Storing your food and trash properly can have life and death consequences to the wildlife in the area you are visiting.
Let Wildlife Stay Wild
Squirrels, bears, raccoons, skunks, deer, etc. are wild animals who all have natural food sources that sustain them during the different seasons. They learn when they are little where to go look for these foods and may migrate during the year to feed on different foods depending on their abundance. When these animals find human food they learn that people can be a source of food too. This may lead them to revisit or seek out new areas with people in their search for food. The behavior can interfere with normal migration patterns, make them less afraid of people, and significantly increase the chance that they will have a negative encounter with a human that ends badly for the animal. Negative encounters for people may range from your lunch being eaten, your backpack chewed up, your tent nibbled on, to being bitten, attacked and injured or killed. Negative encounters for animals could include being hit by a car, being shot, getting injured by people or domestic animals, or being trapped, relocated or euthanized.
Keeping your food stored properly can protect you as well as the local wildlife!
Food and Trash Can Kill
Some types of food can actually kill animals that aren’t equipped to digest them. Deer and birds can die from eating too much food with a flour base such as bread. Empty containers, six pack rings, and other discarded trash can be a serious hazard to wildlife too. Animals can get their head or feet trapped in containers or trash leading to suffocation, serious injury or death. The packaging your food is in may also be eaten by hungry animals. This plastic, styrofoam, foil, cardboard, metal, etc. may still smell like food enough to be appetizing to a wild animal. Unfortunately these items are indigestible and may lead to intestinal blockages, entangled limbs, lacerations, and death.
Feeding a cute squirrel at the campground may seem harmless at first. That squirrel through will likely start looking to every visitor for a meal and when somebody doesn’t feed him he will start getting into backpacks, tents, and cars looking for food. He could even get aggressive and attack somebody if he thinks they have food.
Be a wildlife advocate and help educate others about the importance of properly storing your food and trash.
Tips on how to manage your food and trash from
the National Park Service:
In Picnic Areas and Campgrounds
- Always keep your food within arm’s reach and don’t turn your back to your food.
- In some parks, food may be stored inside your car as long as it is out of sight, with windows completely closed, and only during daylight hours; never store food in a pickup truck bed or strapped to the outside of a vehicle. In other parks, all food must be removed from your car and stored in lockers. Remember to clear your car of food wrappers, crumbs in baby seats, baby wipes, and even canned food and drinks.
- Secure your food, garbage, and other scented items immediately upon arriving at your campsite.
- Do NOT store food in your tent or backpack.
- Wash dirty dishes immediately.
- Do NOT attempt to burn excess food, tea bags, or coffee grounds in a fire. Burning organic matter completely requires a very hot fire, hotter than most campfires. Partially burned matter will still draw wildlife into camps.
In Hotel Rooms and Cabins
- Keep all food inside your room. If you are not in the room, the windows and doors must be closed. Bears can easily break into cabins through an open door or window.
- Check with the park before taking food into the backcountry. Some parks allow or require portable containers designed for backpackers; others provide food lockers.
- Choose foods that are compact, compressible, high calorie, and lacking in strong odors, such as rice, tortillas, jerky, pastas, nuts, dried fruits, peanut butter, and protein bars.
- Take food out of its original package. This allows you to fit more food in your canisters and reduce garbage. Use resealable bags instead of bottles, jars, and cans. Force air out of bags or packages.
- Carry food and garbage in plastic bags to contain crumbs and grease that can leave odors in your backpack.
- Bear-resistant containers only work if they are closed and locked. Be sure to keep the container closed and locked even while you’re around your campsite.
- Place containers on flat, level ground 100 feet or more from your campsite.
- Do NOT place containers near cliffs or any water source, as a bear may knock the container around or roll it down a hill trying to open it.
- Place pots and pans on top of containers as a bear alarm.
- Learn how to pack your container efficiently.
- Do NOT dispose of food waste in the wilderness. Pack out all uneaten food and food particles. Treat food wrappers and other garbage the same as food.