A natural balance as winter arrives

Winter has arrived in the Adirondacks, in a classic style. It was ushered in by a fierce storm that swept across the region to deposit nearly two feet of fresh snow over a barren landscape.

Deep snow, howling winds and plummeting temperatures combined to deliver an old-fashioned Christmas. After suffering through last year’s “Winter that Wasn’t,” the arrival of a true winter storm was a welcome beginning to the New Year.

I’ve shoveled my driveway twice, and I’ve cleared a mess of snow off the roof. Soon, I hope to join the other outdoor enthusiasts who are relishing in the recent meteorological, good fortune. Barring a rapid thaw, it appears the new ski season is finally off to the races. Despite the lack of an established base layer, the cross-country skiing has been outstanding, especially in the woods where snow depths present a most welcome challenge.

Although some nordic enthusiasts may curse ‘shoers for ruining their powdery ways, I’ve learned to appreciate the benefits of following packed snowshoe tracks as they wind and wallow through deep powder, mile after mile.

The white stuff has also provided the all-natural ingredients necessary to fire up the new snowmobile season. Sled-heads were nearly an extinct species across most of the Adirondacks last season, as the lack of adequate snow cover made it nearly impossible to navigate the railroad tracks, which are a vitally important connective corridor.

However, as soon as the recent storm relented, there was a steady stream of sleds traveling along the tracks in my backyard. In the dark night, they appeared like a string of Christmas tree lights, as they headed off toward Lake Placid.

Due to the combined efforts of both the ‘shoers and sled-heads, there are currently plenty of well-groomed trails available for the Nordic ski crowd.

The only unfortunate twist of fate accompanying the arrival of all the fresh powder is the snow’s insulating factor. Prior to the storm, there was very meager ice cover on the region’s lakes and ponds.

All travelers should be aware that lake ice is currently not adequate to permit safe travel. As a result, the ice fishing season will likely be postponed as long as the current snow pack remains intact. I know many anglers are anxious to get out, but it is simply not worth the risk to venture out on the ice at this time. The fish will still be there, waiting patiently for the anglers to visit.

An accident waiting to happen

It seems every year, there is at least one daredevil “sledhead” of such diminished mental capacity who is willing to risk life and limb by racing across the unsafe ice of Lake Flower. I know most sleds are certainly capable of traveling over unsafe ice, and even across long stretches of open water when they are traveling at high speed.

Despite such realities, these stunts are inherently dangerous, and extremely selfish. While most local residents recognize the inherent dangers of thin ice on Lake Flower due to river currents, many visiting sledders may not be so cautious. Neither are many local kids or their dogs, who may likewise attempt to walk on the packed, sled tracks.

Although the thrill seekers are obviously willing to risk their own lives, they are also risking the lives of local rescue squad members would surely come to their rescue. While some may claim it is a God-given right to take such risks, it is a selfish and foolhardy practice which jeopardizes the lives of far too many citizens beyond the single fool who is steering the sled.

Coyotes be damned?

I’ve often been stunned by the tremendous hatred toward predators that is commonly professed by certain deer hunters. Such a statement may appear rather incongruous, especially coming from someone who is both a hunter and an angler. However, it is due to my professed affinity to engage in the stalk, the hunt and eventually the harvest, which is what all anglers and hunters do.

Similarly, it is due to my great admiration for all wildlife that I refuse to curse the coyote. I respect all wild creatures, and I cherish every moment I spend in their company, whether it involves calling in a wild turkey, tracking a wide-racked whitetail or attempting to tantalize a wily old, battle worn, brown trout to take my tiny, dry fly.

It is all part of a much grander picture, and I value game species as being of no more, or less value than any other wildlife. I take no great pleasure in the final act of the harvest. In fact, I usually experience a ping of sadness with such an accomplishment. I expect most ethical sportsmen, and women feel the same way.

As an angler, I strive to handle fish properly, even non-game species in order to release them unharmed. Fish that we label as non-game species, are still considered fair game by many other predatory species including eagles, osprey, otters and more.

However, l will be the first to admit, I do enjoy keeping a few fish for a meal on occasion, which is all part of the process of a natural harvest.

I support the ethical efforts of groups such as Trout Unlimited, which strive to protect our fisheries. Likewise, I appreciate the ongoing initiatives provided by similar conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Audubon Society.

These groups are all a part of a much, grander picture, as Aldo Leopold explained when he said, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”

Leopold understood the vital link between predator and prey, a point often at issue in the various deer forums.

While some sportsmen bemoan the dangers of the Adirondack’s ever increasing coyote population, true conservationists, and most biologists understand the natural relationship. It is the deer population that drives the coyotes, rather than the reverse.

It has been well established that predator populations adjust naturally according to the availability of food sources, not the other way around.

Leopold illustrated the predatory relationship with a famous quote, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

Similarly, sportsmen can’t cherish whitetails without recognizing the important role coyotes provide in maintaining the essential natural balance for the herd. Whitetails rely on the coyotes, as much as coyotes rely on them.