The young woman knelt down next to the gray squirrel at her feet and opened a bag of peanuts. Oh no, I thought, not this again.

I was at the top of Spencer Butte on the Club’s Wednesday hike, not planning to stay long because I could both smell and see smoke in the valley.  The air quality wasn’t great, and I didn’t bring my N95. A young boy about 2, a young woman in her late teens, and an older woman came up and stopped about 10 yards from where I was sitting.  Disciplining strangers is often unwise. 

I had to say something, or at least I was going to be angry with myself if I didn’t: “Please don’t do that,” I said in a voice that asked, rather than demanded. The woman stopped and looked over at me.

I continued, “They will get fat and die, because that is not their usual food.” I then looked at the young boy. “They also will bite, and I have seen that happen.”  Indeed I had, at the Grand Canyon, years ago, when a young boy screamed bloody murder after being bitten by a squirrel right outside the visitor’s center on the rim.  I think several of us there smiled. Experience is a great teacher….She stopped feeding. Others from the Club arrived on top, and I don’t know what later happened. Unfortunately, the squirrel was already fat and it was quite likely someone would feed it more that day.

I thought later I should have walked over and explained so many reasons why not to feed the wildlife: they won’t look for their natural food, they will spread fleas as well as a risk of diseases like tularemia, Lyme disease, and salmonella.  Feeding squirrels turns them into pests, not pets; the week before, 5 squirrels came at me from the points of a pentagon as I opened a protein bar to eat, after I got to the top. This isn’t good and it isn’t fun. Years ago at the top of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, we had to move where we ate lunch, because the squirrels were practically walking on us to get food.  We thought then it was ridiculous and sad, and it still is. The outdoors is not a petting zoo.  Feeding squirrels is not leave no trace.

Perhaps my saying only that it will kill the squirrel eventually and that they may bite might be enough.  But I doubt it.

Three years earlier, when 15 of us in the Club were up on top in the same place, one person started feeding a squirrel. I exploded, “Don’t do that!” I yelled. The guy kept feeding, saying “It is organic.”  I was so angry, both at him, as well as the fact that nobody else in the Club said a word, that I hiked down immediately and went home. Even 2 years later, the guy occasionally brought up the squirrel incident in a sotto voce comment similar to what my mother did when she was angry but didn’t want to make a scene. He and I were once friends but haven’t spoken much since.  He doesn’t like rules, doesn’t like being told what to do, although he has told off mountain bikers who had the same right to the trail as he, and thinks he knows what a squirrel should eat. He also sees me as a hiking competitor, although I decided to walk away from the notion of competition, which I find can be toxic.

Don’t feed wildlife: animals should if anything want nothing to do with you. My goal is to observe an animal and then back away without their obviously showing they were aware of me.  They probably were aware, but if they didn’t change their activity, I wasn’t being a pest. I have a fond memory of the August day on Kekakabic Lake in the Boundary Waters in 1986, where I snuck up to a beaver while in a canoe, got within a few feet, then backed off quietly without disturbance. I got my look; today, I would stay further away, but the main thing was that I didn’t disturb the animal enough so that they expended calories or catecholamines moving away.

* * *

The individual above was camped on Basswood Lake with me when after lunch he asked whether it was OK to throw an apple core into the woods.  Excuse me? This is an outdoorsman or a man outdoors?  Really? After all the Boundary Waters instruction campers have about leave no trace, which means no cans or bottles, clean out the fire area when you leave, don’t cut green trees, use only the wood you need, be sure the fire is dead out when you are off the campsite, and carry out your trash, it’s OK to toss an apple core? No, I replied. Here is the garbage bag for the trip. We no longer burn trash, either, which got rid of bulk, but polluted the air. It is the 21st century, not the mid-20th, when while we should have known better, we didn’t. At Crow Lake in Canada, we sunk cans in the middle of the lake every day.  Amazing.

Looking across to the campsite on Basswood Lake where I kept one apple core from littering. This is not pristine wilderness, but that doesn’t mean it should be a dump, either.

Four times at lunch now, when I have been with the Crew in the woods working, someone has tossed an apple core into the woods. I cringe when I see this. Apple trees don’t grow in the wilderness. Apples themselves are food but not natural food for animals. They are litter.  OK, a trail maintenance crew hardly is leave no trace, cutting out blowdowns, hacking away growth near the trail, and digging drains along or in the trail, but the idea is not to leave food scraps around for animals to find.  It is unhealthy for them and nothing degrades the wilderness experience quicker than seeing someone else’s garbage.  I have to figure out now how to deal with the apple cores and not annoy the Crew.  The first step is to watch where the core went and quietly go pick it up, put it in a bag, and carry it out. I am, after all, wearing gloves, and the weight and bulk are non issues.  The next step might be to put the plastic bag in the center of the lunch area and ask people to drop their apple cores there.

After all, if I need to be instructed on the saw occasionally after 50 days going out on 2-man crosscut saw crews, it’s only fair that perhaps I should instruct others who have been going into the woods maybe 50 years about leave no trace ethics. The world has changed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: