PHILOMATH — According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, 93% of 274 scientific articles studied indicated impacts of human recreation on the environment. Of that 93%, more than half were considered negative impacts.

We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, with a wide variety of environments to explore, and abundant access to outdoor recreation. While big name activities, such as mountain biking, skiing, or hiking are fun, we must address that every action we take has some effect on the environment around us. In his encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis states, “caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness.” Oregon, we must look forward to keep public lands free and accessible to all and we must start with recreating responsibly.

We have seen a rapid increase in permitting regulations for many of our outdoor spaces here in Oregon. In the last year, the Central Cascades Wilderness Pass was implemented to begin regulating the number of individuals and the negative impacts on wildlife and on trails. This was in accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964, a law established to protect wilderness for generations of humans to enjoy their natural beauty. To keep our lands unpermitted, we need to take actions to mitigate damage to these areas and to wildlife. One way of doing this is to follow the “leave no trace” policy when recreating in the wilderness. Now, during the winter season, there are some other big ways to protect wilderness. Avoid taking to the trails when tracks can be made in the mud. For backcountry winter sports, try to mitigate going through high alpine vegetation and interacting with wildlife. If choosing commercial activities, like resort skiing, consider the resorts’ sustainability and environmental statements before investing in a pass.

In the words of Saint John of the Cross:

“Mountains have heights and they are plentiful, vast, beautiful, graceful, bright and fragrant. These mountains are what my Beloved is to me. Lonely valleys are quiet, pleasant, cool, shady and flowing with fresh water; in the variety of their groves and in the sweet song of the birds, they afford abundant recreation and delight to the senses, and in their solitude and silence, they refresh us and give rest. These valleys are what my Beloved is to me.”

It’s not that we should quit playing outside, it’s that we must learn to recreate in a way that reveres wild spaces. In “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis writes, “Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors… [has the] chance to recover something of their true selves.”

As a lover of outdoor recreation and a resident of Oregon, I encourage you to continue to explore this beautiful place we call home, but to do so with an environmentally conscious mind. Before recreating, know the conditions of the location you plan to visit ahead of time. Pick up after yourself and others. Inform fellow recreators of sustainable ways to explore. Continue to educate yourself on the best ways to be in nature. Last, but not least, speak with local, state, and federal representatives to push for regulations that continue to make our great wilderness accessible, equitable, and sustainable. Let’s work together to “care for our common home.”

Devereaux is a graduate student at Oregon State University, a member of St. Mary Parish in Corvallis and an advocate for the Laudato Si Advocacy Program through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Creatio, and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.