Opinion

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Reality Check

Leave No Trace

When the keepers of wildlife caution the public to leave no trace, they mean it

I am an unabashed supporter of law enforcement. I come by my support honestly; at one point in my life I considered pursuing a career in U.S. Forest Service law enforcement (but diverted due to insufficient courage). I spent several years working with cops when I was a prosecutor, and I have lost friends who died serving the public. My bias extends beyond the badge to those who are charged with maintaining Montana’s heritage and preserving all things wildlife. From the National Park Service, to the Forest Service and Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees, the devotion of these heritage-preserving servants is praiseworthy. Our biologists spend their careers researching the best methods to preserve what we have, and revive what we have lost or are losing. Our public information officers give us the tools we need to navigate our forests, parks, trails, lakes and rivers safely and respectfully. Our enforcement officers – including our campground hosts – ensure our rules are obeyed to keep the peace amongst humans, between humans and wildlife, and between humans and nature. The objective underscoring all of this enforcement activity is the preservation of nature in its most untainted form.

So when the keepers of wildlife caution the public to leave no trace, they mean it. No off-trail adventure is worth the destruction of a sensitive habitat. No need exists to leave any sort of waste in or on our public lands. For those who view themselves as bucket biologists, your form of biology isn’t needed or wanted here. The delay engendered by stopping at an invasive mussel inspection point is worth it, whether you are in a hurry or not. If you see wildlife injured, without a herd or parent, or wandering where you don’t think they belong, don’t touch the animal. Animals are wild for a reason – they don’t need or want human touch or interaction. While it may seem heartless, feeding, baiting or touching only harms the animal. Respect their space; respect their freedom. Even if you have convinced yourself that a wild animal – no matter how cute – will surely die if you don’t touch them, call FWP or NPS before you do anything. Nothing does more to assure certain death of a wild animal than touching it. Our nature enforcers have spent their careers studying all things wild; they offer sage advice, and even if that advice is to allow the circle of life to unfold, don’t intercede with the animal.

Finally, a word of caution to violators of our regulations: beware the consequences. In Montana, offenses that threaten our heritage, our wildlife and our public lands are met with harsh punishment. So, enjoy God’s gifts, but please leave no trace.

Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.