Access to public land and public water is the lifeblood allowing many sportsmen and women to engage in their avocations of choice. While public land is vital to providing habitat for countless species of plants and animals, it also provides the space and environment for outdoor enthusiasts to recreate in a natural setting. Whether it be in pursuit of wild game for the dinner table, a short trail ride to clear the mind, or camping trip with family, access to public land is the key to enjoyment.
If access to public land lost, our passions become inaccessible. Unfortunately access also allows for abuse and one of the abuses that can quickly, and permanently close public access is the accumulation of garbage. Three years ago, the members in the southeast chapters of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers recognized the threat garbage presents to public land access and created the Gobblers & Garbage initiative to help keep our public lands clean.
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The concept is simple: While out scouting or hunting for spring turkeys, pick up garbage found along the way. When the initiative started hunters began posting pictures of the garbage they collected to social media. Later the addition of a potential reward in the form of a Yeti cooler added some competitive motivation and the amount of trash removed from the public land began to increase. In time, friendly rivalries sprung up as sportsmen and women actively sought to remove garbage and items thoughtless people left in the woods.
What were initially pictures of small shopping bags of collected litter grew to pictures of full-size garbage bags of bottles, cans & paper, eventually hunters began hauling out discarded tires, furniture, and even inflatable swimming pools. This year the Florida Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers received gear donations from Headbusta Calls, BassPro, and FirstLite to be awarded to the folks who haul the most garbage from public land.
To kick off the 2021 Gobblers & Garbage campaign the chapter organized a cleanup in the Ocala National Forest giving turkey hunters a few morning hours to scout a few birds and then meet at the Pittman Visitor Center prior to embarking to collect garbage. Over twenty motivated volunteers attended the event arriving with with pickup trucks, dump trailers and power tools to remove large objects. Within three hours the group collected over three tons of garbage including tires, couches, mountains of bottles & cans and even an old boat! The volunteers effectively unwound decades of abuse as evidenced by some of the faded pop-top cans and deteriorated tires.
As of the date of this article the Florida Gobblers & Garbage initiative is headed into its third week with well over 5 tons of trash estimated at over 10,000 gallons in volume being removed from public land by volunteers. To add your part to the effort, become a member of your local chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers at www.backcountryhunters.org, get out to eyeball a gobbler, then drag out anything you find that doesn’t belong in the woods!
Jim Hasley serves as a Vice Chairman in the Florida Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s been plying the woods and waters of Florida and the Southeast for decades; he loves family, friends and food. For questions or comments, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org