Please don’t feed the animals!

By Dori Mondon

We know why you’re here – it’s beautiful! Mountains, rivers, lakes, caves and trails, this area really is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, which is why the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center works alongside many other organizations, agencies and local volunteers to protect it. We love it too!

You may or may not have heard of the Seventh Generation Principle, which originated with Haudenosaunee, also known to many as the Iroquois Confederacy. Six united Indigenous nations put forth The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy, such a powerful declaration that it influenced the U.S. Constitution and the design of the Great Seal of the United States. As the longest-standing democracy on earth at this time, the most basic truth of this Great Law is beautiful — in essence, the choices we make today should consider the health and well-being of the next seven generations. To preserve our ways of life, we must think ahead in everything that we do.

I don’t know about you, but I want my daughter, and her children, and their children (and their children, and so on) to be able to enjoy being a part of this amazing place, so the choices we make in my family today start with walking softly and leaving no trace, whether it’s packing a reusable water bottle, removing anything we find left behind at a beach or a campsite and packing it out, cleaning up after pets, and keeping our picnics away from wild animals. It means packing a trowel and learning to dig cat holes if necessary. It might also mean kindly and politely asking others to do the same.

You might have noticed that we’ve had an increasing number of seagulls populating Lake Siskiyou, blue jays perching on picnic baskets and wild ducks spending a lot of time following people around at Castle Lake. One of the biggest reasons for this is that people are feeding them snack foods, whether intentionally or inadvertently. We might think we’re “helping” them when we do this, but the fact is that wild animals were there before we were, and if we leave them alone, they’ll continue to be a part of the natural landscape.

Yes, it’s great to get a “birds-eye view” of a wild animal (unless a bear comes to your tent, anyway) but when we feed them, we’re not actually helping them at all. That brief moment of a squirrel eating a cheese puff out of your hand is more damaging than you think. What we’re doing when we feed wild animals is to make them desirous of and reliant on snack foods (and let’s face it, we don’t always eat the greatest things). This means that they don’t get the real nutrients they need from the food sources that they naturally rely on to do so. It means they may eat plastic instead or suffer liver damage, and it puts the entire ecosystem out of balance.

Everything is a cycle, and everything has a place in this cycle. This isn’t “hippie stuff”, it’s biology. It’s ecology. It’s natural law. We love this place for its wildness, for the pristine nature, the clean air and water – the ability to “get away from it all.” The only changes we make to this cycle should be focused on restoring the upsets we cause to this balance. The legacy we leave our children, and all our descendants, depends on us.

This may seem obvious to many of us, but it isn’t, always. Modern life means that there are many people who don’t have regular access to nature or an understanding of the delicate balance that makes it what it is but they feel it, and that’s why more and more people are coming here to enjoy this place when they can. Believe me, I understand that. I walked out of the rat race and never looked back, but it also meant leaving a place where there were garbage cans on every corner and someone else to clean up after me if I didn’t. It’s a fair tradeoff, though. We here in Siskiyou County love our wildness and freedom – if anything, it’s something almost all of us can agree on, so let’s work together to make sure it stays that way, because then, so do we. And so do our children. And their children. And so on.