Why “Leave No Trace”?

Many of us have taken a pine cone or rock, veered off the trail to dodge mud puddles, gotten too close to wildlife, or tossed an apple core into the woods. While these actions may seem harmless at the time, until we learn to reduce our impact, the quality of our outdoor experiences and the recreational resources we enjoy are at critical risk. Also at risk is our continued access to wildlands, [since] land management agencies sometimes take restrictive action to protect the resources they manage. Unless, of course, education catches up with behavior, and we all learn to leave the outdoors as unchanged as possible by our presence.

While these impacts are widespread and the causes are complex, the solution is simple: change behavior through education, research and partnerships one person at a time.

‘Leave No Trace’ is not a set of rules or regulations. Nor is it simply about remembering exactly what minimum impact skill you can practice in every outdoor situation – how far you should camp from water sources, where to pitch your tent, how to build a minimum impact fire, using no charcoal lighter fluid, or if you should build a fire in the first place. Rather, it is first and foremost a [fundamental] attitude and an [evidentially mandatory] ethic [that we should be teaching all of our children].

‘Leave No Trace’ is about respecting and caring for wildlands and doing your part to protect our limited resources and future recreation opportunities. Once this attitude is adopted and the outdoor ethic is sound, the specific skills and techniques become second nature.

Folks, those are not my words – except for the bracketed embellishments. Nevertheless, I heartily believe in them. They comprise the mission statement of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a non-profit advocacy and educational group headquartered in Boulder, Colorado.

The following is a list of The Center’s Principles of “Leave No Trace” when spending time in the outdoors.

  • 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 Other Visitors

There’s so much wrapped up in these principles. I hadn’t been aware of this organization until recently. And yet I’ve been practicing these principles – to a greater more than lesser degree – ever since I learned them from one of my high school teachers, an avid backpacker named Don Carre, a man whom I wish there could be 10,000 copies of.

As a matter of fact, one doesn’t have to spend time in a campground or natural oasis to practice Leave No Trace principles. It’s quite worthwhile to consider one’s impact when grilling on one’s backyard barbecue. Or driving on the highway. Or walking down the street.

Or tossing a cigarette.

How ethical are you outdoors?

How ethical are you outdoors?

It’s been said that cigarette smokers represent the largest segment of litterers on the planet. I challenge anyone to refute me on that statement with a sound, well-reasoned rebuttal.

Better yet…

I challenge everyone who reads this post to share it with 10 people (or 100) whom they think could stand to be educated about Leave No Trace principles. If those folks have already seen Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” (or the blog), that’ll make your convincing them a whole lot easier.

We still live on one finite planet. It’s the only planet we have. And each of us who lives upon it still has one definitive chance to make their mark by not leaving one.



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