By Nick Italiano
If you spend anytime in state or national parks, you’ve probaly seen the signs that say leave no trace and may have noticed a distinct lack of trash cans in many places. What does this mean? Why are their no trash cans?
In a nutshell leave no trace means that you you leave the place as you found it, avoid damaging or polluting the ecosystem. For many of us this concept seems pretty obvious, but for others who maybe unfamiliar with the delicate balance and function of our ecosystems they may not get it.
These spaces are not just preserved for human enjoyment, but also for the protection of these vital ecosystems and the organisms within them. Many of these places are home to threatened and endangered species of plants and animals, and even if they are not endangered they have experienced a great deal of territory loss due to human development and deserve our consideration and protection.
This realization is more important now then ever, as many people flocked to the great outdoors during the pandemic, many with little or no outdoor know how. I observed a drastic increase in litter and uneeded damage to plants and habitat in places that were normally left untouched by humanity’s careless destruction. This not only harms the environment, but places an increased burden on the very limited parks staff and volunteers to clean up and repair the damage left by careless individuals.
As outdoor enthusiasts it’s falls to us to be the stewards of these places. We have a responsibility to protect and preserve the wild places we live, play, and work in. This responsibility is deep; it is a responsibility to ourselves, to one another, to the future generations of outdoors people, and to the organisms that rely on these ecosystems to live.
What can you do? First and foremost you should live by the adage of leave no trace. This is not always easy; for those of us that enjoy bushcraft, foraging, wildcraft, or hunting the very nature of what we do alters the ecosystem. We need to utilize natural materials and harvest plants or animals to perform our tasks. Just because we do this doesn’t mean we have to do it indiscriminately.
As an avid foragaer I harvest wild plants all the time, however I do it responsibly. In most cases I harvest from plants that have large populations and I mostly forage greens and berries taking small amounts from each plant so I don’t have to kill the plant or drastically reduce vital food sources or habitat for other organisms in the ecosystem. In addition one should always respect the rules put in place by those who manage the land, public or private, as these people are experts in land management and ecosystem preservation.
When it comes to bushcraft, many of the materials we need can come from downed trees. Avoid taking wood that has large populations of fungus growing on it, take only what you absolutely need. If your building a shelter try to find a location. That doesn’t require a great deal of alteration and build on as small of a foot print as possible.
Hunting and fishing are highly regulated activites, these regulations exist to preserve animal populations, not to annoy you. Respect those rules and we can ensure animal populations continue to thrive for future hunts and future sportsman.
For those who hike and camp always follow the rules, stay on the trails and camp in designated areas. Don’t leave your trash, pick up after your dogs, and make sure your fires are done safely and in the appropriate places.
Beyond conducting yourself in the appropriate ways. You should be an advocate for the places you love. Strive to educate others as to the importance of protecting these places. There have been numerous occasions where I have called out poor behavior and practices. While I understand not everyone will be willing to do that; if you choose to do it, do it in a polite way. In most cases I found people to be responsive and honestly didn’t know the potential harm they were causing. Many people are under the mistaking impression that some staff member will simply clean up after them or they just don’t know enough about ecology to understand what they are doing.
Go outside, stay safe, stay wild…but do it responsibly!