwing our trash everywhere,” Feero said, standing beside his pickup, which was heaped high with tires and trash taken from one site. “It makes us look bad, even though we had no part in it. But we do have a part in trying to clean it up and trying to make the land look good for everyone and keeping on good terms with the landowners.”

 Fahey said the Maine Warden Service required every game warden in the state this year to participate, bolstering the forces that the Maine Forest Service has annually provided in its own cleanup effort. Fahey said he thought this year’s cleanup contest was a success and hopes the program will continue in the future. And while it was easy to identify sites to clean this year, he hopes it will become more difficult as years pass and more sites are cleaned. “I hope that in a few years, we’ll really be scratching to identify a half-day’s work,” Fahey said. “That would be a success. That’s what I hope will come from this.”

 


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