Leave No Trace

LNT 12 - Smokey's revenge

Hello All -

This posting is about the LNT Principle:

Minimize Use and Impact of Fire

This discussion always seems to get folks "where they live" <g>. There are a lot of ways to approach this subject, but I would like to try a "backwoodsy" story this time thru. Let's suspend sanity for a while and join a bear cub as it takes on the job of becoming a "spokesbear" for a major government "marketing" campaign.

Imagine a little bear cub left clinging to a burned-over tree after a big forest fire had zapped thousands of acres of his wild home. This cub is taken to a vet to treat his burns and then to a zoo to recuperate. This cub has a LOT of time to think about recent events, is sore all over, smells like a barbecue, is covered in soot, and is completely hacked off!

He is a VERY sharp little bear and proves it by quickly memorizing his lines when they audition him for the marketing spokesbear role: "Remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires!" He is SO clever, in fact, that he hatches a nefarious plot while he waits to grow into his campaign hat and blue jeans.

He becomes a jovial and stern "Prevent Forest Fires" spokesbear by day...and starts to exact his terrible revenge by night! He cleverly makes use of the "after hours" fax machines, phones, copiers, and networked computers to manipulate his many media contacts, plant suggestions with movie/TV screen writers, and whisper in the ears of LOTS of popular authors and cartoonists.

Slowly...and insidiously...he plants the idea in our culture that we MUST always have a campfire when we go to the backwoods! We all start to believe that the only way that we can cook, keep warm, or dry things out is to use a fire. We start to get scared of the "things that go bump in the night" and try to create a safe-haven by staying within the light-ring of a big campfire. We begin to think that the only way that we can socialize in camp is to poke coals around a campfire. We even come to believe that fire can purify our presence in the backwoods by consuming the nasty stuff we don't want to carry out.

NOW...slowly but surely...the bitter bear gets to see his horrible revenge come to pass:

the popular camping sites develop fire pits...many with multiple pits... some with so many fire pits that there is scarce room between them;

the fire-ring and backstop rocks get thoroughly fire stained...probably lasting for tens of thousands of years;

the soil under and near the fire pit is sterilized...dead;

the amount of ashes and charcoal nubbins builds up and up and often gets piled out of sight behind nearby veggies...hanging around for a LONG time;

partially and unburned trash (aluminum foil, especially) litters the ground around the fire pits;

half-burned nasties (rotten garbage, critter carcasses, bloody items, sour grease, used TP, etc.) get left in the fire pit for the next campers to play in;

smoke from the fire takes turns making the fire-users uncomfortable and too-often drifts over to strangle those innocent of any fire building;

fire-light blinds folks from any chance of seeing the beauty of the night-time sky and the quiet moon-lit backcountry;

fire-light and smoke scares away any interesting and exciting truly wild night-time critters that the fire users might have gotten to see or hear;

fine ash from the burned garbage combines with other human leavings to deep-dust the camp area with the unmistakable sour smell of long human use;

limbs, standing dead trees, and even live trees are broken off, pushed over, grubbed out, and chopped/sawed up for fire wood;

gathering firewood, fire tending, and campfire cooking takes over as the most common cause for "minor" injuries to campers;

the constant need to feed the fire strips all organic materials from an ever-widening radius of destruction...slowly turning the whole area around the camp site into a sterile desert;

and, as if all the above isn't enough,

efforts to burn modern man-made materials (different plastics, styrofoam, etc.) slowly turn the fire-pit and ash piles into (mini) toxic waste dumps...traced with nice things like poisons, carcinogens, and even forms of nerve gas!

Hooboy...a diabolical bear, indeed! The devastation in our well-used camp sites is ample proof that his mean-spirited plot is working...but maybe... just maybe...we can use his own "image" to foil him after all! Whenever we hear his deep voice saying those famous words of his, we just need to make one little change in our minds...:

"Remember, only YOU can prevent CAMP fires!"

I would like to think that the above kinda-grim little story might help us all to start thinking about taking a giant ethical leap...to NOT using campfires in the backcountry at all!

I would be happy to bet that there are more than a few camping experts on this list that can help us all come to better understand the expert outdoor skills that allow us to eat, stay warm, dry our gear, be safe from critters, keep bugs away, and have fun socializing...all without fire!

EVERY source that I have studied rates "use of campfires" as the single biggest source (by far!) of backcountry impact! This has just GOT to be one of our backcountry behaviors that we can change just a little...and the backcountry gets a LOT in return <g>.

Be thinking about shunning campfires...but, sometimes the devil just MAKES us want to build one <VBG>. We can look at some ways to at least minimize the damage from fire-use in "LNT 13- Flic a Bic"

See you there!

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

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