You see a cute squirrel or chipmunk on your hike up to Half Dome and think nothing of offering it a piece of your protein bar or popcorn. I mean how cute it is to see this fuzzy creature eating from your hand. Or you’re camping and think nothing of leaving all of your food out when you leave camp or go to bed instead of storing it in the lockers provided at camp.
But these actions have a crippling effect on wildlife and on keeping them wild.
Wildlife becomes dependent on humans
Wildlife learns to become dependent on humans for food. For starters, human food isn’t good for animals. Just like dogs should not be fed chicken bones or chocolate, wildlife should not be fed human food. Every animal is adapted uniquely to their environment and to gain the most benefit from the food they hunt or gather there.
So now instead of hunting, gathering and eating food found in their natural environment, they’re eating human food and learning to depend on humans.
They’ll chew through your gear
I’ve hiked in areas like Yosemite and Mt. Whitney where chipmunks and marmots will chew through $400 tents and backpacks for the food inside. Not only do I not want my expensive hiking and backpacking gear destroyed with holes chewed through it, instead of spreading out throughout the wilderness, these animals now crowd to more popular trails where they know visitors will feed them. They lose their fear of humans, which poses a safety risk for us and for the animals.
There’s a safety risk
Wildlife losing their fear of humans and learning to be dependent on humans for food means they start crowding to places where we live and recreation. This causes crowding and competition among the animals, creating unnatural conditions that increase the chances of fighting and injury among wildlife.
It also increases the spread of disease. When wildlife is spread out, the chances of the disease spreading between animals and even to humans is significantly reduced than when they’re clustered together.
If you’re feeding them, you risk getting bitten and that disease transferring to you.
Then there is also the safety regarding larger animals like bears.
When bears start getting into human food, they start associating humans with food. Human food is tasty, it’s high in calories, salt, and sugar, so bears start wanting more. That’s when they become aggressive towards humans. When a bear even charges at a human, that bear and its cubs must be put down. Is it right that those bears lose their lives because people feed wildlife and don’t store their food properly?
Co-existing with wildlife
We can co-exist with wildlife in nature, we just need to be respectful of their home and stop feeding wildlife!
Campgrounds have food storage lockers and if you’re backpacking bring a bear canister to store all your scented items in. If you have any concerns, follow the directions that local rangers recommend for proper food storage.
Next time you see a squirrel run up to you, please don’t feed it.