Ethical wildlife viewing

You can help keep wildlife, yourself and others, and habitats safe and healthy by setting a good example. Everyone is encouraged to practice caution and respect while experiencing wildlife. Follow these guidelines to have a safe and pleasurable experience during your encounters.

Respect the Wildlife

  • Keep a safe distance away from animals.
    • Capture or witness the natural behaviors of wildlife without harassing them by throwing objects, making noises, or forcing them to flee. Harassing certain species can be a crime.
    • Follow the “rule of thumb”: Hold up your thumb in a hitchhiker fashion. Hold out your arm in front of you and place your thumb in line with your vision over the animal you are watching. If the pad of your thumb covers the animal, you are at a safe viewing distance. If not, back away until you are at a safer distance. If the animal still seems disturbed and is altering its natural behaviors, continue to distance yourself from the animal.
    • Touching wild animals can result in many unwanted consequences, such as disease, injury, or even death (in either wildlife or people). Always keep your hands to yourself.
  • Understand the risks of feeding wildlife.
    Always check your local ordinances before feeding wildlife in home spaces, and do not feed wildlife in wild areas. Keep wildlife “wild” by letting them find their own appropriate food. Feeding wildlife can cause them to rely on humans for food, which can lead to unwanted behaviors, euthanasia, or unnatural death. On some lands, such as refuges and national parks, it is even illegal to feed wildlife and is punishable by fines.
  • Use calls, tape recordings of calls, or other device sparingly.
    Overuse of such devices can interrupt breeding cycles, drive birds from their territories, or make animals "call shy" so they don't respond to the real thing.
  • Move quietly, slowly, and in plain view.
    Loud noises, sudden movements, or an unannounced approach can startle animals.
  • Use a blind if one has been provided.
    Blinds, or hiding places for viewers, are sometimes built at popular viewing sites so that the movement of people does not distract the wildlife.
  • Let animals move freely.
    Avoid cornering an animal or chasing it to get a better view or photo. Ensure you are not following animals, placing yourself in their path of travel, or behaving in any way that might be seen as "harassment.”
  • Be a responsible pet owner.
    Ensure your pet does not harass wildlife by barking or chasing. When necessary, please leash your pet. Always remove pet waste.
  • Enjoy wildlife as they are- wild.
    Watch wildlife’s natural behaviors and enjoy their presence. Being around wildlife can be a rewarding and thrilling experience!
  • Learn more about the species you watch.
    The more you know, the more you can appreciate, and the more you will be able to understand their behaviors.
  • The more you go, the more you will see!
    Every day spent watching wildlife leads to new experiences. Be patient. You may be surprised at how a site you visited once may change seasonally and have different wildlife species.

Respect the Environment

  • Be clean.
    Pick up your trash and pet waste.
  • Tread softly.
    Avoid heavy trampling through flowers, shrubs, grasses, water, etc. Some wildlife species are ground nesters or create burrows. Damage to the habitat affects all species in the ecosystem. Where trails are available, use them.
  • Avoid making new paths.
    If no path is available, don't make one. One set of tracks invites another, so if you are in a group, spread out so that you aren't all stepping on the same fragile places repeatedly. Mountain bikes or motorized vehicles should stay on established paths or roads.
  • Leave the flowers, seeds or vegetation
    It's a great temptation to pick flowers, gather berries and seeds, or dig up wild plants to move to your garden. Plants are part of the food chain for wild creatures and help make up a part of their habitat.
  • If a behavior is not what you’d like to see 1,000 other people do, then avoid doing it yourself.

Respect the People

  • Respect the rights of your fellow viewers.
    Other viewers have a right to experience the undisturbed wildlife that you are appreciating.
  • Respect the property of others.
    Do your viewing on public land whenever possible. It is your responsibility to know if you are on private property. If it is necessary to cross private property, always ask permission of the landowners before doing so. Leave gates, fences, and land as you found them. Obey signs.
  • Respect the right of way.
    Park your car in designated areas and only drive on designated roads, even if you have a vehicle that will go over any terrain.
  • Understand that some spaces may hold cultural value to others.