The Importance of the “Leave No Trace” Ideals

by Molly O'Brien on January 19, 2018

The idea to “Leave no Trace” (LNT) when you’re out in the wilderness is a simple concept. It’s a set of official outdoor ethics that teach us as guests on natural land how to treat it properly and conserve it for the future. The intention is to respect the environment as you would if you tried to show someone proper manners or respect a house’s rules. LNT is the entire outdoor world’s set of rules to have respect and good manners for Mother Nature.

If you’re in a museum you’re not going to go around purposely disturbing all of the artifacts. In reality, the outdoors is our world’s oldest history museum. It has been telling us stories for centuries about our past on this Earth, and we cannot damage what has been here long before our existence. This is where the “Leave No Trace” ideals come into play.

In order to keep the natural world as amazing as it is at this present moment, we must respect it and treat it the way we would want our own personal property to be treated. While some principles may seem obvious, there are others we may fail to realize we’re accidentally breaking when we are out on an activities as simple as a day hike.

These are seven official principles of Leave No Trace, taken from from the website of “Leave No trace, a Center For Outdoor Ethics” that we should remember every time we enjoy an adventure outdoors.

Plan ahead and prepare

Know the specific rules and regulations of the area you’ll be visiting, and consider traveling in smaller groups to avoid making a disturbing amount of noise. It‘s also beneficial to the land to move your tent to a new spot every night as this saves the grass from suffocating and dying.

Dispose of all waste properly (Pack it in. Pack it out.)

It may seem obvious not to litter, but trash as seemingly innocent as an orange peel, or the corner of wrapper from your Nature Valley bar will add up fast if every group doesn’t take proper care to dispose of their waste. When nature calls, try to stay at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Make sure to pack out your toilet paper and hygiene products. The 200 feet rule holds true for dishwashing as well, as those scents and chemicals in soaps can harm the plants and animals who rely on the water.

Respect wildlife

Observe the animals from a distance, and never try to feed them your own food. Feeding animals will alter their behavior and make them increasingly susceptible to predators. It could also negatively affect their health (bears aren’t supposed to eat Nature Valley bars…). Likewise, store your food and trash properly to avoid trouble with curious wildlife. Keep in mind to respect the mating, hunting, and nesting of animals, and never come between a mother and her young. That would end badly for you.

Leave what you find

This one is challenging when there are so many beautiful shells on the beach just asking to be collected, and so many nice smelling flowers in the meadow just waiting to be plucked and taken home. Even taking sand from a beach is not allowed. Leaving everything the way you found it is crucial for preserving the past and to keep nature thriving.

Minimize your impact

Campfires for example, can cause lasting damage on an environment if you’re not careful about using a proper fire ring or mound. Make sure to keep fires on the smaller side and under control and remember put a fire out completely before going to sleep. Tread lightly and don’t purposely cause damage to any rocks, trees, or brush.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces (Don’t take shortcuts)

A “durable surface” is one which has been clearly established as somewhere that you can be, for instance a cleared flat space with a fire ring. Make sure to try to stay on the trail, as well as keep your dog/pets on the trail. There are good reasons that designated trails exist and they’re oftentimes maintained by trail workers to stay as clear as they are. Trudging through unmarked territory can be dangerous for both you and for the environment, poison oak is not your friend.

Be courteous to other visitors, as well.

Small gestures like yielding to others on trails and trying to avoid creating loud noises as well as loud music, (the birds do not enjoy Beyonce as much as your hiking crew does) will give everyone in the area the opportunity to experience all of the powerful senses of nature in full glory.

By respecting the land, the animals, and each other, we can continue to enjoy the environment as it should be: beautiful, natural and wild.

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