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LNT over-rated!

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People have a fine sense of the absurd, and if you tell them that crapping in the woods is going to destroy the wilderness ...

 

Well, here's one of those absurdities on display. LNT doesn't say that - but lots of people clearly think it does!

 

Yes, some areas require that you bag it. But catholes are perfectly fine in many places. Here's what LNT actually says: http://www.lnt.org/programs/principles_3.php

 

I've found that many, many people who take an anti-LNT position haven't actually read the principles and program - they're going by what someone told them. Or they latch on to one item (e.g., colored tents) and condemn the whole package because they disagree. I just don't understand that mindset.

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If you really want to see the significance and importance of the things we've done in this country to reduce our impact on our environment, all you need to do is spend some time travelling and camping in some other countries around the world. I've now been camping and hiking in the Altai Region of south central Siberia several times, most recently this past summer for eight days. Each of these trips has been with my wife's family and friends, so it is not just my own actions that affect me.

 

Some of the most amazing wilderness, forest, and more, that I've ever seen is there, comparable to the many national parks, forests, state parks, and more that I've been through all around our country. The big problem, huge problem, is that they have NONE of the general respect or concept of taking care of their natural places. The idea or LNT is just about as far from reality as you can imagine.

 

I remember on my first trip camping there, hiking around this beautiful little lake, but being hugely disappointed by painting and marks on rocks, glass and trash everywhere, and having inlaws thinking I am definitely from another planet when I was picking up some of the litter and even stopping my brother-in-law (through a language barrier) from leaving a bottle or trash in rocks along the trail. They really thought I was odd.

 

New places this last time, but I still saw plenty of signs of regular abuse of their natural land. We even went to this one site that had a "ranger" lead tour showing and explaining these ancient, thousands of years old, rock etchings. There were these somewhat barrieres to keep us back from most of the etchings, but this ranger doing the talk was walking over them and rubbing his hands and fingers over them through his talk. With rangers like that, this amazing history will not be around long. In some of the places we went, I noticed trash cans, for example, but none you could actually use. They were always completely full or rotting putrid trash. Apparently there is actually no one designated to empty them. We were at a campground along a swift moving river for a few days, pit toilets too close to the river, our only water the river itself, definitely no trash collection. There was this single trash can near the pit toilets that had a huge pile of several weeks of trash piled in a huge mound around it. Very unlike any travelling I've done all around this country.

 

The one good thing I noticed on this trip, after several previous trips like it, is that I believe my inlaws "get it" now. Although not perfect, they camp regularly with friends around the area, and I saw them doing things far differently than when we first camped together something like eight years ago. They were paying attention, picking up after themselves, and looking for ways to avoid leaving anything nasty for the folks following them. I guess I made an impact.

 

So maybe we continue to make improvements, and LNT is a step toward even more improvements. I certainly think there are ranges. For example, up in Maine, going down the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, there is absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing wrong with collecting all the firewood you could ever need for cooking and keeping warm. It really is a never-ending supply, continually replenished, and abundant resource, and it is all we cooked with on that trip. Trying to do that in the woods around here in Virginia just wouldn't work out quite as well, so it makes good stoves that much more important. I'd say the most important value in LNT is putting it in the minds of our youth to reduce their overall impact, to leave it like they found it. It's probably even valuable for us to make those kinds of pitches in our elementary schools and more, ideas for service projects probably. Even when there is not 100% compliance, I am thankful in this country for seeing how well we actually do compared to other places I've been, even though I know there is much more that we need to do.

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Imagine if you will a mountain valley with three distinct eco-systems. 1) the valley floor with it's fauna and flora. Then there are 2) those species that thrive at a bit cooler temperature on the side of the mountain and finally 3) those that thrive at the coolest temperature at the mountain tops.

 

Okay, a natural climate change occurs and the average temperature rises 2 degrees. Now the floor of the valley is too hot for the native species and they "migrate" up the side of the mountain to cooler temperatures where they can comfortably survive. They are the invasive species to that former eco-system. The valley floor turns to a desert where it will attract species that can survive in the warmer clime. Those species on the side of the mountain "migrate" up further seeking cooler climates. They too are now invasive. Those formerly on the top die out because they have no place to go and cannot survive the warmer climate anyway, thus becoming extinct.

 

While this example may be an over simplification, it does demonstrate the problem with defining what is invasive and what is native. How long does it take for an invasive plant to become native? etc.

 

A lot of the comments made seem to indicate the impact on the $$'s connected to an eco-system. The financial consideration seem to impel the efforts to save the planet, not allow it to evolve into a more natural state.

 

Duckweed is native, but with the cleaner waters, there's more of it and what the zebra mussels don't clog up, the duckweed does. Kinda like the invasive species allows the native species to once again thrive. Kinda hard to get one's mind wrapped around that one. :)

 

At one time we didn't think we'd be able to survive as a species if we lost the American Chestnut trees. Then the apocalypse was just around the corner when we lost the Elm, now that we're getting close to the end of the Mayan calendar, the loss of the Ash tree is the third strike and all is doomed.

 

My ASM is a university professor (biology) that does extensive research on many of these dynamics and one can be reasonably assured that all Ash trees are doomed because by the time we find evidence of the Borer, the damage has already been done.

 

Add to that the oaks in our area are being devastated by a blight as well.

 

While everyone is wailing and gnashing their teeth at this whole process one seems to have forgotten that at one point in time this whole area was covered by huge forests of pine! So many that for many years hundreds of people made a fortune in the lumber industry. Once humans stripped the land, these other invasive trees were allowed to grow and now Mother Nature is doing it's own clean up processes and setting it back to it's original state, pine trees. It's kinda strange that they seem to be doing quite well.

 

The part that for me is the most difficult is the attempt by so-called environmentalists to define what is native and natural and what Mother Nature defines as what it wants for native and natural. I have noticed at times these two don't always seem to be on the same page.

 

While I'm not advocating open-pit strip mines and extensive land-fills, I do think that proper recreational use of nature should not be criminalized and regulated to the point where it is impossible to access.

 

So, just follow the money.... Land which was once pristine natural eco-environments are now paved over by extensive urban necessities of human nature. So who's the real criminal? The urban developer who digs huge holes to lay foundations for skyscrapers or the nature lover who digs a cat-hole in the woods?

 

The well-meaning SM who takes extra precautions to make sure his boys LNT in the woods where they camp, may not give a second thought to the parking lot, he as a contractor, paved over just days before.

 

It's strange how our minds can accept such a dichotomy when it comes to money.

 

Your mileage may vary,

 

Stosh

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I've found that many, many people who take an anti-LNT position haven't actually read the principles and program - they're going by what someone told them. Or they latch on to one item (e.g., colored tents) and condemn the whole package because they disagree. I just don't understand that mindset.

 

People "latching on to" one item like colored tents is exactly what I was complaining about, except I put the fault on the zealots who try to piggyback their own personal agenda onto a package of otherwise well-regarded guidelines. It's their fault when the "pack out your trash" part of LNT get's a bad name. They're the ones lumping the two together, because they want "no orange tents" to bask in the reflected common-sense of "don't litter." When "no colored tents" makes it's way into a set of guidelines sold as limiting environmental impact, it's a clue that the guidelines have been compromised by someone with an agenda, and the question becomes how badly compromised. "Don't pee against a tree" is now suspect. Gern tells us that animals will lick the bark off the tree to get the salt. How does he know that? We've seen plenty of recent examples of made-up facts and bold-faced lies used to support an Agenda, so something like this that (pardon the expression) doesn't pass the smell test comes under suspicion. When there's also obvious overreach like "no colored tents" in the equation, it adds to the suspicion. Just exactly how much of LNT is real and how much is baloney? How much of the new parts are just somebody pushing a stealth agenda?

 

Same with the cathole/bag-it issue. People are "going by what someone told them?" Well, who do you think told 'em? Some zealot who presents LNT - perhaps in the capacity of an official instructor - that way. Why does the "bag-it" portion get so much attention? Frankly, most of the folks at my IOLS class aren't taking their troops (or Webelos) up into the alpine meadows or down some some sensitve river gorge. The instruction ought to focus on typical outdoor trips (where catholes are okay), and have a small section that goes something like "some environments, above the tree line, for instance, are more fragile and you need to take additional precautions to protect those environments. If you're interested, here's where you can go for more information about how LNT applies to those areas..."

 

The slippery slope argument applies to this just as it does to every other set of do's and don'ts, and I think a fair part of the anti-LNT sentiment comes from the legitimate worry that the precautions needed for extra-fragile environments will be coming to a front-country near you in the future, if there's no pushback. That's why I think it's so important to call out both the lumping of personal preferences in with common sense rules and the overly-broad presentation of the most restrictive aspects of LNT. The combination will seriously undermine acceptance of the good parts.

 

 

 

 

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drmbear, I had a similar experience (minus in-laws) in the Urals back in 1995. Sadly, my ethic had no effect on my companions. Now the vodka, cognac, and beer...that's another story.:)

 

Stosh, I think I agree with your description of the conflicts (perhaps ironies or hypocrisies) in the way society makes natural resource decisions. This scientist has been frustrated by this stuff on many occasions and every chance I get, I point out that EVERY species on that island paradise I love so much is invasive (except those that have evolved on that island - and there aren't many of those). The kinetics of climate change are slow in comparison to the land developer. So where an ecosystem can adapt (google 'Complex Adaptive Systems' and read some of the papers in the journal, Ecosystems), to change that occurs on a time scale which allows populations to 'move' (they don't really unless they're migratory - rather their reproduction is differentially more successful in the adjacent habitats), industrial deforestation (for example) is way too fast for ecosystems to adapt. Something similar happens when invasive species are introduced in such large numbers over a short time. An individual invasive species might be introduced 'normally' at some infrequent interval but human actions have sped this and facilitated hundreds of such introductions over a very short time.

 

Nevertheless, I am firmly convinced that absent man, even after what we've done, the ecosystem can do nicely, even if the elms, ashes, chestnuts, passenger pigeons, etc. never re-emerge. The tough part is that 'absent-man' thing. We don't exactly want that to happen, at least I don't. So the question is one of balance or 'sustainability' (another term that I sometimes criticize). And so far, as a society, a 'balance' is not necessarily something that we've understood, predicted, or even planned, much less managed. When it comes to stewardship of natural resources, we haven't exactly covered ourselves with glory. I'd sure like to see that improve. And when the public thinks it's ok to take an 'every-man-for-himself' approach to resource management, I'm not optimistic.

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JMHawkins,

 

Sounds like you and I have run into the same trainers/zealots.

 

The very name, 'Leave No Trace', is impossible; unless you stay home. Anyone with much tracking experience knows that there is always trace. (My kind of zealotry) There are many acceptable practices in the LNT principles that do leave a trace, and the zealots like to focus on the unattainable name.

 

I'm not sure what motivates those scouters who insist that catholes are unacceptable trace. The ones I have to put up with claim to want the boys to enjoy the woods.

 

If there are more picky rules for being in the woods than for hanging out at home, boys who want to expand their free range will stay home. How's that for ironic?

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JoeBob,

 

I think the areas where catholes are prohibited are rare. I would think places like river bank campsites that rafters commonly use is one of those, as are places like the Grand Canyon--places with high traffic that don't allow for the waste to break down.

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I put the fault on the zealots who try to piggyback their own personal agenda onto a package of otherwise well-regarded guidelines. It's their fault when the "pack out your trash" part of LNT get's a bad name. They're the ones lumping the two together, because they want "no orange tents" to bask in the reflected common-sense of "don't litter."

 

Yah, I'm increasingly thinkin' this has to be a BSA thing. I've never seen it in da civilian LNT master educator folks.

 

It reminds me of those BSA folks who try to piggyback their personal agenda onto other things, eh? How many times have such folks told people that "insurance won't apply and the attack lawyer will eat you?" Or that paintball or laser tag are safety issues, lumped together to bask in da reflected common sense of G2SS and "don't go exploring abandoned mines".

 

It is true that LNT was developed originally in a backcountry / alpine environment. There are new LNT Frontcountry ethics materials comin' out, and some of our BSA LNT team have been heavily involved with da efforts at drafting those. So it's an issue that's being addressed, eh? I don't think folks have to worry about LNT wanting to apply backcountry ethics to da frontcountry and sidecountry.

 

Now, what some BSA trainer tells yeh, that's a different story. ;)

 

Beavah

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Been my experiences that no matter where I travel, and how well I leave no evidence of my passing, within a few years there will be a Wall Mart, a new housing track, or another logging road/highway/interstate, or dam. One of my most favorite camping spots in Sedona near slide rock now has a public toilet...so much for LNT

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If you treat LNT as a set of hard and fast rules, you're going to be unhappy. If you treat them like the ethical guidelines they are meant to be, you'll be just fine.

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It has been my experience that the looks on people's faces are amazing when they see a troop of scouts/scouters police the areas they have been. One of those experiences included national park law enforcement.

 

After a the adventure of a 50+ mile canoe trip we had a gazillion oyster bags full of trash that we had picked up along the way. Included in the findings was an abandoned canoe that had been stuck in the trees in the middle of the river after it had flooded its banks.

 

We had actually called the canoe rental owners and they had the park law enforcement to pick it up for them. That was our do a good deed for the day. When the officers saw all the trash that was collected they kept thanking us and thanking us. One of those officers had also earned eagle rank when in scouts.

 

The thing is that the boys "get it" when policing up after themselves and this will carry on in their lives beyond scouting. It also positively influences others who aren't involved in scouting.

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