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How to Ethically Enjoy The Great Outdoors

Black Bear
Black Bear.

If you spent a lot of your childhood hiking, camping or otherwise enjoying the great outdoors, you likely grew up with some variation of this maxim: “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories.” 

Leaving nature as undisturbed as possible isn’t just a rule to keep kids in line. It’s a guiding principle that summarizes our “ outdoor ethics,” an understanding that our actions in the natural world, if we aren’t careful, can have devastating consequences.


Leave No Trace aims to increase responsible enjoyment of the natural world by teaching and inspiring people to leave outdoor recreation spaces as good as we found them. It was established in response to growing problems that stemmed from human carelessness: dangerous litter, polluted water, even devastating forest fires. 

The seven principles of Leave No Trace include common-sense guidance like “Dispose of waste properly,” but also offer advice you may not have considered: for example, minimizing off-trail travel and allowing even dead leaves to stay where they fell. All of these can make the natural world safer for its wild residents, and more enjoyable for its human visitors.

People who hunt and fish can also be great stewards of the land. One example, Trout Unlimited, was established to help protect and preserve the waterways where anglers spend so many happy hours. They do it by advocating for conservation priorities, on the ground and with policymakers, and by educating and inspiring fishing enthusiasts to develop habits that will protect the natural resources they love. 

Birdwatching is another popular activity that draws people into natural environments. In order to help people do it with minimal disturbance to the birds and their environments, the National Audubon Society has developed a guide to ethical bird photography and videography.  

What You Can Do!

Do a little research before stepping into the wildlife world. If it’s a state or national park, make sure you know their rules. Know what you need to bring and what you shouldn’t.

Support organizations like Leave No Trace and Trout Unlimited, which work to make the natural world more sustainable for wild residents and human visitors.

Respect the wildlife you encounter. You’re visiting their homes, and if you disrupt their activities you can cause a great deal of undue stress. 

Leave your natural recreation spaces as good as you found them--or even better. Don’t pick flowers or move rocks. Pick up litter, even if you didn’t leave it there.  

Check out the The Wildlife Center of Virginia to learn more about the wild animals around you, and how you can help keep them safe.


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