What is “Leave No Trace” (LNT) and Why Should I Care?

By July 18, 2016Uncategorized

Lets use our imagination for a bit. Pretend you can go anywhere you like and do anything you want. What comes to mind? Personally I see mountain-bike trails galore. Maybe some of you envisioned Jeeping through a National Park, or lighting a massive bonfire in the middle of a lake. Now imagine how I, an avid hiker, would feel about you tearing by in a Jeep on a wilderness trail? Or how people swimming in a lake would feel if it was on fire?

This is why we created Leave No Trace (LNT). It’s a set of ethical guides to help us evaluate what is acceptable outdoors. It’s considered best practice. When unsure, fall back on LNT. The goal is not to restrict use or enjoyment, but to protect the right of the land and life to be.

Wait, what? First of all, if you abide by LNT you must accept that ethics extend beyond humans. Ecosystems do have a right to be undisturbed if that interruption would cause harm. Just like you and me. So living and non-living things have a basic right to exist – for themselves and their benefit to their community.

Alright, now that’s understood. But sometimes we’re unsure if our interruptions are harmful. Is it so bad to take a cut-off on a trail? Or throw apple cores out the window? Ethics are so sticky and circumstantial. Someone had to draw a hard line. And that’s exactly what LNT does.

LNT Guidelines

  • Sketch of camera and Polaroids showing wildflowers, rock carins, and footprints.1. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints

Leave it as you found it – so others can enjoy it. Besides, rocks look prettier outside than dusty on our shelves.sketch of backpack with gear: sunscreen, waterbottle, map, first aid kit, boots, and flashlight.

  • 2.  Plan ahead

Know the rules and regulations of places you visit. Go in smaller groups at times of low use/popularity. Be prepared for emergencies, and use a map/GPS over marking your trail.

sketch of dog and it's poop

  • 3. Pack it in, pack it out

Everything you take with you should return with you. This includes waste (human too, if you’re able).

Sketch of woman walking on a boardwalk with her child.

  • 4. Stay on durable surfaces

Walk and camp on areas that won’t be seriously affected by your presence. Good examples – rock, plain dirt, gravel, sand. Bad examples – vegetated areas, wet/marshy, places with signs of destructive recurrent impact.sketch of woman blowing onto a small pan fire

  • 5. Tame that pyromaniac 

Small fires are responsible. Result: less fuel, impact, smoke, and possibility of sparking a wildfire. Put out fires completely. For cooking: a good rule of thumb – don’t burn branches you can’t break yourself. Use fire-rings or fire-pans whenever possible. Don’t build fires in sensitive areas.sketch of man holding trail-bar away from squirrel

  • 6. The Golden Rule

We dislike when animals approach us. I imagine they feel the same way. Give wildlife space (for your safety too). Don’t feed, touch, or agitate them. Same goes for fellow humans. It makes for all-around happy campers!

Why should this apply to you, or me for that matter? Imagination time again.

Say we visit Yosemite National Park in peak wildflower season. The flowers are splendorous. There’s a lily that would look so good in a vase back at camp. You pick it. No harm done? The flower would die soon anyhow. But a family watches and becomes inspired. So they pick a bouquet. More join… before we know it the meadow has been harvested (and trampled). Aside from this being a huge bummer for wildflower seekers, we’ve also removed pollinators primary food source! Bees, butterflies, moths, and humming birds are out of luck here. What’s more, none of these flowers will go to seed. Who knows when the meadow will recover it’s wildflowers. Or if an invasive plant may take-over without the original native ground cover claiming the land.

Garret Hardin wrote a piece about something called the Tragedy of the Commons. He believed that publicly available resources (like air, water, soil, and plants – or common resources) are being exhausted, polluted, and disregarded in an alarming way.  He reasons this is because people do not take responsibility or ownership in these globally available systems. Therefore we assume that we can use them however we choose because our impact as one small human is insignificant. But he points out how everyone believes this… therefore everyone does it. Hence air pollution, trash on the highway, and a wildflower-less meadow.

People who practice LNT do so because they know that their actions are impactful. They believe in an ethic that encompasses the land and it’s ecosystems. They respect land, wish to preserve it – for themselves, future generations, the life that calls these areas home, and the basic right of the land to be as it is.

When you leave, it should be as if you were never there.