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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How to Have Less Impact on our Natural Areas

This is the follow-up from my last article on Brainard Lake Hunting Regulations changes. I promised to give everyone some ideas on how to have less impact on Brainard Lake as we get out and enjoy the beauty of Colorado this spring and summer. But this isn't really just about Brainard Lake -- it's about taking care to minimize our impact no matter where we choose to enjoy nature.
  • Enjoy yourself, have fun, and stay safe.
  • Know and follow the regulations: if the area is under some kind of local, state, or federal jurisdiction (most are), make sure you know whether you can bring pets and whether your pets need to be leashed. Are you allowed to: hike off-path, consume alcohol, build fires, camp, fish, fly a kite, etc.? Most importantly, follow the regulations. They're in place for your safety and to protect others, the land, animals, and plants, too.
  • Know the local hunting seasons: if it's big-game season, don't go out there, or wear blaze orange to protect yourself. And most importantly, don't harass hunters. If they are hunting legally (the vast majority are), they have a right to be on the trails or in the backcountry, too. If you suspect someone is hunting illegally, contact local officials or law enforcement -- don't confront someone yourself.
  • Keep your pets under control at all times: this might mean a leash or voice control, depending on what's allowed. At Brainard Lake, dogs must be leashed in many parts of the recreation area. Most national parks don't allow dogs on trails at all. Wildlife views your dog as it would a wolf or coyote: a predator. And Fido may actually be a predator. I've personally had one dog who was fast and agile enough to take down rabbits and when she was giving chase, her hearing "magically" shut down. Needless to say, when I took her hiking I kept her under leash control so she wouldn't terrorize the wildlife. Remember, too, that some other trail users (people) may not appreciate your dog running up to them, and may even view your pet with fear. Keep in mind that small animals are stressed by your dog chasing them, and larger animals may confront and attack your dog. If you don't want an unexpected vet bill, ticket, or lawsuit, keep your dog under control.
  • If an area is posted as off-limits, don't go there: areas may be closed for restoration, bird nesting, your safety, or wildlife use. Please respect the agency governing the site and stay out of closed areas.
  • Be respectful of others: in other words, be NICE. Don't harass other users of the area. Clean up after yourself (pack out all of your trash). Use the restroom facilities provided. Do you remember all of that polite stuff that mom tried to teach you? Yeah, do it.
  • Stay a respectful distance from wildlife: for an idea of what this means, see this page for Yellowstone National Park.
  • If you're in an area with bears, know bear safety: again, Yellowstone National Park has a great write-up on this.
  • Bring appropriate clothing, food, and water: I could tell you dozens of stories about the inexperienced hikers I've seen going up into the Rocky Mountains for a hike while wearing only shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops and carrying nothing but a small bottle of water. I've also helped some people out of the backcountry who have been caught out without a jacket or water. Weather here can change very quickly. I've started off a hike with air temps of 80 deg F, and 4 hours later it was 40 degrees and snowing. Wear sturdy boots or hiking shoes. Carry extra food, water, and clothing, maybe even a first aid kit. Know how to keep yourself safe. Read books or take a class on backcountry skills (REI and many other outdoors stores offer them regularly).
  • Know your limits, and when to stay home: If you're feeling unsure of yourself, or unsafe in a situation, STOP. It's probably best to just go home. Don't push past your limits unless you're with an experienced guide, instructor, or mentor who can coach you through the tough spots. Even more important, don't let your companions try to talk you into doing something that you know is beyond your limits. You're not Iron Man or Captain America. You're an ordinary human with limits. If you want to increase your outdoors skills, take classes through local hiking clubs, outdoors stores, or recreation centers.

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