Friday, December 09, 2016

BHA Habitat Watch Report-2016: Year of the Storms

If you are going to go anywhere, on foot, on mountain bike, or canoe, expect to do a lot of bushwhacking. Regardless of which side of Lake Superior you are on, this was the year the winds took down the trees.

I am the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Habitat Watch volunteer for the Superior National Forest and the Lake Superior watershed. Since the Lake Superior watershed also includes parts of Wisconsin, Michigan and the province of Ontario, and since I spend a fairly substantial amount of time on the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin every year, realistically I consider myself the Habitat Watch person for the entire western end of the lake. Unfortunately, this year it doesn’t matter. The Kokapelli winds wreaked havoc with the entire region at one point or another, this past spring and summer.

As I explained to the MN- BHA board when I accepted this assignment, I am more of an angler than I am a hunter. (Although it could be argued that I am not much of an angler either.) Be that as it may, access affects all of us who use the backcountry, whether it’s for hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, any activity.

Although an earlier storm caused significant damage in the Isabella area of Superior National Forest, it paled in comparison to the devastation left in the wake of the storms of July 11th and 21st. From the eastern and of the Chippewa National Forest through Duluth and Minnesota’s Arrowhead region, and on the south shore, battering the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest’s western reaches so badly that the forest shutdown most of its northern areas. The damage on the Minnesota side resulted in numerous roads and trails being blocked by blowdown, as well as raised water levels in lakes, streams, rivers and even bogs.

I’m going to concentrate more on the damage done on the Chequamegon side, because it had a tremendous impact not only on the habitat, but also on the people of Douglas, Bayfield and Ashland Counties. Although a dozen or so campers were evacuated from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area following the July 21st storm, in Bayfield County three people died and 11 or injured during the passage of the two storms. It is estimated that 12 to 15 inches of rain fell on July 11th in about four hours time. This created tremendous pressure on the rivers and streams of the region, producing considerable erosion and in some cases re-creation of existing waterways. One trout fishing guide whom I am friends with, said that the Marengo River in Bayfield County, WI, (one of my most favorite trout streams) is now a totally different stream that it was on July 10th. Twenty Mile Creek, a class one trout stream, cut through over 30 feet of asphalt, gravel, and dirt on US Highway 63 north of Grand View, leaving only the bare concrete culvert structure, and taking the life of an elderly motorist and nearly killing the deputy sheriff who attempted to rescue her.

In addition to the major roadways near Grand View, Marengo and High Point, forest roads took the brunt of the storm’s fury. Even as I write this on December 5th, several Forest Roads on the Chequamegon remain closed, and will likely stay that way until early summer of 2017. The access road to the Beaver Lake Campground, a popular destination with bear and deer hunters was totally washed away, closing the campground for the season. Much of the forest remained closed and inaccessible until mid-November, and was actively patrolled by Forest Law Enforcement Officers, state Conservation Wardens and sheriff’s deputies who issued citations to those who entered the area without authorization. 

On the Superior National Forest, attempting to access a number of trout lakes and streams in the Isabella and Sawbill Trail areas also proved challenging, and at times prohibitive. At one lake I observed moose tracks that tried to enter the blowdown to get to the water a several different points before the animal broke through. Trying to access (politically incorrect) Redskin Lake on my Cogburn bike, a USFS fire lane was impossible. Pancore Lake was a in similar state.

The massive rainfall has produced another issue on standing water. Lakes, ponds and bogs are overflowing, making passage difficult for man and beast. Add to the high water levels, a very thriving beaver population and many roads, trails and game paths are under water.

The Forest Service has advised me that they are, and have been working on these issues since the storms (both Superior NF and Chequamegon NF) and hope to have things in better shape. Until the fire season required crews to go out west and then to the southeastern US, fire crews were dealing with the blowdown issue on roads and popular hiking trails, along with qualified volunteers.

I do receive SOPA (Schedule of Proposed Actions) and permit/variance reports for the Superior, Chequamegon-Nicolet and Chippewa National Forests, and similar information from the MN and WI Departments of Natural Resources. Other than the mining issue that we have all been dealing with, and the MN trout stream classification changes that I posted and sent out, there has not been much that would have a direct, or even indirect effect on fish and wildlife habitat. It should be noted that MN Trout Unlimited (of which I am also a member) is actively working with the DNR to preserve some of the streams scheduled to be delisted, citing the great success they have had with the Vermillion River in the Farmington area, at bringing back “dead” streams.

Going forward, we are going to have to remain vigilant. The new administration is going to bring about changes, both good and bad. It is too early and unfair to say that just because the Republicans are in control that the environment is going to go to hell in a hand-basket. There will be challenges, but the President-Elect has pledged to “Honor the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt”, and if he holds to that, it can’t be a bad thing. (TR is one of my heroes.)

Respectfully submitted,
MN-BHA Habitat Watch Volunteer

Isanti, MN

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Official Fat Bike of Fall

The truth be told, I’m not a real good fisherman. A good part of it is simply lack of practice and lack of adequate instruction. During the 26 years that I was a Park Ranger I rarely took time to do any fishing, and when I did it was with my ultralight equipment that I bought in the Adirondacks, 35 years ago. I used to really enjoy fishing in the trout stream behind our cabin in the Adirondacks, or in Fall Creek below our home in McLean. And when my father-in-law was still alive, and we went to their home in East Texas I usually joined him in some bass fishing. Ironically, when we moved to Minnesota where the walleye is king, and trout streams are few and far between, I pretty much put away my fly rods and even my ultralight pack rods, except to teach my granddaughters how to fish.

In the past year two things have changed that. One is my retirement from the Minnesota DNR, and the other is my Cogburn CB4 fat bike. Although I have another job, and my EMS/STS training business, I now have more time to devote to fishing. I have even become active in organizations such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Trout Unlimited. You could say that retiring gave me the time, and the Cogburn gave me access.

Cogburn Outdoors is a division of the cycling giant, Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), headquartered in Bloomington Minnesota. QBP was the first bicycle manufacturer to embrace fat bikes, back in the early to mid-2000s with the introduction of the Surly Pugsley. Fat bikes had their origin in Alaska and a transplanted Minnesotan brought the idea back to Quality, who did more than take it and run with it; they created three separate divisions, Surly, Salsa and Cogburn, to design and market the wide-tired mountain bikes.

Of the three, Cogburn is the one specifically geared toward the outdoor sportsmen, primarily hunters and fishing enthusiasts. With it’s custom wrapped frames featuring camouflage from Realtree, Kuiu and First Lite, internal cable routing, exceptionally low gear ranging, and of course the 4-inch wide tires, Cogburn’s CB4 aptly deserves its self-created description as a “human powered all-terrain vehicle designed to take hunters and anglers far into the backcountry quickly and quietly.” That last section of the description is what “hooked” me. I had the use of a Surly Pugsley for the year prior to my test-riding the Cogburn for the first time, and although they share the same tires and front fork, the aluminum Cogburn handles like a totally different machine. It was “love at first ride.”

The thing I keep telling people who ask me about my Cogburn, is that it puts the fun back in bicycling. Not that I don’t enjoy riding my Volcanic mountain bike and Bianchi touring/road bike any less, but riding the Cogburn is like being a kid on your first bicycle. Even my daughter, who I hate to admit is in her 40s, had this huge grin on her face the first time she rode the Cogburn. It is, quite simply, a fun bike to ride. My year on the Pugsley taught me how to manage tire pressure, so I keep the tires at 10 to 15 pounds in the spring, summer and fall, and 5 to 10 pounds on snow in the winter. The drive train is Shimano Deore 2 x 10 speed, which obviously is not the best Shimano offers but is perfectly adequate for this application. I find I use the small ring whenever I am on less defined trails and forest roads, and the large front ring on gravel and paved roads and trails. As most people who have ridden with me know, I am not in this for speed or competition, so this set up works fine for me.

At the time that I bought my bike, QBP was going through some redesigns on their cargo racks, so I opted for a Blackburn Outpost rack and cages on the bike and they have worked out extremely well. When I decided to get the Cogburn Gear Carrier to tote my cased fly rod, the Blackburn rack took a little engineering finesse, but I have had it working really well ever since. While I am talking about the gear carrier, the one drawback to the whole Cogburn system is the clamps that hold the carrier to the cargo rack. They are small, they require the use of an Allen wrench, and it is very easy to lose pieces, because you almost have to stand on your head to get the clamps in place. To be honest, I do not keep the gear carrier on the bike because it will not fit in the back of my truck with it on, and if I put it on the rear rack,  it sticks up above the topper thereby affecting gas mileage. So when I am in the field, putting all these little pieces together, inevitably I lose something. I would like to see Cogburn offer accessory packs containing extra clamps, bolts and nuts, and different sized gear brackets, but that’s just me.

Although I ride my Cogburn year-round, off and on, I have dubbed it “the official fat-bike of fall.” Whether it’s backcountry fishing on the Chequamegon or Superior National Forests, or simply leaf-peeping in nearby County parks, for me fall seems to be the season when the Cogburn really shines. It is also a fantastic “bikefishing” vehicle. Over this past summer the National Forests I frequent were subjected to severe windstorms that left much blowdown. Forest Roads into numerous designated trout lakes and trails along my favorite rivers were often impenetrable by truck, but with a little work I could almost always get the Cogburn through. It’s really nice on a sunny fall day to be able to skirt the blowdown, and go into a backcountry lake, knowing that if you see anyone at all, it’s because they either hiked in or were on a mountain bike themselves.

The Cogburn is not inexpensive, but it is worth every penny. It is an extremely versatile bicycle and as I said earlier extremely fun to ride. As much as I like my custom Volcanic Vx7 patrol mountain bike, if the Cogburn had come out a year earlier I may never have ordered the Volcanic. (Yeah, I would have. You really can’t beat the comfort of a custom – built bike.) If you are somebody who would use in ATV for utilitarian purposes rather than sport riding, and if, like me, you prefer human – powered transportation, then I would encourage you to check out the Cogburn at your local QBP bike shop. Okay, I admit you’re not going to haul a full-grown bull elk out of the Montana backcountry with it, but it is going to take you farther and faster than on foot, and quieter and cleaner than using a motorized vehicle. I still may not be the best trout fisherman in the world, or even the neighborhood, but at least with my Cogburn Outdoors CB4, I am getting out there more often!

Proceeding on,


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

EMERGENCY: The Importance of Knowing What to Do

I thought I had broken my ankle. I was doing volunteer mountain bike patrol on the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association trails near Cable, WI, when my rear tire slipped on a damp tree root, and I stuck my foot out to catch myself. The place where I put my foot looked level enough, but turned out to be a depression filled with leaves. My ankle buckled inward and let out a loud “pop”, and immediately hurt like blue blazes. I also knew I was doing a number of things wrong; I was riding alone in a remote area, (something I still do) I had no means of communication, and the last riders I had seen had passed me 10 to 15 minutes earlier. 

Fortunately for me, it wasn’t a fracture but a badly sprained ankle (which never completely healed). However, in my favor, I was carrying my patrol pack with an extensive first aid kit including a cold pack. Because of my wilderness medical training, I knew what to do and did it; Rest, Ice, Compression Elevation, RICE. Then I was able to, using my bike as a crutch, make my way to my car and head into the ER in Hayward to get it checked out. 

 I have been an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) since 1973, took my first Wilderness EMT class in 1979, and been a first aid instructor even longer since my first semester of college in 1972. I’m also a longtime advocate of carrying at least a day pack with the “10 Essentials” for the activity you are engaged in. Two of the items on that list of 10, Navigation (paper map, and compass) and First Aid Kit come with the advisory, “and know how to use them”. From my years as a ranger, and is a Search and Rescue volunteer before that, I know that too few people head into the backcountry carrying anything more than a spare pair of socks and a couple of energy bars, and if they even have a first aid kit, it is little plastic box with some Band-Aids in it and little more. 

When we formed the predecessor to what became the Backcountry Trail Patrol, and joined the National Mountain Bike Patrol in 1996, all four of our founding members were either EMTs or First Responders. That was a good thing, because at the very first event we worked as a patrol we are credited with saving the life of a young woman suffering from an acute asthma attack. Shortly after that, I took on the name of the ambulance service I had managed in Oklahoma, 20 years earlier, Emergicare, and started offering wilderness first aid training to members of local outing clubs and the bike patrol, offering the benefit of my experience in the field, as an EMT/paramedic, park ranger and a NYS licensed wilderness guide, to a variety of folks from hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking clubs in our area. 

From the very beginning people taking the classes would come up to me and ask. “How can I use this? Can I join the Bike Patrol?” Indeed, most of the senior members of the Backcountry Trail Patrol started in either a wilderness first aid or Wilderness First Responder class that I taught, and I am pleased to say that at least five lives have been saved by people I have trained. 

Since starting to do this, I have tried to keep the price of the training I offer as reasonable as possible, certainly less than many of the other, better known training providers. I do this because I feel you are more likely to take a first aid class if you can afford to take the first aid class. Even so, most of the people I have trained either are, or soon join the Trail Patrol. And the Trail Patrol cannot be everywhere all the time. Outdoors people, regardless of their activity, get hurt and sometimes, like with my ankle, they know what to do or are with someone else who does, sometimes they hobble to a trailhead and make their way to help, and sometimes it becomes a major medical rescue operation to get them to definitive care. It is the less emergent, more common occurrences that mountain bikers and other high risk outdoor activities should be prepared for, while still knowing what to do in case of a serious medical emergency, until help arrives.

Recently, BackcountryLifeline, a new organization made up of mountain bikers for mountain bikers has started teaching mountain bike–specific first aid classes in Colorado. Established in the wake of the death of the son and fiancé of two of the founders during a mountain bike race, I like what I am seeing from them so far. They are offering affordable pre-race first-aid clinics, multi-day first aid training camps, and the thing that I believe holds the most promise, developing their own curriculum material specific to the sport. Since they are based in the same city as the IMBA/National Mountain Bike Patrol, I suggested that when they have their curriculum in place, that they take it across town with the suggestion that it become the standard for all NMBP patrollers. I’m looking forward to reviewing, and possibly utilizing the curriculum when it is completed. 
From another source, across the pond, St. John Ambulance, the leading first aid charity in Great Britain, has also come out with a First Aid for Cyclists program that includes a book,
classes and smart phone app. This is a handy source of information if needed and you have your smart phone with you, and most of it is applicable here in the US other than calling “999” instead of “911” in an emergency. The app is available for both iPhone and Android devices. 

The long and short of all this, is that I have believed for over 40 years that the more people who know first aid and CPR, the more lives are going to be saved, and non-life-threatening injuries dealt with properly. Since I started my “new” job with Team Ortho Foundation, we have had an emphasis on training as many people as possible in both full, and compression-only CPR. To date we have trained almost 40 individuals, including my first blind trainee, in Adult, Child, and Infant CPR/AED and over 75 course marshals in compression-only CPR. In Emergicare’s role as a provider of Special Transportation Service driver training, I have taught compression only CPR to well over 300 special needs transportation drivers, two of whom have saved lives with what they learned. 

There is more to be done. I would like to come up with a short course for mountain bikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, while continuing to teach the 16 hour basic and 36 hour advanced Wilderness First Aid courses we currently teach. And as much as possible, I want to see as many people as possible know what to do if they are in a situation where they are the difference between life and death.
Emergicare Medical Training; Teaching People to be The Difference.
Proceeding on...



Monday, June 27, 2016

MNBackcountry1: The Green Rider

More often than not when I am on bike patrol, whether I’m on the Chequamegon National Forest or in Isanti County Parks, I will wear green. You will find me wearing a green shirt and tan shorts rather than the standard red NMBP bicycle jersey and black shorts. This isn’t because of some sort of rebelliousness, (okay, well maybe a little) but for a couple of good reasons. First, I have never looked good in a bicycle jersey. It doesn’t matter if it is a club jersey, a patrol jersey, or my commemorative Lewis and Clark Trail jersey; I end up looking like a stuffed sausage. I don’t like that look. The second is that my background is in emergency medical services and as a Park Ranger, so I am more comfortable with a more “uniform-type” appearance.  

Initially, when we started the Backcountry Trail Patrol we wore USFS work shirts with Forest Service volunteer patches on the right sleeve. In time, we had our own shoulder patches made up, but still wore them on tan shirts with green shorts. Somewhere along the way, I was trained and qualified as a volunteer Backcountry Ranger with the Forest Service (a title they have abandoned in favor of “aide” or “assistant” in recent years) and my duties included not just riding mountain bike trails, but also spending time on equestrian and hiking pathways, checking campgrounds, swimming areas and trailhead parking lots. Even today, I can and do ride singletrack, but I also ride forest roads and visit areas not necessarily frequented by mountain bikers.

Since taking on the advocacy role of Habitat Watch for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in Minnesota, the bright red jersey of the mountain bike patrol doesn’t really seem to be appropriate for the areas I am “patrolling” in the backcountry. Just yesterday on the Chequamegon National Forest the fisherman approached me and asked about trout fishing opportunities on the forest. He must have felt I was approachable in my green shirt, and the white truck with “Backcountry” on the side. Would he have come up to me with that question if I was in a mountain bike patrol jersey? Of course one cannot know for sure, but I kind of doubt it. The previous day, we hiked up the trail to a local waterfall, and I was wearing my green shirt, my green patrol pack, and carrying a trash picker and litter bag. Bikes were not allowed on that trail, so wearing a red jersey might have looked, shall we say, out of place?

When we started the Backcountry Trail Patrol in 2000, we anticipated just that kind of interaction. In fact when we were working on Chippewa National Forest, it was fairly common. But the role of the Backcountry Patrol has always gone beyond just the mountain bike trails. We still “educate, assist, and inform”, but the mission, as stated on the website, has always been that we are, “dedicated to protecting (all) trail users and forest resources through service and backcountry safety education.” So, more often than not, if you encounter me in the backcountry during the spring summer or fall (before hunting season) I will wear green.

Proceeding on…