Most of this material was compiled for the Rocky Mountain Ramblers' Annual Field Orientation Day, held in May, 2000. Some of the publications consulted include:
- "What I Can Do for the Environment", (Action list of Environment Council of Alberta)
- "The Back Packer's Handbook", Campus Recreation, Outdoor Program Centre, University of Calgary, 1990
- "Environmental Respect", by Albert R. Huck and Eugene Decker, pub. Safari Club International Conservation Fund, 1976
The desire for Wilderness Experience lures more and more people away from their comfortable TVs and into the Outdoors - to hike and ski, backpack and camp, snowshoe or mountain bike, take pictures, identify flowers.
All this activity puts tremendous pressure on outdoor spaces as we pass through them. As a result, Outdoor Clubs everywhere are realizing that a few guidelines are needed to help protect the wild areas and ensure we reap the greatest enjoyment and thrills while preserving the beauty and the challenges for future enthusiasts.
LEAVE NO TRACE - A Guide to Bush Etiquette, below, is a list of Pointers to help you make the most of your Wilderness Experience while still leaving something for the next person to discover and cherish.
- Keep voices down - except in bear country.
- Respect the desire of others to listen to the sounds of the forest or the meadows. Even in a group, some would like to hear a bird sing or a coyote yip.
- Don't trespass, get permission.
- Leave gates the way you find them.
- Don't approach or antagonize stock animals.
Leave It Where You Find It
- Brilliant flowers? Unique fossils? Sheep horn? Leave it for the next person to wonder about also. Take a picture instead.
- Leave the bright colours at home unless it is hunting season. Allow your orange garbage bag to be your signal if you need help. Otherwise, keep it tucked away out of sight.
- Avoid perfumes, fragrant sunscreens, and other scented creams.
- Park in established places, on pavement or gravel, not on a roadside meadow.
- Park safely.
- Truly a case of small is smart - small groups, 3 to 4 is best, maximum 8 to 10.
- Split larger groups into sub-groups. It is easier on the environment but it's also easier to keep track of everyone.
Extended Stops (e.g. lunch)
- Park yourself on rocks, gravel streambed, dry grassy meadow. Not only will you not get a wet bottom, you'll also save wear on the landscape.
One of the most serious results of activity. Trails can become braided, deeply rutted, the surface rooted or rocky. Bikes make narrow grooves. Boots widen and horses deepen paths into trenches.
- Bare feet or lug soles? Consider damage to plants and ground vs. safety concerns. Wear the lightest boot you can safely hike in (sturdy boots for rocks, runners on an easy dry trail).
When to Spread Out, When to Go Toe-to-Heel
- When an alpine meadow is full of fragile plants, spread out and walk gently & softly.
- Walk on rock when possible.
- Use them. They help prevent erosion from sliding feet, running water, rolling rocks. Never, never, never shortcut.
When it's Too Steep
- If you need to dig in your toe (going up) or heel (down), it's too steep. Find a gentler slope and zig-zag.
Mud, mud, mud
- Walk on the trail.
- Avoid making braids, widening the trail. Braids are for hair, not trails.
- In the Season of Mud (Spring) consider choosing a route which is less likely to be muddy.
Protecting The Land We Travel Through
- Take out what you brought in. Good idea also to pack out what other thoughtless people left behind.
- If it doesn't grow there, don't leave it there. (Bananas in the Whaleback? Oranges and apples on Mt. Allen? Really?)
- Garbage can injure animals.
- It can lure animals to the area.
- Looks unsightly.
- Remember, your scent is on that garbage. Animals may decide that anything with that scent is food, including you!
Blazes, Marking the Path
- Don't cut or paint trees. If you flag your route, remove everything on the return trip. Of course, this means you have to return the same way (wasn't that why you flagged it in the first place?).
Shortcuts, Definite NO NOs
- We've said it before: Don't make 'em, don't use 'em. They cause gullying, erosion.
- Block them off to prevent others using them.
When Nature Calls
There are whole books written on this topic! Briefly:
- Go off the trail.
- 60 m (200 ft) from water. How far is 60 m.? For the city dwellers, most city lots are 10 to 15 m. wide. So, think in terms of 4 to 5 city lots. (Or how about 15 S.U.V.s parked end to end?).
- Urine kills plants (it's acidic). Animals will often eat these plants for the salt on them. Find a rock, some bare ground or dry forest under-storey.
- Put solid waste in 2 to 6 inch deep 'cat holes' in the biologically active soil (the dark, loamy stuff) OR put it in a plastic bag and pack out.
- Burn toilet paper or pack it out in a plastic bag.
- Always carry out tampons or menstrual pads (blood attracts animals).
- Take a few minutes to leave the trail better than you found it.
- Drain off pooled water. This saves it from becoming mud and lessens the likelihood of others going around it and causing a braid.
- Scuff berm (that little ridge at the side) back onto the pathway.
- Block off shortcuts. Can't stress this too much.
Man's best friend can be a nightmare in the wild.
- Dogs are best on leash, under control at all times. In Canada's National Parks it's the law.
- Loose pets can irritate, even frighten other hikers.
- Dogs can harass wild animals and birds and lead them back to hikers on the trail or, sadly, be attacked or become frightened and lost.
Recognize Habitat - deer, wolves, birds, even plants
- Learn what to look for to recognize where the animals may be (e.g. shoreline grasses for bird nests) and avoid.
- Avoid disturbing the riparian habitat (that green strip along the water's edge where lots of birds and small animals hang out).
- If you see wild animals, especially young ones, or nesting birds, make a wide detour around, preferably downwind of them.
Feeding Wildlife - Another NO NO
This seems to be one of the hardest things for outdoor enthusiasts to avoid. Everyone seems to want to 'look at how this bird takes this cookie from my hand'. You are not doing that bird any favours. Human food is for humans alone.
- Habituates animals and birds to expect treats and often results in 'biting the hand that feeds'.
- Bad diet (e.g. salt, other chemicals).
Meeting Horses, Other Stock
- Stay on the down side of the trail. Horses are front-weighted and it is easier for a rider to guide them up a hill than down.
- NEVER try to pat one as it goes by.
- Use existing sites if available.
- Small is beautiful. Applies to the site and to the fire (if you must have one).
- Observe the 60 m. rule. Stay at least this far from any water body.
- Get off the trail.
- Do not change the site you use. Don't cut down the trees, build huts, dig trenches. If you have to alter a site (some emergency), return it to its natural state before you leave.
- All the guidelines under previous headings apply, of course.
- Take your waste water at least 60 m. away, both from water bodies and from camp. Use biodegradable soap. Strain the water and scatter it. Bury the lumps deep or pack them out.
On The WaterWater Bugs (canoeists, kayakers, swimmers) may not have to worry about many of these guidelines but they do need to be much more concerned in protecting that riparian zone (remember, it's the strip along the river bank).
- Respect the landowner's rights as you pass by. Don't camp on their property without permission.
- Keep your voices down. Sound carries even further on water than on land.
- Avoid disturbing animals (domestic or wild) and water life.
- Observe but don't touch.
Let Your Motto Be
Walk Softly, Walk Gently
Leave It Better Than You Found It
Looking for More?
The web has a number of sites where further information is available. Three that were perused include: