Leave No Trace: Share the Responsibility

Read a detailed Leave No Trace guide for leaders (that appeared in our March-April 2012 edition) by clicking here.


How you can ensure you and Scouts follow Leave No Trace principles.

The following is a note from experts of Leave No Trace efforts: Wade M. Vagias with the National Park Service; Ben Lawhon with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics; and Jeff Marion, Ph.D., Scouter serving on the BSA’s Outdoor Ethics Taskforce.

THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA plays a significant and fundamental role in introducing millions of youth to the out-of-doors, a critical task among a generation increasingly disconnecting from the natural world. This responsibility also creates an important partnership between Scouting and the greater conservation community, including the various public land management agencies, as unquestionably some of today’s Scouts will go on to become tomorrow’s Scout leaders and conservation professionals.

For many years, Scouts have followed the BSA’s Outdoor Code: “As an American, I will do my best to: be clean in my outdoor manners, be careful with fire, be considerate in the outdoors, and be conservation minded.” The Outdoor Code embodies the Scouting ideal of stewardship and outdoor ethics.

Let’s explore critical responsibility of Scout leaders—teaching, modeling, and instilling strong environmental ethics and outdoor skills among Scouts. The BSA is the single largest group using public lands today in the United States. Thus, open communication and agreement on appropriate outdoor practices is essential to ensure the long-term integrity of all lands used for recreation. Below, you will also find guidance on the sources for Leave No Trace education and teaching resources as well as Leave No Trace training opportunities.

What is Leave No Trace and why is practicing it important?

Leave No Trace is not just a slogan or a training program. It’s an ethic coupled with low-impact practices that can and should be part of any outdoor experience.

As a concept, Leave No Trace crosses all boundaries of the recreation spectrum and is applicable for anyone who enjoys spending time in the outdoors. The idea is simple: Leave the places where you recreate better than how you found them. There are skills and ethics involved, as well as good decision-making.

The very nature of Leave No Trace lends itself well to fostering a cooperative spirit of stewardship and shared responsibility for lands used for recreation. Federal land management agencies, Boy Scouts, local governments, and individuals share a common goal of protecting these areas for future generations while responsibly enjoying them.

What specifically can you, a Scout leader, do to promote Leave No Trace?

In order to protect natural conditions on public and private lands, land managers and owners need you, the Scout leader, to help teach Scouts the importance of Leave No Trace and instill a solid environmental ethic among those in your troop.

The following four topics offer some helpful general and specific guidance, supported by public land managers and the national BSA leadership.

1. Take a Leave No Trace training course. The BSA offers Leave No Trace training as part of its core outdoors training programs. There are four levels of Leave No Trace training offered by the BSA:

• A five-day Master Educator Course

• A 16-hour overnight Trainer course

• A 3.5-hour general introduction called “BSA Leave No Trace 101”

• General Awareness Workshops

The five-day Master Educator Course is at the top of the training pyramid and teaches participants to become comprehensive Leave No Trace educators. At the second level, Master Educators teach the Trainer Course to people who become Leave No Trace Trainers. Trainers conduct the third and fourth level of training called BSA Leave No Trace 101 or Awareness Workshops, providing a general introduction to Leave No Trace skills and ethics.

Master educators and Trainers also teach Leave No Trace skills within other BSA courses at camporees and on troop, crew, or pack outings. For more information about training opportunities, visit these websites (outdoorethics-bsa.org/training.htm, LNT.org, or contact your council staff, Outdoor Ethics Advocate, or your state’s Leave No Trace State Advocate. (lnt.org/programs/stateadvocate.php).

2. Take personal responsibility to always lead by example and practice Leave No Trace and publicly recognize Scouts for doing the same. As a Scout leader, your Scouts look to you for leadership, knowledge, and encouragement. Demonstrate proper behavior, look for opportunities for teachable moments during outings, educate experientially, and avoid extended lectures.

Setting an example consistent with recommended Leave No Trace practices helps reaffirm the importance of the seven principles to Scouts. Additionally, publically rewarding Scouts for applying proper Leave No Trace behaviors reinforces the significance of low-impact behaviors among the larger group.

3. Learn, teach, and practice group-related Leave No Trace outdoor skills with your Scouts. Scouts typically travel and camp in groups, which requires special low-impact practices and considerations.

For example, a large group can substantially expand the size of a campsite or create a noisy atmosphere that conflicts with others seeking a quiet experience. Scout groups are highly visible to land managers and other visitors and have occasionally presented an image not in keeping with good Scouting.

Because the BSA teaches lifelong outdoor skills to thousands of new youth each year, we have a responsibility to teach and promote low-impact practices that preserve natural resources and the quality of outdoor experiences. Review and teach Chapter 7 of the Boy Scout Handbook. Download and use the Leave No Trace Group Use brochure (outdoorethics-bsa.org/resources.htm) to educate yourself and your group’s outdoor leaders on appropriate large group Leave No Trace practices.

4. Adopt low-impact campfire practices. Many of the most significant and avoidable camping impacts are related to campfires. Examples include building new fire sites, burning large-diameter wood (bigger than your wrist) that leaves chunks of charcoal and ash, disposing of trash in campfires, failing to conserve scarce wood resources, and damaging and felling trees for firewood collection.

Most troops have transitioned to portable stoves that avoid campfire-related impacts entirely. When you do build a campfire, learn and teach the best-available low-impact practices outlined in the Boy Scout Handbook. For example, teach wood-tool use during service-related conservation projects and leave them at home when camping—as recommended by many public land managers.

Collect only locally obtained, small, dead, and downed wood for campfires and burn it completely to ash. Many states advise against or prohibit transporting campfire wood as that can spread invasive insects. Carry out all trash and leftover food.

Where can you go for additional information about Leave No Trace?

Numerous Leave No Trace education and training resources are available from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. The center is an educational, nonprofit organization dedicated to the responsible enjoyment and active stewardship of the outdoors by all people—worldwide. The center provides numerous online and printed educational resources, training opportunities and programs, and other resources. Visit LNT.org or call 1-800-332-4100.

Additionally, the BSA offers additional information at bit.ly./LNT. Visit outdoorethicsbsa.org/index.htm before your next group outing.

The connections between the missions of the Boy Scouts of America, conservation agencies like the National Park Service, and the environmental ethic promoted by both the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and the BSA Outdoor Code are indisputable. Fully realizing and capitalizing upon these inherent connections falls largely upon the shoulders of you, the Scout leader.

We hope this gives you a foundation on which to begin sharing and imparting Leave No Trace among your Scouts. And we thank you for your work to introduce young people to the outdoors.

Wade M. Vagias, Ph.D., works in the Wilderness Stewardship Division of the National Park Service, where he serves as the Servicewide Outdoor Ethics Coordinator.

Ben Lawhon, an Eagle Scout, works as the Education Director for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, where he facilitates curriculum development, manages national education and training programs, works on international initiatives, and coordinates general outreach efforts.

Jeff Marion, Ph.D., is a lifelong Scouter who conducts research on recreation impacts for the federal land management agencies. He was a founding Board member of Leave No Trace and serves on the BSA’s Outdoor Ethics Taskforce.

2 thoughts on “Leave No Trace: Share the Responsibility

  1. Thanks for printing that imformative article about LNT. As a LNT Trainer I will take every opportunity presented to me to get the word out. During Camporees or Klondikes I make sure that the subject is presented somewhere in the program so that continued awareness is going on. I have also conducted awareness workshops for Troops and Packs. I think the best thing you can do as a person, and a leader of youth, is to live by what you say. If you are setting a good example in your outdoor manners and following the guidelines of LNT, your Scouts will automatically follow suit. If an issue arises in the outdoors use it as a teachable moment, avoid preaching to them, just explain the cold hard facts. If you become educated to the principles of LNT it will be a snap to explain why we need to follow them when the questions arise. Remember, we should be able to leave no trace….Bigfoot’s been doing it for years!

  2. Pingback: A Scouter's guide to teaching Leave No Trace ethics - Scouting magazine

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