Leave No Trace Principle 4: Leave What You Find

Agate photo by Abbey Holden

When we take artifacts from nature, we are robbing the sense of discovery from the next visitor. Human artifacts, like arrow heads or pottery remind us of the rich human history of the landscape. Disturbing these items can also make it harder for archaeologists to study and document them.

It may not seem like a big deal to take a few natural items like antlers, wildflowers, shells or stones but we often forget that animals use these items too. Squirrels and many other animals will eat shed antlers for their calcium, phosphorus and mineral salts. Wildflowers are a vital food source to many pollinator species. The NRCS estimates that 35% of agricultural crops also depend on native pollinators. Instead of plucking a pretty wildflower, snap a picture! Pictures are a great way to capture the beautiful sights nature has to offer.

It is also important to remember that collecting items may be prohibited in your state or by local land managers. For instance, possession of feathers, nests or other bird parts is prohibited on the federal level by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Collection of these items without a permit can result in large fines and possibly jail time. Many land managers prohibit the collection of any natural items for the protection of both human and animal visitors.

When we transport living organisms, we also increase the potential spread of invasive species. Invasive species can alter a landscape forever. They often out-compete native species and can damage habitat to the point that it no longer supports its native inhabitants. It is important to be mindful of the items we don’t intentionally bring home with us. Taking precautionary steps such as cleaning dirt from shoe treads, disposing of live bait properly and not picking native plants can reduce the spread of invasive species.

Although we should not collect natural items from nature, we can collect litter! Turn your litter into an art project with an upcylced bird feeder. Head to our Facebook for a how-to video guide. Participating in our Trash Clean Up Contest is a great way to gather the items needed for this project.

“Take only photos, leave only footprints”