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12 Biggest Impacts Outdoor Enthusiasts May Not Realize They’re Making

By: Kayla “Clover” McKinney.

Any outdoor enthusiast, whether you’re a extreme high alpine climber or simply love hiking through your local trails, acquires a set of ethics in the way they behave and experience the outdoors. It is important to be a steward of the environment for the health of the wilderness, yourself and for the future of the flora, fauna and natural features. As outdoor enthusiasts, we have the responsibility to be stewards of the wilderness by not making a negative impact.

While this all sounds nice and obvious, it can be somewhat idealist. The thing is, you may consider yourself a conscious steward of the environment, but may be making negative impacts in ways you did not realize.

You’ve likely heard the Center for Outdoor Ethics’ Leave No Trace Seven Principles. You likely even consider yourself pretty versed on how to be a conscious outdoor enthusiast. Perhaps not the best, but you’re certainly not the worst. However, there are many elaborations of the seven principles that, in my opinion, are too often overlooked. Here’s a list of what I consider the 12 biggest impacts that outdoor enthusiasts may not be aware that they’re making:

1. LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND.

Is this rock more beautiful here or in a shoe box in your room? Seriously, please leave what you find. Part of what makes that rock/flower/leaf/whatever so alluring is the fact that you found it in a beautiful place. You should allow for others to enjoy whatever it is that you found. And if you would like to take a memento for sentimental purposes, please just take a photograph instead.

 2. GOOD CAMPSITES ARE FOUND, NOT MADE.

Part of planning ahead and preparing is to find pre-established camping sites for the night. Avoid creating (destroying) a new campsite when there’s a pre-established one a few miles ahead. Also, the site is probably better anyway. However, if you are in a bind and cannot find an established campsite, then CHOOSE A PRISTINE CAMPSITE OVER A SEMI-IMPACTED SITE. This seems counter-intuitive to many people. However, it is better to camp at a pristine (untouched) site than one that is more eroded (semi-impacted) because the pristine campsite has a better chance of maintaining its condition as an unaltered site. A semi-impacted site that is used will quickly transition into an impacted site.

 3. DON’T FEED THE SQUIRRELS.

This goes for any animal.I know they’re cute and want your attention, but it is really harmful for the animal if you feed it people food. It also encourages wildlife to interact more with humans, which can cause more problems and potentially domesticate the animals in a way that makes their lives in the wild more dependent on humans.cathole

4. PLEASE ACTUALLY BURY YOUR POOP 5-6 INCHES.

Human poop is a lot different from wild animal poop. Consider the differences in our diets. Our poop can be toxic to wildlife, in addition it is unsightly and gross. If you’re in rocky terrain then either pack out your poop or use the hole created by a large rock and place the rock over top of it.

5. AVOID SOCIAL TRAILS.

Social trails are trails created by repeatedly walking the same path over and over again, particularly with multiple people. Scatter yourselves and go different paths to your tent, kitchen, etc. to avoid eroding the land.

6. MAKE AND MAINTAIN CONSCIOUS FIRES.

Fire pits aren’t trash cans. Too often have we walked by a fire pit littered with beer cans and food wrappers. Also, create a fire that suits your needs for the night. It is really not necessary to burn an entire tree just to hang out by the fire for the evening. It is also essential to make sure the fire is completely out before you leave it. This means throwing dirt over it and water, and making sure all embers are put out.

KNOTS or Not Scout Cartoon - Leave No Trace Bonfire

7. DON’T GET TOO CLOSE TO WILDLIFE.

If you hold your thumb between you and the animal and it completely disappears, then you’re at a good distance. If your thumb is not obscuring the animal, then you’re too close. Consider it a rule of thumb (…ha.)

8. TOILET PAPER IS LITTERING.

Pack it in, pack it out – all of it. You are supposed to pack out your toilet paper (you can leave the rest in the cat-hole). Ladies, please pack out all of your feminine products. Natural TP (such as leaves) is okay to leave behind, of course.

9. WATCH FOR MICRO-TRASH.

Micro-trash is eawrappersily overlooked. This consists of the tiny plastic corner of your granola bar, a pop-tab, or small piece of trash that might not catch your eye immediately.. The best way to avoid these small pieces of trash is to create “one-piece trash.” Instead of ripping off the corner of your granola bar wrapper, open it in a way that keeps the packaging all together. Also, please don’t ever throw your cigarette butts on the trail.

 10. DO NOT CUT SWITCH BACKS.

Switch backs are there to make your incline more gradual and less steep.This gradual progression protects the hill slope. It is important not to cut the corners of switch backs because doing this increases erosion of the hill slope and surrounding vegetation.

11. DO NOT DUMP GREY WATER.

Grey water includes water left over from washing your pots and pans, and food remnants leftover. Many people use the popular Campsuds brand, or Dr. Bronner’s castille soaps. These soaps are advertised as biodegradable, but this does not mean that you can pour them directly into streams or onto the trail. It is stated directly on the bottle that you must dig a hole 6-8 inches deep for your grey water. This allows the bacteria in the soil to completely and safely biodegrade your soap. As far as food grey water, or any leftover food waste, either eat all of it or pack it out. Additionally, be conscious when brushing your teeth. Please do not spit toothpaste directly onto the ground. The best method is to spray your toothpaste/water mixture in order to disperse it as much as possible.

12. SPEAK UP WHEN YOU SEE UNETHICAL ACTIONS.

As an outdoor enthusiast, you have the responsibility to set a good example for others. At times, this might mean speaking up and calling out unethical behavior of others. Often times they may not realize that what they’re doing is wrong and will remedy their actions accordingly.

For reference, here’s the 7 Center for Outdoor Ethics Principles :

  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly.
  4. Leave What You Find.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts.
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors.

For more information: Visit the Center for Outdoor Ethics – Leave No Trace website: lnt.org.

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