June, 2006

Leave No Trace training

When our local Backcountry Horsemen of Alaska group nominated me to go to Nine Mile, Montana for four-day Master Leave No Trace training, I jumped at the opportunity. This training would better enable me to assist other BCHA members in preserving our front and backcountry areas.

This would also open the lines of communication with those in other user groups, hikers, bikers, and ATVers included. The Mat Su area (where I live) is one of the fastest-growing areas in the U.S. Consequently, trail-use access is becoming a primary concern.

Future work in this area would also be a much-needed form of breed promotion. Icelandics are well-suited for backcountry use. They consume less forage than their larger counterparts, and because of their size, have less of an impact on trails. Their calm dispositions also enables them to be used for service work, some of which includes trail clearing and preservation.

The focus of the Nine-Mile program Master Educator Program is on teaching people to teach others the Leave No Trace principles. And so, the twelve of us were required to give presentations to the other trainees. We were each assigned a mentor, who after, critiqued our presentations. This made us even more invested in the subject matter. So did three days of camping, which allowed us to put theory to practice.

The Leave No Trace movement is an educational program that teaches outdoor enthusiasts how to protect the places they love. The LNT principles originated out of a need to protect backcountry and wilderness areas from human-caused recreational impacts. A structured grassroots training program complements this objective. Those who take the Master Educator class are certified to teach three-day trainer courses. Certified trainers are then certified to teach awareness courses.

At the heart of the leave No Trace are seven principles for reducing the damage caused by outdoor activities, particularly non-motorized transportation. LNT principles can be applied anywhere and in any recreational endeavor. The horseperson’s creed is “When I ride out of the mountains, I’ll leave only hoof prints, take only photographs, and all the extra garbage I can take out!”

The general principles are as follows:

Plan Ahead and Prepare
• Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll be visiting
• Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies
• Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use
• Visit in small groups. Split larger groups into 4-6
• Repackage to minimize waste
• Use a map and a compass to eliminate the use of rock cairns, flagging, or marking tape.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
• Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or snow
• Protect riprarian areas by camping at least 200 feet away from lakes and streams
• Good campsites are found, not made. Altering sites is unnecessary
• In popular areas:
• Use existing trails and campsites
• Walk single file in mid-trail, even when the trail is wet or muddy.
• Keep campsites small. Use areas where vegetation is absent.
• In pristine areas:
• Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails
• Avoid places where impacts are just becoming evident

Dispose of Waste Properly
• Pack it in, pack it out. Pack out trash, leftover food, litter, toilet paper and hygiene products.
• Dispose of solid human waste in catholes 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise catholes when finished

Leave What you Find
• Preserve the past, observe, but don’t touch cultural or historic structures or artifacts.
• Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them
• Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species
• Don’t build structures, furniture, or dig trenches Minimize Campfire Impacts
• Use lightweight stoves for cooking and use candle-lanterns for light
• In permitted areas, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires
• Keep fires small. Use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand
• Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, scatter cool ashes

Respect Wildlife
• Observe wildlife from a distance. Don’t follow or approach.
• Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers
• Protest wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash
• Control pets or leave them at home
• Avoid wildlife during sensitive times; mating, nesting, raising young, or in the winter

Be Considerate of other Visitors
• Respect others and protect the quality of their experience.
• Be courteous. Yield to other trail users
• Step to the downhill side of trail when encountering pack stock
• Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors
• Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud noise and voices

The LNT principles and practices extend common courtesy to and hospitality to other outdoor visitors and to their immediate and distant surroundings. They are based on an abiding respect for nature and people. This respect, coupled with good judgment, allows one to apply the principles in their own unique circumstances.

We as stock users have some of their our own LNT principle-related concerns. When trekking, the slowest animal determines the speed of the pack sting. Who are the followers, and who are the leaders are questions that should be asked in advance. It’s also important to get your animals used to highlines, pickets, and hobbles.

If you plan to pack in bear, especially grizzly country, obtain and understand safety and food regulations. Be aware of where bears live, eat, and travel. Food odors can attract hungry or curious bears nd other animals, so its important to store food properly. In some areas, this means using beat-proof boxes and panniers.

If you’re going on a lengthy ride, that is one that will require you to feed your horses en-route, take supplemental and weed-seed-free feed. Get your stock used to all new feed before you go. Find out in advance if certified weed-seed feed is required. You can also help prevent the spreading of noxious weeds by removing weeds and burrs from animals, tack, trailers, and trucks.

My experience at Nine Mile was life-changing because it took my teaching career, (which was previously centered around teaching writing) in a differing direction. I’ve since begun to work with those who are interested in promoting and putting leave no trace principles to practice.

Additional Information:

The Center for Outdoor Ethics www.lnt.org is located in Boulder, CO. Their website contains more information on the LNT principles as well as contact, volunteer, and resource information.

The national offices of the Backcountry Horsemen of America www.backcountryhorse.com is located in Graham, WA. The BCHA is a nonprofit corporation that’s dedicated to preservation of historic stock use in the backcountry commensurate with our heritage. The BCHA is comprised of state, organizations, affiliates, and at-large members. Their website contains volunteer, resource, and contact information.