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T 2. T 1. T 6. T 4. T 3. T 5. I 3. I 1. I 2. I 5. I 4. Soil Loss. Leave No Trace Outdoor Skills and Ethics The Science behind the Practices. Presentation Objectives. Describe recreation ecology research and how it helps inform the development of Leave No Trace practices.

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leave no trace outdoor skills and ethics the science behind the practices












Soil Loss

Leave No TraceOutdoor Skills and EthicsThe Science behind the Practices
presentation objectives
Presentation Objectives
  • Describe recreation ecology research and how it helps inform the development of Leave No Trace practices.
  • Highlight some of the more relevant research findings for each Leave No Trace principle.
the lnt message
The LNT Message

LNT practices are science-based:

Recreation ecology research tells us about recreation impacts and the relative influence of use-related, environmental, and managerial factors. This information helps us to develop effective Leave No Trace practices.

the lnt message1
The LNT Message

Social science research tells us about visitor attitudes, behaviors, social norms, and effective methods of communicating low impact practices.


Vegetation trampling

Reduction in height

Compositional change:

Fragile to resistant

Native to non-native

Loss of vegetation cover

Vegetation Impacts


Soil Impacts

Trampling and pulverization of organic litter

Loss of organic litter

Compaction of soil:

Increased runoff

Decreased soil moisture


Haleakala National Park

(Simulation - proliferation of informal trails)

loving our public lands to death
Loving Our Public Lands To Death?
  • Nearly 50% of Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2011, that’s 141.1 million visitors.
  • In 2011, outdoor participants made 11.5 billion outings - 1.4 billion more outings than in 2010.
  • Almost half of all outdoor enthusiasts participate in outdoor activities at least once per week.

Increasing visitation

= Increasing impacts?

the seven lnt principles
The Seven LNT Principles

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

4. Leave What You Find

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

6. Respect Wildlife

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

1 plan ahead prepare
1. Plan Ahead & Prepare

Schedule your trip to avoid times of highest use.

  • New campsites are most frequently created on peak use weekends. More than a few nights camping each year prevents their recovery and results in a large inventory of campsites that aren’t really needed.
  • The potential for social impacts (e.g., crowding and conflict) is far greater during peak use periods.
1 plan ahead prepare1
1. Plan Ahead & Prepare

Schedule your trip to avoid times when resources are vulnerable.

  • Vegetation and soils are far more susceptible to degradation during wet periods.
  • Wildlife are more sensitive to disturbance during mating, nesting/birthing, and winter seasons.
2 travel camp on durable surfaces
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

Experimental trampling studies reveal that trampling impacts can be avoided/minimized when you:

  • Best: Stick to rock and naturally barren substrates,
    • Best: Walk on the center of well-established trails or camp in the core barren portions of campsites,
  • Good: Confine traffic to non-vegetated organic litter,
  • OK: Confine traffic to dry grasses; avoid herbs.
2 travel camp on durable surfaces1
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces

Alternate uses for a

cat-hole trowel …

resistance and resilience forbs

1000 passes

1 mo. later

0 passes

250 passes

Resistance and Resilience: Forbs

Forest forbs generally

have low resistance

and resilience.

resistance and resilience grasses

1000 passes

0 passes

1 mo. later

250 passes

Resistance and Resilience: Grasses

Grasses generally

have high resistance

and resilience.

use impact relationships a campsite example
Use-Impact Relationships: A Campsite Example




Total Change (%)


The majority of most types of

impact occur at low use levels











Nights / Year

Vegetation Loss

Soil Exposure

Litter Loss

Seedling Loss

Soil Density

rationale for dispersal containment strategies use impact relationship
Rationale for Dispersal & Containment StrategiesUse/Impact Relationship


What are the implications of the curvilinear use/impact

relationship for selecting a low-impact campsite?

Amount of Use

rationale for dispersal containment strategies use impact relationship1





Rationale for Dispersal & Containment StrategiesUse/Impact Relationship

Consider an area where camping

is unregulated with 3 sites that

receive 15 nights/yr


Amount of Use

rationale for dispersal containment strategies use impact relationship2
Rationale for Dispersal & Containment StrategiesUse/Impact Relationship

All permanent impact could be avoided if use

from the 3 campsites could be dispersed to

45 sites, each with 1 night of camping/year.

Management experience has shown this level

of dispersal to be exceedingly difficult to achieve.




Amount of Use


rationale for dispersal containment strategies use impact relationship3






Close 2 campsites





Rationale for Dispersal & Containment StrategiesUse/Impact Relationship


A containment policy is more effective.

Use from 2 closed campsites is shifted to

the 3rd. Cumulative impact is reduced from

a (3 x a) amount of impact to a (1 x b) level.

Amount of Use


Impacts of Camping on Vegetation: Response and Recovery

David Cole, Chris Monz

  • Applied 1 and 4 nights of camping for 1-3 yrs in the subalpine zone of the Wind River Range in Wyoming
  • Vegetation loss on meadow sites after 4 nights/yr for 3 yrs was less than half that caused by 1 night of camping on the forested sites.
  • Meadow sites recovered completely within 1 yr.
  • Forested sites, even those camped on just once, did not recover completely within 3 yrs.
temporal trends a campsite life history
Temporal Trends: A Campsite Life-History

Site Closure

Site Establishment




1 yr.


Impacts occur quickly; recovery can require up to 30 years.

Implication: rest-rotation schemes will be ineffective.


In popular areas:

In pristine areas:

Spread out and travel on pristine resistant surfaces if you leave trails.

Stay on designated or well-established trails whenever possible.


In popular areas:

In pristine areas:

Stay on established resistant sites. Restrict activities to highly disturbed areas.

Choose a pristine site with resistant surfaces. Disperse activities to avoid impact.


Cryptogamic Soils: Concentrate traffic to a trail (high

use areas) or to footsteps (low use areas)

3 dispose of waste properly
3. Dispose of Waste Properly

Human Waste

  • Problems: human health and aesthetic impacts to other visitors
  • Bacteria (Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter – waterborne gastroenteritis), Protozoans (Giardia, Cryptosporidium) and Viruses (Hepatitis A, Rotavirus)
  • Options: toilets, burial, pack it out
3 dispose of waste properly1
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Studies have shown bacteria to be present one year after cat-hole waste burial. Decomposition is aided by stirring the waste together with soil – organic soils help but are not required.
  • Desiccation, high temperatures, and UV radiation are lethal to pathogens but are highly effective only for thinly smeared surface-deposited waste – not recommended.
  • Soils are effective pathogen filters (only 5 ft) provided they are not coarse-textured.

(Based on a paper by Cilimburg and others, 2000 )

3 dispose of waste properly2
3. Dispose of Waste Properly

Recommendations: Use toilets, carry-out, or cat-hole wastes.

  • Surface deposition is problematic due to aesthetics, animal and insect transmission of diseases, and the greater potential for water contamination.
  • Burial (6-8”) in fine-textured soil >200 ft from water.
  • Group latrines not recommended – the large mass of wastes would slow decomposition time.
  • Snow – carry-out is the best option.

Potential Health Hazard from Human Wastes in Wilderness

Kenneth Temple, Anne Camper, Robert Lucas

  • Analyzed buried human waste buried at two depths in a Montana wilderness.
  • Bacteria survived in large numbers over the first year. Burial depth had no effect on survival rates.
  • Surface disposal increases the chances of insect transmission of disease and of water contamination after a heavy rain. Deep burial away from campsites and water is the best practice.

An analysis of the breakdown of paper products (toilet paper, tissues and tampons) in natural environments, Tasmania

Kerry Bridle, J. Kirkpatrick

  • Examined the breakdown rates for toilet paper, facial tissues, and tampons in 9 environments park settings. Items were buried for 6, 12 & 24 months at depths of 2 & 6 inches.
  • Toilet paper and tissues decayed in 2-3 yrs, tampons require longer (perhaps 4-5yrs). Depth of burial was not important in determining the degree to which products decayed.
  • Of 750 burials, 34 (4.5%) surfaced from animal excavations or frost-heaving (30 of which had been buried only 2 in deep)
  • An alpine site and wet sites showed very little decay over two years.

Laboratory Evaluation of the 3-Bowl System Used for Washing-Up Eating Utensils in the Field

Joanna Hargreaves

  • Dish washing options were tested with simulated dish washing of 5 contaminated dish tins.
  • Bacterial load on contaminated tins is reduced when the 3-bowl system is used.
  • Soap is needed to remove grease. Disinfectant with bleach produced a marked reduction in bacterial load when used in bowl 2, and a final rinse removed the smell of disinfectant.
  • Best: Scrub in soapy water to remove most food residue in bowl 1. Finish washing with bleach until visibly clean in bowl 2. Contact with bleach for one full minute is needed for disinfection. Final rinse in clean water in bowl 3.

Single Bowl Option – Dishwashing Steps:

  • 1) Eat everything! Or scrape food into a trash bag. Remove grease/oil with TP if present.
  • 2) Wash with a few drops of biodegradable soap.
  • 3) Sanitize by dipping in boiling water just prior to next meal, or dip for 1+ minute in cold water with unscented chlorine bleach (1.5 tsp/gal).
  • 4) Rinse.
  • Advantages: Requires only 1 pot and sanitizes contamination occurring between meals.
4 leave what you find
4. Leave What You Find

Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.

  • Seeds stuck to boots, hooves, and tents often germinate along trails and at campsites.
  • Most non-native plants are “disturbance-associated” species that remain in the vicinity of trails and campsites, e.g., dandelions and plantain. However, a few species are able to out-compete native vegetation in undisturbed environments.
  • Research has also documented the germination of non-native seeds that have passed through the intestines of pack stock.
stop the spread of invasive plants
Stop the Spread of Invasive Plants

In 11 studies investigating weed seeds found on the clothing of park visitors, seeds from 228 species were found, 94 of which were species not native to the study continent.

The tops and bottoms of shoes can easily disperse seeds along trails.

4 leave what you find2
4. Leave What You Find

Leave flowers for others to see. Picking them prevents formation of seeds vital to their reproduction and survival. A Great Smoky Mtn. NP study documented significantly fewer orchids along trails in comparison to more distant areas.


The Box Turtle Room with a View on Species Decline

Bill Beizer, Mary Steisslinger

  • Box turtles are declining in number due to habitat loss, death from cars/mowers, and commercial or youth collection as pets.
  • Box turtles can live 120+ yrs and have a small home range.
  • If captured and let go they will search for years for their former home, often taking them into areas where they are caught or killed.
  • Poor diets in captivity can lead to overwinter death when let go in the fall.
  • Disease exposure has occurred in captivity that spread to other turtles when released.
  • Mating appears to rely on chance encounters so as populations decline, reproduction rates are greatly reduced.
5 minimize campfire impacts
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Research shows that campfire-related impacts are both socially and ecologically significant.

  • Campfire sites remind others that the area is not pristine, large mounds of charcoal with trash are an eyesore, firewood depletion can leave a human “browse line” and tree damage and stumps represent acts of depreciative behavior.
  • Tree cutting removes dead trees important for cavity-nesting wildlife. Firewood depletion diminishes nutrient cycling and soil macro-fauna. Campfires produce long-term changes in soil physical and chemical properties.
minimize campfire impacts
Minimize Campfire Impacts

Avoid campfire-related impacts by using a stove.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Backcountry Campsites: 327

Damaged Trees: 2,377

Tree Stumps: 3,366

bsa woods tools for conservation not camping
BSA: Woods Tools for Conservation, Not Camping
  • Disassociating woods tools from camping would:
  • Leave large standing or fallen dead wood for cavity nesting wildlife, native insects important to wildlife, and nutrient cycling in the forest,
  • Encourage the building of small campfires that conserve wood supplies for others,
  • Limit campfires to small wood that more easily burns to ash in a short time - reducing the buildup of charcoal and partially burned wood,
  • Prevent woods tool damage to woody vegetation, and
  • Promote safety and prevent injuries from woods tools.  
6 respect wildlife
6. Respect Wildlife
  • Research shows that small mammal populations supported by human food reach unsustainable levels that promote disease transmission or starvation during the off-season.
  • Another study found that the cessation of long-term artificial feeding left some animals with an inability to locate natural food. The young of such animals may never learn to forage for natural foods – tantamount to a death sentence.
6 respect wildlife1
6. Respect Wildlife

Keep wildlife wild.

Never feed wildlife or allow them to obtain human food or trash.

Wildlife attracted to human food often suffer nutritionally, alter their natural behavior and expose themselves to predators and other dangers.

Fed deer in Grand Canyon had 3-5 pounds of plastic clogging their digestive system. A fed deer in Yosemite killed a small child.


The Effects of Dogs on Wildlife Communities

Benjamin Lenth, Mark Brennan, Richard Knight

  • Assessed wildlife activity on trails with and without dogs.
  • Mule deer activity was significantly lower up to 100 m from trails with dogs,
  • Bobcat, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, and mice exhibited reduced levels of activity up to 50 m from trails with dogs,
  • If dogs are permitted they should be restrained on a leash.
6 respect wildlife2
6. Respect Wildlife

Displacement– animals are forced away from preferred habitats e.g., food/water sources or cover, either during certain times (temporal displacement) or in certain places (spatial displacement).

New habitats are unfamiliar, often have lower quality food and cover, or increased competition and predation.

7 be considerate of other visitors
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

What’s wrong with this scene?

7 be considerate of other visitors social research on group size
7. Be Considerate of Other VisitorsSocial Research on Group Size

Studies reveal that >2/3rds of wilderness visitors report that seeing large groups reduces their feeling of solitude and being in wilderness.

  • However, group size is generally among the lowest ranked problems in comparison studies and < 50% report that seeing large groups is a problem.
  • Research indicates that a group’s actual behavior is more important than its physical size. Large groups can camp quietly away from others and adopt low impact camping practices.
ecological research on group size
Ecological Research on Group Size
  • Only one empirical study and several suggestive studies…
  • Large groups burned more firewood, but less wood per person, than smaller groups.
  • Wildlife would likely be less disturbed by a smaller number of larger groups than by a larger number of smaller groups.
  • Ecological impacts of large groups are greater at lower use levels – more difficult to disperse activities.

(Based on a paper by Monz and others, 2000 )

ecological research on group size1
Ecological Research on Group Size
  • Large groups can cause excessive impact if they cannot locate a sufficiently large site – in this instance they should split up and camp separately.
  • Large groups with horses have more potential to cause greater impact than hikers so limits should include horses or be lower for horse groups.
  • Large groups can reduce their impact by: 1) breaking into smaller groups to hike and camp, 2) confining their activities to already impacted areas away from other groups, 3) meeting infrequently as a large group and only on durable surfaces, and 4) practicing quiet and courteous behavior.
the end
The End

Leave No Trace !

Happy trails and remember to . . .

Sunset, Haleakala Volcano, Haleakala National Park, Hawaii