Outdoor Ethics: Tread Lightly and Leave No Trace

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Do you love being in nature and take every chance you can get to get out there hiking and camping? If so you are a very lucky person because in this country we have a huge amount of beautiful country to go and explore. But we are in a real danger of loving it to death. With so many of us out there, damage is inevitable. I’m not just talking about the thoughtless jerks who tear up the land and leave garbage everywhere. No, even those of us who genuinely love and revere the Sacred Mother Earth can unwittingly  damage our beloved Earth without even knowing it.

Two groups have written a set of ethical rules to govern us as we get out into nature. I am duplicating them here and I urge you to read them and live them like your life depended on it. As Chief Seattle said in his famous speech, everything we do to the earth, we do to ourselves, for we are part of the earth and everything we have and need comes from the earth.

Leave No Trace:
Leave No Trace is an organization that is primarily oriented toward hikers and backpackers. But their rules and principles can be adapted to any outdoor activity. Here are the seven simple rules, and then a more detailed explanation:

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

4. Leave What You Find

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

6. Respect Wildlife

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Poorly prepared people, when presented with unexpected situations, often resort to high-impact solutions that degrade the outdoors or put themselves at risk. Poor planning can result in improperly located campsites because groups failed to plan enough time to reach their intended destination, or improper campfires or excessive trash because of failure to plan meals or bring proper equipment.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Damage to land occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond repair. The resulting barren area leads to unusable trails and campsites and soil erosion.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Though most trash and litter in the back country is not significant in terms of the long term ecological health of an area, it does rank high as a problem in the minds of many backcountry visitors. Trash and litter are primarily social impacts which can greatly detract from the naturalness of an area. Thus, Leave No Trace recommends that trash and litter should be packed out. Further, backcountry users create body waste and waste water which requires proper disposal according to Leave No Trace. A cat-hole may be dug with a trowel.
  4. Leave What You Find: Leaving rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects as found will allow others a sense of discovery. Similarly, Leave No Trace directs people to minimize site alterations, such as digging tent trenches, hammering nails into trees, and permanently clearing an area of rocks or twigs.
  5. Minimize Use and Impact of Fire: Leave No Trace encourages people to use lightweight camp stoves, instead of fires, because the naturalness of many areas has been degraded by overuse of fires and the increasing demand for firewood. If a campfire is constructed, Leave No Trace suggests using an existing fire ring in a well-placed campsite or to use a fire pan or mound fire. True Leave No Trace fires show no evidence of having ever been constructed.
  6. Respect Wildlife: If enough people approach or interfere with wildlife, it can be disruptive to animal populations.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Following hiking etiquette and maintaining quiet allows visitors to go through the wilderness with minimal impact on other users.
    • In high-use areas, Leave No Trace suggests that people concentrate activity, which makes further damage unlikely.
    • In areas of very little or no use, Leave No Trace encourages people to spread out. Taking different paths when hiking off-trail will avoid creating new trails that cause erosion. Dispersing tents and equipment and moving camp daily will avoid creating permanent-looking camp sites.
    • Waste water: Avoiding soap and dispersing dishwater far away from natural water sources will prevent contamination.
    • Human waste: Proper human waste disposal prevents spread of disease, exposure to others, and speeds decomposition. Catholes, 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet from water, are often the easiest and most practical way to dispose of feces.

Tread Lightly:  http://www.treadlightly.org/ Tread Lightly is an organization dedicated to making off-road motorized recreation environmentally responsible. There is nothing wrong with taking a Jeep, SUV, or ATV into the backcountry as long as it is done responsibly with minimum impact on the Earth. Here are the rules:

1). TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY
Travel responsibly on designated roads, trails or areas.

  • Travel only in areas open to four-wheel drive vehicles.
  • For your safety, travel straight up or down hills.
  • Drive over, not around obstacles to avoid widening the trail.
  • Straddle ruts, gullies, and washouts even if they are wider than your vehicle.
  • Cross streams only at designated fording points, where the road crosses the streams.
  • When possible, avoid mud. In soft terrain, go easy on the gas to avoid wheel spin, which can cause rutting.
  • Don’t turn around on narrow roads, steep terrain, or unstable ground. Back up until you find a safe place to turn around. Stop frequently and scout ahead on foot. To help with traction, balance your load and lower tire pressure to where you see a bulge (typically not less than 20 pounds).
  • Know where the differential or the lowest point on your vehicle is. This will help in negotiating terrain and prevent vehicle damage resulting in oil and fluid spills on the trail.
  • Maintain a reasonable distance between vehicles.
  • Comply with all signs and respect barriers.
  • Travel with a group of two or more vehicles. Driving solo can leave you vulnerable if you have an accident or breakdown. Designate meeting areas in case of separation.
  • Choose the appropriate winch for your vehicle size.
  • Attach towing cable, tree strap, or chain as low as possible to the object being winched. Let the winch do the work; never drive the winch.
  • When winching always inspect your equipment, use the right winch for the situation, find a good secure anchor, and never winch with less than five wraps of wire rope around the drum.
  • When using a tree as an anchor, use a wide tree strap to avoid damaging the trunk of the tree.
  • Don’t mix driving with alcohol or drugs.

2). RESPECT THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS
Respect the rights of others, including private property owners, all recreational trail users, campers, and others so they can enjoy their recreational activities undisturbed.

  • Be considerate of others on the road or trail.
  • Leave gates as you find them. If crossing private property, be sure to ask permission from the landowner(s).
  • Yield the right of way to those passing you traveling uphill. Yield to mountain bikers, hikers, and horses.
  • When encountering horses on the trail, move to the side of the trail, stop, turn off your engine, and speak—you want the horse to know you are human. Ask the rider the best way to proceed.
  • Proceed with caution around horses and pack animals. Sudden, unfamiliar activity may spook animals—possibly causing injury to animals, handlers, and others on the trail.
  • Do not idly ride around in camping, picnicking, trailhead, or residential areas.
  • Keep speeds low around crowds and in camping areas.
  • Keep the noise and dust down.

3). EDUCATE YOURSELF
Educate yourself prior to your trip by obtaining travel maps and regulations from public agencies, planning for your trip, taking recreation skills classes, and knowing how to operate your equipment safely.

  • Obtain a map—motor vehicle use map where appropriate—of your destination and determine which areas are open to off-highway vehicles.
  • Make a realistic plan and stick to it. Always tell someone of your travel plans.
  • Contact the land manager for area restrictions, closures, and permit requirements.
  • Check the weather forecast before you go. Prepare for the unexpected by packing necessary emergency items.
  • Buckle-up! Seat belts are mandatory. Know your limitations. Watch your time, your fuel, and your energy.
  • Take an off-highway drivers course to learn more about negotiating terrain in a four-wheel drive vehicle.
  • Make sure your vehicle is mechanically up to task. Be prepared with tools, supplies, spares, and a spill kit for trailside repairs.

4). AVOID SENSITIVE AREAS
Avoid sensitive areas such as meadows, lakeshores, wetlands, and streams. Stay on designated routes.

  • Other sensitive habitats to avoid include living desert soils, tundra, and seasonal nesting or breeding areas.
  • Do not disturb historical, archaeological, or paleontological sites.
  • Avoid “spooking” livestock and wildlife you encounter and keep your distance.
  • Motorized and mechanized vehicles are not allowed in designated Wilderness Areas.

5). DO YOUR PART
Do your part by modeling appropriate behavior, leaving the area better than you found it, properly disposing of waste, minimizing the use of fire, avoiding the spread of invasive species, and restoring degraded areas.

  • Carry a trash bag on your vehicle and pick up litter left by others.
  • Pack out what you pack in. Practice minimum impact camping by using established site and camping 200 feet from water resources and trails.
  • Observe proper sanitary waste disposal or pack your waste out.
  • Protect the soundscape by preventing unnecessary noise created by a poorly tuned vehicle or revving your engine.
  • Before and after a ride, wash your vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species.
  • Build a trail community. Get to know other types of recreationists that share your favorite trail.
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