There to use, not abuse

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In addition to the great weather this time of year, one of the reasons we are so lucky to live in Arizona are her wide-open spaces. Thousands of acres of Federal and State lands have been set aside for generations of people to enjoy---and protect. Whether your thing is hiking, hunting & fishing, camping, riding, boating, skiing or bird watching, chances are there's a state or federal park near you that offers an array of family fun at little or no cost.

Unfortunately, because these lands are so readily accessible to us, we seem to have a tendency to take them for granted. So as you head out to enjoy the weather and views during this wildflower season, keep the following thoughts in mind. That way, our beautiful but delicate deserts, lakes, rivers and forests will last long into the future.

Haul out your trash. If you had the means to carry it in then you can carry it out.

Stay on the path. Even single-track riders can cause lasting damage to delicate desert plants by cutting corners. The slow rate of growth for most desert plants means these scars upon the land will last for years to come. The same can be said for damage caused by hikers. Besides, staying on the path is safer for people and pets especially now that snake season is upon us.

Pick up your shells. Whether or not you are target shooting in a location that is approved for use of firearms is between you and law enforcement, but please clean up your spent shells and items used for target practice. Plastic casings and even organic trash lasts forever, especially in a dry environment where natural decay processes are already slow.

Don't feed or harass wildlife. Aside from the potential risks to you and your family of getting too close to nature, it really doesn't help ensure a wild animal's survival to give it people food. Plus, for some federally protected species it is likely illegal.

Carry a leash. If pets are allowed, be sure to have a collar with ID on your pet and be ready to leash you pet at all times. You never know when you might have a surprise encounter another animal (wild or domestic). Having a leash handy might save your pet from serious injury or worse. It's the responsible pet-parenting thing to do.

Enjoy the spring season. It'll be hot soon enough!

Grey Stafford, Ph.D. is the Director of Conservation and Communications at the Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium and author of the new pet-training book, " ". He appears frequently on 3TV with some of the zoo's fascinating animals.

Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium, which is located at 16501 W. Northern Ave., Litchfield Park, is open 365 days a year, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Daytime admission is $26.50 (plus tax) for adults and $14.25 (plus tax) for children 3 to 12; children 2 and younger get in free. Special evening admission to the Aquarium only is $16.99 (plus tax) for adults and $8.99 (plus tax) for children 3 to 12. For more information, call 623-935-WILD (9453) or visit .