Whether staying in a state park campground , backcountry camping in Yosemite National Park , or dry-docking in a recreational vehicle , my husband and I have always tried our best to be kind to the environment. But, as I've written before , this means more than traveling during the off-season, keeping your group small, using established campsites, and minimizing impact on artifacts, lakes, streams, and other natural resources. It also means knowing what to do when you encounter a wild animal. Whether you spot a roaming black bear, a grazing elk, a lounging alligator, or something else entirely, you should always adhere to the following rules:
Observe wildlife from a distance, so that the animals aren't frightened or forced to flee. Do not follow or approach the animals.
Never feed wildlife; feeding wild animals can damage their health, alter their natural behaviors, and expose them to predators.
Never taunt or disturb wildlife.
Protect wildlife by storing your food and trash securely (for example, in a bear-resistant canister, placed in a tree far from your campsite).
Control your pets at all times, or better yet, avoiding bringing them into parks, forests, and wilderness areas altogether. Dogs, in particular, can annoy other travelers, harass wildlife, pollute campsites, and pass harmful diseases to other animals.
Avoid wildlife during sensitive phases, such as mating, nesting, raising their young, or hibernation.
Avoid making loud notices, which could not only annoy other visitors but also alert hungry wildlife.
For more information about respecting wildlife while hiking, camping, or backpacking, consult Leave No Trace  (P.O. Box 997, Boulder, CO 80306, 303/442-8222 or 800/332-4100, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Fri.), the Center for Outdoor Ethics. Of course, if you have any further advice for avoiding wildlife – or handling a close encounter – please feel free to share by commenting below.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo courtesy of Carl & Peggy Backes  / Text © 2011 Laura Martone
Laura Martone is Moon’s American Nomad  and the author of Moon Florida Keys , Moon Michigan , Moon Baja RV Camping , and the upcoming Moon New Orleans, which will be published in Winter 2012.