It's a beautiful day by the creek. The sun is shining warm on your back and the water is clear. Its a great day for swimming and you and your family are barefoot, enjoying the sand in your toes. But thanks to the choices of others, that great day could turn into a evening in the emergency room.
Increasing Foot Traffic
As outdoor recreation increases in popularity, more people are taking to public lands. However, enjoying the outdoors doesn't seem to translate to taking care them. People are leaving broken bottles, syringes, nails, and other hazards in the places we hike, camp, and walk our dogs.
In recent years, I've been disappointed by what I've found while hiking. There are people treating these shared places as their own personal dump. I've found an entire campsite, tent and all, torn up and scattered through a grove of trees.
One day, when I was hiking by a local river, I found that a popular camping spot was covered in garbage. There were food wrappers everywhere and a mattress in the trail. I've found bed springs and pallets, rusted cans and pieces of metal (because we all love tetanus!).
Things That Are Hard To Repair
Garbage isn't even the worst of it, a small town in Southern Utah has been struggling with an influx of hikers that is threatening the town's water supply. The Kanarraville Falls hike follows a creek and the towns water line. Visitors have been creating a possible hazard for the town by relieving themselves in the water. I think we can all agree that no one's drinking water should be exposed to human feces. As quoted in this The Spectrum article, “They’re loving it to death,” Ence said. “We have to protect our resources.”
While our national parks were unmanned during the recent shutdown, park visitors had a free for all that park officials say could take years to repair. That is, what can be repaired. In the Joshua Tree National Park, visitors cut down trees to make room for off-roading on the pristine landscape. Visitors left garbage and sewage overflowing.
Park employees say they have been working hard to retrain the bears to not associate campgrounds with food, but they may have to start over because of all the waste visitors have left behind. Basically, if you leave trash on the ground, you may be increasing the possibility of a bear attack in those areas. Bears and other predators who associate humans with food are more likely to challenge visitors for it.
In other places, the BLM is considering closing off public land to recreational shooters. If you own a gun and love to shoot, you're probably thinking, "why!? Its our land too!" Of course, you're right. Unfortunately, an inconsiderate fraction is ruining it for the rest of us, by leaving a huge amount of garbage in areas where they shoot and causing damage to the landscape. This Sporting Classics Daily Article quotes Brian Maffly saying this of the reason for the possible shooter shutout, “… years of resource damage that have scarred and spattered rock art, shot up rocks and trees, endangered public safety, and ignited wildfires.”
What To Do
So, here is a quick rundown about what's so terrible about litter:
1.The more litter you have the more you'll get! If people see litter, they'll assume its acceptable to add to the pile.
2.Encourages wild animals to lose their fear of humans and associate us with food.
3.Costs tons of money to clean up! $11.5 billion annually as of 2009.
4.Can contaminate water sources.
5.Can cause human injuries.
6.Hurts the environment and wildlife.
How you can help:
2.Switch to reusable containers.
3.Take a garbage bag with you while camping and hiking, and pack out litter you find on the trail. Make sure you take gloves and be mindful of safety! Doing Good Together has some tips.
4.Remind others they shouldn't litter.
5.Get involved and volunteer. Leave No Trace is a great organization to start with!