Our members, leaders, and staff spend a lot of time in the outdoors, and we want to be good stewards of the natural world. Part of that stewardship is acting ethically in the outdoors. One system of outdoor ethics, Leave No Trace (or LNT), has been popularized since its creation in the early 1990s. While LNT principles can be a good way to remember what to do (and what not to do) in the outdoors, it is also important to note that LNT has been used as a gatekeeping tool or as a form of respectability politics to police new users of the outdoors, particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). We discuss the 7 LNT principles below, but we also strive to provide context for this system so that our members can use this knowledge in a healthy way. We begin with the articles linked below. Some of these articles assume some basic knowledge of LNT, so feel free to browse the principles first, but please come back to these afterward.
This last one is by a White author, but ties helpful connections. Don't let this be the only article you read, please.
The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is a spectrum. You will figure out what practices work best for you, and we urge you to fall on the more sustainable side of things. Ultimately, there are some rules that ACC enforces - don't litter, be professional to hikers, bury your poop - and some decisions that you'll make for yourself. Here are the 7 Leave No Trace principles, some notes for applying them when you're on a Conservation Crew, and some context/food for thought for each principle:
1. Plan ahead and prepare
Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit (your leaders will help with this)
Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies - bring appropriate gear, and pack your rain gear in your daypack every day
Know if your crew is frontcountry or backcountry, and pack accordingly
Prepare mentally for your hitch, especially if this is a new experience for you (see the Wellness in the Field tab for some ways to consider your mental health in the field)
As part of your preparations, be aware of the privilege you might bring with you into the outdoors. Consider these questions and more: Has your family always had access to public lands? Does setting up a tent come naturally to you? Do most of the people that you see on public lands look like you? Is your relationship with the wilderness positive, and free from generational trauma? Are you physically able to use trails that traverse difficult terrain? Are you able to buy expensive gear? Are you able to find gear that is made for your body type? Are the foods that your crew will eat in the outdoors familiar to you? Are the outdoors a place of relaxation for you, where you feel you can let down your guard? Can you interact easily with other people in the outdoors without code-switching?
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
Durable surfaces include maintained trails and designated campsites, rock, gravel, sand, dry grasses or snow.
Protect waterways - camp at least 200 ft from rivers, lakes, and streams
Good backcountry campsites are found, not made. Altering a site should not be necessary.
Disguise your site when you leave - naturalize and sprinkle leaf litter or fluff the grass under where your tent was.
In popular areas:
Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
In pristine areas:
Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.
Obviously, we sometimes need to step off the trail. If you need to use the bathroom, if there's a snake on the trail, or if our work dictates it. Sometimes we walk off the trail because we are building a new section of trail. Sometimes we walk off the trail because we need to find rocks to build a trail structure. Sometimes we walk off the trail because there's a deep mud pit and our boots are in bad shape and when you're camping for 9 days, your boots will never dry back out. There are good reasons to step off the trail, just make sure you're considering the why before you do it.
3. Dispose of waste properly
Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite, food preparation areas, and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
Utilize toilet facilities whenever possible. Otherwise, deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. (see the Wellness in the Field tab for more about going to the bathroom in the woods)
Bury or pack out used toilet paper. Pack out used menstrual products.
To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Strain and scatter your dishwater.
Don't toss food scraps - oranges don't grow here, so their peels take a long time to break down. Tossing food near a campground can draw animals to that area, and we want them to stay away from humans and human food.
It's a good idea to carry a trashbag or a couple grocery bags when you're hiking, in case there's trash along the trail. Especially if your crew is clearing trail corridor or hiking out to a worksite, grabbing any trash you see along the way is a great way to ensure that everyone has a good experience outdoors. Sometimes a wrapper falls out of someone's backpack or pocket - not all litter is intentional, so try to be charitable even when you're the one picking up after someone else.
4. Leave what you find
Preserve the past: examine, photograph, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
Some natural areas allow fishing, hunting, or foraging. Some natural areas allow only local Indigenous groups to hunt or gather. That's not leaving what you find, but it can be conservation, and some public lands are co-managed with local Native tribes. However, many public lands now prohibit anyone from using the resources there, including the Native peoples who historically used and cared for the land, and many Native peoples were displaced in order to establish what are now considered public lands. Under the guise of protecting the land, many Indigenous groups are prevented from using the resources of their Ancestral Lands. Most hunters and anglers are conservationists - they don't want to deplete the game population, they want to keep it at a healthy level, and during the appropriate season, they want to use some of the natural resources as food for them and their families. Humans aren't separate from nature, we're part of it, and using a sustainable amount of local resources can be healthy for us and for the environment.
5. Minimize campfire impacts
Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment. Use a stove for cooking when you can.
Know the fire regulations (for instance, in Shenandoah National Park, fires are only permitted in campfire rings in campgrounds and picnic areas)
Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
Keep fires small. Use wood that is dead, down, dinky (smaller than your wrist), and distant (if you use all the sticks close to your site, what will the next folks there use? Forage a little farther away for wood.)
Don't transport wood long distances - driving wood in from somewhere else can spread invasive pests! Gather or buy wood locally.
Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.
In campgrounds, burn down to ash, or extinguish completely with water.
Shovel the ashes out of the firepit into the ash bin (if available)
Leave any large chunks of wood behind for the next folks
Campfires can be a great way to bring a group together in the outdoors, or to brighten up a long, tiring day. While Leave No Trace discourages campfires, in addition to the environmental impacts, consider the memories and bonds that can be created by a small, safe campfire. Especially if someone on your crew has never sat around a campfire, and the local regulations allow it, we encourage you to have a small fire together on hitch. Be sure to put the fire out completely before going to bed!
Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, habituates them to humans, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
Protect wildlife and your food by storing food and trash securely.
Be extra careful to avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
Sometimes our crews need to move small critters out of the way when building a trail. It can be ok to pick up a salamander or little garden snake to move them to safety, and it's ok to point out critters to the other folks on your crew. Be kind - don't carry the animal around to your whole crew. Call them over to look, and when everyone has seen it, carry it quickly to a safe place nearby.
7. Be considerate of other visitors
Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
Be courteous and professional. Yield to other users on the trail, stop working so they can pass, and if they're curious about what you're doing, answer them politely and refer them to your leaders if you don't know how to answer their questions.
Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering horses or mules, and remove your hard hat (these steps help to keep the horses from seeing you as a threat)
Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
Avoid loud voices and noises, and don't listen to loud music in camp. It is part of our policies that crews may not listen to music during the work day, as this can be distracting and unprofessional.
Sometimes being considerate of other visitors means asking them to take a different route, to step off the trail around where you're working, or to wait a moment while your crew leader is using a chainsaw. Be polite, and explain the situation to them - we are there to improve the outdoor space for everyone, and it's important that we do that safely! While we do want to keep our voices at a reasonable level, communicating with your crew is important during the workday and at camp, just be considerate of other campers and trail users, and avoid profanity.
When communicating with other visitors who may be less LNT-aware or LNT-focused, or who may appear to be breaking the rules, a good technique to apply is focusing on the Authority of the Resource (see link below). This also involves giving people the benefit of the doubt and being compassionate in your communication - being aware of the history of LNT being used as a gatekeeping tool and making sure not to perpetuate that.