Leave No Trace: How to enjoy nature without damaging it

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Photo: Felipe PimentelPhoto: Felipe Pimentel
 By Raúl Castro
Editors Note: The following is from Issue 18.
Although enormously powerful, nature is fragile when facing the impacts that humans are capable of causing. This idea is even more evident when we consider the accelerating population growth on the planet and the growing demand for outdoor activities to reconnect us with that nature which is a victim of our carelessness.
That's why at National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), every time we start a new outdoor education program, or a training day with park rangers, or a talk with high school students, we seek to transmit the importance of transforming ourselves TODAY into more conscious and respectful hikers, in order to conserve the natural wealth that we still have left.
"Leave No Trace," more than the name of a course, it is the essence of a philosophy that we have followed at NOLS for some five decades and it has formally been part of our educational programs since the 1990s. It is a philosophy not just based on a system of beliefs, but its seven principles have strong scientific basis in conservation ecology; it is a discipline that describes the types, quantities, and rates of ecological changes which are caused by the recreational use of our natural environments.
Photo: Kirk RasmussenPhoto: Kirk Rasmussen
What trail should I take when I go to the mountains? Where should I set up my camp when I navigate the fjords with my kayak? Where and how do I go to the bathroom while I'm rushing toward the summit? How does my presence affect the biodiversity in this place? All these questions are part of what we seek to answer with the “Leave No Trace” principles, it is a way to counter the undesired deterioration of soils, vegetation, wildlife, water resources and, ultimately, the quality of our recreational experiences and that of future generations.
Thus, the seven principles of “Leave No Trace” are a set of concrete, easily applicable tips through ethical and technical principles focused on reducing our impact on nature. Take note; it is an investment in ourselves and they are very simple to follow:
1. Plan ahead and prepare. Find out about the restrictions and current characteristics of the area you will visit, gather information on weather conditions, and choose the appropriate equipment.
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Always stay on existing trails to minimize the impact on other areas, avoid walking through wet or swampy areas, and avoid camping less than 60 meters (65 yards) from water sources.
3. Dispose of waste properly. When there are no bathrooms, bury your waste in a hole no less than 20 centimeters deep and take with you all the garbage that you created.
4. Leave what you find. Admire the past but do not take archaeological objects that are part of the place and its identity, do not introduce or transport non-native species, leave the flowers and natural objects where they are.
Photo: Felipe Pimentel Photo: Felipe Pimentel
5. Minimize campfire impacts. Never make a fire under a tree or on its roots, use cooking stoves for cooking and flashlights for lighting, use dry sticks and do not break tree branches to make a fire.
6. Respect wildlife. Observe it from afar and do not give it food to avoid generating dependencies, control your pet at all times or leave it at home, avoid wildlife during sensitive periods.
7. Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful of the locals, the people in charge of wild areas and other visitors, keep your noise to a minimum and avoid carrying sound elements such as radios.
Not following these principles is synonymous with environmental degradation, which inevitably results in destinations that lose their attraction for visitors or are closed to await their recovery. However, experience has shown us that it is much more efficient to prevent damage instead of healing wounds caused by careless use, because working to restore, if it is possible, will take far longer to achieve its objectives than putting into practice the “Leave No Trace” principles.
We invite all who are enthused by going into wild nature to first be aware of our impact and then do everything possible to minimize it. It is the best way we have to contribute to the conservation of the natural spaces that we love.
For more information about “Leave No Trace,” visit www.nols.edu.

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