We Atlantans are extremely fortunate to live in a forest teeming with plant and animal life. We, not the animals, are the invaders.

A few common-sense practices can greatly reduce the number of creatures needlessly killed every year in our parks and nature preserves.

Stephen W. Ramsden.

As screen time has exponentially increased in our society, the connection with the immediate world around us has suffered. In recent years, I have seen hundreds of people use natural areas as their daycare centers, diaper disposal bins, dog parks, drone training grounds or garbage dumps. Sure, 98 percent of the people visiting these areas are great stewards of nature. Unfortunately, it only takes a few people to ruin the environment and devastate the wildlife in a small park or preserve.

“My dog is friendly, he doesn’t need to be on a leash” is something I hear often. City, county and state law differ with this conclusion, and for good reason. One dog running through a pond or wooded area can kill thousands of amphibian or reptile eggs, and I can’t tell you how many wading bird carcasses I have found after off-leash dog attacks.

Their owners certainly harm the environment by leaving their poop piles all over the place. The ones who bag the poop and then leave it are particularly grievous.

While I was tracking a heron injured by fishing line in March at Brookhaven’s Murphey Candler Park, I saw at least a dozen off-leash dogs. One owner even allowed his dog to run down the embankment towards the injured heron!

Please, keep your dog, friendly or not, on a leash at all times while in a nature area.

Each of the last three years has seen at least one great blue heron killed by fishing line or other trash left at Murphey Candler Park. It’s amazing how many people will walk, jog or bike through a natural area and thoughtlessly dump their drink containers, cigarette/cigar butts, or plastic wrappers on the ground. I have noticed that the majority of these people operate from ignorance versus malice and would like to believe they simply don’t know the damage they are doing. Of course, some just don’t care.

The fatally entangled great blue heron at Brookhaven’s Murphey Candler Park. (Stephen W. Ramsden)

Simply put, discarded trash is a major killer of wildlife. Animals assume it is food, eat it, and die. One candy bar wrapper is enough to choke a small mammal. One piece of fishing line will strangle most small animals. Your beer/soda can or bottle can kill numerous creatures in several horrible ways.

Please, please, please, don’t litter our beautiful natural areas, and if you see garbage, pick it up. If there is a fishing lure caught in a tree or line on the ground, discard of it properly. Turning your head and ignoring these things is almost as bad as leaving them in the first place.

Let’s work together to provide safe habitats and beautiful green areas for all of us. Wading birds are a real treat for nature lovers. Let’s take some common-sense steps to ensure that the next generation can enjoy them.

Stephen W. Ramsden is the founder and director of the global nonprofits The Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project and Sunlit Earth.

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