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How an increase in people camping during the pandemic is impacting Idaho’s forests

Outdoors

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Increase in Camping Takes Toll on Forests | Photo of Payette National Forest taken from Google maps, June 2018

PAYETTE NATIONAL FOREST (KIVI) — Camping is a great way to get out of town and see the beauty of Idaho, all while staying safe during the pandemic, but the increase in campers is starting to impact forest lands.

“Down in the Lost Valley area, it’s experiencing five times the amount of people than what they usually do,” said Payette National Forest Public Affairs Officer Brian Harris. “That’s one we know for sure, but it applies to almost every place around the forest.”

The increase in people is also leading to an increase in trash left in and around campsites.

“It’s a lot of first-time campers that are unaware of camping etiquette,” said Harris.

The environmental impact on Idaho’s ecosystems is even affected when campers don’t use proper restrooms or dispose of human waste correctly.

“If they don’t want to use the restroom, they take it upon themselves to go in the woods, and they are not properly taking care of that either; they are not digging that cat hole and making sure that it is buried,” said Harris.

He also wants to remind people to put out their campfires, especially now during wildfire season.

“We’ve already had several escape fires turn into bigger fires,” said Harris. “This year, we are experiencing about a 40 percent rise in unattended campfires than we have in previous years.”

With campgrounds filling up quickly each weekend, it’s essential to plan ahead and get there early.

“A lot of our resource damage is a people going off-road to create their own camping spot,” said Harris. “There are designated camping spots, but when people cruise out there, and they can’t find one, a lot of people are just taking it upon themselves to drive off the road and create their own in an open meadow.”

Idaho’s National Forests are urging people to park in designated camping spots only.

“Those meadow type areas are being destroyed, and that definitely is impacting the ecosystem and the environment,” said Harris.

New or inexperienced campers should learn proper camping etiquette before heading out on a trip.

“Be properly prepared for everything, clean up after yourselves; that’s the pack it in pack it out,” said Harris. “Learn the concept of tread lightly on the natural resources as well and then leave the site better than what it was when you found it.”

For more information on camping in Idaho on Forest land, click here.

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