I've been a subscriber to the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine since way back in the '60's when it was the black and white, Stalinist formatted, boring Wisconsin Conversation Bulletin. It's come a long way since those days of posed black and white photos, feel good articles, and DNR party line propaganda, printed on that cheap glossy paper that had actual chunks of wood floating around in it. The February issue of the 'new' magazine features the headline article, A Smart Start to Kayaking. Before I started reading it I decided to try to transport myself back to the 'unconscious incompetent' days of the mid '90's and see what I could glean from the article that might make me decide whether or not venturing out on Lake Superior in a long skinny boat was a good idea. After all, if I went over I might get trapped upside down in the thing for God's sake!
As many of you know, the very first time I sat in a sea kayak was at Trek & Trail beach and I made it about 50 yards before I went over, but that's another story. Reading this article from the perspective of the uninitiated 'thinking about it' kind of guy made me want to give it a try. Our 'chief paddling evangelist', one Mr. D. Bush of Madison, who runs that company named after a tuberous root vegetable, was quoted, as was DNR warden Dave Oginski, a kayaker himself. The article is a good overview of the sport in Wisconsin and the focus on the yin and yang of Lake Superior, the opportunity and danger, is well balanced. Its not so alarmist that it scares people away, not the "place where kayakers to die" as one person that called the WI DNR put it, and it also does not sugar coat what needs to be done in order to paddle the lake safely. There is a great list of Lake Superior tips, a nice page full of hypothermia info, and some useful websites. Probably the most succinct piece of advice was from Warden Oginski, who thinks its all about safe outdoor fun. "I won't ever put myself in a situation where I put my life at risk". Good advice and the article is a good start for helping paddlers decide what is risky and what is safe behavior. I think the 1996 version of me would have sought out a good outfitter to run me through some sea kayaking instructio......oh wait, I guess that's actually what I did do back then.
On the other end of the DNR gamut of responsibility is our old friend the Timber Wolf. The DNR are actually completely responsible for wolf management since 27 January when the Federal government 'delisted' the wolf. I won't go into the debate of the pros vs anti wolf people here. Suffice to say that it's pro choice/pro life in its intensity and the unwillingness of those on either end of the spectrum to see any possible compromise or moderate position. As most readers of this blog know, we have wolves on our hunting land yet seem to persist in shooting nice bucks year after year. Are our wolves just underachievers or are they satiated on calves, toddlers, and defenseless lambs? Which brings me to the central point of this story. My buddy up in Minocqua, SilenceOfTheLambChops, a man who raises lambs as well as serves them up as tasty, melt in your mouth, medium rare chops at various kayaking events, got to do some wolf tracking last week. Since he is also the Loon Ranger,monitor and protector of the loons on Trout Lake, he managed to wangle a ride in the DNR wolf tracking aircraft for a bit of radio telemetry. He sent us some great pictures but confessed that the 45 degree banking turns when the 'beep' was heard was not easy on the old stomach. The GurneyGranny, notorious car/air sickness victim, said she got queasy reading his account of the flight. The fact that a sheep farmer in prime wolf range is interested in having wolves as part of the natural environment is both interesting and instructive to me.
The DNR, an agency often maligned by both sides of any debate about the outdoors, most definitely has its hands full. However trying to keep people safe as they kayak on Lake Superior and tracking and monitoring wolf activity would seem to be two activities that any sane outdoor lover would support. Like dang near anything, looking at the facts (not making up your own, like a Presidential candidate) and weighing the pros and cons before making a decision is a good process whether you're thinking about kayaking, evaluating the wolf's spot in our natural environment, or deciding who to vote for to lead the country. I just wish more people were willing to do it.
(Photo of wolves courtesy of SOLC, zero permission given. I may need to offer a rolling lesson.......)