Visiting your national forests and grasslands can be a wonderful experience. You may enjoy recreating in a developed campground, walking on a trail, fishing a stream, enjoying off-highway vehicle trails, or appreciating the view from an overlook. Whatever your activity, chances are there may be other people in the area. Although most people are there to enjoy the outdoors just like you, some are not. Always be aware of your surroundings, and take precaution whenever you go.
Call 911 in case of emergency, or to report a crime.
Protect your children
To keep your children safe in the forest:
- Know where your children are at all times.
- Make sure your children know what to do if they become separated from you.
- Use extra precautions regarding your child’s personal safety
- 'Never talk to a strange' may not always be true. The National Crime Prevention Council can help teach you how to protect your children.
Prevent personal assault
While in the forest, most of us relax and leave our worries at home. Unfortunately, criminals may use this against you. Learn to protect yourself:
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings, including other people in the area.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable in a place or situation, leave right away and get help if necessary.
- Stand tall and walk confidently. Don’t show fear.
- Be observant of others and use discretion in acknowledging strangers.
- Avoid confrontations.
- Be respectful of your fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Always use good manners when interacting with others.
- Carry a cell phone and check if there is coverage in the area.
- Know how to contact law enforcement and how to get medical attention in an emergency.
- Carry a noisemaker, such as a whistle, or other protective device.
- Do not pick up hitchhikers.
- Never go anywhere alone! It is safer to be in pairs or in a group.
If you are a victim
After a crime has occurred:
- Try to stay calm.
- Write down as much information on the suspect as possible, including personal and/or vehicle description, license plates’ number, and the last known direction and method of travel.
- Contact the local Sheriff’s Office or Forest Service Law Enforcement Investigations office immediately.
- Preserve, but do not handle, any evidence of the crime.
Protect your car
Whether you park your vehicle on the campground, at a trailhead, or at another location, it will be left unattended for a few hours or a few days. To help protect your vehicle and your valuables:
- Lock valuables in the trunk or where they cannot be seen, Better yet, leave at home what you really don't need.
- Lock your vehicle. Do not hide your keys on or near your vehicle,
- Take note of the other vehicles in the area and write down license plate numbers and descriptions of vehicles that appear suspicious or out of place,
- Report suspicious activity to local law enforcement or Forest Service personnel as soon as possible.
Protect your personal property
Precautions to protect your property include:
- Do not carry more cash than you need.
- Leave unnecessary valuable items at home.
- Do not make yourself a target by dangling your purse or showing your wallet.
- If someone attempts to rob you, give up your property; it is less valuable than your life.
- When leaving a campsite, lock or hide valuables.
Think Neighborhood Watch
One of the most effective ways to prevent crime and reduce fear is to apply the Neighborhood Watch concept to the forest setting by being vigilant, protecting yourself and securing your property, and acting as an extra set of “eyes and ears” for reporting crimes and suspicious activity you may encounter. Helpful things to consider while on a forest or grassland:
- Know how to contact law enforcement and other emergency services personnel.
- Keep an eye out for the well-being of your fellow forest visitors and the safety of their property.
- Be observant of others and their activity.
- Keep an eye out for persons or vehicles that appear out of place or suspicious in or near campgrounds, recreation areas, trailheads, or rest areas.
- Report suspicious persons.
- Report criminal activity immediately.
You may discover illegal activity while on the forest. For example, the presence of polyvinyl chloride pipes or hoses along the ground may indicate an active marijuana garden, or household chemicals in an unusual combination used with glassware and tubing may indicate methamphetamine production. If you come across suspicious activity:
- Do not approach or confront the individuals at the site; do not in any way indicate that you are suspicious,
- Immediately leave the area along the same route you entered,
- Watch for other people in the area,
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times. In some instances, potentially dangerous devices or harmful materials might be nearby. Make every effort to avoid contact with suspicious packages and/or equipment; they might be highly volatile,
- When you are safely away, write down a detailed description of the activities taking place, the area, the people and any vehicles,
- Immediately report the activity to local law enforcement or Forest Service personnel.
Observe and Record:
- If you believe you have witnessed a crime, do not approach the person and do not take a photo of them! Instead, observe what they are doing, record it on paper and report it to the authorities.
- When you report a crime, you will be asked to provide information, such as a description of the person(s), a description of their vehicle or vessel, any registration or distinguishing logo (car rental identifier, license plate), what they are doing, when, and where.
Remember: You are responsible for your safety and for the safety of those around you.