Time and tide have taken another outdoorsman from our midst. I first met Bill Irwin in his book “Blind Courage,” which chronicled an amazing God-inspired feat. Bill, blind since young adulthood, walked the entire Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine. Most of us could not endure that arduous trek even with the benefit of sight. Bill, with the help of his seeing-eye dog Orient, made it through, but not without a lot of harrowing moments and long, long days. A sample of what Bill faced in his sightless world is depicted in his book’s first-person account of his and his dog’s struggle to make it through the presidential range of the AT.

What made him tick? Why did he put himself through such an ordeal?

In a couple of radio interviews with Bill on my radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” I learned that Bill — a flawed man with personal baggage like the rest of us — found his courage and his strength in his love for and faith in his Creator. His famous AT hike was a small part of the man. Much of his life was spent, not with a backpack, but quietly helping other people and sharing the Word with those with whom he came in contact.

Bill Irwin, an adopted Mainer who left his mark in more ways than one, left us in March for his final trek. Good hiking, Bill.

The Omnibus Bill

Probably most Maine sportsmen pay little if any attention to this seemingly obscure annual document issued by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W). Despite its regal-sounding name, it is simply a piece of catch-all, house-keeping legislation that cleans things up, or makes adjustments or changes in various state statutes dealing with fish and game rules and regulations. This year a few sections of this bill are conspicuous inasmuch as they reverse some bad policy that was originated by IF&W and passed by the legislature.

Here are two of the reversals as they appear in the summary section of IF&W’s Omnibus Bill:

13) Repeals the law requiring grouse hunters to label ruffed grouse they have harvested when travelling within or through the unorganized territory.

(11) Removes the restriction against discharging a bow and arrow or cause a projectile to pass as a result of that discharge from within 100 yards of a building or residential dwelling without permission from the building’s owner or occupant or owner’s authorized representative the date it was taken if that person is within or travelling through the unorganized territory.

There is also language in this same bill that, in effect, makes sure that in the future IF&W is not so cavalier in banning the use of live fish as bait on a number of popular game fish waters.

Bottom line: Once again bow hunters and recreational archers can practice their bows in their own back yards without their neighbor’s permission, grouse hunters do not have to tag each individual bird with their names and addresses and ice fishermen can fish most traditional game fish waters with live bait.

Common sense has at last prevailed, though it arrived via a difficult and circuitous route.

Cat scratch fever

We have known for a long time that Tabby, a skilled and lethal predator, likes to kill songbirds. Experts say that 30 species of American songbirds have been rendered extinct so far by a fast-multiplying population of both domestic and feral cats (domestic cats gone wild). A large U.S. coalition of 200 national groups have marched on the U.S. Interior Department demanding that something be done to control burgeoning populations of feral cats in national parks, sanctuaries and other conservation lands.

This concerned coalition also reports that spiraling populations of feral cats create a growing risk to human health from rabies and toxoplasmosis spread by cats.

What can you do to stem the tide of songbird extirpation by domestic and feral cats? The answer is simple and straightforward. Don’t let Tabby roam at will, and if Tabby has outworn her welcome, drop her off at a shelter, not the nearest woodlot.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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