The 7 Leave No Trace Principles: How to Respect and Protect Nature

Pelican Flyer  |  June 27, 2020

Most people who have gone camping or spent any time in the outdoors have probably heard the phrase “leave no trace.” This concept traces its roots back to the 1960s when a boom in wildland recreation led to overcrowding and ecological damage. It embodies the principle that one should leave the wilds exactly as they found it, with no exceptions. At its core, “leave no trace” means allowing nature to be as it is with minimal impact or intervention from the people who enjoy it.

While this view is widely accepted by everyone from conservationists to casual outdoor adventurers, many people don’t realize that it’s actually made up of seven specific tenets. Those tenets were spurred by a pamphlet created in a coalition between the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service. The seven principles are:

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Planning ahead involves researching weather and conditions before you go and understanding all the rules and regulations in place. When people are presented with unexpected situations, they turn to damaging solutions that disrupt the landscape. You need to pack up your cooler backpack with the proper amount of food and water before you go and ensure that you bring ALL survival essentials — shelter and fire included.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

One of the biggest concerns among parks organizations throughout the country is the degradation of natural landscapes caused by trampling and camping on top of sensitive vegetation. Going off-trail can lead to the deterioration of crucial plants, animals and ecosystems essential for wildlife to thrive. As a general rule of thumb, always camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.

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3. Dispose of Waste Properly

We all know that litter is a hazard for wildlife, causing everything from polluted waterways to injured animals. On top of that, improper waste disposal can draw hungry predators, including bears, to recreation areas. What you take in, you must take out, including all garbage. Applying this principle also means disposing of human waste properly — yes, toilet paper is litter!

4. Leave What You Find

Make sure to pack some solid gear in your camera case because photos (and memories) are the only thing you should take out of nature. Each individual parks system has its own rules and regulations regarding this topic, but by and large, you should leave what you find. Don’t remove any plants, fossils, sticks, leaves or even stones from the parks. Treat the woods like you treat the masterpieces in art museums — look but don’t touch!

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

You know from Smokey Bear that forest fire prevention is on you and only you! Keep Smokey in mind as you build campfires in the woods. Follow the tenets of low-impact campfire-building, which means using established firepits (ideally, the rings provided by parks and campgrounds). Keeping fires reasonably small, properly extinguishing flames and wearing a headlamp when building your fire for better visibility can reduce accidents. We don’t have to explain the devastation that forest fires can cause, especially in drought regions, so be sure to take this principle seriously.

6. Respect Wildlife

Respecting wild animals doesn’t just mean enjoying them from a distance (though that is important, too). It also means understanding that you are in their home and you should act like a guest. Staying out of all wildlife habitats is important at all times, but especially during seasons of mating and nesting. Respecting wildlife also means never feeding wild animals and properly disposing of food waste so you don’t attract animals to your site.

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

As people used to the high stimulation of normal life, we turn to the wilds for peace, solitude and time to reflect. Always be considerate of your fellow nature explorers, keeping noises and distractions to a minimum. Being considerate also means sharing the trail, keeping your dog on a leash and not using any bright or distracting camping equipment that could take away from the natural beauty of the place.

A Good Guideline for Ethical Outdoor Enjoyment

In order for humanity to enjoy the outdoors, a cost must be paid. Unfortunately, there is no way to completely eliminate human impact on natural lands, but we should all strive to do our best to lessen it. Memorizing the Seven Principles of “Leave No Trace” is a great way to ensure that you do your best when you’re soaking up the fresh air and natural splendor of the woods, mountains or desert.

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