Leave No Trace

LNT 11 - Stop! Thief!

Hello All -

This message looks at the LNT Principle:

Leave What You Find

This Principle is a piece of cake <g>.

In my previous LNT messages we have done a lot of exploration of the simple backcountry truth: nothing we humans bring in can be truly good for the backcountry.

This is just the flip side of that simple truth: nothing we humans TAKE from the backcountry can be truly good for the backcountry!

Sometimes we talk about the "big" stuff (timber, mineral ore, game animals, etc.) and sometimes we talk about the "small" stuff (bird feathers, arrowheads, flowers, etc.)...but, the "incremental damage" clause IS still in our personal backcountry-use "contract"!

Our nation's laws (and the political process that creates them) obviously control how we remove the "big" stuff from our backcountry. More and more, these same legal systems are controlling the "small" stuff as well.

It is a federal crime to remove raptor feathers (and the rest of the raptor, BTW) from our public lands. Our fish and game laws make it illegal to remove (without the appropriate license, tags, stamps, etc.) the feathers of a WIDE range of "game" birds. In some states, songbird body parts get the same legal protections.

It is a federal crime to remove items (arrowheads, pottery shards, etc.) that may have archaeological significance. Many states have supplemented these restrictions with laws of their own.

It is a federal crime to remove plants (and critters) that fall under the protections of the various "endangered species" laws. The various states have been active here, too (watch out for those State Flowers!).

There are a bewildering array of laws (federal, state, county, municipal, etc.) on the various "books" around our nation that relate to removing MANY specific items from our backcountry.

Some of these laws are not enforced with any particular vigor (when was the last time you were nabbed by the "Sparrow-feather Police"?), but they do help us understand what our society (us!), at various times, has felt was important enough to protect with the strength of our legal system.

At least as important to me as all the above laws, though, are the ethical considerations of using the backcountry as a "grab bag" for our personal pleasure. We CAN alter the ecological balance with intensive removal of even common items (flowers, nuts, critters, etc.). We CAN make it impossible for detective-archaeologists to ever piece together the real story behind the artifacts we moved out of place.

Remember how neat if felt when you looked over and first saw that particular item that will forever mean "wild" to you? For some of us it might be a beautiful alpine flower, an interesting twig with a burl built in, or a piece of natural honeycomb. Others might marvel at a beautiful arrowhead, a piece of blood-shot quartz, or a magnificent flutterby. We all have different things that we look for in the woods that seem to make all the effort it takes to get there MORE than worthwhile.

Remember how neat it felt...because if we put that wonderful piece of "wild" in our pocket...we will have denied that SAME discovery thrill to ALL the folks who will be coming behind us on the trail!

One of my fellow students in my "LNT Masters" course was a Wilderness Area Ranger from Mt. Rogers NRA (VA). He is a serious birder with a VERY impressive life-list (he was to the point that he had to fly TO a rare storm-blown "foreign" bird to be able to add to his list!). We would wake up each morning before dawn and listen for the first bird calls. He would identify each species of bird as they greeted the day...and often could "call" them up close enough for us to see! This good man was SERIOUS about his birds!

We sere hiking thru the beautiful NC forests and he found a bird feather on the trail ("Flicker", I think). He stuck it in his hat and we went on. Later, our instructors found a good spot for our morning "instructional break" and we spent a couple of hours going over "Leave What You Find"...and then broke for lunch. The birder was in my tent/food group and we noticed that he missed lunch (extra food ALWAYS stands out!). He rejoined us after we had a short "siesta" and were ready to move on down the trail.

We later discovered that he had walked a mile or two back down the trail to replace the bird feather where he had found it. We were curious why he felt that it was important that he do that (this is a guy that makes his living out in the wilds and who KNOWS how many gazillion bird feathers get shed each year). He admitted that the "Leave What You Find" session hit him hard...and he felt that he just had to start somewhere!

Me too.

We can take pictures of, make sketches of, compose a poem about, and even cover up (until an archaeologist gets there <g>) those neat "wild" things we find...AND we (and everybody else) STILL get to take the thrill home with us!

Hmmmm...let's stretch just a little bit...couldn't an entire backcountry ecosystem also be one of those neat "wild" things that are well worth leaving in place...?

See you at "LNT 12- Smokey's revenge!"

- Charlie II  AT (MEGA'93)
             PCT (Mex@Can'95)
         Chipping away at the CDT

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