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Mar 09, 2014

Our packs settle down onto our hips, grounding our every step into the hard packed trail. As we steadily gain elevation, each breath is deep and fills our lungs with thin crisp air. The pines rise with authority into a deep blue sky dotted with clouds lazily floating across its expanse. The aroma of the pine is strong and forces us to be present and aware of their power and number. As we hike, we catch glimpses through the trees of towering granite peaks. We gain the highest portion of our trail for the day at 10,700 ft. and are rewarded greatly with breathtaking views. Letting our eyes follow our path down Odessa Gorge, they are drawn like magnets to the peaks that dominate the skyline - Flattop Mountain, Notchtop, and Little Matterhorn rest above 12,000 feet -watching over the landscape like vigilant protectors of this sacred space.

After the power of our surroundings fully sink in, we decide this would be a nice place to have lunch. We find a durable surface out of sight of the trail. We chat and pass around the tortillas and avocados; efficiently shoveling the much-needed energy into our mouths. As we eat and rest peacefully, a simple and calm comment drifts from my brother Zac’s tortilla filled mouth: “Check out this guy”. As I slowly turn my head around, I am unsure of what exactly he means by “this guy”. Maybe there’s a hiker that’s wandered over to our lunch spot, possibly a bird watching us curiously? As I turn slowly to look behind me, I am shocked and terrified at the presence of our guest. My eyes follow slowly from his hooves planted firmly into the ground, up to the tips of his horns cast starkly against the brilliant blue of the sky above. “This guy” is a coffee brown Bull Elk weighing nearly 1,000 pounds and boasting 12 horns powerfully protruding from his skull, and he is standing 5 feet behind me. I am a shrub to his towering 7 feet of muscle and grace. I am quiet as I realize the terror of being this close to such a beautiful and powerful creature.


His ability to so quietly sneak all of his 1,000-pounds to within 5 feet of me must be applauded. Though I was not thinking of applauding him at this moment, but instead how to get away from those 12 horns that could very quickly change this trip and my life if they were to get a hold of me. The 5 of us very slowly rose and backed away until we were at a safe distance and began to formulate a plan. While we were discussing how to continue eating our lunch without the pleasure of our unexpected audience, the elk was happily slurping at the handles of my hiking poles. We stood tall shoulder-to-shoulder and began to clap, yell, and blow our whistles in an attempt to scare the elk away from our lunch and salty hiking poles. Our friend, the elk, looked at us and confirmed that this attempt would not be worthy of his departing. Keeping a safe distance, we more aggressively yelled, clapped, and blew our whistles as we slowly walked toward him. He reluctantly honored this display and left us with hiking poles for another day. We sat back down on the rock and dirt and finished our lunches in peace but not without our heads occasionally peeking over our shoulders.

Now will this be an experience that will stay with me forever? Will this story be told around campfires and on backpacking trips through out my days? Most likely yes. But is this a story told too often? A story with very seldom a happy ending?

The Sixth Principle of Leave No Trace is Respect Wildlife. This principle is simple, exists for very good reasons, and holds very real consequences when it is not upheld. I tell this story because this is a perfect example of what can happen when we don’t respect wildlife. When we fail to do simple things like: keep a safe distance from animals, store our food safely, keep clean and tidy camps, and pack out all of our trash - we are able to see and experience the consequences.

Animals can lose their fear of people, which increases the number of negative interactions between the two. Animals can also become food conditioned, giving up their natural behaviors of finding food and instead seeking out humans for nutrition. This bull elk was a classic example of an animal that no longer holds a healthy fear of humans and has been conditioned to seeking out humans for sources of nourishment.

Although our story is a simple one of an elk sneaking up on a group of hikers to lick the salt from the handles of their hiking poles, it is part of a larger and more complex narrative - a story where animals fail to find food on their own, becoming dependent on people. A story where an animal is tagged and eventually killed by the land managers for consistently getting into peoples food and causing “problems”. A story where I spooked that elk, and he sent that rack of horns through my chest. These are stories that are too often told and stories that are completely preventable.

By subscribing to a simple set of ethics and being aware of what we can do to respect wildlife, we can reduce the number of negative interactions that happen between people and wildlife and in-turn increase the amount of positive. We can reduce the amount of animals that are exterminated due to these interactions, stay safe, and enjoy wildlife engaging in their natural habitat in natural ways.

Though my friends and I came out safe and sound from our interaction, we would have much rather been able to see that elk from a distance foraging on grasses and shrubs - not screaming at it, hoping it doesn’t run away with our hiking poles!

Life Lesson: Natural is Better    


Ninjas for Nature – Roland & Dani

Leave No Trace’s Dani and Roland Mott are part of the 2014 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, Coleman, Hi-Cone, The North Face, REI, Smartwool and Yakima. 

Mar 06, 2014

During the past two weeks we put on three PEAK (Promoting Environmental Awareness in Kids) workshops for REIs in Southern Arizona. Teachers, Scout leaders, and outdoor educators from around the Phoenix and Tucson area came to learn how to incorporate Leave No Trace into the programs they run for kids and teens. Leave No Trace has an important partnership with REI. Not only is REI a proud partner for the Subaru / Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer program, but they also support the PEAK Program.  


The PEAK pack is an assortment of 6 activities included in a flexible binder that focuses on teaching kids ages six to twelve. The activities are interactive, engaging, and educational. They are easy to teach with because all of the directions, supplies, and wrap-up questions are included.

Some of our favorite Leave No Trace activities come from the PEAK Pack.

How Long Does it Last? - Find out how long it really takes for common trash/recyclable items to break down in nature and why it's important to Trash our Trash.

Leave No Trace Draw - Many Leave No Trace decisions can be made along the trail. A version of a relay race, participants will decide whether they advance on the trail by answering Leave No Trace related questions.

Step on It! - Why is it important to stick to trails? How do we know how to do this? Compete with your team to answer questions and learn how to Choose the Right Path when outdoors.

What Principle Am I? - Test your knowledge of the Leave No Trace principles by listening to clues and deciding What Principle Am I?



Another great resource for teaching kids about Leave No Trace is PEAK Online. PEAK Online is an interactive and fun way to teach kids about Leave No Trace.  The course is designed to teach elementary school aged youth about Leave No Trace; this course can serve as a stand-alone education tool or as a great supplement to your existing Leave No Trace education curriculum.

If you are interested in PEAK packs you can order them online at the Leave No Trace Shop, they come in both English and Spanish.  You can purchase the whole PEAK Pack and the additional PEAK Pack Modules.  Another resource for the PEAK Pack, is at your local REI.  You can check out a PEAK Backpack with the activities and even props that you can use, contact your Local REI for more details.

Remember to be like Bigfoot and Leave No Trace!

Pat and TJ

Leave No Trace’s Patrick and Theresa Beezley are part of the 2014 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, Coleman, Hi-Cone, The North Face, REI, Smartwool and Yakima.

Mar 05, 2014

Every month in The Resource, the Center's online news mailing, we share a difficult Leave No Trace ethical and skills based situation from a Leave No Trace Member for our team to respond to. Below is the February member's situation and our response.

The Situation: While biking on the Leigh Canal Towpath near Hellertown, I ran into a large group of people with coolers and beer cans lingering in the middle of the path. They were using a rope swing to dive into the river. They moved aside, but as I passed them I saw cups and beer cans strewn across the towpath. I kept biking, but should I have approached them despite the drunkenness of several of the people? - Sarah, PA

Here’s what our Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Teams said:

It's important to use good judgement and always consider your own safety. If a situation is unsafe or you feel uncomfortable approaching someone or a group, pass and/or notify the appropriate authority(s) if necessary. We always encourage people to create their own personal ethic and recognize their comfort zone when it comes to Leave No Trace. If the situation is safe and you feel comfortable (finding someone in the group who looks friendly and sober) here are 4 steps that we have found are most effective for having a positive interaction while educating and changing behavior:

1.    Make a connection to the shared experience                                                                                             (Hi there, it's a beautiful day to be enjoying the sunshine and cool water, where are you all from?)

2.    Give an objective statement of situation                                                                                                       (Thanks for making room for me. I see that there's beer cans all over the trail.)

3.    Explain impacts or implications of action(s)                                                                                                (I'm glad you all are enjoying the trail and the river, it's a beautiful place. It's easier for myself and others to enjoy the beauty of the trail when its clean and free of trash.)                 

4.    Provide an alternative action (include personal technique or experience.)                                                      (I always have everyone throw their empty cans back into the cooler, that way I don't have to worry about    cleaning up afterward.)

In general, engaging in friendly conversation, making connections, and giving alternatives leads to positive interactions and a more likely change in behavior.

Have a situation of your own you'd like the Leave No Trace Team to answer? Email

Mar 05, 2014

Researchers from the University of Idaho and the US Geologic Survey publish results from a new study of the Leave No Trace Master Educator Course

The results of the study were featured in the 2013 winter issue of the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, and documented the first ever study of the Master Educator Course. The article, titled “Training to Teach Leave No Trace: Efficacy of Master Educator Courses,” details the study and offers robust discussion on the results, including how the findings can enhance overall Leave No Trace educational efforts. The research replicates and expands an efficacy study of the Leave No Trace Trainer Course (Daniel & Marion, 2005) applied to evaluate the “train-the-trainer” Master Educator Course. Course outcomes were evaluated through surveys that assessed changes in Leave No Trace knowledge, ethics, confidence, judgment, behavior and teaching.

The study was modeled after the 2005 Leave No Trace Trainer Course study because no empirical evaluation had been done on the efficacy of Master Educator Courses, and the two courses share a similar curriculum. The Master Educator Course involves more hands-on learning than the two-day Trainer Course and has the primary objective of developing effective educators. The study sought to assess the impact that Master Educator Courses have on participants, which also explores how effectively Leave No Trace ethics and techniques are for minimizing impact on public lands. The researchers had two primary questions:

  1. Is the Master Educator Course effective in developing Leave No Trace knowledge, ethics, and practices in its participants?
  2. Do participants in Master Educator Courses subsequently apply and share their Leave No Trace knowledge?

The research design involved the use of a series of three self-administered questionnaires, which were delivered to course participants over an eight-month period. The longitudinal design used a pre-, post- and follow-up course survey with predominately matching formats and identical questions. Pre and post surveys were paper surveys and the follow-up was internet-based.

A few notable points from the research findings:

  • Knowledge scores increased significantly between pre- and post-tests, an indication that participants were learning new Leave No Trace content on the course.
  • Knowledge scores also increased significantly between the pre-course and follow-up surveys, indicating long-term retention of knowledge gained during the course, with only a minimal decline in knowledge between post- and follow-up surveys.
  • High ethics scores on all three surveys suggest the participants in the Master Educator Course already had a fairly strong outdoor ethic.
  • The study provides evidence that the Leave No Trace Master Educator Course is an effective educational tool. Participants demonstrated improved knowledge, understanding, and adoption of Leave No Trace ethics and practices. Even three months after the course, participants showed an improvement in Leave No Trace knowledge, ethics, confidence and judgment.
  • Thus, longitudinal results of the study suggest the efficacy of the Master Educator Course is lasting. Even more important, given the course’s “train-the-trainer” objective, was the substantial amount of outreach that participants reported.
  • This study demonstrated that the Master Educator Course is producing active Leave No Trace instructors.

Visit here to obtain a copy of the study.

For more information on this study, please contact:

Jeff Marion, Ph.D.                   
USDI, U.S. Geological Survey                
Virginia Tech
Field Stn. Leader/Adj. Professor    
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center