A Winning Hand

Card game can help you turn Leave No Trace principles into action.

Illustration by Tim Tomkinson


WHEN SCOUTS GO CAMPING, they build muscles and memories. With a little guidance, they can build something else, too: a stronger sense of outdoor ethics.

Guidelines for Cub Scouts

  1. Plan ahead.
  2. Stick to trails.
  3. Manage your pet.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Respect other visitors.
  6. Trash your trash.

In recent years, Leave No Trace principles have become entrenched in Scouting. Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts now earn Leave No Trace Awards, Leave No Trace requirements appear in both Boy Scout and Venturing advancement requirements, and many Scouters have become Leave No Trace Master Educators or Trainers. As a result, many boys and adult leaders can recite the seven principles of Leave No Trace as easily as they can recite the 12 points of the Scout Law.

Leave No Trace, though, is about more than just awareness. It’s about action. And you have a great way to bridge the gap with your Scouts. Play an outdoor ethics card game, adapted from the BSA’s Leave No Trace Trainer Course Manual, at your meeting place or on an outing. It’s designed to help Scouts develop a personal sense of outdoor ethics by teaching them to consider the impact of their actions.

If you’re playing the game with Boy Scouts or Venturers, distribute index cards and pens or pencils to the group. Give the players a few minutes to record actions humans take that affect the environment. Each action goes on a separate card. Aim to generate a few dozen cards with ideas.

For Cub Scouts, create a set of 20 or more cards ahead of time that show actions humans take that affect the environment. Examples: straying from established trails, picking wildflowers, building large campfires, running and yelling, feeding wild animals, littering, urinating near streams, and cutting down trees.

The 7 Principles

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.

To start, collect all of the cards and pull two from the stack at random. Read the impacts listed aloud and have the players decide which is more disgusting or distasteful, setting that card aside (no need to take a vote; just get a consensus of which action is worse). Repeat with additional pairs of cards until you’ve worked your way through the deck.

Play a second round, this time using only the cards you set aside in the first round. Follow the same process, again setting aside the cards most players selected. With Boy Scouts and Venturers, challenge players to explain why they chose each impact before finalizing the selections. You might find that one player’s logic will sway the choice of other players.

Play a third round with the set of cards set aside in round two. Again, challenge Scouts and Venturers to justify their choices.

After the game, discuss some of these questions, choosing the ones that seem most appropriate for your Scouts’ age:

  • We’ve talked about some distasteful actions. Why do you think people take those actions? What would be better alternatives to each one of them?
  • Do you think anybody from our pack/troop/crew committed any of those actions on this outing (or on our most recent outing)?
  • In which ways did we do a good job of following Leave No Trace principles on this outing (or on our most recent outing)?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate our behavior on this outing (or on our most recent outing)? How would you rate your own behavior?
  • Leave No Trace principles are guidelines, not rules. What’s the difference? Why are the principles not presented as rules?
  • Do you think one of the seven Leave No Trace principles is more important than the others? If so, which one and why?
  • Do you think one of the seven Leave No Trace principles is less important than the others? If so, which one and why?
  • Some argue that the best way to Leave No Trace would be to stay out of natural areas altogether. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

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