Identifying Potential Hazards in the Montana Wilderness


Identifying the hazards in your area is a great place to start on your naturalist journey. All plants, animals, and landscapes need to be shown respect. Begin with the hazardous plants in the ecosystem you live in. Be sure and find at least two reliable sources of information gathered from books or websites. Typically, books are a more trusted source than websites. Some plants can be ingested if prepared properly, make sure you check multiple sources and are 100 percent sure about what the plant is before thinking about eating it. Mushrooms are not plants, they are fungi, do not eat any mushrooms unless you have done voracious research and know how to identify them. This list will give you a good starting point in your journey with hazards.


In Montana we have a few plants that can be hazardous to your health to start with:

Death Camas

Poison Hemlock

Fox Glove

Poison Ivy


Bleeding Heart


Buttercups(Sagebrush Buttercup) Many nightshade family members (Enchanters Nightshade)


Having a sense of respect for everything you encounter in the woods will help you have positive interactions with the landscape you are a part of. Animals can be hazardous to your health. Knowing how to react if you see a moose, a bear, a cougar, or a pack of wolves is important. Often times we don’t associate smaller animals like ticks, spiders, amphibians, mice, and porcupines with being hazardous, but they can be. Mice can carry the hantavirus. Ticks can give you Lyme disease. Spiders have venomous bites. Most amphibians especially salamanders and newts secret a toxin when they are touched, wash your hands after handling them. Porcupines have quills. Most animals you encounter want nothing to do with the human world. Every animal will be more likely to have a negative interaction if they have young with them. Developing a sense of respect for the natural world will help have a positive interaction with the wildlife you encounter. Take the time to learn all the animals in your ecosystem. Do you know the difference between a cougar track and a domestic dog track? Often times they are confused. Journaling the hazardous mammals, reptiles, and amphibians you share the environment with can set you up for success if you have an interaction with one.


Hazardous Animals in Montana:


Black Widow

Brown Recluse

Hobo Spider                          

 Prairie Rattlesnake

Black Bear





Another aspect of respect around hazards is respecting water. Going swimming when the river is high can be sketchy. This seems like common sense yet every year people die in rivers. Giardia lamblia also known as Giardia is a parasite that infects the small intestine and causes infection. It is found on surfaces, in soil, food, and commonly in water. Is there a beaver dam up river or stream from where you are getting water? Beavers are definitely pooping in the water, other animals too. How can you avoid contracting Giardia? Boil your water, use iodine tablets or filter your water. The symptoms of Giardia include diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, nausea, and vomiting symptoms do not usually begin for about seven days. All these symptoms lead to more dehydration which is usually the cause of drinking unclean water. Make sure the water you are drinking is safe.


Clark Fork, Missoula


Respect yourself, if you feel like you are getting too hot or too cold you probably are. Heat exhaustion is caused when your core body temperature gets to 103-106 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not ignore the early obvious symptom of thirst. Stay in the shade on hot days. Wear loose clothing and increase your salt intake. Hypothermia is when the body can no longer warm itself. This can result in incoherence, unconsciousness and even death. Poor coordination, shivering, slow pace, slurred speech, fatigue and questionable judgment can be early warning signs of hypothermia. Make sure you dress in layers on cold days. As you are working and sweating remove layers. Once you stop moving with all your layers on, your sweaty clothing is soaked and will make your sweaty body cold. Avoid hypothermia by staying warm and dry. Do not wear cotton on rainy days outside. Wool is the best choice for wet days as it keeps the body warm even when it is wet.

Situational awareness is your best tool to avoid potential hazards. If you have tunnel vision while you are in the woods how can you identify hazards? Take the time to look around the area you are exploring and look for hazards. If there are bear tracks it’s probably because a bear is in the area. Don’t know if the plant is edible? Don’t eat it. If you are building a shelter to sleep in look around the area. Sometimes there can be a large branch or widow maker ready to fall on top of your shelter. You wouldn’t want to build a shelter only to find you have put your bed on top of an ant’s nest. Use your senses to connect to the place.

Widow maker







Feeding the wildlife can result in raccoons trashing your camp at night. Can you smell something rotting? That will likely attract predators and might not be a great place to hang out. Transversely, it might be a great spot to watch from a higher vantage point to see what animals show up. Getting lost can also be a hazard. We will go into mapping and aidless navigation in later blog posts. The best way not to get lost is to create a story around the path you are taking. Regardless if you are on or off trail natural landmarks stick out in the landscape. Take the time to slow down and remember landmarks if you do not have a compass or GPS with you! Attached is a worksheet to help you learn about the hazards in your area.


Click here for a worksheet on hazards


Interested in finding out more about Survival Skills Camp? Check out our camp details on our website.
Survival Skills Camp