Leave No Trace

LNT 2 - Why now?

Hello All -

One of the most common questions that I get is: "Why should I bother with LNT? What has happened that makes LNT more important than just doing my own thing? If my camping/hiking techniques were good enough when I was a Scout, why aren't they good enough now? Who am I hurting, anyway?"

Yeah, yeah, I know...that was more than one question...and they DON'T always ask them with those exact words <g>. I do get a LOT of these kinds of questions... it didn't take me long to realize that we might as well address these good questions before we get into techniques. To be honest, if I had not gotten what I consider to be good answers (when I did the asking) I wouldn't be messing with LNT now.

First, a few definitions. I use the term "backcountry" to mean those lands (public or private) that would be of interest to people who enjoy the human-powered "traditional" sports like: climbing, spelunking, hiking, x-country skiing, snow shoeing, backpacking, canoeing/kayaking/rafting and tent/tarp/bivy camping. These are just examples...there ARE others. I certainly don't mean to imply that other folks (or the same folks at other times!) might not also want to make other uses (recreation, commerce, etc.) of the same chunks of land.

Since this is a Scouter's forum, I plan to confine my comments mostly to those parts of the "backcountry" that might be of interest to the majority of the Scout units out there (hiking, backpacking, etc.). More and more units are getting into other wonderful backcountry uses (ski-touring, spelunking, etc.), perhaps we can get into the special LNT considerations for these sports in later discussions.

I guess I must also add that who gets to do what to which piece of land ultimately is a legal (and therefore political) issue in our country. What laws to make and how they should look IS an interesting subject for debate, but I don't mean to start such a discussion by simply defining what I mean by the word "backcountry" <g>.

I use the term "wildlands" to mean those parts (public or private) of the backcountry that are still relatively unchanged by man. I use the term "wilderness area" to define a chunk of wildland that has been specifically set aside (protected somehow) to remain as unchanged by man as is possible.

There are other definitions for the above terms (technical, legal, etc.)...but, I like the ones I gave and this IS my posting <VBG>.

So, all that out of the way, let's look at the question of "what is happening to make us want to move programs like LNT to the front burner?"

Simply put, we are beating parts of our backcountry to pieces. Not ALL parts ...and not COMPLETELY to pieces in most...but the trend is unmistakable...and it IS accelerating. A few numbers to think about:

94.5% of Americans recreate in the outdoors each year (somebody do the numbers, just how many HUNDREDS of

MILLIONS of visits to the outdoors is that?)

Just in our public wildlands alone -

1965 - 4 million visitor-days per year 1997 - 20 million visitor-days per year

(Wow...I count a 400% increase!)

Some specific places have even more dramatic numbers:

mountain-bike rides on the Slickrock network of trails (Moab, UT)

1965 - Zero 1997 - 600,000+

(somebody figure up that % increase <g>)

Enough numbers...take my word that there are enough statistics out there to bury us all!

All we Scouters have to consider, really, is the fact that our Scouting program seems to work best when there is a LOT of outdoor activity. One weekend a month and a week or two each year for hi-adventure is the MINIMUM backcountry usage for many units! Let's see...there are some 40,000 Troops and a BUNCH of Venturing Crews and Varsity Teams...it gets pretty easy to see that there are a LOT of Scouts out in the backcountry!

Let me suggest a couple of articles that look at the backcountry-overuse phenomenon:

"Going Wild" by David Seideman, TIME, 25jul94

"No Room, No Rest" by Jerry Adler & Daniel Glick, NEWSWEEK, 1aug94

Both are full of numbers and make their points without sensationalism. There are lots of other good articles, those two just happen to be sitting in front of me this minute (I use them as handouts when I do the longer indoor LNT sessions).

It is way too easy to dig up evidence that we are dramatically increasing our use of the backcountry <f>. The managing agencies can fill us in on the numbers of campsites, trails, and even entire areas that have been damaged to the point that they have been closed to public use. Even easier to see are the many restrictions that are being put into place in an (often vain) effort to stem the destruction (did grandpa have to put up with group size restrictions, day use limits, use permits, etc.?).

Of course, raw numbers alone don't tell the whole story.

Not only are we using the entire backcountry more and more, we are using some parts much more than others. We see the 90/10 phenomenon (10% of the land gets 90% of the use) all over the place...and, in places like Boundary Waters and many of our National Parks, it looks more like 95/5 <f>.

On top of it all, the resources to protect and maintain our backcountry are (way too often) not only failing to keep up with the increased usage, they are actually declining! We all know that many managing agencies are reducing their maintenance budgets as they try to cope with current funding limits.

I ate dinner with some managing agency friends (he/she both work in recreation management) not long after they had discovered that their organization had picked up 800 more miles of a National Scenic Trail to maintain...with a ZERO increase in budget! Definitely an interesting table conversation <g>.

Why is all this increased use happening?

One reason is that there are a LOT more of us running around now than there was in great-great-grandpa's time <g>. A lot of public/private money has been spent building roads and other conveniences that open up previously inaccessible backcountry. Outdoor equipment has improved to the point that even relatively inexperienced users can push deeper and deeper into our wildlands. We "common men" probably have as much (or more!) discretionary income (to spend on expensive outdoor toys) and discretionary time available (to play with those toys in the outdoors) than we ever have in history. A whole bunch of folks now make a living by promoting and providing backcountry fun. Backpacking is "in"...just read the publications that cover this sport (Backpacker, Outside, etc.) and ask all those firms that make the outdoor gear!

And...maybe more and more of us just simply NEED to get away from the rat-race and into the wilds more often...

To me, the evidence is overwhelming that backcountry use is going up and up...and I don't see any end in sight. In fact, I wonder if the use-rate curve might go up even steeper in the near future, as some of the "group-oriented" subcultures in our country finally start to make significant use of the public lands that belong to all of us.

Why is all this increased usage of our backcountry necessarily bad?

I will meet you at "LNT 3- What is it?"

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

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