We at the Center hear a lot of… let’s call them, “wonky” claims regarding Leave No Trace. While they usually do no more than provide a good laugh, sometimes these myths find their way into the mainstream and steer folks onto a path not in line with the realities of Leave No Trace skills and ethics.
Unfortunately, these fallacies have created a small group of Leave No Trace opponents and naysayers, resulting in these public lands users eschewing recommended minimum impact skills, simply because they’ve received bad information. Here, we attempt to shed light on some common misconceptions about Leave No Trace and the Center for Outdoor Ethics.
“The Seven Principles are just more rules… “
We hear it all the time. Leave No Trace has too many rules, too many regulations, it’s black and white, right vs. wrong, etc. When in reality, Leave No Trace isn’t about rules at all, but rather about making good decisions when recreating outdoors and aiming to achieve a simple goal: to eliminate the avoidable impacts and to minimize the unavoidable impacts. Instead of viewing Leave No Trace through a “good vs. bad” lens, try seeing Leave No Trace as a spectrum – on one end are individuals with basic Leave No Trace knowledge and on the other end are Leave No Trace gurus who practice religiously and carry out advanced Leave No Trace techniques. The Center encourages people to figure out where they fit into the spectrum – where they are comfortable – and to do what they can to minimize their individual impacts.
“The Center says fires are bad… “
Although the Center’s literature clearly states, “Minimize Campfire Impacts”, some people take this to mean that Leave No Trace states campfires aren’t allowed and having one is “bad”. The Center is by no means anti-fire. Rather, Leave No Trace is pro-responsible fire. Are there times when having a campfire isn’t the best idea? Sure. If it’s windy or especially dry, if there’s a burn-ban in effect, if water isn’t readily available to put out the fire, if adequate wood isn’t available, etc. However, if the conditions, regulations, and resources are in place, having a responsible campfire is completely acceptable.
“You need special gear to practice Leave No Trace… “
In combing through Leave No Trace literature, only one instance was found where a specific piece of equipment is needed to properly abide by a Leave No Trace recommendation. Under “Minimize Campfire Impacts”, the Center recommends using a stove for cooking. Granted, you must have a stove to practice this minimum-impact technique. However, an individual doesn’t need the latest, ultra-lightweight stove from MSR or Primus. A simple and cheap alcohol stove will work just fine. In fact, this is something you could even make yourself if you’re so inclined. Here’s just one example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdqQE0LQV0c.
“It’s impossible to Leave No Trace… ”
This misconception is actually valid. Yes, it’s impossible to leave absolutely no trace of your visit to the outdoors. However, we at the Center have set the bar high in terms of our values and outdoor ethics. Leave No Trace is not intended to be taken literally. Rather, it is a philosophy that guides us while we enjoy any outdoor pursuit. If all who enjoy the outdoors were to do what they could to minimize the unavoidable impacts (trampling, erosion, etc.) and prevent the avoidable impacts (properly dealing with human waste, properly storing food and trash from animals, sticking to durable ground, keeping human and other waste out of water sources, etc.) it would go a long way towards protecting the places we enjoy from recreational impacts. The Center views Leave No Trace as a spectrum – on one end there are many impacts, on the other end there are few. We encourage people to figure out where they fit into the spectrum – where they’re comfortable – and to do what they can to minimize their individual impacts. The primary goal of Leave No Trace is to prevent the avoidable impacts and to minimize the unavoidable impacts. By doing so we can protect and preserve both natural resources and the quality of recreational experiences. This can also minimize the need for restrictive management activities by land managers. We truly believe that if everyone did something, even something small, to minimize his or her impact on the out-of-doors, the result would be profound and lasting.
Hopefully, these few examples help clear up some of the common myths about Leave No Trace.