9 Tips for a wilderness-friendly holiday

Presents to buy, gifts to wrap, cards to send, and goodies to bake. It's that time of year again. And as crazy and stress inducing as the holidays can be for us humanoids, it must be infinitely more tiresome for Mother Earth, who by now has surely come to dread the month of December for all the increased waste and demands it places on her resources.

Wondering what you can do to go easier on the earth and your own soul as well?  Below is a list of ideas to turn frenzied consumer-focused holidays into ones that are simple, sweet and memorable--and best of all, kind to the wildlands we cherish.

Enjoy these tips, and if you have some of your own, please do share! There's plenty of room in the comments section below.

Nine tips to make the holidays friendly to wilderness, and yourself

Couple sledding. Photo: National Park Service.1. Create special holiday rituals in nature: Imagine the memories we could create if we all replaced a small portion of time spent gift shopping with just one special tradition with friends and family in nature. The memories of snow-shoeing in wilderness, sledding at a nearby hill, skating on a pond, or stargazing with a hot drink in the backyard can be cherished for years. One of the Christmas activities I remember most fondly from my own childhood is trudging through the snow in Colorado’s Roosevelt National Forest to cut down our own Christmas tree (when permitted, cutting local trees helps the Forest Service manage the forest and can reduce carbon emissions since many trees are transported from other states).If you’re interested in cutting your own tree, permits are available through local U.S. Forest Service offices.

2. Make winter magical for kids: Experiences we create for children outdoors are especially precious because they teach kids to appreciate nature and the resulting memories can last for a lifetime. Here’s a few of the fun things you might try: Winter scavenger hunt: Try taking the kids in your life on a winter scavenger hunt at your favorite wild place. Write a list of things to find, such as pinecones, different types of rocks, animal tracks or bird species. This is also a perfect activity to teach kids about leaving behind the things they find. Pack up a thermos of hot chocolate to reward the team after the hunt is done. Ornament collecting party: Rather than buying more ornaments, have a ornament party collecting pinecones, pebbles, leafs or any other items that can be made into tree ornaments. Trim a tree--outside: Another great idea comes from our Colorado Dolores River Basin Wildlands Coordinator Barbara Hawke. She suggests having children decorate backyard trees with suet pine cones, popcorn strings, and corn cobs (for squirrels), then watching to see what visitors show up.

3. Take a photo: If you’re not already doing this, make sure you take digital photos of the wintery journeys mentioned above. You can use them to make your own electronic holiday cards, instead of sending paper cards, which are a major contributor of waste during the holidays. Find other ideas for recycling and reusing holiday cards here.

4. Green up your trees: If visiting a national forest to cut down your own Christmas tree isn’t your thing, shop from sellers that offer native, local trees. Buying local saves fuel and carbon emissions since many trees are shipped from across the country or even Canada. Better yet, buy a potted tree or one with its root bulb intact. After Christmas, plant the tree in the yard for years of enjoyment. You can also rent holiday trees.

5. Get creative with your wrapping: Packaging, wrapping paper, ribbons and bows all are a major sources of holiday waste. Even if we all wrapped just a few presents in recycled or repurposed material--think newspaper comics, old calendar photos, unwanted maps, scarves or reusable gift bags--the dent on wasted paper would be significant. Make it fun by having a green-gift-wrapping night with children, using crayons to decorate used paper or newspapers. More on green wrapping tips.

6. Give a gift that helps protect wildlands: Consider a donation to support wilderness work in your loved one’s name. The Wilderness Society offers honor gifts here. Or you can give your own gift to wildlands through a membership in The Wilderness Society. Cardinal. Photo USDA.

Or if you know someone who loves music, the limited edition CD ‘Live from the Mountain Music Lounge, Volume 16.’ is a great gift. The CD, recorded in the studios of KMTT radio station in Seattle, features intimate performances by 16 amazing well-known artists, including Colbie Caillat and David Gray. Proceeds benefit The Wilderness Society.

7. Give gifts that are easy on the earth: For store-bought goods, look for items from recycled, repurposed or sustainable material, such as outdoor clothing made from recycled fiber. Gift trees are a great present as they offer the recipient enjoyment for years to come as well as carbon storage. If you live in a colder area consider a gift certificate that can be used to purchase a tree in the spring. And for bird lovers and stamp collectors, federal Duck Stamps are gorgeous collector items that directly support U.S. wildlife refuges.

8. Celebrate New Year’s outdoors: Escape the loud parties this year and do something all together unexpected. Our Southwest regional office administrator Zoey Krasney provides the perfect example. Her family tradition is to hike, cross-country ski or snow-shoe to a wilderness lookout, then just before midnight (you can do it earlier if you have young children) using the light of headlamps, they take turns reading from a list of items to say goodbye to from the past year, as well as items to welcome for the year ahead. No raucuous, drunken partygoers here. Just  mountains, winter trees, animals sleeping in warm dens, and listening stars.

If that's not your speed, you can take a cue from Anne Vick, our Foundation Relations Officer in San Francisco. She has started a tradition of doing a swim in San Francisco Bay on New Year's day. “Yes, it’s cold, but it’s a short swim and we have a big brunch and lots of coffee afterwards,” she said.

9. Make your feast a green one: Depending on your comfort level, you can green up your holiday meals through different appraoches, including buying organic (fewer chemicals and pesticides), buying local (reduces food miles) or using vegetarian or vegan recipes (animal agriculture is a major contributor or greenhouse gas, plus plants require less land for production, helping to keep the world’s forests intact). Try vegetariantimes.com or vegnews.com for great recipes. Just about any holiday dish can be adapted. Buying local is a great choice because it reduces carbon emissions produced in the transportation of food across country.  Camille Brightsmith the office administrator of our Denver office shows it can be done, even in winter. She's started a tradition over the past three years of a 100 percent local Christmas eve dinner. “It takes some planning and creativity but it’s really fun. We end up eating local potatoes, squash, other roots and meat primarily. You can also easily get local cheeses and wines. It saves food miles since most food travels thousands of miles with the power of fossil fuels to get to your table.”

Have your own tip? Please do share –in our comments section!

Photos: Couple sledding. Photo by National Park Service.

Winter cardinal. Photo by USDA.