With more users than ever setting out to enjoy Utah’s ravishing landscapes, it’s critically important to brush up on trail ethics, understand the rules of our watersheds, practice Leave No Trace principles and approach wildlife encounters respectfully.
This article doles out some specific wildlife safety tips and recommendations for hikers, bikers, leaf peepers, horseback riders and all those who care to partake of Utah’s glorious natural splendor. If you want to meet the critters and wildlife you may encounter in Utah, check out this article - click here.
Nature’s organisms—be they plant or animal—all deserve our respect.
By keeping to established trails and eschewing the powerful temptation to pick wildflowers we can protect the former. This is important as erosion can quickly become a problem, especially in the fragile soils of our deserts. Pollinators rely heavily on our brief growing season and wildflowers should never be picked or trampled.
When it comes to critters, please follow the wisdom of keeping your distance. From the tiniest ground squirrel to the mighty moose, wildlife does best when observed and left undisturbed. With more and more humans filing into the backcountry, animals are experiencing an increasing number of encounters that prevent them from their life’s work of eating, sleeping, mating and caring for young. By keeping a respectful distance you not only keep yourself safe, but you also ensure the animal can continue to lead a long and healthy life free from human-induced stressors.
UTAH WILDLIFE TIPS
- At the trailhead, always check the posted signs and warnings. Unusual wildlife activity is often noted with instructions or information about what to do and where the animal was last seen.
- Don’t toss trash or uneaten food along the trail. Human food serves as an attractant and you can inadvertently habituate wildlife to a preference for human food, which can endanger their life. It’s simply good trail manners to pack out everything you packed in.
- Don’t feed wildlife. Seriously. By doing so you interrupt a creature’s normal behavior and foraging habits which could eventually result in death or starvation. You also endanger yourself with the potential for an animal bite, scratch, or worse.
- Observe wildlife from a distance and ensure they have an escape route. If animals feel threatened or crowded, especially if offspring are present, they will be more likely to attack or react suddenly. It may be necessary for an animal to move out of the way before you can continue on. If it’s impossible to go around the animal while providing a wide berth, it may be time to head home to hike another day.
- Wildlife is most active around dawn or dusk. Keep your wits about you during these times and keep your head on a swivel.
- If you encounter injured wildlife, leave it be. Injured animals can act in totally unpredictable ways and the best help you can give is by notifying local authorities upon your return.
- While not always possible, it’s recommended to recreate with a companion. Your conversation will help to alert animals of your presence and it’s nice to have a rescue buddy handy in case of any emergency or accident.
- Kids are unpredictable and one can never know how they might react to stumbling upon a mama moose while unchaperoned! For safety while hiking, educate your kids about wildlife encounters and keep them within sight or in a group if possible.
- When camping, your food management is vitally important to keeping you and wildlife safe. Keep food stored in airtight containers, out of sight, and secure in your vehicle when not in use. An animal may try to access food if it can be seen or smelled in your campsite. A bear-proof container is required for food storage and trash in habitats where bears are present. Ensure your food and trash is secure before bedding down for the night and don’t leave pet food or dishes outside. It’s best to not burn food or trash in your fire pit. Keep strong smelling food or toiletries at least 100 yards away from your tent.
- Should you encounter a dead animal or carcass, it’s best to keep moving. Predators, with their keen sense of smell, could be lurking nearby or will be honing in on their next meal. They can often become territorial over a kill and this can foster a dangerous or lethal encounter for curious humans or dogs.
- If you are bringing your dog out into nature, it should be well trained and either on a leash or under voice command depending on local regulations. Roaming dogs can chase, kill or injure wildlife and irresponsible dog owners can be fined and ticketed. In addition, countless dogs are injured by wildlife encounters every year. If you can’t control your dog around wildlife, then it’s best to enjoy the dog park!
- Leave the backpack speakers at home. Not only can speakers startle or disturb animals, chances are the majority of folks you encounter on the trail didn’t sign up to attend your personal EDM set. We all get out into nature to detox from our devices and enjoy a little silence. We won’t be seeing much wildlife if Smashmouth is blaring out of your speakers. The same goes for earphones or earbuds, leave them at home. You can’t be alert to wildlife or other trail users if you’re zoned out in tuneland or catching your favorite podcast.
- We’ve got a healthy number of rattlesnakes in Utah, eight subspecies in fact. If you’re in snake country, avoid wearing open-toed shoes and be on alert for the loud and distinctive rattle of a perturbed reptile. Never stick your head, hands or toes down a dark hole or crevice. Always check carefully before sitting down and proceed with caution through long grass.
A great resource with additional info can be found at Wild Aware Utah - click here. You can learn about all of Utah’s wildlife and how to enjoy a safe encounter. Never leave your common sense behind when heading outdoors. If you maintain an attitude of respect toward wildlife and always give them a healthy buffer, you'll enjoy your day and return home without any horror stories.
Wasatch Wildlife Guide - Click Here
Good Mountain Manners Recreation Guide - Click Here
What is a Watershed? - Click Here
Common Wasatch Wildflower Guide - Click Here