Flashback Blog: Leave No Trace

This week’s Flashback Blog was written in 2017 by Julia B., a Bass and Bucktails alumni. Julia graduated in 2021 from Lehigh University with a BS in Earth & Environmental Sciences as well as a BS in Biological Sciences. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Calgary. Throughout this throwback blog, Julia also highlights the steps that one must take if you are to follow the guidelines for Leave No Trace.

There are few things as wonderful as enjoying the outdoors, but in order to maintain our planet’s natural wonders for future outdoors men and women need to practice sustainable outdoor recreation.  The seven principles of Leave No Trace can help to preserve the wildlife that we enjoy.  It might seem difficult to completely eliminate human-made impacts on the environment, but by leaving wild places in as similar of a condition to when we found them as possible, we can protect the outdoors for generations to come.

The first step is simple: planning ahead.  By carrying a detailed map and being prepared, you can reduce the chance that you will need to go off the trail.  It is also important to be prepared to carry any trash out with you by perhaps bringing a bag to hold your trash in your pack.  You can also reduce your impact by traveling in small groups and planning trips for when the area you plan to visit is not busy.

The second rule requires that adventurers only travel and camp on durable surfaces.  By keeping your physical footprint to a minimum, healthy wildlife is preserved in all its beauty.  Avoid camping within 200 feet of lakes and streams to protect riparian areas.  Try to walk single file in the center of trails, even if it’s muddy.  In general, don’t make your own trails or campsites if you can avoid it, and try to walk and camp on gravel, rock, dry grass, or snow.

Next, the principles require that people dispose of their waste properly.  The phrase, “pack it in, pack it out,” explains that no food or trash should be left behind when you leave an area.  When washing dishes or bathing, move more than 200 feet from lakes or streams and use very small quantities of biodegradable soap.  Moreover, strain and scatter dishwater to prevent the introduction of foods to the area that may not be good for native animals.

The rule, “Leave What You Find,” explains that neither organic materials, like plants and animals nor inorganic materials, like rocks or water, should be taken from wild areas.  One reason for this rule is to avoid introducing or transporting non-native and potentially invasive species, but additionally, people who come after you should be able to see everything that you enjoyed when you visited the natural area. Photography can be a great alternative to taking souvenirs!

The following rule asks visitors to minimize the impacts of their campfires by following any rules for fires in the area and respecting burn bans.  If you don’t need to light a fire, don’t light a fire.  If you must, you should use existing fire rings and keep fires small.  A good way to keep your fire the correct, safe size is to use only sticks from the ground that are small enough to be broken by hand.  Campfires can be extremely destructive, so be careful to put out fires completely and scatter the cool ashes when you’re done.

The last two rules ask that visitors respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors.  Do not approach, feed, or follow wildlife.  Store your food and trash carefully to prevent animals from finding and eating it.  Control any pets you bring with you and avoid making loud noises that affect both wildlife and other visitors negatively.  To the best of your ability, allow your fellow visitors to appreciate the natural sights and sounds.

Many of the rules are simply common sense to a conscientious outdoors man or woman.  Wildlife should be left just as you found it.  The phrase, “Leave only footprints; take only pictures,” nicely sums up the rules of Leave No Trace, as long as your footprints stay on the trails!