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A Left Coast Birder's Viewpoint

When good nature-lovers go bad

We see it all the time.  People with good intentions going out to enjoy nature, to involve/introduce their kids to nature, perhaps to connect with it, to get a little closer, but then again perhaps not with the best approach.

One of the reasons we stick to not so mainstream “natural attractions” is that we don’t witness the atrocities of the public interacting with nature.
There are many examples we’ve witnessed when going to the more popular nature spots. 
Ignoring the nature of nature
On the Washington coast, we witnessed kids being kids – and we all know they don’t have the best judgment.  During an incoming high tide two kids decided to check out the Kalaloch beach.  They took refuge on this stump as the waves swirled water around them, when the wave receded instead of retreated to higher grounds they continued to stay on the beach.  Of course the next high wave caught them off guard – they tried to stand on a different lower (and unstable) log, but the wave was still too high and they both ended up with soaking cold salty feet.  While the wave was washing around them, the older kid picked up the smaller one and quickly carried him through the water to higher ground.  They’re lucky to walk away with only cold feet.

Say cheese
At Yellowstone National Park pretty much everywhere you look there is someone not being smart about approaching nature.  The park turned the geysers into a tourist attraction – it felt more like an amusement park than a national park.  The boardwalks that surround Old Faithful are crowded with people waiting for the geyser to go off.  (To respect the privacy of those in the picture, I have altered the picture.)

I remember the days not long ago when there was no boardwalk or “village” or miles and miles of parking around the geyser.  At least the boardwalk keeps people from doing this:

I love the expression on the boy's face

I can pine for the good ole days, but still people weren’t much better back then.  This picture reminds me of my childhood.

I remember being stood in front of a geyser that was going off – really I was more interested in watching the geyser shoot water into the air than looking at my dad take a picture of me.
Of course there are people who just don’t think – dumb people and nature don’t seem to mix well.  Every time there’s an animal sitting by the side of the road people stop, get out of their car, and approach the animal directly – perhaps to get a better picture or to see if they can out run an elk/moose/bison.  Perhaps people think it is more like a zoo where the animals are tame and don’t/can’t attack humans (when in actuality there is a whole book dedicated to animal attacks in Yellowstone Park).  But alas people still refuse to heed warnings and approach animals at alarmingly close distances.
Got a great example of this on our 2007 trip to Montana:

The picture on the left is what happens two seconds after the picture on the right was taken or at least it is something that is very possible.  The handout on the right is actually given to all cars when they enter Yellowstone - the rangers know not to trust us to read posted signs... Unfortunately the handouts don't seem very effective either.

Remember when the tail is up, it means one of two things - charge or discharge.

Ignoring the signs.

While visiting Crater Lake during off-peak season, we saw two things in the span of five minutes.  First, a family in a truck drove up and stopped at a viewpoint of the lake, the family gets out and starts taking pictures, the teenager walks over the 1 foot tall wall/bench past the “danger keep back sign” and out on a ledge, which drops off on three sides (pretty much straight down to the water).  The parents started taking pictures of course – ain’t junior great! 

These people are the reason Crater Lake puts up signs like this:
Drive-by naturing

Next we saw a car drive up to the same viewpoint with the passenger standing up through the sunroof with a camcorder in hand.  They pause at the viewpoint – not getting out of the car, but kept rolling film.

And yet a lot of people do this on some level – perhaps this is the extreme, but there are a lot of people (with the capability of walking) who don’t walk more than 20 feet away from their cars – like there’s an invisible tether that ties them to a ton of steel.
No dogs means no dogs
At the Redwoods National and State Park, we met the woman who hiked with her off-leashed dog on the trails that were clearly marked with signs saying, “no dogs allowed.”  When reminded that these were the rules of the trails, her claim was that it was her dog’s “backyard.”  Its hard to argue with someone so set in their ways – and it’s hard to approach people who break the rules, when those rules are put in place for very good reasons.  We could have told her that her dog doesn’t own the woods – and really the forest is the home of many woodland creatures that are actually harmed by her dogs presence (the potential disease or fleas/worms/etc that harm the ecosystem – all of this was explained on the signs at the trailheads).  I understand owners like letting their dogs roam off-leash, but they should be at least responsible about it.  Plus, there are plenty of areas and trails allow off-leashed dogs.

Of course no one is totally innocent of loving nature to death – think of all the carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuel I’ve burned to drive my car into the “wilderness.”  Think of all the plants I’ve trampled and animals I’ve scared off.

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page updated: 3/8/08