Leave No Trace
by Arthur Kuehne
In the early days of Sierra Club outings, the Club used to take hundreds of people at a time into the high country of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Over the last 100 years or so, we have learned a thing or two about how to minimize our impact on the wild places that we love. Today, a sophisticated set of outdoor ethical principles known as Leave No Trace goes beyond yesterday’s simple message of “pack it in, pack it out” and “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”.
The Leave No Trace principles have been developed over many years by leading experts in backcountry ethics. In 1994, representatives from the National Outdoor Leadership School, the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, and others met and formed the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and inspiring responsible outdoor recreation through education, research and partnerships. Sierra Club is a Leave No Trace partner and has worked for years to promote the responsible use of our wildlands.
Here is a brief outline of the seven Leave No Trace principles:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
- Visit in small groups. Split larger parties into groups of 4-6.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
- Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
In popular areas:
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
- Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
In pristine areas:
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
- Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.
Leave What You Find
- Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
- Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
- Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
- Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
- Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises
The Dallas Sierra Club has its own rules that incorporate the Leave No Trace principles but that go a bit further in a couple of cases. For instance, we do not allow pets on any outing (except for a few dog-specific day hikes), and we generally don’t allow campfires on any of our backpacking trips.
If you would like to learn more about the Leave No Trace principles, I encourage you to explore their website at www.lnt.org. You will find detailed discussions of each of the seven principles listed above, as well as training courses, educational literature and reference material.