Your Outdoor Skills: Encountering Wildlife in the Wilderness (Part 1)
We love adventuring into the wilderness and exploring new spaces. While one of the perks of getting outside and taking the time to slow down and enjoy living off the bare minimum for a short time, we have to remember that we are not alone in the wilderness. We share this space with the wild animals that occupy these places year round. This is their home and we need to remember to respect them, their space, and their habitat the best we can. We have some tips so you and the wildlife can together enjoy the best experience while we explore their beautiful home.
Keep Your Distance
A part of respecting these amazing creatures, is to keep our distance. A good “rule of thumb” is to give a thumbs up at arm's length. Line your thumb with the animal and if your thumb doesn’t cover up the animal, you’re too close. Occasionally we run upon wildlife unexpectedly while exploring and it’s best to know their mannerisms and how to communicate with them. This not only keeps us safe, but also the animals.
Larger wildlife, especially bears, may follow their noses right to your campsite. This can be more common where backcountry camping is popular and consistent. If bears have experienced finding food in a certain area, they’ll come back for more. Campers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness have seen this problem escalate in recent years where campsites stay relatively consistent and the area has grown in popularity. But even without consistent travel, bears still love food and if they smell it, they’ll come searching.
We have a few recommendations to keep the sleeping area of your campsite as safe as possible from intruders looking for a late night snack or midday meal while you're away. These can also help keep away destructive little critters:
- Never keep food in your tent. Having food in your tent only attracts the bear or other animals, to you. We can assure you, that’s not how you want to be woken up in the middle of the night.
- Cook and eat your food at least 100 feet away from your sleeping area. If you accidently drop food off your plate or have a spill while cooking, you’re not doing that right next to your tent.
- Hang a food bag with any food item at least 100 feet from your campsite or use a bear canister. Ideally you’ll want to hang a bear bag high off the ground and a few yards away from the trunk of the tree. However, ideal conditions can be hard to come by, so do your best to hang your bag as high off the ground as you can. If you use a bear canister, we recommended you hide it or bury it under shrubs or tree fall as bears may still try and get into it.
- Keep the fish far away. If you’re fishing, and plan on eating your catch, clean the fish as far away from your campsite as possible and make sure to wash your hands when you’re finished. Once you’re done cleaning the fish, bury the guts and skins close to where you cleaned them.
- Clean your dishes and cookware, keep them away from your tent, and disperse dirty water away from the campsite. When you’re done cooking, make sure to wash everything you’ve used. You can use your Littlbug stove to boil water in to wash and rinse dishes. Dispose and disperse of your dirty water away from your campsite and water sources.
If a bear does enter your campsite, make sure you know the type of bears in the wilderness area you’re camping in and how to distinguish between them. Different species of bears need to be approached differently when encountered. For example, black bears should be scared away with noise and commotion with an easy way to escape, but with grizzly bears and other aggressive bears you should never try to move. Let them take your food and hope they move on quickly. You can learn more about how to handle a bear encounter here.
Refrain from feeding wildlife. While it may be tempting to feed a little chipmunk that wanders into your campsite or come across on the trail, this doesn’t help the creature in the future. They may become dependent on others for food. Even more concerning, the food we eat is vastly different from their day-to-day diet, which can be problematic to their digestive system. It can also cause problems for other hikers or campers down the trail.
If you pack it in, pack it out. This is true for orange peels, apple cores, and other snacks we bring on the trail. It can be misconstrued that fruits and vegetables are compostable. However, unless the food we chose to leave behind is native to the area, we should pack out anything we don’t consume. For one, if the food isn’t native to the area, it takes a lot longer to decompose than native plants. And second, if the wildlife in the area gets ahold of our uneaten scraps and consumes them, it could have a negative affect on them, since it isn’t a part of their regular diet.
As we enter into camping season, let’s all do our part to respect the wildlife living in the areas we choose to explore.
Remember: When it comes to outdoor skills the more you bring along, the less you have to carry. Skills don't break, don't rely on batteries and they're never left behind. They don’t leak, tear, and they don’t get wet!