Part 1 of this series introduced the concepts of Leave No Trace Canada, and noted the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. On other pages, we’ve covered “Planning Ahead“, “Travelling on Durable Surfaces” and “Dispose of Wastes Properly”. The fourth of these principles is “Leave What You Find“.
The adage of “Take only Pictures, Leave only Footprints” is a bit blurry in it’s origins. It’s possible it started in 1952 with the Baltimore Grotto, a caving club whose members feared their activities would mar the landscapes they so enjoyed. It’s also possible it came from Duwamish Chief Seattle from a speech in the mid 1800’s. Whatever the origins, it has come to stand for an ethos encouraged by many outdoor organizations that promote responsible recreational uses of our outdoor spaces. The “Leave What You Find” principle looks at both what you take, and what you leave behind.
What can you collect or take?
First off, inside Parks and protected areas like Provincial Recreation Areas, it’s illegal to take anything, including plants, rocks, fossils, antler sheds, and of course any cultural artefact. And while the reasoning for it changes on public land (which we discussed on the Kananaskis Public Land Use Zone page), in fact the taking of anything (including sheds, fossils, etc) for commercial use is not allowed there, either, without a permit.
Taking anything from the landscape prevents the opportunity for others to see and discover things. If that pine cone or old abandoned bird nest is of interest to you, it’s probably of interest to someone else, too. Other animals or plants in the forest need many things we take. Antler sheds (like the one pictured at the top) are a great example. With all the elk and deer in the forests, you would expect the forest to be full of sheds – but it isn’t. Shed antlers (and bones from carcasses, too) are a food and mineral source for small and large animals alike. They are all eventually eaten (sometimes much faster than others).
Leave the flowers alone
Picking flowers is particularly problematic. This is true even if they’re dandelions or non-native invasives like Shasta/Ox Eye Daisies. Despite being weeds, picking those is still illegal. They should be reported instead.
Often, the damage is severe; picking a Wood Lily, for instance, will kill the plant entirely. Flowers are there to help plants propagate and gain food energy, and are food for pollinators. The cumulative effect of people picking flowers can be astounding. Entire fields can become flower-free. Folks collecting edible plants (like mushrooms) can eliminate plants in whole areas through accidental overharvest. This is one reason why collection of anything on Public Land requires permits, and is simply not permitted in Parks.
As noted on the “Travelling on Durable Surfaces” page, leaving footprints behind can often be too much. Often we don’t realize how much we leave behind.
Clearing a spot to sit to have lunch leaves a bare spot where soil gets compacted, and can erode. Our favourite, once-grassy, lunch spot at West Wind Pass has become a compacted, muddy dirt patch in the last 8 years, as the use of that trail has increased. Avoid clearing areas of rocks, twigs or pinecones, or put them back if you do. This is especially true of backcountry camping;. Use designated tent pad sites to minimize disturbance, and don’t build anything you can’t take apart and make disappear before you leave. The table and chairs pictured at right has been a fixture in the back of Sparrowhawk Tarns for years. Don’t trench around your tent to get water to drain, as that trench will be there basically forever. Great campsites are found, not made.
What about campsites?
Good campsites and ethical, prepared campers in both front and back country don’t need to put nails or hooks in trees They don’t need to cut branches off trees or bushes to improve their sites. They don’t even need to tie their tent guy lines to trees, which can damage the bark and girdle the tree. Sleeping pads were invented so that tree limbs didn’t need to be cut off to make beds (which aren’t very comfy and are, at best, single use). And there is no reason, ever, to cut into a tree’s trunk with any tool, including axes or knives. Stripping birch bark to start a fire will injure the tree and is a sign you don’t actually know how to properly build a fire. Leave the trees alone.
Surely stacking up rocks is harmless?
Crazy popular, and crazy annoying these days, are the profligacy of rock stacks and unneeded cairns. Just when you get to some pristine spot in the wilderness, there’s a rock stack (or 10) or a (culturally inappropriate) inugsuk. Building them is inappropriate, but taking them down is entirely appropriate. So is dismantling fire rings that shouldn’t be there, lean-tos that shouldn’t be there, and anything else that is inappropriate in the wilderness. For more on the topic of how stacking stones wreaks havoc on parks, see this article from New Yorker Magazine.
It’s illegal to have a fire in a Provincial Park anywhere but a designated fire ring (or camp anywhere that’s not a designated campsite). However, we’ve found fire rings in the strangest of places in the backcountry of Spray Valley and Peter Lougheed Provincial Parks, such as the one pictured at right. More on “Minimizing Campfire Impacts” in the next instalment.
So what CAN we do?
This leads to one proactive idea of the Leave What You Find principle: it IS appropriate to clean up sites and dismantle inappropriate user-built facilities, such as rock stacks, lean-tos, fire rings and constructed seats or tables. If you find them, take them apart. If you can’t because they’re too big, report them.
Leaving places as natural as you found them (or perhaps more so) is an ethical way to help keep our wilderness just that much more pristine.
- Leave things for other to find them
- Build nothing, and tear down things others have built
- Pick no flowers
- Good campsites are found, not made
- Report damage you can’t fix
<- Back to “Pack it Out”
Onward to “Minimize Campfire Impacts” ->