Welcome to the Jungle, Please Leave No Trace
It’s a jungle out there, folks. The outdoors are getting wild! But we’re not talking wild as in abundant wildlife and natural splendor (although don’t worry, that’s still out there!). We’re talking about a different kind of wild. The outdoors is wild with human activity and impact. Us humans are some of the wildest animals out there. As our numbers increase and our impact expands throughout national parks, public lands, and way-out places, our awareness of that impact must expand to match.
From Dispersed Camping to National Park Tourism: Are we loving our public lands to death?
In 2021, Grand Teton National Park reached a record-breaking 3.8 million visitors. Yellowstone, America’s first national park, saw an even larger number of migrating humans—coming in at 4.4 million. And in the same year, although the iconic Grand Canyon National Park saw a decrease in visitors with international tourism largely paused, rescues within the park soared 30% above the annual average. Over 400 backcountry evacuations took place at Grand Canyon National Park in 2021, the highest number recorded in the last 20 years.
Increasing numbers of tourists have been gored by bison in Yellowstone and charged by elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. Arches National Park temporarily closed 120 times in 2021 due to overflowing parking lots. Miles-long lines of traffic can be seen at the entrances of various national parks throughout the high season and migrating wildlife often clash with vehicles migrating through parks causing additional hold-ups.
Gateway towns like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Moab, Utah, and Estes Park, Colorado are jungles in their own right. During the summer months, the population of Estes Park booms from its off season high of about 7,000 to as many as 3 million people at once.
In 2017, park staff at Yellowstone pumped 248,889 gallons of sewage water from its vault toilets and septic systems. It was estimated that visitors were running through an average of 1,710 rolls of toilet paper per day.
To top off what sounds like a bit of a dumpster fire in itself, the United States is now spending approximately 3 billion dollars a year to fight wildfires in parks and forests. Close to 85% of these wildland fires are the product of human impact.
According to the National Parks Conservation Association, National Parks service staff has dwindled by 14% over the last decade while visitation to parks has increased by 20% in that same span.
Somebody stop the madness!
Love It or Leave It? More Like, Love It, and Leave No Trace
As mentioned above, this all sounds like a dumpster fire that can’t be maintained. But we’re not buying into that negative connotation. Quite the opposite. More people getting outside than ever is an awesome thing. It’s good news that more folks than ever are getting out there, expanding their horizons, and checking national parks off bucket lists!
The outdoors is and should continue to become more accessible. And with increased access and excitement about getting outside, we humans, the outdoor industry, and park services are walking a thin line between supporting access and supporting the ecosystems that we’re impacting.
Thankfully, organizations like Leave No Trace exist to help support improving access to the outdoors for everyone while minimizing our human impact. It’s on us—the recreationists, the explorers, the tourists, the adventurers—to utilize the tools and education that organizations, like Leave No Trace, provide to become good stewards of the wild places we love (so that we don’t accidentally love them to death!).
How Can You Get Involved With Leave No Trace?
As someone who enjoys the outdoors, you’re in the perfect position to get involved with Leave No Trace. According to Leave No Trace:
“Leave No Trace pioneers science and provides proven, research-based solutions for the protection of the natural world.”
“. . . The organization [Leave No Trace] accomplishes its mission by providing innovative education, skills, research and science to help people care for the outdoors. By working with the public and those managing public lands, Leave No Trace focuses on educating people—instead of costly restoration programs or access restrictions—as the most effective and least resource-intensive solution to land protection.” (lnt.org)
All that to say, we humans migrating into the outdoors and across public lands can choose to be a part of the Leave No Trace movement by utilizing the resources Leave No Trace provides, adhering to the Leave No Trace Seven Principles, and demonstrating examples of good stewardship for others to follow.
Packing out what you pack in (and then some if you’re up for it) might seem like a tiny. But that tiny action, multiplied by the millions of humans embarking into national parks and public lands is a massive movement that will massively reduce our human impact on the great outdoors, wildlife, and fragile ecosystems.
The first and easiest way to get started minimizing your impact? Familiarize yourself with the Leave No Trace Seven Principles.
What Are The Leave No Trace Seven Principles?
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are an easy to follow framework to help you ensure you truly “leave no trace” and produce minimal impact when you head outside. Whether you’re picnicking at a city park or heading out on a thru-hike, these are principles you can apply and share with your group.
The Leave No Trace organization conducts regular research and follows science as well as insights from biologists and land managers to assure the principles are up to date and meet modern needs.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Ⓒ Leave No Trace: www.LNT.org
Putting the Leave No Trace Seven Principles to Practice
Plan Ahead and Prepare: Planning and preparing for your trip looks like knowing what weather to expect, planning food and gear accordingly (including the preparing the measures will take to pack out the food, waste, and garbage that you pack in), planning your route, and familiarizing yourself with the terrain you’ll encounter and private land boundaries.
Proper planning is as good for you as it is important to minimize impact. It’ll help ensure you meet your trip goals and don’t end up in a sticky situation out there.
Read more about Principle 1 of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles here.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: This is one principle that might seem less obvious than others. Staying on marked trails and camping in a designated campsite—or on hard dirt, packed snow, or a similar durable surface if you’re at a dispersed campsite—helps reduce land and trail erosion and protects waterways while helping you avoid trampling flora and natural organisms.
Read more about Principle 2 of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles here.
Dispose of Waste Properly: This principle refers to human waste, garbage, and wastewater. A few key points to remember are to always do your best to eliminate both human waste and wastewater at least 200 feet away from any natural waterways. As far as other “waste” goes, (garbage, food leftovers, notorious Coleman green propane cylinders that litter the outdoors), pack out what you pack in is a good rule of thumb. Bring along extra ziplock bags or WAG bags to pack out what you need to.
For more on the dirty details of packing out garbage and human waste, check out our previous post on Dispersed Camping.
Read more about Principle 3 of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles here.
Leave What You Find: I know it’s tempting to snag that cool shiny rock or those fresh shed antlers you found on the trail, but it’s important that we humans admire from afar and leave the ecosystem intact.
This principle requires some discretion (for example, facilities like chairs and lean-tos should often be disassembled after use, but a single firepit in a designated campsite should often be left alone).
Read more about principle 4 of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles here.
Minimize Campfire Impacts: The best place to build a campfire is in an existing fire ring. . . Or, even better, B.Y.O. Portable Campfire (*hint*: LavaBox is a great low-impact portable campfire option). If you build a wood-burning campfire, familiarize yourself with any fire regulations in the area and make sure you’re building your campfire in an area with plenty of dry wood to offer.
Curious about exactly how fire restrictions work? Check out the previous issue of LavaBlog covering exactly how stage 1 and stage 2 fire restrictions work.
Read more about principle 5 of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles here.
Respect Wildlife: There’s no doubt that wildlife-watching can be one of the coolest wild experiences out there! But it’s less cool when you’re on the butt end of a hind leg kick from a deer or agitating a sick or wounded animal. Appreciate wildlife from afar and be sure to secure your food and smelly garbage so that you’re not inadvertently drawing unwanted visitors into your camp. Giving wildlife the space they need helps to keep both the animals and yourself safe and stress-free.
Read more about principle 6 of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles here.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Everyone’s outdoor experience and what they hope to gain from it is unique. Consider using earbuds over speakers, keeping man’s best friend leashed so that they don’t go try and make new friends of fellow campers and hikers, and familiarizing yourself with trail etiquette.
Read more about principle 6 of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles here.
Each individual commitment to Leave No Trace Principles builds a compounding impact that will help preserve the wild places we love for generations to come. Let’s get out there and love on our public lands.
All versions of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles and their supporting text hold copyrights by the Leave No Trace organization.