Research & Education

Skill Series: Authority of the Resource

Guest - February 19, 2018
The Authority of the Resource technique is perfect for rangers, volunteers, and even everyday citizens who wish to educate others about Leave No Trace practices in a positive way that can actually make a difference.

Authority is defined as “the power to influence or command thought, opinion or behavior.”Nature, or the resource, has its own authority to influence behavior. Because of this, people are more likely to enjoy the outdoors responsibly if they understand how their actions impact the natural world.

There are three main steps involved in effectively using the Authority of the Resource Technique.

Before beginning this technique, it’s helpful to “establish rapport to open the door.” Ask the other person questions such as where they are from, if they’ve been here before, or how their day is going to help establish a friendly conversation.

Step One: Give an objective statement.

This can be tricky, but practice makes perfect. In this step we want to avoid placing any blame on the other person, and we want to avoid value-laden terms like “don’t” or “should” or “didn’t you know?”

For example, you might say, “I noticed some people hiking off-trail,” or “I’ve noticed a lot of orange peels in this area.”

Making an objective statement helps keep the conversation non-confrontational and ensures that the other person doesn’t feel accused.

Step Two: Explain the implications or the consequences of the actions. This is what we like to call “The Why.”

This explanation should focus on the resource (trees, water, wildlife, flowers, etc.) and the effects of the observed action on the natural resource itself.

For example, “There are many endangered plants in this area that are easily trampled by hiking off-trail. Because there are so many people visiting this area, many of these plants and flowers could be easily lost forever if everyone hiked off-trail.”

Remember, the consequences here should focus on impacts to the natural resource, not necessarily that it’s against regulations. This helps people understand how their actions impact the natural world.

Step Three: Tell them what can be done to improve the situation.

No one likes to receive criticism, however well intended, without solutions or opportunities for improvement.

Example: I’d feel a lot better if everyone stayed on the trails to help protect these sensitive plants and help prevent erosion.

These educational conversations are the most effective at inspiring long-term behavior change but they can be challenging at times.

Other scenarios:

Dogs Off Leash

Objective Statement: “I’ve noticed many dogs off leash in the area”

The WHY: “This meadow is actually a seasonal migration habitat for thousands of birds during June and July. When dogs run off leash in the area they can scare these birds away from the food, water, and rest they need during their long migration.”

Alternative: “I would feel a lot better if everyone kept their dogs on leash in this meadow during June and July while the birds are migrating through. There’s actually a great beach that dogs can run off leash just a few minutes from here if you’re interested.”

Feeding Wildlife

Objective Statement: “I’ve noticed a lot of squirrels approaching humans in this area”

The WHY: “Feeding wildlife sends the message that humans are a quick food source. It attracts wildlife closer to humans where they can become aggressive or seek us out for our food. This hurts their health and they can put their safety at risk by changing their normal behaviors to come close to us. Wildlife that becomes dependent on humans for food can starve or be put down by park managers who fear for public safety since many rodents carry diseases like the plague.”

Alternative: “I would feel a lot better if we kept wildlife wild and ignore them or shoo them away when they approach. This helps them have a safe fear of humans and not learn that we have food.

More to come, check our videos in the next few weeks with even more scenarios!

Effective Communication Tips:

A few of these effective communication tips will also help bolster the Authority of the Resource Technique.

● Come from a place of compassion and see them as an individual. Don’t make this one person out to be every person you’ve ever seen doing dishes in a river or littering along a trail. It’s important that we come into each situation as a new opportunity for education.

● Orient your body your body language to be shoulder to shoulder. This creates a friendlier atmosphere and can reduce possible tension in the conversation. You’re both in this together rather than not you vs. them.

● Take parents or trip leaders aside to have a conversation if possible; no one likes to be told they’re doing something wrong in front of their kids or participants.

● Take a minute to collect your thoughts before you approach the person, plan out the steps of your conversation and the WHY. If you’re with a group, brainstorm with them what you could say.

The Leave No Trace Movement can be strengthened when all outdoor enthusiasts better understand how to minimize their impacts. Though sometimes challenging, the Authority of the Resource Technique is a proven framework for having meaningful conversations that can truly make a difference for our shared lands.

Leave No Trace’s Donielle Stevens & Aaron Hussmann are part of the 2018 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, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Deuter, Thule, and Klean Kanteen.


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