1. “It’s biodegradable—just toss it!”
While food scraps are technically biodegradable, they may not break down easily. Certain environmental conditions are required to initiate the decomposition process such as moisture and heat. And depending on where you are in the world, sometimes it can take months and years for biodegradable waste to breakdown. This is one of many reasons why nothing should be tossed away in nature – not even food scraps. Pack out what you pack in.
And as I’ll mention shortly, this food waste can also have many negative impacts on wildlife.
Instead, leave no trace. Better yet, leave your campsite better than you found it.
2. Feeding wildlife.
One day you may come across an overly curious fox or mischievous raven, and consider tossing it a scrap of food. Don’t. The best explanation I and other scientists may offer is this: All it takes is one scrap of people food to turn a wild, self-sufficient animal into one that is permanently and often irreversibly hooked on human garbage.
This shift in behavior can result in the animal’s death as it becomes a danger to the public for being too bold or curious. Or it may be hit by a car as it waits for handouts alongside the road. But if this animal survives to reproduce, it will share this learned behavior with its offspring, which can make a small problem much greater.
While birds drawn to the scraps of food found at campsites, trailheads or picnic areas may not seem like a big deal, many are predatory (like crows and ravens). This increased presence then puts other species at risk like nesting birds or young birds who may become easy prey. Once this shift in wildlife takes place, many more sensitive like songbirds will likely avoid these places simply due to the increased presence of predators (crows, foxes and even gulls along the coast).
3. Keep the music down.
This might seem like a surprising comment but if leaving no trace is your goal, then keep reading. While loud music at the campfire may sound like a good idea, the excessive noise can scare away any wildlife who also call this place home. Furthermore, that music may also negatively affect animals trying to hunt, forage or communicate with one.
Just as we use our eyes to see the world, many animals, especially nocturnal, use sound to see and survive in the world. And while that newest playlist might be music to your ears, playing it too loudly so that it’s flooding the natural soundscape (think landscape, but with sound) with a cacophony of noise will make it harder for wildlife to thrive and go about their business.
It’s also nice to find quietness in nature!
There’s something special about being cozy beside a campfire. It’s the warmth, the flicker of light, and the sound of crackling wood, the friends and good food. Here are a few notes to consider next time you plan to have a campfire.
Poorly managed or campfires that are not fully extinguished are among the leading causes of wildfires. Our warming climate is making this risk greater in many places across the globe, which is why it’s important to be aware of local and regional fire restrictions and warnings when there is extremely high risk for wildfires.
Furthermore, even a small campfire can leave long term scars in otherwise pristine and beautiful locations not suited for a fire. That being said, there are great places to have a fire. Maybe it’s an established campfire spot, an outdoor fire pit, or on a suitable surface that is free from excess dry brush and flammable vegetation.
It’s always best to find an appropriate spot to make a fire, and to ensure it’s put out with enough water so that it’s cold to the touch to prevent the risk of wildfire.
5. The power of social media.
Everything is shared on social media, which means that each photo or video we publish can and will inspire others. It’s important to consider the effect we have on our social media community. Are we leading by example? When we promote and share the places we are camping, the ways we spend time outside and how we treat nature, we are making an impression on many people. All it takes is one photo or video to become a good or bad role model. It’s best to strive to set a high standard, and inspire people to leave the places we explore and visit in nature better than we found them.
Pick up some trash on the trail, use a reusable water bottle and avoid single use plastics. Instead, invest in some reusable, durable camping supplies and cookware to reduce impact. The list goes on. But the important thing is to remember that each of us has a platform and an opportunity to lead by example. The little positive things we do add up for good. In time, they can have a massive impact on the future of our planet.