Leave What You Find
In the Backcountry
This is one is fairly self-explanatory: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”. Not only does this methodology maintains the integrity of our natural areas, it also maintains the experience of exploring that particular backcountry area for others to enjoy just as we have. Some things to consider:
- Good campsites are found, not made. Rather than “improving” a site with tables, seats, lean-tos, fire rings, or by clearing out the surface debris, find a site that already has these improvements, bring the necessary gear to enjoy these backcountry luxuries Leave-No-Trace style, or learn to find the simple enjoyment of not needing them
- Avoid damage to trees, vegetation, and rock surfaces. Hammocks are an easy way to avoid ground impacts if set up responsibly and are exceedingly comfortable. And there is really no need to carve your name into trees or rocks, to use live wood for fires, or to pick flowers that would be much happier left where they were. Take a selfie with them instead!
- If you’re in an area with edible plants, like some berries which bloom in mass quantities in some areas, be sure to harvest them responsibly. Pick only a few from each plant and leave the rest for the wildlife. They rely on them much more than we do, and unlike the animals that munch on them, we are less likely to disperse their seeds in places where they will germinate and grow into new plants.
- Leave antlers, bones, colorful rocks, fossils, archaeological artifacts, leaves, shells, or whatever natural and cultural objects you may find in the backcountry where you found them! The magic of discovering something really neat in the backcountry is lost for everyone else if you remove them from their place. It is especially important for archaeological artifacts, because their location can provide crucial context for the who, when, how, and whys of their use. Plus, it is just bad juju.
The Leave No Trace Dude has a great blog about all things Leave No Trace, but has some more informative information and pictures concerning leaving what you find. In fact, there is a network of “Great Outdoors Dudes” with blogs about a variety of outdoor topics like camping, compass navigation, cpr, dutch oven cooking, emergencies, fire, hiking, and water that can all be found here.
Leaving what you find in the backcountry is perhaps analogous to how we develop land and water for the use of their natural resources. The variety of ways in which we do so is extremely wide-ranging and complex, to the point that entire regions have been privately developed and very little if any intact ecosystems remain. But choosing sustainable development is becoming an increasingly viable, if not preferable financial strategy. Here are a few examples of sustainable and financially responsible land development strategies:
- Removing invasive plants improves biodiversity, and protects the economic viability of agricultural land, as well as of surface and ground water
- The minimal use of biocides, water-reuse and management, the use of cheaper natural fertilizers, prevention of soil erosion through the planting of well-suited crops, and buffer zones of trees to help filter out run-off and erosion; these are all strategies that make farming more sustainable and more economical in the long-term
- Tourism and recreation can be used as a way to create a stream of income and provide educational opportunites to the public with very minimal or no development needed.
- Well-designed fire management helps to encourage the growth of fire-depended native plants, while at the same time destroying invasive species and delivering nutrients back into the soil. It can also prevent building fuel-loads that can threaten the safety of our communities and the very ecosystem that created them
Because land development is so widely varied and complex, be sure to check with your local land management agencies and conservation groups to determine what is best for your land and your local ecosystem.
On the Individual Level
We can contribute our time and money to existing sustainability and conservation groups to make sure our wild places stay wild, and that we can restore some of the places that have already been developed. Here’s a few ways to get involved:
- Surf the web to find local conservation and environmental groups in your area, then sign up for their email lists, volunteer for work projects, and donate your time and money to make sure land development in your area is done responsibly.
- Work with land trusts to protect your existing land, or purchase sensitive land for the sake of its continued preservation
The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Natural Resources Defense Council are the three largest environmental groups, and so arguably have the most sway in shaping land development policies world-wide. But there are also local conservation groups all around the world, so do your research, contact them, and offer your help and donations regularly however you are able.
The “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” ideal is a fundamental part of my morality and my character. It is evocative of my entire sense of purpose. As my expedition continues, and I strive to bring Dudetrek to the widest audience possible, there are a things I have had to consider about what impacts I am and am not willing to make:
- Never producing merch of any kind. Sorry, but the world does not need anymore promotional t-shirts or stickers.
- Never publicly sharing the location of photographs from off-trail or little-known routes. Go to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park and you’ll see what the “Instagram Effect” is and why this is so important to me.
- Never going to publish a book in print. This blog takes energy to maintain and to view, but over time it will be easier and easier for us all to source that energy renewably. If there was going to be a book, it would be an e-book and audiobook, but the amount of content I can produce over the next 10 years would fill I don’t know how many e- and audio books. A regular series of blog posts/videos/podcast episodes could relay far more content on a regular basis, in a shorter increments of time, and in a way that is easier to digest for most people. Ask me again about the whole book thing 10 years from now.
- It is my goal to learn about paleo-technology and so called “wilderness survival” skills and to apply them to the principles of Leave No Trace when it is beneficial to me and has no measurably negative impact on the ecosystem. Hunting, fishing, trapping, and foraging are totally viable ways to supplement my needs while also reducing my impact, if done thoughtfully and sustainably.
Leaving what I find will only be hard for me in the sense that I will have to accept the likelihood of only getting to see a place just once. Otherwise, this one comes naturally to me.