Minding Mother Nature

By Chandra Orr

February 1, 2008 6 min read

MINDING MOTHER NATURE

You're always welcome, but please behave yourself

By Chandra Orr

Copley News Service

If Mother Nature had a sign on her door, it would probably say, "Look, but don't touch."

Most parks and nature reserves have rules against picking wildflowers, sampling wild berries and even collecting fallen branches, yet plenty of people still bring things from the woods and beach home with them.

"As a child I collected all kinds of bugs, caterpillars, tadpoles and crawdads to observe with complete fascination, so I completely understand the desire to bring home a bit of nature," said Dawn Van Deman, senior naturalist for the Eagle Creek Park Earth Discovery Center in Indianapolis, Ind.

That curiosity and the urge to collect is natural - but it must be tempered with common sense.

"There have been times when I really wanted to collect rocks and shells from publicly owned beaches," said Christine Kirk, director of the Outdoor Education Center for the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts of America in Santa Ana, Calif.

"It seemed fairly harmless because I wasn't killing anything - but if you think of the impact that it would make if every visitor took just a few rocks or shells, it can spur your conscience into leaving them where they lay."

Before heading out into the wilderness, do your research and know the law. Many plants and animals are protected by local, state or national laws. In many cases, it is illegal to transplant native vegetation, capture wild animals or even collect rare rock, gems and minerals. And if you plan to collect feathers, nests or eggs, chances are, you'll need a special permit.

Even if it is legal to collect in a given area, sometimes it's still better to leave things in their place. Irresponsible collecting can contribute to the spread of invasive species and disease, the decline of threatened or endangered species, and the long-term deterioration of natural habitats.

"There is a lengthy list of rare, threatened and endangered plants in this country," said Jeffrey Hunter of the American Hiking Society. "Visitors may not be aware that the plant they are collecting could be rare, and their actions could threaten the continued existence of that specific species."

Before heading out on your next wilderness adventure, consider the basic tenets of responsible eco-adventuring:

- Leave it as you found it. Don't trample on plants and animal habitats, return rocks and logs to their original positions, and take your trash with you when you go.

- Show Mother Nature some manners. Only collect flowers and leaves that have dropped to the ground. Don't tear down entire trees or branches to get one leaf or berry, and never pick leaves from a tree as it can damage new growth.

- Don't take the last one. Follow the 1-in-10 rule: Only take one for every 10 that are in the area. If you happen upon a lone wildflower, leave it for others to enjoy. Practice moderation and always leave undisturbed more than you take.

- Don't waste what you collect. Before taking anything home, be sure you have a worthwhile purpose in mind. If that stunning piece of driftwood is just going to collect dust in your garage, leave it for others to enjoy.

- Look, but don't touch. Observe wildlife from a distance, and do not follow or approach wild animals. Be careful not to disrupt animals during mating season, while nesting or while raising their young. The undue stress can have an adverse effect, and many animals become aggressive during these sensitive times.

- Let the critters find their own food. Never feed wild animals, as it can damage their health and alter their natural behaviors.

- Never bring home a wild animal. And if you have a wild-caught critter at home, never release it into the wild. Such practices result in the spread of non-native diseases and parasites, and deplete wild populations.

- Don't worry about "orphaned" wildlife. If a baby animal has fur or feathers, has its eyes open, can walk or hop and appears warm and healthy, it is probably OK. While it is a myth that the mother will abandon a baby touched by human hands, it's never a good idea to disturb youngsters. From improper imprinting to the transmission of disease, humans often do more harm than good. If you find an injured animal, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice.

- If you're looking for plants, visit a nursery. Never transplant flora or seeds. Invasive species like Purple Loosestrife may be beautiful to look at, but non-native or noxious plants can threaten indigenous wildlife and quickly overtake natural habitats.

- Take only pictures, leave only footprints. You've heard the expression, "Take a picture. It will last longer." In this case, it's true. Instead of collecting every natural treasure you stumble upon, snap a photo instead. That stunning image will be around long after that wonderful wildflower has withered.

? Copley News Service

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