Some Arkansas forest landowners are nervous about venturing into their own forest for fear of the wildlife that live there, Joe Friend, forester for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. During his career as a forester, he is often asked about the probability of encountering bears or wolves.
"Some forests in Arkansas have bears, wild – or feral – hogs, coyotes and even panthers," he said. "However, in my almost 40 years on the job, I have never been threatened by any of these animals. I rarely even see them when I'm in the woods."
Instead of the lions, tigers and bears people may imagine lurking in the woods, Friend said the things that actually pose the most danger are venomous snakes, ticks, red bugs or chiggers, mosquitoes, and poison ivy.
Friend said the list below can help Arkansans know what to look out for in the woods and how to stay safe:
There are six species of venomous snakes in Arkansas: the copperhead, cotton mouth, coral snake, western rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake and pygmy rattlesnake. Snake bites are usually not deadly, but they can cause extreme illness and loss of limbs.
"The best way to avoid a snake bite is to wear snake boots or snake leggings and be observant of your surroundings," Friend said. "Stay at least five feet away from snakes, and they will not be able to bite you."
Tickborne illnesses are on the rise in Arkansas. The most common illnesses include Rocky Mountain spotted tick fever, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, tularemia and anaplasmosis. These diseases only occur in humans if the tick stays attached to skin for over four hours.
"Avoid tickborne diseases by using a good insect repellant prior to going into the forest," Friend said. "Check yourself for ticks and take a shower once you are home."
These pests are abundant in humid areas of the state, especially in south Arkansas. They can carry West Nile virus, Zika virus, encephalitis and malaria. Avoid them by applying a good insect repellant.
Chiggers or red bug
These pests are almost microscopic in size and are common from May to October. They cause itchy bumps, which can become infected if scratched too much.
"Avoid red bug bites by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts while in the woods," Friend said. "Once you are indoors, run your clothes through the wash and take a shower."
This dangerous plant grows prolifically in Arkansas and causes an allergic reaction and rash. A person's reaction to poison ivy can be minor or severe depending on their particular sensitivity to the plant. Avoid exposure to poison ivy by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts. In case of exposure, wash the exposed skin with soap and water as soon as possible.
"Any dangers of venturing into the forest are drastically reduced with remembering to apply insect repellant, as well as taking a shower and doing the laundry once home," Friend said. "By taking these simple precautions, Arkansans can enjoy trips to the forest without any fear."
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