Preface: Last year while road trippin’ out west with a good friend, I came up with a central theme, or lesson if you will, for each park we visited. So, five big lessons for five national parks. In an effort to avoid my all too typical lengthiness, I will separate these into five separate posts!
It isn’t about you – the art of selflessness. Alright, selflessness is an enormous topic that can be applied to numerous situations and I certainly can’t cover it all in this one paragraph but, I will talk about selflessness and its importance applied to your experience in the wilderness.The timing of my time in this park was particularly applicable following the story about the tourists in Yellowstone National Park who placed a potentially abandoned bison calf in their trunk because they believed it looked cold. The calf was brought to the Park Rangers, who were unable to reintroduce it to its herd, and was later euthanized due to reckless behavior in the park towards visitors. I’m not going to talk about whether or not this is right but if you want to read more, here is a great article on the subject.So, what does this have to do with being selfless? Everything. There are an overwhelming number of stories and incidents where visitors to national parks have disobeyed park regulations and rules that are put in place to not only protect them, but to protect the park and its inhabitants. Side note case and point: on my most recent road trip across the country, while in Zion, some boys were feeding squirrels and one boy managed to grab and hold on to a squirrel while it screamed and he yelled “look I got it!” I was seconds away from yelling at them and probably going full-blown mom on them but the squirrel bit the kid, (karma?) and instead I just reminded them of the park rules and fines on feeding wildlife when I passed them. This happens ALL. THE. TIME.
In the Yellowstone case, no matter how good the intentions of the tourist, rules were broken and it resulted in the death of a young animal. You see a fluffy baby animal of any type and of course you immediately want to hold or pet it right? Everyone has that desire but not everything in life is about what a person wants.
If a person acted on those feelings they could jeopardize at least their safety and at most their life and that of the animal.Carrying bear spray isn’t only about protecting you. If a person is attacked by a bear, the incident will likely result in the death of the bear. Often these scenarios are brought on by improper actions of the visitors.
Storing food and scented items isn’t to inconvenience the visitor but to protect the wildlife. A bear or animal that knows it can find food in a campground is dangerous and can become aggressive. Such behavior will likely result in the animal’s death or relocation.
Many people know all of this and don’t need me to lecture them on the topic but there are many people that know the rules are there but may not follow them because they do not fully understand the consequences their actions might create.It is important when visiting a national park to reflect on the purpose of the park. Does it exist solely for the recreational enjoyment of the visitor, or is there a second, and perhaps more important, purpose revolving around protection and conservationism?
There is a balance to be struck and it is up to the visitor to decide where that line will fall but remember that it isn’t only about you and your happiness. After all, the visitor is in fact visiting the home of the wildlife, plant life, and microbial life, that inhabit the park.To use a perhaps outrageous comparison, would you walk into the home of another person and snatch their child because they look cold? Or again, walk into their home and start destroying their things?
No, probably not.
There is no reason to treat nature and wilderness any differently.So, if you see an animal, leave it alone, regardless of the circumstances. Want that photo of a baby moose or bear cub? Don’t approach it and maintain a proper distance – at least 100 yards (91 meters) from bears or wolves, and at least 25 yards (23 meters) from all other wildlife. Stay on designated trails to protect the growth of plant and microbial life. Store your food and never feed animals to maintain the natural food cycle of that environment. Take care of these incredibly special places and show them the same respect that you would when spending time in a home that isn’t your own.