What is Leave No Trace?
The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Back in the early 1940s, Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world Scouting movement, said, “Try and leave the world a little better than you found it.” Over time, this morphed into, “Always leave your campground cleaner than you found it.”
Fifty years later, in the early 1990s, that Leave No Trace concept was immortalized through an educational curriculum developed by the United States Forest Services in partnership with NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School). The outcome was an agreed framework for instilling awareness on the part of wilderness travelers to interact with nature in a manner that reduces human impact.
What is The Importance of Leave No Trace?
The idea behind Leave No Trace is to embrace specific wilderness stewardship values in order to protect our backcountry areas for generations to come. Today, that program — run by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colorado — impacts more than 15 million people in the United States and dozens of other countries with conservation initiatives, education, training, and research.
Baden-Powell’s simple sentiment more-or-less condenses the seven principles behind today’s Leave No Trace (LNT) program. The well-known LNT’s principles are:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
You can read more about LNT in the wilderness here. But what about the majority of the time when most of us are not roughing it in the backcountry? Can we incorporate these seven principles into our daily lives? Can we bring such environmental awareness into an urban or front-country setting? We like to think so!
How can you practice the Leave No Trace principles in your everyday life?
Some of us here at NCOAE headquarters in Wilmington, N.C., discussed the possibilities of applying backcountry Leave No Trace principles in everyday living, and here’s what we came up with.
7 Ways to ‘Leave No Trace’ in Everyday Life
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Before you head out — whether it’s for a wilderness expedition or an afternoon at a local park or on local trails — thoroughly research the weather; plan meals carefully; check local regulations for closures or burn bands. And choose to bring along re-usable products as much as possible.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: When spending time in the front country or heading out for a leisurely walk in a local park or rec area, stay on existing trails and pathways. This helps avoid damage to the local environment and wildlife. When commuting, consider using public transportation or carpool whenever possible. Or ride your bike on designated paths and roads.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Have a system in place for your waste whether it’s at home or on a trip. Recycle appropriate items as much as possible. Swap one-use products with reusable products when you can. And donate clothing, furniture, and other household items instead of throwing them away.
4. Leave What You Find: Sure, it’s tempting to touch or pick up insects, or examine shells, rocks, shellfish and historical structures. But here’s an alternative: Take a photo instead. You don’t disturb the flora and fauna, and you have something to show your family and friends.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts: Since it’s not likely you’ll be building a lot of campfires in your everyday life at home, become more aware of your energy use. Turn off lights when you leave a room. Open windows instead of hitting the A/C wall unit. Turn off the hose while soaping up your car. And when you do light up your backyard fire pit, be sure to check local fire restrictions, keep fires small, don’t burn trash, and make sure the fire is completely out when done.
6. Respect Wildlife: Raccoons and squirrels are cute. No doubt about that. But don’t approach wild animals, even when they’re in the front country, and never feed them. Also, don’t leave food or belongings where animals could get it, keep trashcan lids on tight at all times, and control your pets. You want to help city critters? Learn about what vegetation they consume and plant those edibles that help them thrive.
7. Be Considerate of Others: Avoid blocking walkways and paths, obey rules and closures, minimize your noise, certainly don’t litter, and pick up the trash you see on the ground. These daily habitat habits don’t require a lot of thought or effort, but they do go a long way toward making our own personal environment a lot more livable.
To discover other stories about Leave No Trace and to further your understanding, check out similar blogs here.
Editor’s Note: Below is final part in Stephen Mullaney’s three-part series of essays about encounters with bears in the backcountry. The first essay in the series recants the shock Stephen experienced with one particular bear encounter, while the second essay in this series attempts to find humor in a persistent bear taking up quarters in an NCOAE camp late at night. This time around, Stephen — who serves as Director of School Partnerships here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) — writes about a timing issue.
Decision Time for the Trailbike Rider
When NCOAE offers larger courses or custom outdoor education courses, we try to have a floater in the field. The floater is an instructor who knows the course area, can navigate to multiple groups in a single day, and has the ability to be flexible and help out when groups are in need of extra support.
I enjoy being a floater because it allows me to see the NCOAE field staff in action. To watch an NCOAE instructor teach is inspiring to me. It also has the added benefit of allowing me to discover different approaches to teaching our curriculum. As a result, being a floater is akin to real-time professional development.
On one particular wilderness course for which I was the floater, we 11 crews/groups in the field. Because of the distance between the groups, the terrain that would need to be traversed, and the need to reach groups quickly, I figured using a trail bike was a no brainer. I could get to each group every four days and still be able to respond to any group that may need outside support in a quicker fashion.
Each day I woke up, left the crew with which I had spent the night, and headed off to meet the next crew before they had even had their breakfast. Then I was off to the next group before lunch, and I usually showed up to meet my final crew for the day a little before dark. Or very much after dark depending on circumstances.(more…)
Editor’s Note: In this, the second installment of “The Three Bears,” we’ll hear from NCOAE staffer Stephen Mullaney tell yet another true tale about confrontations with bears. In this post, he’ll attempt to find the humor in a persistent bear taking up quarters in an NCOAE camp late at night. But let’s let Stephen tell the story:
The spot where this particular bear adventure occurred is conveniently located near an area we used for climbing instruction. Unfortunately, the site is also known for its occasional bear activity, and with proper planning and risk mitigation, can be safely used for that purpose. This was an outdoor education industry training trip, and all participants were adults with lots of experience guiding in the backcountry.
We had finished cleaning up camp, putting our bear canisters well away from campsite and had settled down for a well-deserved night of sleep after a long day of climbing. I laid down in my hammock and was asleep in an instant.
Having spent an incredible number of nights sleeping in the woods, I have learned the difference between a stick or branch falling, being blown by the wind or being cracked in half under the weight of a large animal.
The crack that woke me up was the crack made by the weight of a large animal.
I rolled over, lifted my tarp, and took stock of the situation. I didn’t get out my hammock, because I didn’t want to fully wake up if everything looked copacetic. No more sound means more sleep, and I rolled over and fell back to sleep.
There it was again.
I repeated my previously approach of taking a peek while buried in my hammock. However this time the cracking continued, and I was able to (more…)
When folks find out that my work often takes me into the backcountry, one of the first questions they usually ask me is, “Have you ever had a run-in with a bear — a bear encounter?”
After I tell them that I have had run-ins with bears in the backcountry, they ask what’s that’s like. And that’s when I share that there are many emotions attached to an encounter with a bear in the wilderness, ranging from shock, to humor, to the sudden and unexpected “meet and greet” where you wonder, “Am I going to have to physically engage with this bear?”
First up in this three-part series on bear encounters in the backcountry is a true story about ashocking bear encounter.
A Shocking Bear Encounter
It was Day Two on a multi-day backcountry expedition when someone in the group needed to stop and use the facilities, meaning off the side of the trail. The hiker asked for the “Poop Kit,” which contains hand sanitizer, a trowel to dig a hole and everything else needed for a semi-comfortable sitting.
Problems arose when no one could find the kit. As an aside, when traveling as a group, each participant is responsible for carrying the same communal gear each day — that way, nothing gets lost. So, who had been carrying the kit for the entire trip?
A voice spoke up, “I’m supposed to have it, but it’s not in my bag.”
Someone else said, “I saw it by the fire ring this morning while we were getting ready to head out.”
Not too happy, I looked at my co-leader and told him, “One of us needs to hike back and get it while the other gets the group into camp.” I lost the coin toss, and prepared to head back to get the kit. Wanting to travel light, I hung my backpack up in a tree, grabbed a snack and a bottle of water and headed the four miles back to the previous night’s campsite.(more…)