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Preserving memories of an Adirondack summer

July 26, 2008
Joe Hackett

Before I was old enough to venture out to watch the bears, I was a collector. I gathered just about everything I could including bugs, fossils, frogs, feathers and rocks.

For a while, old bottles were my specialty. Old dumps could be found along nearly every riverbank in the North Country and I dug them up with unrivaled fervor. Berries, bucks and brook trout came much later in life.

I recall one particular hike, when I was about 8 years old, where my mother ended up lugging a small boulder down a mountain because I was sure the flecks of gold were real. Needless to say, pyrite is properly referred to as fool's gold for a reason.

Despite such blunders, I still believe that gathering or collecting is an integral part of growing up. And, there's no better place to grow up than in an area where there is such a natural treasure trove.

In my travels, I found numerous methods to introduce children to the wonders of the natural world. A birder's life list is one such example, and best of all, it is a non-consumptive collection.

Children can learn to identify birds by sight and sound. Compiling a listing of all the birds they've witnessed can lead to positive pursuit that they can continue life long. Teddy Roosevelt started his birding life list while visiting the Adirondacks as a teenager.

Around the same time, many families began recording their memories of Adirondack angling adventures for posterity, by capturing the images of their catches on paper, cardboard or wood.

I've visited a number of North Country camps that feature cardboard cutouts of fish. Typically, they include species ranging from lake trout to bass, northern pike to sunfish. On the back of the cutouts are the date of the catch, weight, length and the angler's name.

Some of the cutouts are painted, while a few feature prints of the actual fish. The prints were accomplished by covering one side of the fish with paint and pressing the fish against paper or board, to reveal the actual scales, fins and gills of the original. Fish prints represent the actual size of a fish much better than cutouts, outlines or paintings.

I also had a considerable bug collection of the traditional "stick it on a pin and put it under glass" type. However as the bugs got old, they got brittle and a bit bug eaten. And despite my best efforts, I could never capture a dragonfly that would keep it's true colors. This is because a dragonfly quickly loses its natural colors when it dies.

Modern technology has solved this problem. Now, computer scanners can capture the true colorsof butterflies and dragonflies as well. It is a great way to collect insects and still be able to release them, at the same time.

Give a kid a collection net, which is a most marvelous tool of discovery. But, instead of catching and mounting bugs on a pin, gently place them in a zip lock bag and seal it.

Place the bag in a refrigerator for a couple of minutes and soon the dragonfly, butterfly or moth will stop moving. Cooling puts it into a state of suspended animation.

Quickly, remove the bug from the bag and place it on a scanner. Next to the bug, place a pencil on the scanner to ensure that the lid does not squash the bug.

Scan the insect. After this is done, set it outside on a windowsill. As the sun warms it up, it will quickly recover and fly away.

Print out the scanned image and match it to an identical image in a book on butterflies or look the image up online. This method is a great way to incorporate the natural world with an element of the electronic world that so many kids live in today.

Black Bears: It's no

longer Yogi and BooBoo

Bear cubs are typically born in January or early February and a litter in the eastern United States is usually two to three cubs, although a sow's first litter is often only one or two cubs. Surprisingly, litters of up to six bears have been reported in several eastern states. The survival rate of cubs depends on a number of variables including the severity of the winter and the extent of available food sources.

Ed Reed, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that the population of black bears in the Adirondack Park currently ranges somewhere between 5,000 to 6,000 individuals.

Several years ago, the DEC required the mandatory use of bear resistant canisters for all overnight campers in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness. As a result, negative bear-human interactions have dropped dramatically.

It has been a classic win-win situation. Hikers are safe, bears are not being relocated (or worse) and nuisance calls to the DEC Rangers about bear-handed robberies have fallen off the chart.

In recent years, the incidence of black bear attacks on humans has increased. Is this because bears getting more aggressive or are humans getting too casual?

Probably a combination of both according

to most experts. Bears, particularly those rewarded by the easy access to food typically found at campgrounds, quickly learn to associate humans with a free meal.

According to the Wildlife Research Institute, a startled black bear generally climbs or runs away without even thinking of attacking. Black bears are known to stand their ground and bluff only where circumstances like cubs, extreme hunger, or habituation to people are concerned.

Humans on the other hand, often make the mistake of treating bears with a "Yogi and Boo Boo at Jellystone Park" frame of reference. People don't consider that a 300-400 pound predator, which is capable of speeds exceeding 30 mph, must be considered dangerous at all times. Despite their seemingly docile nature, black bears can kill.

Experts agree that the best prevention is to keep bears from obtaining unnatural food. This keeps them from getting comfortable around people and getting bolder and more dangerous.

On June 18, 2007, an 11-year-old boy was dragged from his tent by a black bear. The incident occurred at American Fork Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.

Since May 2000, 14 individuals have been killed by black bears across North America.

For years, the accepted policy for a human attacked by a black bear was to "play dead" and curl into a ball while covering the back of the neck and other vital areas. Travelers were instructed not to fight back or try to run away. It was thought that fleeing from an attack would prompt the bear to view the human as prey and give chase.

However, in recent years, due to an unprecedented number of black bear attacks where the bears have actually foraged on the human remains, wilderness educators have adopted a major change in policy regarding human-black bear encounters. They now agree that any encounter with a black bear can turn deadly.

A sow with cubs is more interested in defending her young than attacking a human. She will be defensive, but is more likely to flee with the cubs than attack.

Despite this fact, it is now recommended that travelers confronted by a bear maintain eye contact with the animal and slowly back away. Do not turn and do not run away. Bears are great bluffers and they will often attempt to scare a person away with a false charge.

Do not play dead! If attacked, fight as if your life depends on it, because it very well may. Strike at the nose and eyes, kick and scream. Whatever you do, don't submit and don't quit.



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