Whether your favorite camp spot is next to a river, deep in the forest, off a mountain road, or tucked away among a sea of sagebrush, these escapes are places we cherish.
And while there’s no doubt we love and revere these patches of nature, we are constantly reminded by conspicuous, often weathered, signage to “Leave No Trace.” And trust me when I say I don’t doubt that you take these words to heart. But what I can offer are a few tricks and tips that might help you leave less of a trace and make that camping trip a little more epic.
1. “It’s biodegradable—just throw it in the bushes!”
This isn’t exactly as cut and dried as you might think. While food scraps are biodegradable, they may not break down easily. For example, you might be surprised to learn that an aluminum soda can will, in most circumstances, biodegrade more quickly than an orange peel. Why? Because certain environmental conditions are required to initiate the decomposition process, such as moisture and heat.
Think of your backyard compost pile. Add organic material, dried carbon (e.g., grass clippings) and a little water, and voilà, you’ve initiated the biodegradation process. Furthermore, tossing organic material into the bushes with the “don’t worry, it’ll biodegrade” attitude shouldn’t be the way you think of nature. Instead, leave no trace and pack it out! You wouldn’t want to show up at your favorite campsite and find a trail of orange peels leading to your favorite lookout or fishing hole, would you?
2. Feeding wildlife.
One day you may come across an overly friendly squirrel, curious bear, or mischievous raven, and consider tossing it a scrap of food. Don’t. The best explanation I and other scientists may offer is this: All it takes is one scrap of people food to turn a wild, self-sufficient animal into one that is permanently and often irreversibly hooked on human garbage.
Not only can this shift in behavior lead to the animal’s death—whether it becomes a danger to the public and is shot or is run over by a car—but that animal, if it survives to reproduce, will pass that behavior on to its offspring, which can then trigger a chain reaction through a population just as it has among black bears at Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. Instead, bring some binoculars and watch wild animals acting wild, instead of bringing food scraps to feed and watch sick animals.