Most people know that litter is bad for wildlife. We've all seen heart-wrenching photos of a chipmunk being strangled by a plastic soda can holder or a deer struggling with a bag over its head. But some trail users don't realize that leaving food on the trail is bad for the critters too; in fact, some people leave food on the trail on purpose, believing they're helping to feed hungry animals. Here are some of the reasons why human food is bad for wildlife:
- A young animal that gets accustomed to being fed will not develop the foraging skills it needs to survive on its own.
- Human food typically will not meet the nutritional needs of the animal, so relying on it is bad for the animal's health. Eating what nature intended them to eat is the best way for wildlife to stay nourished. This extends to the predator cycle as well; if a bald eagle eats an underweight duck that has been badly nourished on a diet of Wonderbread, it will affect the eagle's health too.
- Being fed attracts wildlife outside of their natural habitat and may result in them losing their fear of humans and becoming a danger to us, and thus in peril themselves. For example, a mountain lion or bear that learns to venture into populated areas in search of human food may eventually harm a human or damage property, and then people will start demanding that it be killed.
- Nature has its own way of keeping a balance between available food and the wildlife population. When animals are fed they may reproduce at a higher rate than the environment can support.
- If a large number of animals congregate in a spot where they expect to get fed, there is more opportunity for disease to spread amongst the population.
The bottom line is that next time you're thinking of throwing that apple core or half-eaten granola bar on the trail, think twice! You will not be doing our furry and feathered friends any favors.
Want to help make a difference to our wildlife as well as to our own outdoor experience? Join us! Our goal at Clean Trails is to keep our trails litter-free and we need your help to do it. We're a simple group with simple rules, so it's pretty easy to join. All we need is your email address so we can keep in touch and the name and location of your favorite trail. We'll put you on our list and send you some tips on how to help us in our mission.