You’ve heard of Leave No Trace and may be able to list a few of the principles. But do you know why it is so important to leave nature as close to the way you found it as possible? And how can you minimize your impact on the outdoors?
Pristine wilderness is priceless and finite. Our impact as humans reaches down to the microscopic level in nature, and the seven principles help us realize and reduce this impact.
Patrick Auger, Board Chair of Leave No Trace Canada, says the principles are not a set of rules and regulations and shouldn’t discourage people from spending time outdoors and enjoying nature.
Rather, the principles are common sense guidelines based on science and ongoing research and are intended to help protect these beautiful areas. Often, they simply highlight things we wouldn’t give a second thought to.
For example, I’ve never questioned a dip in a lake after a sweaty hike. But Patrick says any bug spray or sunscreen we’ve applied to our skin contaminates the water, affecting the life it contains and sustains. He advises that if you want to cool off, first rinse or wipe yourself off away from the water before enjoying a dip. And avoid using soap, biodegradable or not.
The seven principles help us be conscious of what we bring and do in nature. Besides, many of these principles are as much about maximizing your outdoor experience as they are about protecting what you set out to experience.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Well-planned meals and taking weather, terrain and other factors into consideration when packing can mean the difference between a miserable experience and damaged environment, and a memory for the books. Bust out a map, look up the forecast, research trail reports and pack enough essentials so you are ready for whatever nature throws at you. Know where park and private land boundaries are, travel in appropriate sized groups, and know the what the area’s restrictions or bans on fires are.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Staying on the trail is crucial, especially in fragile, intricate and harsh environments. If you must travel off trail for whatever reason, try walking on durable surfaces and limit traffic in any one area. Delicate plants and riparian areas are very susceptible to trampling damage, for example. Rock, sand, gravel and snow are considered durable surfaces.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
There is nothing worse than finding streamers of soggy toilet paper strewn in a corner of the wilderness, giving you the uncomfortable realization that a pile of human waste is also nearby. Think like a cat: the best way to dispose of your waste is to dig a hole and disguise it when you are finished. Pack out sanitary products and diapers and urinate on gravel or needles.
4. Leave What You Find
Your hand might itch to pick that dazzling meadow flower or stow a fossil in your hip pocket, but the only souvenirs you should take from an outdoor experience are photos, memories and fresh air flowing through your veins. Don’t put nails into trees, dig holes (other than for waste) or remove cultural artifacts, and in general leave an area the way you find it.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
Patrick says that while having a campfire is strongly associated with a hiking or camping experience and isn’t exactly a no-no, trees cut for firewood and charred rocks minimize the natural beauty of an area. Plus, having fires can be extremely dangerous in certain circumstances. Wildfires are easily and inadvertently caused by fires that spread into tree roots or get out of hand during dry weather. Learn different ways to build fires, campfire safety and responsible wood harvest to best minimize your impact!
6. Respect Wildlife
Remember that the outdoors is home for wildlife, so if you encounter a wild animal, be discreet. Keep your distance and be quiet so they aren’t spooked. Don’t feed them, store food and garbage out of their reach, and never attempt to touch a wild animal. The best thing to do if you notice an animal that seems hurt or abandoned is to notify appropriate authority.
7. Be Considerate of Others
Everyone is out there to enjoy nature, and many of us get outside seeking solitude and wildness. This feeling is easily ruined when sharing the trail with others. Patrick recalls summiting a mountain in Quebec and meeting a group of people flying a drone. Drones are a lot noisier than you think, says Patrick, and not only take away from the tranquility for others at the summit, but they also disturb and can scare wildlife.
In general, if you try to minimize your impact in and on nature, you’re well on your way to being a responsible and considerate outdoorsperson, leaving the wild unsullied.
Check out the Leave No Trace Canada website for more information.
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