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Litter Picker Ponders
Litter Pitchers

October 14, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson,
Wildlife Biologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder


Fish, Wildlife & Parks employees fulfilled this year's responsibilities for roadside trash removal on Sunday afternoon.

Most of us expected mindless work when we first volunteered to participate in Montana's Adopt-a-Highway program in 1993. But, if you stay alert, I've found you can learn a lot by walking the barrow pits along Highway 83, between Clearwater Junction and Mile Marker 1, and between Mile Markers 3 and 4.

For example, on Sunday I learned what it must feel like to be a deer living along the highway. Just as deer must get used to cars and trucks speeding by, so do we litter pickers grow accustomed to the dangers of working beside the Seeley Lake autobahn. We learn to keep our feet and bodies firmly rooted in the barrow pit, risking only a reaching hand to grab that discarded matchbook on the pavement edge, much like the deer stretching its neck for that tempting sprig of grass.

As I was finishing, with the afternoon light starting to fade, I looked up from one last reach to see a truck passing a string of slower vehicles, all bearing down on me at high speed. I was safe as long as everyone maintained control of his or her vehicle, but the deer analogy seemed especially apropos at that moment. I couldn't help wondering what color my eyes reflected in the headlights.

In the long intervals between life-threatening events, however, the litter picker's mind does wander back to the litter itself, to its annoying quantity, and eventually, to an unhealthy interest in those who would pitch it out their windows. And, just as a wildlife biologist would piece together a limited understanding of the study species by examining its signits tracks, feces, hair and other cluesso, too, can the litter picker develop a working profile of the litter pitcher by examining its signthe litter.

Unfortunately, the sign left by wildlife and litter pitchers is all too similar all too often. Some litter pitchers are apparently afflicted without the bowel control that would take them the next mile or so to the nice, modern, rest area taxpayers have provided at Clearwater Junction. As a result, litter picking is more disgusting than it needs to be.

Litter pitchers do not excel in physics. I know this from finding neatly tied, plastic grocery sacks filled with aluminum cans. I don't remember much about e=mc2 myself, but I do know that a lightweight object travelling at high velocitythe velocity achieved in the open back of a pickup truckgenerates a force known as lift. The inevitable result is known as "lift-off," which deposits garbage, albeit tidy, along our adopted highway.

On Sunday, I found one such bag ruptured where the highway is perched on a steep bank above the Clearwater River. It was almost more maddening to fetch these dozens of neatly crushed cans from all positions on that slope than it would have been to deal with the usual six pack of beer cans thrown carelessly. They had already been gathered once before.

Speaking of beer, I'm pleased to find that our local litter pitchers tend to drink Anheuser-Busch products. This is gratifying in light of a $22,500 donation to the Game Range 50th Anniversary Project, delivered by the Clydesdales to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation headquarters in Missoula last Friday. Still, I doubt the Busch people intend that their product and donation be advertised in the borrow pits beside the property we're all trying to protect.

And, speaking of protecting property, I wonder if the founders of the Best Last Place cemetery intended that the chain link fence around its periphery would serve as an effective litter interceptor. The fence makes it easy to walk along and gather the windrowed trash trapped along its edge, and I'm sure the cemetery stays cleaner than it would have without the fence.

In the battle between the major soft drink producers, litter pitchers prefer Coke over Pepsi. They chew Copenhagen mostly, but demonstrate quite a variety of tastes in cigarettes.

It's a real pick-me-up to realize that litter pitchers drive from miles away to pitch their litter next to the Game Range. If I'm not mistaken, the nearest possible origin of that Dairy Queen cup was 40 miles away. And, the Fila sneakers weren't purchased at Stoney's. Think of all the eligible roadsides these pitchers passed by to smile on our little piece of paradise. Thank you.

And, just when I think I've separated the pitchers from the pickers, I turn around to see that candy wrappers can work their way out through the rip I just noticed in my bag. Then I'm reminded of how intimately I know at least one inadvertent litter pitcher, and I bend over with a little more enthusiasm to do my part. I hope other litter pickers on other stretches of adopted highways don't hold my mistakes against me when they find them.

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