Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a “better look.” Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee. While some animals may not seem bothered by your presence, wildlife can be unpredictable. Keeping your distance will also help protect you and your pets.

Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Do your best to travel quietly and do not pursue animals as this may force them to flee causing them to use important energy stores (one exception is in bear country where it is good to make a little noise so as not to surprise a bear). Do not touch, get close to, feed, or pick up wild animals. It is stressful to the animal, and it is possible that the animal may harbor rabies or other diseases. Give wildlife extra space during sensitive times like winter, mating season, and birthing season. 

Sick or wounded animals may bite, peck, or scratch causing injury to you. Young animals removed or touched by well-meaning people may cause the animal’s parents to abandon them. If you find sick animals or animals in trouble, you should notify the land manager.

A goat chews on vegetation while standing on the open plains in South Dakota.
An elk eats green grass in a field.

Food Storage

Human food can harm the health of wildlife, change their habits, and lead to further human-wildlife conflicts. To minimize these impacts, food, trash, and any other items with a scent should always be securely stored out of the reach of animals. 

Human food does not provide wildlife with the nutrients they need. Regular access to human food can lead to food conditioning, where wildlife becomes dependent on human food and their habits change. This can lead animals to become aggressive and may result in the relocation or euthanization of the animal. 

Never feeding wildlife intentionally and always storing food, trash, and items with a scent (including soaps and sponges, insect repellent, toiletries, and medications) where wildlife cannot access it is both healthier for wildlife and safer for humans. The required food storage will vary depending on the area but can range from bear canisters to plastic totes. Check local food storage requirements and recommendations prior to your trip.

A buffalo walks slowly through a field in Yellowstone National Park.

Water Sources

Allow animals free access to water sources by giving them the buffer space they need to feel secure. Ideally, camps should be located 200 feet or more from existing water sources unless otherwise stated by a land manager This will minimize disturbance to wildlife and ensure they have access to drinking water. By avoiding water resources at night, you will be less likely to frighten animals, especially in desert areas where animals are usually most active after dark. With limited water in arid lands, desert travelers must strive to reduce their impact on the animals working hard to survive.

Washing and human waste disposal must be done carefully so the environment and its water are not polluted, and animals and aquatic life are not injured. Swimming in lakes or streams is okay in most instances—but in deserts and other very arid areas, it’s best to leave scarce water holes undisturbed and unpolluted so animals may drink from them.

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