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June 01, 2011 07:15 PM CDT

Leave No Trace

Author: Brian Kling. 962 Reads
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Editor's note: Geocaching is bringing more people than ever into woods, grasslands, and other off-trail areas. As geocaching continues to grow, we need to all be aware of the effect we have on natural areas. The following article is a synopsis collection of excerpts from "Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics" by the non-profit organization, Leave No Trace, Inc. Although the original article was not specifically written for geocachers, it contains many tips that each of us can and should apply when we hunt or place geocaches.


Wildland Ethics

"Ethical and moral questions and how we answer them may determine whether primal scenes will continue to be a source of joy and comfort to future generations. The decisions are ours and we have to search our minds and souls for the right answers..." "The real significance of wilderness is a cultural matter. It is far more than hunting, fishing, hiking, camping or canoeing; it has to do with the human spirit." Sigurd F. Olson

...and so we visit wild places to discover ourselves, to let our spirits run with the graceful canoe and journey through the beckoning forests. The wilderness is good for us. It enables us to discover who we really are, and to explore who we are really meant to be. It is the nature of wild places that gives us the space to slow the pace of our lives, to becalm the storms of everyday life, to gain perspective on the things we truly value.

Sigurd Olson needed wild places...they gave much to him, as they do to us-and, so, we should be eager to give back. Our favorite places-those whose forests have welcomed us, whose lakes have refreshed us, whose sunsets have inspired awe-are not ours alone. They are a treasured resource, there for the good of all who seek their own true spirit through solitude and adventure. But as we visit wild places, we leave signs of our passing-signs that speak of the need for taking better care of these lands, of recognizing the impacts that we create as we travel and camp, and of the need to develop a collective commitment to practices that aim to minimize the signs of our presence. We must personally develop, and foster among others, a wildland ethic that gives purpose to these practices.

This booklet is part of a national educational program called Leave No Trace, whose mission is to educate wildland visitors and land managers about minimum-impact camping. The principles and practices discussed here are meaningless as a set of rules and regulations. They must be based on an abiding respect for and appreciation of wild places and their inhabitants. They must be applied with a desire to protect wildlands, the places we venture to-seeking to refresh our spirit.

Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces
In the backcountry, the key to reducing impact is in confining activity to surfaces that are durable, or highly resistant to damage. Durability refers to a surface's tendency to resist impacts from trampling and camping activity. Examples of durable surfaces are exposed rock, sand, gravel, snow, leaf and pine litter.

Though most vegetation is not considered durable, dry grasses and sedges are reasonably resistant to impact because of their hardy root structures and flexible stems and they can withstand a limited amount of travel. Avoid damage to stems or branches of underlying plants when walking on thin snowpacks, and to aquatic vegetation when fishing, paddling in shallow water, and loading or unloading your canoe.

Stay on established hiking trails and paths leading from campsites to latrines, water sources, and boat landings. Hiking outside of these eventually creates excessively wide or multiple paths. Wear rubber boots or shoes that can get wet, gaiters for keeping mud out of your hiking boots, and stay on the trail, walking on exposed rocks or even in the mud. Don't cut switchbacks - it saves little time and causes gully formation and erosion.

Spread use when off-trail
Off-trail areas are seldom visited and show little signs of human use. When traveling on foot with no established path, terrain may be difficult, and vegetation thick. If your abilities and desires lead you beyond established trails, go only if you have knowledge of minimum impact practices and a commitment to Leave No Trace.

Keep your group size small. Apply your judgment to determine the minimum size when traveling off-trail, but for reasons of safety, four to six is a good number. Because of the difficulty of minimizing impacts, off-trail travel in large groups is not recommended.
To reduce your impact when traveling off-trail, adopt the following techniques:
• Walk on durable surfaces and spread out group members to disperse the effects of trampling. If durable surfaces aren't present, find an alternate route.
• Select routes that avoid fragile terrain such as steep, loose slopes, critical wildlife habitat, or any area where signs of your passage will invite others to follow.
• Avoid fragile features such as thin soils, lichen gardens, sphagnum moss mats, seedlings, and low-growing shrubs, dune, or beach ecosystems, beaver dams, riparian and wetland areas such as shorelines and stream banks - all very susceptible to the impacts from trampling and camping.
• Avoid areas of wet soils. Ground that is saturated year round - marshy or boggy areas - or muddy from heavy rains, is fragile.

Leave Natural Features Undisturbed
Picking flowers, leaves, berries, or plants may seem harmless, but the cumulative effect of many people doing so becomes quite damaging. We are never sure just how much "harvesting" has already been done. In high-use or easily accessed areas it is best to simply admire flowers and plants where and how you find them, and to take them home in photographs, drawings, and memories. In more remote areas, sampling a few berries or collecting a few leaves may be appropriate, but never do so where they are scarce or where other plants will be trampled in the process.

Natural objects of beauty or interest such as antlers, feathers, bones, or mineral crystals, should be left alone for others to discover and enjoy in place. In national parks and some other lands it is illegal to remove natural objects, or to do so without a permit.

Where latrines are provided, it is essential that we use them. High use levels and thin soils have dictated opting away from practices such as burial in individual "catholes." Though very useful in other settings such as backcountry, individually dug cat holes around designated campsites would likely result in an intolerable "mine field" of disposal sites.

Urine has little direct effect on vegetation or soils. Research indicates that urine poses little threat to human health. However, the odor of urine can create an aesthetic impact, and animals occasionally dig up and damage ground to get the salts contained in urine. Try to urinate on durable surfaces away from camps and water.

A Challenge: to Leave No Trace
We need wild places. We need to know about them, to experience them and understand the rhythms they follow. We need to contemplate our place within these wild lands, to discern what it is that draws us there. We need to carry with us an ethic that recognizes the value of wild places, and acknowledges our responsibility to treat them with respect, and apply good judgment as we visit and travel within them. We need to care for wild places as if they were our homes...for in many ways, they are. We need to act, within ourselves and as examples for others, in a way that Leaves No Trace of our passing. To do this is good for us, it's good for those who will surely follow, and it's good for the wild places, wherever they may be found.


Copyright February, 2000
National Outdoor Leadership School

Copyright © by Wisconsin Geocaching Association
All Right Reserved.

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