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If you frequently spend time camping, hiking, fishing, or otherwise enjoying the outdoors, you will have likely heard the saying “Leave No Trace” -- and if not, you need to learn it right away. This phrase, accompanied by seven principles, is often attributed to the Boy Scouts of America and the Cub Scouts but it applies to anyone that is a lover of the outdoors. It refers to the fact that nature is precious and delicate; and we are its stewards who need to make sure it survives into the future.
1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
Plan your trips to the outdoors. Avoid permanently marking rocks, trees, or other wildlife - bring a compass, map, or reliable GPS so you are able to easily navigate. Prepare for possible emergencies and poor weather ahead of time. If possible, plan to travel with small groups to diminish disruption to wildlife. Bring food packaged in reusable packaging or no packaging at all. Do not litter. You need to plan to bring any garbage you produce out of the wilderness with you, where you can properly dispose of it. That might mean planning ahead and remembering to bring trash bags.
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
When choosing a campsite, choose a site that is durable or already created. Designated trails or campsites are ideal. If one is not available, choose an area with minimal vegetation that does not need to be altered, such as rock, gravel, or a clearing. Altering vegetation or wildlife to create a campsite does not align with the principles of “leave no trace.” Plus, camping in the thick brush makes you a more likely target for predators and nasty insects.
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
Whatever you bring into the wilderness with you, bring it out. That means everything. Leave no trace cooking often involves fresh produce that does not require packaging, or canned goods that allow the can to be recycled at a later time. Bury human waste at least 6 inches in the ground. And yes, you need to pack out used toilet paper and feminine hygiene products, to be disposed of outside of the campsite. These are incredibly damaging to nature, as they take an extremely long time -- if ever -- to degrade.
4. Leave What You Find
Admire the nature, wildlife, and other artifacts in your surroundings, but do not disturb, touch, or remove them. Avoid building structures or things that cannot be easily dismantled without a trace. This fourth principle is a great way to introduce leave no trace to kids - children understand how to leave things as they were, and can appreciate helping their environments. Never introduce any non-native or invasive species to your surroundings. Be very careful about the types and origins of the firewood you carry, as it is notorious for harboring invasive insects.
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
Utilize electric or LED lanterns when possible. For campfires, use only sticks that are small enough to be broken by hand. Extinguish fires completely and watch smoldering embers for several minutes after extinguishing with water. Wildfires can decimate huge areas of land and harm countless species, not to mention threaten the safety of every single person in your camp. You can also be held financially and criminally liable for a fire that you cause, so always treat your campfire with the utmost respect and safety.
6. Respect Wildlife
By all means, appreciate the beauty of wildlife... from a distance. Never approach wild animals. Do not feed animals - this can damage their health and relationship with their environments. Store your food properly and securely - where bears are common, store in a tree sack. Be careful of pets and keep them leashed and controlled at all times. Remember, this is their house, and we're just visiting. Animals can and do attack human campers, particularly when food safety guidelines are not being followed.
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
If you're in a shared campsite scenario, allow others to have the same tranquil, quality experience that you wish to enjoy. Camp well away from other visitors and allow them to experience nature in a respectful way. Keep voices to a minimum. Yield to others when on trails and pick up after yourselves and pets. Avoid playing loud music on bluetooth speakers or being on your smartphone constantly, as these are exactly the types of things that most people trek into nature to leave behind for a while.
When appreciating the outdoors, honor these principles and teach them to others. Your enjoyment of the environment can last for generations and protect wildlife if we all follow these seven principles -- but the consequences of cavalier disregard for nature can be dire for both you and our ecosystem alike. Treat the wilderness with respect, or there may not be much wilderness at all in future generations.