Listen to Woodsy: Give a hoot don’t pollute!

SAN LUIS VALLEY - With the COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions that have been in place for much of 2020, many have caught a bad case of cabin fever. Spending time outdoors has become one of the best and safest ways to recreate this year causing trails and campgrounds to see a lot more use. Unfortunately, they have also seen a large increase in trash.

Helen Smith is a Visitor Information Specialist who assists the Rio Grande National Forest with its mission of “Caring for the Land and Serving People,” on behalf of the San Juan Mountains Association.

She said that most of the littering has been in common areas like campgrounds. “Part of this is because there are many people who have never camped before that have been starting to come out and camp, since for a while there was really not much else to do.” Smith shared that the littering she has seen has made her want to revive the use of Woodsy Owl who serves as a counter-part to Smokey Bear. Woodsy Owl was the brainchild of Harold Bell who created the character in 1970. His famous moto of “Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!” was introduced in 1971. For 50 years, Woodsy has been trying to remind people to take care of the world around them. Smith says she’s been inspired to use Woodsy to help spread a message of keeping our local forest areas clean. Smith noted that her work with the RGNF goes along with the mission of the San Juan Mountains Association to “Explore, Learn, Protect.”

“Frankly I feel like it needs to happen,” Smith said adding, “People need to be aware that these things aren’t just going to disappear by themselves. We need to take better care of the resources that we have. If we still want them to be there in the future and still be beautiful, then everyone needs to do their part.”

Smith also explained some of the harmful effects littering can have in nature areas saying, “Littering is bad in a number of ways. It obviously detracts from the beauty of a spot but it’s also harmful for wildlife if they eat things, they’re not supposed to that can either make them sick or in some cases kill them.”

Smith also sharing another big concern with littering is polluting water. Tossing your trash in or near bodies of water makes the water supply less safe, and less enjoyable to view.

However Woodsy Owl has a lot of good principals that people can follow to help do their part and not pollute. They include:

Picking up and packing out all trash.

Disposing of all human and pet waste properly by burying it at least 6 inches deep (including toilet paper.)

Camping at least 200 ft. away from water.

Utilizing previously established camping sites (nobody wants to visit a completely trampled meadow.)
Not leaving trash in your campfire rings and picking up all cigarette butts. (leaving them around is also potential fire hazard so it’s very important to clean them up.)

“I think it goes back to let’s all do our part to keep Colorado, Colorado. There’s a reason people come here and the high amounts of traffic that we’re seeing I don’t think are going to be going away. That just heightens the need for people to do their part even more and tread lightly on public lands,” stated Smith.