The only thing worse than not catching fish is finding an empty cup of worms or livers mindlessly discarded on the bank. Summer is here, and the following months will bring an array of outdoor activities that will inevitably have a footprint on nature. Camping, fishing, hunting, boating, hiking, picnicking; you name it, all provide the chance for improving or ruining the outdoor experience. Having a mind set to pick up someone’s trash or obey state regulations makes time spent outside more enjoyable for everyone. All that’s needed is just a little bit of respect. Respect goes a long way in nature. If it isn’t taught and learned, sooner or later mother nature will give you a lesson of her own. It may be in the form of a legal citation, or something as serious as a brush with death. No matter the severity, having respect from the moment your foot steps out on nature’s playing field is a must.
Why do we go outside in the first place? Picnics can be a lot of work, and walks can be taken in a living room while watching television. We go outside to be closer to nature. We fish and hunt to make that primal connection, and turn what our ancestors did for survival into recreation. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting on your back porch or white water rafting, being outside provides a connective experience that brings us closer to who we truly are. These experiences that we are subconsciously trying to connect with are enriched when we consciously leave a particular patch of nature better than we found it.
We live in a time of relative excess. Combine that with ample opportunities offered by public lands and parks and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. There are simple steps that can be taken to avoid the damages of human impact. For starters, always plan ahead. Carrying a plastic sack for trash is perfect for day trips, while trash bags or containers are more appropriate for camping. I know it’s fun to take the road less traveled – but only off-road where designated. Take only what’s needed and always obey the regulations! By doing this we allow others the same opportunities we have. If you’re going to make a campfire this summer, make sure there isn’t a burn ban. Finally, be considerate of wildlife and others.
Outdoor ethics goes beyond the realms of the outdoor enthusiast. Farmers and ranchers, like outdoorsmen, have a responsibility to make the land better. Their connection to land and livestock goes far beyond that of recreation, and for most farmers and ranchers, explaining outdoor ethics would be like preaching to the choir. Land owners inherently become stewards of their property. Of course there are different means of maintenance, but their constant efforts and results are globally profound.
Having a code of ethics means it will be put to the test. I find myself challenged every time I go hunting or fishing. Do I pick that piece of trash up, or keep that fish that’s a quarter of an inch under the size limit? It’s the small things that make up the big picture. As a former Boy Scout I can’t help but share the BSA’s “Outdoor Code” to help illuminate this bigger picture. It states:
As an American, I will do my best to—
Be clean in my outdoor manners.
Be careful with fire.
Be considerate in the outdoors.
Be conservation minded.
From mountain top to river bottom, wherever the cry of nature takes you this summer, leave only footprints. But like the trash, leave no memory behind.
This article was published in the 2016 Summer issue of Great Plains living. For more articles visit www.greatplainsliving.com.