Most wildlife can adapt to consistent patterns of human activity, but it’s best to learn about wildlife through quiet observation.
- Do not approach or follow wildlife for a “better look.”
- Carry binoculars, a spotting scope, or a telephoto lens to view and photograph wildlife from observation areas and trails.
- Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee.
You are too close if your presence or actions cause wildlife to alter their normal habits.
Large groups often cause more damage to the environment and can disturb wildlife, so keep your group small. If you have a larger group, minimize your impact by dividing into smaller groups if possible. Plan your trip to avoid critical or sensitive wildlife habitats or times when wildlife are nesting and rearing their young.
Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Travel quietly and do not pursue, feed, or force animals to flee. (One exception is in bear country, where it is good to make a little noise so as not to startle the bears.) In hot or cold weather, disturbance can affect an animal’s ability to withstand the rigorous environment. Do not touch, get close to, feed, or pick up wild animals. It is stressful to the animal, and it is possible that the animal may harbor rabies or other diseases. Sick or wounded animals may bite, peck, or scratch and send you to the hospital. If you find sick animals or animals in trouble, notify a game warden.
Considerate campers observe wildfire from afar, give animals a wide berth, store food securely, and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals. Leave young animals alone and remain at a distance from nesting birds, denning animals, and newborn animals. Young animals removed or touched by well-meaning people may cause the animals’ parents to abandon their young. Remember that you are a visitor to their home.
Never feed wildlife or allow them to obtain human food, even scraps. Wildlife that obtain human food become nuisance animals that are often killed by cars, dogs, or predators because they left the safety and cover of their normal habitat. Such animals often get into human trash, eating things such as plastic food wrappers, which can become trapped and clog their digestive systems. Human food also is not nutritious for wildlife and can cause tooth decay, gum infection, and ulcers. The chance of survival is slim when wardens must be called in to trap and relocate a bear or deer.
Allow animals free access to water sources by giving them the buffer space they need to feel secure. Ideally, camps should be located at least 200 feet or more from existing water sources. This will minimize disturbance to wildlife and help ensure that animals have access to their precious drinking water.
With limited water in arid lands, desert travelers must strive to reduce their impact on the animals struggling for survival. Desert dwellers are usually most active after dark; you will be less likely to frighten them by avoiding water holes at night.
Washing and human waste disposal must be done carefully so the environment is not polluted and so animals and aquatic life are not injured. While swimming in lakes or streams is fine in most instances, in desert areas, leave scarce water holes undisturbed and unpolluted so animals may drink from them.
Messy kitchens and food odors attract bears. A conscientious low-impact camper always keeps a clean camp. Kitchens should be placed at least 200 feet (or 80 adult steps) from tent sites. Food must be stored at least 200 feet from tent and kitchen sites, hung at least 12 feet off the ground between trees, 6 feet away from the trunks of the trees, and 6 feet below a limb. Your food storage, cooking area, and tent sites should form a triangle with a minimum of 200 feet between them.
All food items and trash must be hung to keep them away from bears and other wildlife. Food brought to your tent invites danger to your sleeping area, and food left in your pack may result in a destroyed pack as the bear searches for the source of food odors. Consider using bear-proof canisters, which are lightweight and easy to carry.