Effectively Communicating Outdoor Ethics

Phoenix, Arizona: At more than 16,000 acres, South Mountain Park/Preserve is the largest municipal park in the country according to the Trust for Public Land. It boasts 51 miles of primary trails for horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking for all ability levels. From the park's main entrance, you can drive up to Dobbins Lookout for a spectacular valley-wide view or you can explore a multitude of scenic trails that meander through primitive desert terrain.


This week, Traveling Trainers Roland and Dani, spent a delightful afternoon at South Mountain Preserve with the park's Rangers. At the Preserve, these Park Rangers perform a wide variety of jobs; they implement laws and policies within the park and they educate the public to respect the fragile ecosystem located within the preserve. A Park Ranger is accountable for the well-being of not only the park but also the guests who come to the park as well. With this in mind, the Seven Leave No Trace Principles seem like the perfect fit! But how does a person of authority effectively communicate the values of responsible outdoor recreation without turning an ethic into a rule?

For this, we turned to Dr. George Wallace of Fort Collins, who developed a concept called, Authority of the Resource Technique (ART). ART is a non-confrontational technique used to approach people in the outdoors that may be engaged in a "less than Leave No Trace" behavior. The technique attempts to transfer the authority from the ranger or agency to those things in nature that have their own  requirements; de-emphasize the regulation and focus on the natural authority inherent in healthy ecosystems. 


The Authority of the Resource concept is based upon the notion: “Desirable behavior is more likely to occur if people understand how their actions affect the way nature operates.” We encouraged the Rangers at South Mountain Preserve, to not only cite the expectations of the park but also explain the "whys" behind the regulation/ethic. By educating visitors about the natural authority, the visitors are able to make more sound and responsible decisions while enjoying the parks resources. The ultimate goal when using ART should be to influence future behavior rather than writing a citation. 


What about those who are not part of a law enforcement agency? When there is no official authority available, this technique is a great way for you and your community to step in and approach others about their outdoor behaviors and actions in order to promote the responsible ethics of Leave No Trace.


To learn more about this technique you can take a Leave No Trace Trainer Course or read the article by clicking here.

Our hope for the Rangers at South Mountain Preserve and for all Leave No Trace followers across the country, is that by sharing the authority of the resource with others, we can create long-term changes in peoples respect and motivate them to become life-long stewards of the land and the places we all love to play. Such changes are likely to last longer when we help people to test their own beliefs and values, and allow them to arrive at a more principled ethic on their own accord.


Ninjas for Nature - dani & roland