Leave No Trace Principle 6: Respect Wildlife

Golden-crowned Kinglet by Abbey Holden

Sharing an experience with wildlife is a great way to enrich our love of the outdoors. People around the world spend copious amounts of time behind cameras, binoculars and identification books for just a brief moment with wildlife. With enough patience and luck, we can get a deeper look into the happenings of the natural world around us.

It is important to remember that we are visitors among the animals who inhabit our favorite outdoor spaces. When humans respect the wildness of these animals, we can enjoy each other’s company with little negative impacts.

Leave No Trace has several tips to help you follow the 6th Principle:

  • Observe wildlife from a distance
  • Avoid critical and sensitive habitat, especially during breeding and nesting seasons
  • Never feed wildlife
  • Store and dispose of food and waste properly
  • Never chase or try to touch animals unless they are sick or injured
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home
  • Do not disturb animals for a better look or a good photo

The “thumb trick” is a great way to ensure you are providing enough space when you do encounter a wild animal. To complete the “thumb trick”, you simply give a thumbs up with your arm fully extended. Close one eye and try to completely cover the animal with your thumb. If you can still see them, you are too close. This trick works because it is proportional. The larger the animal, the farther away you will have to be to successfully complete it.

Proper food and waste storage are essential when sharing space with wild animals. Processed food is not nutritious to any animal species and negative interactions with humans can be reinforced by food and trash, further perpetuating the behavior. Animals can be habituated to human food becoming a nuisance for trails, campsites and other popular outdoor spaces.

Photo by Gary L. Fiedler

Black bears and squirrels are two species that are commonly affected by human activity. The Minnesota DNR works to prevent the unnecessary removal of black bears and have guidelines for what to do in case of a bear encounter. “The best way to avoid problems with bears is to not attract them in the first place”. It is our responsibility to respect all wildlife and ensure we are mindful of our impacts to prevent future problems.