The 2010 paddling season got off to an early start on the Saranacs when the last remnants of ice departed last Thursday, Feb. 26 and the river was running freely from Lake Flower Dam to the Permanent Rapids Pool at the head of Franklin Falls Pond.By mid-afternoon, paddlers were already observed heading down river from the Pine Street Bridge.
While skiing along a local ridge last weekend, I felt a full sheet of snow drop a few inches from under my feet. I had skied only a few yards into an opening when the field of snow gave way with a muffled "whomp." I could see fractures on the surface of the snow and retreated immediately, skiing back on my own tracks.
Winter's recent mix of heavy snowfalls, freezing rains, ice and fluctuating temperatures has resulted in an unstable snowpack.
Ice climbers have been enjoying a banner year on the flows, which cover many of the rock cliffs of the local mountains, such as PokoMoonshine.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
On Monday, the DEC issued a warning following a report that two skiers had experienced an avalanche over the weekend while skiing the Angel Slides on the shoulder of Wright Peak. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident.
The eight-mile standard
Several years ago, a friend once challenged me to find a location in the Adirondack backcountry that was more than eight miles from the nearest road. Eight miles is the distance required to escape highway noise.
My first inclination was that it would be an easy task, until I began inscribing eight-mile circles on a map of the Park.
After a few hours, I began to think it was a trick question because even the few places where the compass circles didn't overlap, the distance to the nearest road was still too close to call.
I'd heard that the old Sucker Brook Hunting Camp, located south of Cranberry Lake, was considered at one time to be the most remote hunting camp in the Adirondacks. It was frequented by the likes of Tom Doty and Old Bill Allen and located about eight miles from the nearest paved road.
In a few instances where lands appeared eight miles removed, the presence of roads on the map didn't match up with evidence on the ground. This was especially true in regard to the large acreage, private parks that have established roads for fire protection and logging purposes.
In 1999, a Conservation Biology Institute study on wolf restoration efforts determined that the Park's road density, which measures slightly less than one mile of highway for every square mile of land, was considered the bare minimum for wolves to survive.
While it would appear that an untracked square mile of land could easily support a wolf, the density of roads would also provide access to those who would cause them harm, such as hunters and trappers.
Studies conducted in Minnesota to gauge the suitability of lands required for wolf reintroduction determined a threshold of .9 miles of road per square mile of land to be the minimum.
Further from road, the better
The road density figure was on my mind as I reviewed a study conducted by Trout Unlimited (TU) that highlighted a link between the remaining roadless public lands on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) wilderness areas and roadless areas. It should be no surprise that wilderness and roadless areas offer the best coldwater fish and wildlife habitat and provide the best fishing and hunting opportunities in several western states.
While the reports were focused on BLM and National Forest lands in the West, their conclusions are certainly relevant to comparable wilderness areas and roadless lands located elsewhere.
The TU studies revealed what most hunters and anglers already know: that the best hunting and fishing is usually located well off the nearest road. I believe that the quality of a fishery is often directly proportional to its distance from the highway. The farther back, the less pressure and the better the fishing.
Although wilderness is sometimes considered a dirty word in the Adirondacks, due to restrictions on access, the TU studies reveal the important connections between wild lands, game species habitat and the protection of threatened species.
The report makes it clear that wilderness and roadless lands are essential to the preservation of traditional opportunities for fishing and hunting.
In Oregon, only two million acres or 3.6 percent of federal lands are designated as wilderness with another two million acres are designated roadless. Yet, these small areas protect a huge portion of the state's surviving native fish populations. Out of the 20 watersheds where native fish remain, 18 are roadless.
Studies conducted in other western states provide greater detail on the link between successful hunting in wilderness and roadless lands.
Currently, only seven percent of Idaho's 52 million acres is protected as designated wilderness, yet the vast proportion of salmon, trout, elk, deer and bighorn sheep habitat, as well as the state's best quality hunting is to be found in Idaho's roughly 17 million acres of roadless areas.
"If I have a choice of hunting an area where there's a lot of roads or hunting a walk-in area, I'm going to hunt the walk-in area because it's better hunting," says Mike Eastman, a Wyoming native and one of the nation's leading authorities on big game hunting. "There just isn't good hunting where there are a lot of roads."
Eastman pinpoints the Sierra Madre as one of his state's top areas for high-country mule deer hunting, explaining that, "I'm a multiple-use advocate, but if you build roads into a place and keep them open, the elk and deer will just leave."
Ben Lamb of Wyoming Wildlife Federation explains what most successful hunters already know.
"There is no doubt that roadless areas in Wyoming provide some of the best hunting and fishing for those willing to take a little effort and stretch their legs," he said.
Extended hunting for soldiers
In Wisconsin, deer hunting is ingrained in the culture. It is a part of life. So when state lawmakers recently approved a special deer hunt for Wisconsin soldiers, who missed the regular hunt because they were overseas, some felt they didn't go far enough.
The program links returning soldiers with landowners whose crops were being damaged by nuisance deer. Representative Chris Danou, the bill's chief sponsor claimed the special hunt was a way to thank over 3,000 returning soldiers for their service.
Afteroriginal legislation only allowed the additional season to run from Feb. 4 to 7, lawmakers decided to expand the season substantially. The effort permits farmers to protect valuable crops while returning veterans will now be allowed to hunt anytime from now until September that's convenient for them and the landowners.
CWD found in Virginia
In other hunting-related news, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has received laboratory confirmation that a white-tailed deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). It is the first confirmed case of CWD in Virginia. The deer was harvested in Frederick County less than one mile from the West Virginia line. With this case, Virginia now joins 17 other states and Canadian provinces with CWD, five of which are east of the Mississippi River. It is the first positive test out of nearly 5,000 deer tested since 2005, when CWD was first detected near Slanesville, West Virginia, about 10 miles from the Virginia state line.
Between 2005 and 2009, CWD has been detected in 62 deer in West Virginia.
In New York, an initial outbreak of CWD was discovered in 2005 and found in five deer from two captive herds in Oneida County.
In 2005, CWD was also detected in two wild, white-tailed deer during an intensive initial sampling effort in the containment area of Oneida County.
Since that time, there has not been a single case of CWD detected anywhere in New York state.