Wednesday, April 6, 2011

LNT: Dogma or Idea?

April 22, 2011 is the 41st Anniversary of the Birth of the Modern Environmental Movement in the United States. This day is most commonly referred to as, Earth Day. To learn more visit:

Team Sherpa Ultra Running is conducting a series of posts this month to celebrate Earth Day during the entire month of April. These posts also coincide with Streak Earth, a month long running series hosted by Sherpa John: Human Potential.

Leave No Trace: Dogma or Idea?
What is Leave No Trace and how do you follow it's mission? In this post I'm going to ask you the trying question; Do you view it as a Dogmatic Approach to Land Ethics? Or is it simply an ideologic framework designed to make us think? The answer is certainly different for everyone and it's important to know that it's not always in black and white. As a Certified LNT Trainer, my goal here is to get you to think about your impressions of LNT, question how you follow the guidelines and determine what is appropriate for you and not necessarily everyone else.

The LNT Mission: The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an educational, nonprofit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and active stewardship of the outdoors by all people, worldwide. (From:

Now that we have read the LNT mission statement, I wanted to pull out a few of the core values of LNT for the purposes of this conversation. To view all of the LNT Core Values please visit:

1. Is committed to the enjoyment, health and protection of recreational resources on natural lands for all people;
2. Believes that education is the best means to protect natural lands from recreational impacts while helping maintain access for recreation and enjoyment;
3. Is founded on outdoor ethics whereby a sense of stewardship is gained through understanding and connecting with the natural world.
8. Is apolitical and dedicated to education;

The Seven Principles of LNT:
Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors

During the 1960's, 70s and 80's; The degradation, abuse and mis-use of public lands had become a serious item for consideration whenever people thought and spoke about the outdoors. Here in New Hampshire, for instance, Franconia Ridge was a brown dying mess due to hikers walking wherever they darn well pleased alone the top of the ridge. From the starting point of the 60s, things were only getting worse instead of better and The USFS needed to act fast to preserve some of our most beautiful treasures.

Starting in the 1960s, pamphlets were handed out to wilderness travelers to try and educate them about being responsible stewards of the land. In the 70's, books written by the famed Petzoldt and Watermans were the new mode of communication with the outdoor types. most notable, Backwoods Ethics and Wilderness Ethics by the Watermans. The USFS and other land management agencies struggled through the 70's and then the 80s to really make the needed impact towards shaping the way our society used the lands and getting them into the habit of trying to do their part towards preservation. So, in the 1990s the USFS teamed up with NOLS and created the first Leave No Trace Education Curriculum. In 1994, LNT was created as a 501(c)3 non profit organization. The organization is privately funded through the efforts of the various other Outdoor Non-Profits who use lands such as The AMC, Sierra, and others.

So What?
So what does this all mean? It means that LNT was conceived through a long drawn out process. It was conceptualized by various government agencies such as the United States Forest Service and a number of other Outdoor Education organizations such as The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), based on the writings and ideals of a select few who's words and thoughts have long been highly regarded in the outdoors arena. They created this framework, to educate people about the totality of each individuals impact on the land they use. A "carbon footprint" of sorts. But what has it become in the 2000s? It's been 17 years since LNT first became a non-profit and it's been a bit longer since the first LNT Master trainer courses were ever conducted.

I ask the question... have the original reasons and ideals of LNT turned into a dogmatic approach to land stewardship? Are those who follow the ethics of LNT following them too closely and in turn preaching, and pushing their own personal interpretation of these ideas on others?

Scenario 1: Take for instance the story of Hikers "A" and "B." Hiker "A" is walking along their favorite hiking trail when they spot a white fungi on the side of a dying beechwood tree. So, hiker "A" walks over and breaks the fungi off of the tree and using a smaller twig, writes a message into the fungi which he aptly calls a "Mushroom Message." Hiker "A" then places the mushroom message on the side of the trail which will surely be read by the next hiker if they notice it. While placing the message down, Hiker "B" walks up and began to berate Hiker "A" for not following good LNT. The tongue lashing continues until Hiker "A" agrees to pick up the mushroom and chuck it into the woods never to be seen by human eyes again.
Question: What is the big deal? In this instance, Hiker "B" has taken the frameworks of LNT to an entire new level. It's not as if a party of 300 hikers were writing messages on mushrooms in the forest. So what's the big deal? Is it really that big a deal after all? In this instance, has LNT become Dogmatic or is it still a framework ideal?

Scenario 2: Hikers "C" and "D" are hiking up a trail when along their way 3 gray jays fly onto the tree branches around them and begin following them. Hiker "C" takes out his trail mix, places some in his hand and the Gray Jays swoop out of the trees, land on Hiker "C"'s hand and begin to eat the trail mix from it. In seeing this transpire, Hiker "D" throws a nutty and begins to lecture Hiker "C" about how his feeding of the Jay's is detrimental to their survival as he is now teaching them to rely on humans for survival. Hiker "D" goes on to tell Hiker "C" that his LNT skills are deplorable and he should have stayed home.
Question: Should have Hiker "C" stayed home? Are the birds really learning to rely on humans for survival? Is this really part of the LNT principles? When thinking about the history of LNT, does the importance of not feeding the Gray Jays really play into why the LNT program was even created?

Scenario 3: Hikers "E" and "F" are seen hiking above tree line and in the alpine zone, an area of fragile vegetation that takes thousands of years to grow. While in the Alpine Zone, Hiker "G" sees Hikers "E" and "F" walking wherever they please, off of the trodden path and in turn are destroying some of the vegetation without what seems to be a care in the world. Hiker "G" then respectfully approaches Hikers "E" and "F" and educates them about LNT and the Alpine Steward program and explains to them the effect that their trouncing about has on the vegetation.
Question: Is Hiker "G" right? Is it possible for us to educate and enlighten each other while using some form of respect and understanding? Isn't this the reason why LNT was originally created? If yes, then why all the furor over the feeding of Jays and the writing on mushrooms?

Now What?
The importance of these scenarios is not for us to have a debate here. The purpose is for you to ask yourself these questions and determine for yourself, what you would do personally. What do you feel is ethically right and how will you educate others in future situations? But let's keep it in perspective here. What really is the purpose of LNT? What are we trying to teach? How do we teach it and is it for us to teach? But really ask yourself... What is the purpose of my teaching this to people and am I really keeping the main reason for the creation of LNT in mind? These questions are essential if you're going to get your message across and educate your outdoor peers about what is one of the most important topics of the last 20 years.

As far as this author is concerned. I fear our society has taken the LNT principles and turned it into something that far surpasses it's original purpose. People follow it like religion and push the belief on others like they'r the governing body of the trees. To each his own, but the idea of educating is being lost in the emotion and push for understanding.

Sherpa John