Responsible and Respectful Wildlife Watching
This year has seen record attendance at many of our national parks, state parks and wildlife refuges.
People want to experience wide-open spaces and public lands as often as they can. Every visit, no matter how long, helps us clear clutter from a busy workweek, affords the chance to refresh our senses and ultimately assures an opportunity to see wildlife in their natural habitat!
Are you interested in viewing wildlife during your next trip to a national park, a local state park or wildlife refuge? Well, there are a few basic rules to help YOU stay safe AND keep wildlife protected. Below is a list to get you started but make sure to review the rules, and apply them, whenever and wherever you encounter wildlife. Parents, I am counting on you to share this information with your kids, too! More and more visitors are getting injured taking "selfies" with wild animals. Seems like fun but you can never predict what an animal is going to do once you turn your back! "Say NO to Selfies," when it comes to wildlife viewing.
Important things to remember:
1. Willfully remaining near, approaching or engaging wildlife, including nesting birds, within any distance that disturbs or displaces the animal is too close. If you cause an animal to move, or change its direction or behavior, YOU ARE TOO CLOSE! Bottom line - Be aware, stay safe.
Yellowstone National Park sets the standard and strictly enforces the rules found in its free Official Park Newsletter. On pages one and three you can find the top 10 things to know when planning a visit. An important rule reads, "Do not approach bears or wolves on foot within 100 yards (91 m) or other wildlife within 25 yards (23 m). Regardless of distance, if any animal changes its behavior due to your presence, you are too close."
Other things to consider: Don't block an animal's line of travel. Do not run or make sudden movements. Do not follow an animal that is fleeing from the area.
All parks have a list of safety measures applicable to the wildlife frequently found in their specific area. Be mindful. You are responsible for knowing the rules when visiting.
2. DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE. Never, ever! You might think it's cute to lure a chipmunk close by feeding it, or that it is okay to leave food behind because the wildlife will clean up after you. Don't. Think about how that chipmunk is now searching the abandoned picnic areas looking for food where no scraps have been left because people typically don't picnic in the winter. They may not have learned how to instinctively find natural foods to help them get through the season and therefore could starve to death. The same goes for throwing food scraps such as apple cores and chicken bones out your car window. This behavior also attracts animals close to a road where they could be hit by a moving vehicle. Just don't do it!
3. Slow Down! The speed limit in our national parks is typically 45 mph unless otherwise posted. It is easier to spot wildlife if you reduce your speed. To assure yourself enough stopping distance if you encounter animals unexpectedly, please slow down.
Helpful Photography Tips:
I know you want that close up image, everyone does, but it is never worth disturbing an animal! How do I achieve beautiful images of animals that appear to be at close range? I use very long lenses and stay the proper distance so as not to change an animal's behavior or disturb its path of travel.
My advice for coming away with exceptional images of wildlife is to be prepared with the best equipment you can afford. Your odds will increase with longer lenses or the ability for your camera (phone camera) to zoom. "Give them room, use your zoom!"
Educate yourself about the animals you are going to see. Understanding their behavior and your chances of predicting the action make for better pictures.
Occasionally you can get lucky and photograph an animal at close proximity. More often, however, you will see wildlife at a distance. In such cases, a picture may not be possible. Using binoculars to watch the action would be the best and most ethical way to observe. Binoculars will still allow you to enjoy the sighting as it happens.
A camera other than the one found on your cell phone may be necessary to take worthwhile photos. Many visitors find their pocket sized digital camera sufficient. Remember, not every long-range shot of wildlife will turn out perfect, not even for the pros.