Wharton: Lazy anglers maim birds on Murray’s Willow Pond
Published: March 25, 2013 12:13PM
Updated: March 14, 2013 02:50PM
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A common merganser takes off from Willow Pond in Murray. It is missing one leg and risks losing the other leg due to getting tangled in fishing line anglers discard or lose. Courtesy Ron Dudley

Murray • Willow Pond is guarded on the east by a subdivision and on the south by a bustling freeway.

But, on a late February morning as a storm moves into the valley, the 4-acre pond shaded by trees and surrounded by a walking trail seemed peaceful and even idyllic. Dozens of ducks greeted me, their quacks shattering the silence. Lone Peak and Mt. Olympus decorated the eastern horizon, their snow-capped summits looking grand on a rare inversion-free Salt Lake Valley morning. A pair of Murray City workers checked things out and did a little cleanup work.

Warned by nature photographers Ron Dudley and Mia McPherson about a growing problem at the urban fishery, I walked the shoreline and out on the dock.

Many anglers, unfortunately, are litterbugs. Go to popular fisheries any time, and chances are you will see all sorts of litter along the shoreline. This day was no different. I observed pop bottles, cans, a reel of used line, gum wrappers, empty plastic ice bags, a hamburger wrapper and an empty beef jerky package. There was even a used condom.

Not only is the litter unsightly in what should be a pretty urban fishery where anglers come to catch trout, channel cats, bluegill, largemouth bass and pumpkinseed, but it poses a danger to dozens of wintering birds who use its mostly open waters to rest and dine.

Dudley, a retired Highland High science teacher who comes here often, said he has seen birds such as white pelicans, double crested cormorants, great blue herons, many types of ducks and osprey using the little pond.

But he and McPherson have noticed something else. They have posted photographs on their blogs of birds who have lost limbs when they have become tangled up in strands of discarded fishing line. What at first looks like a beautiful nature photo of a common merganser taking flight, upon closer look, shows a bird missing a foot with a piece of fishing line dangling from the other foot.

Dudley said a few days before our meeting, frost-covered fishing line was strung all over the metal fishing dock that juts out into Willow Pond. He said the line gets tangled around a bird’s leg, which cuts off circulation. The limb swells first and then falls off.

He even tried to befriend a mallard mother who set up nest near his home with her eight ducklings. She had three strands of fishing line coming off her. She could barely fly. He slowly won the duck’s trust as he moved closer each day, trying to cut off as much of the line as he could.

On the morning we visited Willow Pond, McPherson followed a duck trailing line from its wing, documenting the distress the little bird was experiencing.

What can be done?

It’s not as if authorities aren’t trying. The Division of Wildlife Resources has placed five recycled line tubes around the pond, though park users too lazy to use nearby garbage cans stuffed plastic sacks into the one closest to the parking lot. Murray park workers also clean up things.

For anglers, it’s as simple as picking up after themselves and realizing that discarded monofilament line can maim or kill birds.

McPherson, though, would like to see an agency such as the Division of Wildlife Resources launch a small trolling boat — no recreational boats are allowed in Willow Pond — with a dredge of some sort to try to remove all the line and hooks that have been accidentally snagged over the years. Some structure is put in place at the bottom of the pond to give fish a place to hide.

Though the practicality of that would be difficult, birds that dive for fish sometimes get tangled with hooks and line that are under the water.

The key, though, is for users to clean up not only their line but all of their litter and perhaps take an extra bag to pack out some left by those not quite as ethical.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton