With hiking and venturing in nature comes responsibility. While it’s encouraged for people to enjoy the outdoors, it’s also encouraged to practice the seven Leave No Trace principles and respect nature and wildlife.
Humans have an impact on the environment, and it’s expected of them to minimize that as much as possible. Ashley Sanchez, public information officer for Nevada Department of Wildlife, said after 2020, more people are returning to nature than ever before due to the pandemic.
“It’s great people are connecting with nature and being interested with conservation,” she said. “We just want people to do it responsibly.”
Plan Ahead & Prepare
With most indoor activities closed last year, many people took to the trails. While it’s great for people to get outside and exercise, it also means there can be overcrowding problems which affects nature.
“Overcrowding can cause disruption in wildlife and harm the natural landscape,” Sanchez said.
It’s best to know the busiest times for certain trails and try to avoid going then, she said.
Plan ahead before heading out. Plan for minimizing waste and proper ways to dispose of it.
You should look over the route you plan to take. Know the terrain and look at the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
Being prepared helps keep people from getting lost and ensures their safety.
“Checking those things can be life-saving,” Sanchez said.
Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
Stay on the trail.
“Trails are there for a reason, and when we’re concentrating traffic on that narrow ribbon of soil that protects our areas, by limiting people traveling on plants off trails,” Sanchez said.
Don’t create your own trail, she said. This is an invitation for others to follow, causing more people to think they’re supposed to be using it.
“The more people that do this, speeds up the impact on the habitat,” Sanchez said.
It can take 10 to 30 years to recover from irresponsible off-trail camping and hiking.
Also, the trails are there for safety. Venturing off trail could lead to an injury because the terrain is unknown, and it will be harder to locate the person.
Dispose of Waste Properly
“Pack-in, Pack-out” is a phrase often used with the outdoors. This means to leave nothing but your footprints. Everything you bring with you on your journey, you should take back out with you no matter what it is.
Not only is waste an eye-sore, but it creates bad habits among the animals, which can be deadly for them. It takes away their sense of being wild, Sanchez said.
By keeping the animals away from the trails, it helps avoid situations where there can be a wildlife-human encounter.
That waste includes organic matter.
“The more they (animals) find – bananas, oranges, anything that they find on the trail, they’ll keep coming back to the trail,” Sanchez said. “We want them staying in their wild areas eating their wild food sources.”
Leave What You Find
Besides not leaving trash, also don’t take stuff from nature. Leave everything natural for others to enjoy.
“It’s important to leave everything where you find it,” Sanchez said. “You want others to have that sense of discovery; rocks, plants, artifacts – they belong there.”
One person can have an impact, and if multiple people do the same thing, it will speed up the negative repercussion. Such as wildflowers. It may not seem like much to pick a flower, but if you think of how many people may go by and pick a flower, it will have a large impact after a while, she said.
You might come across trees with letters carved into them. It’s the type of action one person does and doesn’t seem that much, but once others see it and try to do their own, over time it negatively affects the natural landscapes, Sanchez said.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
“We have an abnormally dry year,” Sanchez said.
Improper campfires can lead to wildfire, which will have a huge impact.
It’s important to plan and know fire restrictions in the area. It’s best to minimize the use of fire while you’re camping.
If you do have a fire, it’s important to be responsible and never leave it unattended. Always have water and a shovel nearby. When you are done with the fire, stir in water, cover with dirt and mix. Make sure you feel the area with your hand to make sure there is no heat in there. If there is heat, repeat the process.
“Fire safety is really important,” Sanchez said.
Keep wildlife wild by not feeding them or leaving food for them to access. Observe wildlife from a distance and travel quietly. Sanchez said we don’t want animals losing their natural fear of humans.
“The more we feed them, the more they depend on us for food,” she said. “They have an important role in the ecosystem and it’s important for the community.”
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Most people go hiking to get away from civilization and enjoy the peace and quiet in nature. While respecting nature is important, it’s also to respect other hikers too. You should keep your space from other hikers and not travel in too large of a group (more than 10).
“There’s noise pollution from larger groups,” Sanchez said. “It ruins that experience of being in nature and the wild and having that peace and solitude.”