Sustainability: Leave No Trace from a Global Perspective

By Jack Steward

It was John Muir who said, "Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe." Through the course of my life, I've been blessed to spend a lot of time in the wilderness. I've explored all different kinds of ecosystems - everything from the high alpine, desert, seashore, to the rainforest. These ecosystems are so different from each other, yet one idea is shared between them all: that while we are out in the wilderness, we must Leave No Trace. This is an idea that I have done my best to learn, embrace and share, but only recently thought about on a broader scale. It is through nature that we feel a profound connection to the rest of the world, and I believe that if we can adopt the idea of leaving no trace beyond the borders of our wild places, it would have a profound, positive impact on our country and the world. 

So what does it mean to leave no trace? In its simplest form it means to leave the environment exactly as you found it, thus preserving it for future generations to enjoy. The first principle is to Plan Ahead and Prepare. The idea behind this is that if you plan ahead before heading into the wilderness, you will have all the tools you need to stay safe, while also minimizing your impact on the environment. This allows the adventurer to have the right equipment to deal with any situation, thus not having to start fires, build shelters or collect food. 

We can adopt this principle beyond our wilderness areas. Planning ahead is essential to sustaining the well being of our planet. We can do this by finding ways to use resources responsibly while taking a look at the impact we're having on the earth. That way we are actively participating in a plan to take only what we need, while preserving the rest for future generations. 

The next principles of Leave No Trace are to Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly and Leave What You Find. These ideas are important while out in the wilderness because they ensure that the next adventurer will have the same opportunity to experience the richness of nature. By minimizing our footprint in the wild, we allow the environment to change as it was intended, without our influence. I'm sure we've all set up a tent in our backyards at one point in our lives. I remember camping out with my family as a kid and then pulling up the tent the next day to find that the grass underneath was a yellowish, matted down mess. Imagine if we camped there every single day! Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good, old fashioned backyard camp fact I still do them to this day. However, this was one example that stuck out to me as a practical reminder of how our choices can determine the impact we have on an area.

Now let's look at these ideas on a broader scale. By minimizing our impact on land outside of the parks, we can still thrive as a society and experience the richness of life. Our population is expanding, so development is going to happen. Through decisive action we can find ways to develop land that will have less impact on our natural recourses and the ecosystems that need to thrive. If we can find ways to live within these environments without having a major impact, we can sustain our planet by participating, not dominating. We can minimize our waste by making a conscious effort to take only what we need, and seek to use sustainable recourses. Or at least, by not taking these recourses for granted. We want to ensure that future generations have the same quality of life that we have, or ideally an even better quality of life! In our national parks, we all feel the connection to nature in a profound way. I believe this connection does not have to stop once we exit the gates.

The next principles are to Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife and Be Considerate of Others. While we are out in the wilderness, our impact on the environment and its inhabitants is very important. This is a fairly new idea. I'm a big fan of westerns, and I loved the idea of being out in the wild, perched beside a huge campfire! This is a big part of the wilderness experience for me, yet if I were to build a fire everywhere I travelled there would be about a hundred big grey pits scattered throughout the country! Thank goodness that there are established places to have fires in our parks. 

It's a similar story with wildlife. Only a few decades ago, it was not uncommon to have park visitors feeding wildlife or getting so close that the animals became dependent on us for their survival. The National Park Service has taken some serious steps towards keeping wildlife wild. This has been extremely important because animals that are dependent on us have a very hard time surviving, and can become dangerous. I believe that keeping a safe distance to wildlife is actually a form of consideration for others. It ensures that when the next visitor gets the opportunity to spot the animal in its natural state, completely uninhibited by their presence.

These ideas are imperative to sustaining our planet. We can further this idea of minimizing our impact by making sure that we respect the other inhabitants of our planet! The rich abundance of wildlife that we have on earth is what makes this an incredible place to exists. It's really a miracle! Think about all of the life that is here on earth. From the depths of the ocean to the tops of the highest mountains there are animals, plants or other organism that call it home. Most of all, I believe in being considerate of others. We are all neighbors on this planet, and I believe that we can find ways to minimize our conflicts, cut down on extreme poverty and truly make this earth a place that we proudly share. 

The broader application of Leave No Trace will take some time to accomplish, but I believe in dreaming big! It is this idea of endless possibilities that I receive in nature. You feel a strong connection to the planet - so small, yet apart of something so big! We can carry these ideas outside of our national parks and into the world. One step at a time, we can make an impact. It just takes a conscious decision to begin. Let's do this.