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Someone#039;s always been there before you

We don't normally talk trash, but this week is different.

Trash! It's a disturbing problem that gets worse by the day, no matter what attempts are made to curb it.

We're talking about the stuff that shows up where no one wants it – the stuff that is carelessly thrown away wherever the person holding it wants to drop it.

Anywhere you go, there is evidence that someone else has been there before you, because of what is left behind. The joys of hunting, fishing and camping are seriously diminished when you can't see the landscape for the litter. Too many people ignore one of the basic rules of the outdoors that is taught to young campers, hikers, and others interested in outdoor activities. "If you carry it in; carry it out."

The world is not a public dumping ground. Drive down any country road and you'll see an assortment of discarded items from gum wrappers to broken down furniture, from bags of household garbage to worn out tires. People who have dumped these things probably don't live near enough for the sight to bother them, and they have little regard for others to whom this stuff is an eyesore.

Perhaps they think that no one will notice the things they throw off into the ditch, or they don't care as long as they aren't caught.

There are many concerted efforts to clean up certain areas. The Adopt-a-mile and Adopt-a-stream projects have committed individuals and organizations that regularly patrol their assigned areas to keep them litter free. Businesses hire people to pick up the trash in their parking lots and on their lawns. Highway maintenance crews clean up miles of public roadways, collecting countless bags of cups, cans, fast food wrappers, and other trash thrown from passing vehicles.

Trash in our coastal waters, along our beaches is unsightly and dangerous to beach users. It is also dangerous to our coastal wildlife. Each year thousands of marine mammals, sea birds, and sea turtles are killed from entanglement in or ingestion of marine debris items. Debris also damages fishing nets, fouls propellers, and clogs water intakes, resulting in costly repairs.

The Alabama Coastal Cleanup Day each September has averaged 20 tons of debris removed from our beaches. Volunteers who are concerned about the beauty and safety of our beaches put in hours of work, picking up, bagging and boxing trash collected from beachfront areas. The volunteers give up their time to clean up after others who show more interest in having fun than in being responsible.

In Little River Canyon several years ago, a clean-up project near DeSoto State Park included removing wrecked cars and other debris from the canyon. At the end of the project, truckloads of bagged trash, household items, appliances, and other items were hauled away – trash that should have been properly disposed of in the first place.

Disrespect is also shown for our lakes, rivers and streams. Some people seem to think that rules against littering don't apply to them but are for everyone else. Cans and bottles are thrown overboard, sinking to the bottom. Just because trash is out of sight doesn't mean that it does no harm. The remaining contents of the containers are diffused into the water and the containers themselves present a hazard.

Hunters and anglers are not responsible for most of the litter in OUR state, but monofilament line and empty cartridge boxes don't grow naturally in the outdoors. If you're walking around the edge of a pond or along a creek bank, you certainly don't like being tripped up by discarded fishing line. The wading birds and animals coming for a drink don't like becoming entangled either.

Even without the danger to wildlife, litter is endangering our enjoyment of the outdoors. When you hike to a scenic overlook like Inspiration Point on Mt. Cheaha, you don't appreciate your efforts being marred by someone else's film box or empty water bottle, or any other man-made item that distracts from the beautiful view.

As we step outside to participate in outdoors fun, whether in an organized group activity or as individuals, we should remember our responsibility to nature. Just as we don't like to see or clean up another person's trash, we must be not to be guilty of doing the same thing. Pointing out a bit of litter and complaining about the bad habits of others is easy for all of us. Picking up that piece of trash and carrying it out for proper disposal teaches by example.

The natural beauty of our state depends on all of us to take care of it. Start with yourself. Remember to clean up the area you use. Also encourage others to respect the land that they use for outdoor activities. Remind your family members of the responsibility we have to leave the world the same or better than we found it.

Stash the trash where it belongs – not just where it happens to fall. We'll all benefit from this small effort by each one of us.

If you are interested in helping with the September Coastal Cleanup, contact our Coastal Programs Section at 334-242-5502 for more information.