This white-tailed buck, photographed recently on the Maumee side of the river near St. Joseph Parish, has its antlers tangled in a mass of fishing nets. MARY ANNE MURTHA
A river system works like a hundred thousand funnels, collecting water, sediment, and everything else along the way and channeling it into the main stream. In a period of high water or flooding, the river is an unwitting magnetic field that gathers loads of trash, debris, and some items that might present a danger to people, wildlife, and the drinking water supply.
The Maumee River, the largest river system on the Great Lakes, is like an eight-lane superhighway to Lake Erie, bringing rain, runoff and anything else that floats along for the ride. In heavy rain events such as the legitimate gully-washer we had in early July, the river becomes a raging torrent that spills well beyond its banks and sweeps the landscape, producing a bobbing array of flotsam that can include firewood, lawn furniture, pieces of docks, and anything that was not anchored down in the yards along the flood plain.
Call it junk or trash or debris, but this is stuff that doesn’t belong in the waterway or along its banks, and besides presenting a potential danger, it also looks awful.
One example of the sometimes bizarre debris that makes its way into the river or litters its banks came to us as the headdress on a mature white-tailed buck. Mary Anne Murtha and her husband Matt were making their customary wildlife-viewing drive along the Maumee side of the river one recent evening when they saw a group of deer feeding and one of them was wearing a messy snarl of fishing net in its antlers.
“This didn’t look the kind of netting you would see anyone using on the river,” Matt said. “It looked like something you would see on Cape Cod, so I’m guessing it was maybe someone’s decorations.”
If that jumble of netting made its way from an adornment on someone’s deck or dock into the river during high water, it likely got tangled in the brushy areas along the river that catch an array of floating foreign material. Whitetail bucks will use bushes, saplings and trees to first scrape the velvet off their antlers earlier in the year, and then use their hardened antlers to thrash against these to mark their territory in later months.
It is a plausible scenario that this buck was scraping or marking in the sometimes dense cover along the river and that’s where he found the old fishing net, thrashed around a bit, and got it securely wrapped about his rack.
“It was well-wrapped around his antlers, so it didn’t look like it was coming off anytime soon, but it didn’t appear to be harming him,” Matt Murtha said. “It looked more like camouflage, and it appeared that it wasn’t around his snout and he was eating ok. He looked healthy -- he just had this tangled up net wrapped around his antlers.”
That old net, and a dizzying array of other discarded items, trash and high water debris, will be the target when Partners for Clean Streams holds its “21st Annual Clean Your Streams Day” event on Sept. 23. Tons of trash should be removed once an army of volunteers scours the Maumee and its shorelines, and several other area waterways.
Last year’s cleanup involved more than 1,000 volunteers and the group collected 26,136 pounds of debris from 67 different sites along a 34-mile stretch of the rivers. This year’s cleanup starts at 8 a.m. with check-in and orientation sessions that take place at eight locations — Olander Park Open Air Shelter, University of Toledo Law School, Monroe St. United Methodist Church, Middlegrounds Metropark Rotary Pavilion, Oregon Municipal Building, Three Meadows Park Shelter House, University of Toledo Medical Center, and Side Cut Metropark.
After covering safety, data tracking and specific instructions for the cleanup, the volunteers are off to their assigned sites along the Ottawa River, Swan Creek, Maumee River and Maumee Bay watersheds. Over the past 20 years, the cleanup has involved 11,025 volunteers who have removed 133 tons of trash from the river systems.
“Our goal is for volunteers to see the large amount of trash in our waterways and to understand that removing it is one step towards clean, clear, and safe rivers and streams,” the Perrysburg-based Partners for Clean Streams said in its announcement of the September cleanup. “But we must also try to prevent trash from reaching rivers and streams at all . . . all of that debris eventually enters Lake Erie and negatively impacts the water that many of us rely on for drinking, recreation, and our economy.”