Outdoor Safety and Ethics

People are drawn to Alaska’s outdoors – the scenic beauty, the opportunities for recreation and learning, the chance to see what they seldom see in other places - things like the Northern lights, glaciers, abundant and varied kinds of wildlife.

Alaska’s rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions can present significant challenges.  One of the primary goals of any outdoor experience is to come back alive and well, so it is important to pay attention to safety.  A second goal is to protect the resources that make Alaska so special.

Before you lead a group outdoors, consider these safety tips.

Outdoor Safety and Ethics Topics

Bear Safety

Bears don’t just live in the wild lands of Alaska, they wander through nearly every community in the state. Both brown and black bears are found on the Chugach and Tongass National Forests. If you plan to lead children or adults in outdoor activities in Southeast and South Central Alaska, here are some good resource materials to help you learn about bears and about being safe around them.

Bear tracks in the mud

Often it is easier to find evidence of bears than to see them


Black bear sow and cubs at Anan Wildlife Observatory near Wrangell

Black bear sow and cubs at Anan Wildlife Observatory near Wrangell.

  • Alaska’s Bears: This site is the place to find most of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game information on bears, from information sheets on brown and black bears, to a children’s coloring book, to guidelines for bear viewing and bear hunting, and more.
  • Bear Facts: Text is from the pamphlet of the same name, produced by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game with input from other agencies. It is endorsed by at least eight other natural resource agencies, and used widely throughout the state in bear safety education. Links to other good materials are included at the bottom of the page.
  • Bear Country Ethics: Part of the Forest Service outdoor ethics website, this includes excerpts from publications for  Forest Service employees working in bear country, as well as links to other materials.

Moose Safety

Each year in Alaska more people are injured by moose than by bear

Each year in Alaska more people are injured by moose than by bear.

Each year in Alaska more people are injured by moose than by bear.  More common on the Chugach National Forest, moose can also be found in some places on the Tongass National Forest.   The Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides some helpful information about moose and how people can be safe when moose are nearby.

  • Moose: These one-page information sheets give information on various animals in Alaska, including moose.  Among other topics, they cover a general description, the life history and the food habits of the animals.
  • What to Do About Aggressive Moose: Although moose are not normally aggressive, when stressed they can be.  Since moose roam through many communities in Alaska, it is wise to keep in mind how to behave when encountering them.
  • “Make a Truce with a Moose on the Loose”  Poster: This bright, colorful poster gives good tips for what to do when a moose is near.

Weather-Related Safety

Alaska can be cold, snowy, icy, rainy, windy, or even hot and dry

Alaska can be cold, snowy, icy, rainy, windy, or even hot and dry. Part of planning for any outdoor adventure is planning for inclement weather.


Winter Shelter Practice

Forest Service employees build winter survival structure they will later sleep in, during a training course. Cordova Ranger District, Chugach National Forest


Winter Shelter Practice

Cold weather  - It is one of the things Alaska is best known for.  If you live in the cold, whether it is in Alaska or someplace else, it is vitally important that you know how to be safe when temperatures drop.  As the Alaska Centers website points out though, we should also know how to protect ourselves when Alaska’s weather  turns  hot.


Water Safety

Personal floatation devices are essential for any education program that includes boating

Personal floatation devices are essential for any education program that includes boating

With more than 44,000 miles of coastline, over three million lakes and 365,000 miles of waterways, Alaska offers many opportunities to spend time on or near the water.  Safety should be a part of any recreation or educational program near water.

  • Alaska Department of Natural Resources , Office of Boating Safety: The Alaska Boating Safety Program educates Alaskans to prevent boating and other water-related accidents and fatalities.  A very thorough site, this one provides links to many great resources. Be sure to check out the link to the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, under “Other Boating Education.” 
  • NOAA Nautical Charts: These charts are helpful for anyone planning a boating or kayaking trip, and can make the trip much safer and enjoyable.

Outdoor Ethics and Leave No Trace

Trashy campsite

When people enjoying the outdoors practice Leave No Trace principles, no one comes upon a scene like this.

The wildness and scenic beauty of the Tongass and Chugach National Forests attract tourists from across the United States and around the world.  By reducing human impacts on wild lands, we can protect that wildness and beauty for generations to come.  Leave No Trace principles and outdoor ethics guidelines provide ways do that.

  • Alaska Region Forest Service Outdoor Ethics: This site provides a good explanation for the need for outdoor ethics.  Check out the link to “Leave No Trace on the Tongass and Chugach National Forests” for Alaska-specific information and examples.
  • Alaska Centers Leave No Trace Tips: Representing nine state and federal agencies, Alaska Centers present on their website the seven Leave No Trace principles and include a National Park Service movie and a puppet show on the topic.

Wildlife Viewing Ethics

Inside the Swan Observatory

The Forest Service provides viewing shelters such as the Swan Observatory in Petersburg, so people can watch birds and animals without disturbing them.


Swan Observatory

Moose, bear, migratory birds, marine mammals - the Tongass and Chugach National Forests provide many opportunities for watching all of these and more forms of wildlife.  To get the most out of your wildlife viewing experience without getting too close to the animals, follow viewing tips presented on these websites.  They will help you protect yourself, the animals and their habitat.  

  • Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Viewing Site: Visit this website to get a full spectrum of information about wildlife viewing in Alaska, including information about viewing guides and viewing trails, tips for photographing wildlife, a list of wildlife festivals, and more.  The section “Respectful Viewing Practices” addresses wildlife viewing etiquette.
  • Alaska Centers Wildlife Viewing Tips: More guidelines on wildlife viewing, with links including one to information on bear safety in Russian, Japanese, and German.  The “Bear Viewing” link also includes an annual “Bear Viewing in Alaska” brochure with information about bear viewing sites around the state.
  • Alaska Region, Forest Service, Wildlife Viewing Tips: Visit this site for tips on viewing wildlife, with links to information on wildlife viewing sites on National Forest lands.
  • Marine Mammal Viewing Ethics - Marine mammals in the forest? Well, some do come ashore on National Forest land, but we are more likely to see them in the water. For a code of conduct, guidelines and federal regulations regarding approaching marine mammals, see this site.