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Most of us who spend time outdoors occasionally wind up in a spot that makes us think we are the only human to have ever stood or floated in that exact location.

Realistically, at least in this part of the world, that’s probably not true. If the natural setting is not altered, however, future visitors may experience a similar emotional connection to that same spot.

Keep North Dakota Clean SignOn the other hand, a careless discarding of a candy wrapper, beverage container or cigarette butt has a way of mentally eroding our vision of a seemingly less-traveled landscape.

The message about leaving the outdoors in better shape than you found it is a common theme spanning decades of outdoor recreation. It doesn’t matter if the landscape is Mount McKinley, a badlands wooded draw or a favorite shoreline fishing area.

Yet it seems we can never have enough reminders to pack out what you pack in, and while you’re at it, if you see a discarded beverage container or paper product left by someone before you, pack that out too.

That same philosophy should also apply when you leave a public recreation area that provides trash disposal. Be prepared to take your own garbage with you, rather than leave it sit on the ground next to a trash containers after they become full. Not only is piled-up trash unsightly, if bags are not properly tied a strong wind can dislodge the contents and blow paper and plastic around the countryside.

Because the trash cans are full is no excuse to litter. Take your trash home with you and keep your end of the bargain to make the area a little better than you found it for the next visitors.

I’ve even seen worn tires, old mattresses and kitchen appliances dumped on public use areas. Illegal dumping is costly to clean up and takes a toll on the environment. It tarnishes the beauty of the land, and can also pollute ground and surface water and injure wildlife. We’ve all seen pictures of birds entangled in fishing line or plastic can wraps.

Nationwide Littering Statistics

The Keep North Dakota Clean website ( provides the following statistics regarding litter:

  • Approximately $11.5 billion is paid per year in direct costs to control litter. These costs include cleanup and prevention programs which are covered largely by businesses and taxpayers.
  • There are, on average, 6,729 pieces of litter per mile.
  • Cigarette butts comprise 38 percent of all items littered.
  • Most littering (81 percent of observed behaviors) was committed “with intent” by the individual.
  • People are 15 percent more likely to litter when there is already existing litter.
  • Individuals over the age of 30 are less likely to litter than younger individuals.

Remember, if we all do our part, much of our countryside could give us the sense that no one else had passed that way before.

Doug Leier is a biologist with the Game & Fish Department. He can be reached by email:


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