We’ve all been taught not to litter. At least in the United States there have been several major public initiatives to counter the onslaught of littering along road ways. And while many folks will never litter, there are some who’s lack of respect for their world and fellow residents causes them to just not give a damn and throw trash all over the place.
In 2009 there were over 51 billion pieces of trash thrown beside US byways. We spent nearly $11.5 billion in clean up initiatives. If you’d like the gory details, check out the 2009 National Visible Litter Survey… I’ve not taken the time to look for more current statistics, but you can imagine they’ve grown.
While littering along roads is bad, it’s contained geographically enough for society to at least attempt a clean up. The impact that littering would have on America’s back country, parks, and wildlife would be far greater.
If you’ve been involved with experienced campers or hikers you’re probably familiar with the concept of Leave No Trace, or at the least the idea of Pack It In, Pack It Out. These concepts became necessary during the post World War II era.
Prior to WWII American the outdoors man focused on woodsman ship and conservation. We didn’t have access to the plethora of man-made materials that we do today. Packed lunches were wrapped in paper, packs were made of cloth or leathers which would decompose somewhat naturally if left on the land, and anything else was constructed from the resources found in nature.
After the war ended and the strange reintegration of society had finally completed, families became one again, expanded most often, and “benefited” from the excess materials produced by the war time manufacturing machine. Nylon, Rayon and other man-made materials began appearing in consumer products. Plastics soon eased the work load of housewives everywhere packing lunches and weekend pick-nicks.
Americans also began rediscovering an affinity for the outdoors. But unlike their fathers, these Americans trudged out into the wild bringing the trappings of the modern age. Items so foreign to the natural world that nature literally doesn’t know what to do with them.
The onslaught of litter that followed raised the ire of many a conservationist. Soon individuals began teaching new principles of conservation. The idea was simple, since the material being brought in couldn’t be handled by nature, you must carry out what you brought in.
My first introduction to the idea of pack in, pack out, was during my teen years as I started mountain biking. The MTB community is incredibly conservation minded. It appeared to me, at the time thinking in very black and white, to be a strange juxtaposition. Here were folks bringing destructive bicycles into nature, riding them at great speed on trails sometimes barely wide enough to walk down, yet if you were seen littering you’d vary likely be taunted and driven out of the woods by pure peer pressure.
What I leaned from that community of bikers was, nature is meant to be enjoyed but fearlessly protected. Yes the bikes would erode the trails fast, but the bikers would rebuild the trails. Yes the temptation was there to take your bike off through the woods, off the trails, but you just didn’t; you stayed on the trails to protect those inviting woods. And you sure as hell packed out everything you brought in, period.
Today, the need to pack out what we pack in is still important, perhaps more so than ever before. Fortunately, there are concerted education efforts on going by many organizations which teach adults and children alike how to enjoy nature while keeping it safe.
The Leave No Trace campaign, is probably the best known public outreach offering guidance and courses on conservation and principles for leaving a light foot print on nature.
Their seven principles are what I try to follow and think you should as well.
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 when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
- 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.
– See more at: http://lnt.org/learn/7-principles#sthash.l4cemn0r.dpuf
The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org