Leave No Trace … or Not: What to Do When Rules Conflict

The Dilemma

Christopher Curry has always liked nature, so working on the Nature merit badge at Camp Tall Pines really gets him excited. The ecology director, Sarah Wheatley, makes learning about the environment a whole lot of fun and helps him understand why taking care of the planet is so important.

When he turns 16, Christopher joins the camp’s ecology staff. Things go well at first, but then he starts noticing badge requirements that seem to conflict with Leave No Trace principles. How, he asks Sarah, can you leave no trace when you’re collecting shells for the Nature merit badge and examining the stomach contents of fish (yuck!) for the Fish and Wildlife Management merit badge?

Sarah hears him out, but then says he’s being too “legalistic” — whatever that means — and that “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”

Is Christopher right? Or is Sarah? What should he (and you) do when two sets of rules are in conflict?

Photo by W. Garth Dowling

For Discussion

Read the dilemma aloud to your youth. Then have everyone take turns reading aloud the information about Leave No Trace in the Scouts BSA Handbook.

Form two groups. Assign one group to study the Nature merit badge requirements and the other to study the Fish and Wildlife Management merit badge requirements. Each group should look for places where the requirements either support or conflict with Leave No Trace principles.

After about 10 minutes, get everyone back together and have both groups report on what they learned.

Discuss these questions:

  • Do you agree with Christopher that the badge requirements conflict with Leave No Trace? Why or why not?
  • Does it matter that Scouts can earn these badges by doing requirements that don’t involve collecting specimens? Why or why not?
  • Does it matter that the merit badge pamphlets suggest returning specimens to the wild? Why or why not?
  • Which is more important: following Leave No Trace principles or learning about a merit badge subject?
  • When is it OK to violate Leave No Trace principles? Who gets to decide?

Finally, invite your Scouts or Venturers to think of other cases where two sets of rules or principles might be in conflict. Ask if they can think of general guidelines they could use to make ethical choices in those situations.

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