Meant to be viewed as guidelines for those who care about the land, Leave No Trace principles were developed in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Seven Principles are:
Plan Ahead and Prepare. Know the terrain and any regulations applicable to the area you're planning to visit, and be prepared for extreme weather or other emergencies. This will enhance your enjoyment and ensure that you've chosen an appropriate destination. Small groups have less impact on resources and the experience of other backcountry visitors.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. Travel and camp on established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow. Good campsites are found, not made. Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams, and focus activities on areas where vegetation is absent. In pristine areas, disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
Dispose of Waste Properly. Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your camp for trash or food scraps. Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug six to eight inches, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. 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.Cultural or historic artifacts, as well as natural objects such as plants or rocks, should be left as found.
Minimize Campfire Impacts. Cook on a stove. Use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. If a campfire is built, keep it small and use dead sticks found on the ground.
Respect Wildlife. Observe wildlife from a distance. Feeding wildlife alters their natural behavior. Protect wildlife from your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors. Be courteous, respect the quality of other visitors backcountry experience, and let nature's sounds prevail.
Why Leave No Trace?
"Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land," says author and noted conservationist Aldo Leopold. But how much harmony and balance do we attempt to strike during our recreational jaunts through public lands?
As outdoor recreation increases so does the evidence of our visits. Water pollution, displaced wildlife, trampled vegetation, and eroded soil can all result, ironically, from our love of the natural world and our desire to experience it.
Leave No Trace — A Preventive Measure
Leave No Trace Principles, coupled with a respectful attitude and awareness, contribute to the development of "Wildland Ethics." Such ethics recognize the intrinsic value of wildlands and remind us that we are visitors to these locations. Yet, because our presence has altered so many landscapes, we have the responsibility to protect the few remaining areas that have some semblance of wildness. If we do not, authorities will.
When areas become too degraded from recreational impacts, land managers often respond with closures, permits, user fees, rules, and regulations. In other words, if we do not respect the flora and fauna by following Leave No Trace Principles on our own, we risk having land-managing agencies respond to degrading areas by imposing regulations. Many agencies have the dual mandate of protecting natural resources while also providing a quality recreational experience. Tighter controls are often their answer.
Popular locations may lose their sense of wildness if they become actively managed. As the sheer number of outdoor enthusiasts increases and puts more pressure on wildlands, some level of regulation may be inevitable. Although managers do not establish regulations to detract from visitors experience or to inconvenience them, outdoor enthusiasts may feel that restrictions change the character of a wild place.
Enforcement of rules and regulations tends not to preserve a visitor's experience. If there's one thing that most federal, state, private land managers and agencies, and the public can agree on, it's that education is preferable to regulations whenever possible. Regulations can bring about noticeable and timely resource recovery efforts, but they can also be difficult to implement and enforce. In addition, public sentiment can be unfavorable.
Regulations tend to be effective only in the areas where they are enforced and only for the areas they are designed to protect. Visitors there leave without taking away any new knowledge of backcountry stewardship. But when they learn Leave No Trace concepts, they develop a sense of stewardship and practice Leave No Trace wherever they visit and recreate. Their knowledge helps them lead others by example. Such behavior benefits the land, the visitors, and the land managers.