September 05, 2020 4 min read
As part of our Exist Ethically series, we asked photographer and Leave No Trace master educator Jaymie Shearer to share her thoughts on why it matters to reduce our impact on the environment.
There is a deep relationship between our wellbeing and spending time in nature. This connection is reflected throughout nature. Look at the root systems of many types of trees—yes, they need the right measurement of sunlight and space to thrive. But this does not mean they are only competing against one another for resources. If you look beneath the surface you'll find a root system weaving a complex network to support for one another against storms, fire, and other threat. A forest connected.
I start with this because it is the foundation for why I go outside. Why I care about the future of our wild spaces. Why I care.
My first experience with Leave No Trace was during my first backpacking trip. In between huffing and puffing my way at elevation with a large backpack on, I was taught how deep to dig a cat-hole, to double check for micro-trash before leaving the campsite, and that rather than picking the wildflowers I could photograph them as a way to make sure others had the chance to revel in their beauty. It was a lesson in sharing goodness over hoarding what was not mine.
Since that trip I've expanded my own Leave No Trace learning by going through a Master Educator course and working as a guide in Zion National Park, teaching my clients how to leave less of an impact during their desert adventure. This journey has had it's highs and lows. When you visit a slot canyon once a day for months, you notice the wear on the land— how many social trails pop up during that time, the names scraped into the soft, red stone, bits of trash buried in the sand. It leaves you wondering how much more can these wild places take?
I can angrily write how everyone should know these principals, how visitors should have to get a permit and answer LNT questions, and how much those people should be fined if caught vandalizing our wild spaces. Perhaps these would help but I only see it creating more division amongst people who are just trying to get outside.
I've met some folks who defend the Leave No Trace way like their lives depended on it. When I think through the instances described above, I am tempted to feel a holy rage against everyone who has thoughtlessly impacted those canyons. I've also met and witnessed so many people who just don't care. As someone who loves the outdoors and wants to help preserve how awesome it is for generations to come, I often find myself at a loss for how to inspire people who care. The thing is, shaming people or telling them that what they are doing is wrong often will get more resistance than good.
If you're reading this, odds are you've heard of or are familiar with Leave No Trace principals:
1) Plan Ahead and Prepare
2) Travel and Walk on Durable Surfaces
3) Dispose of Waste Properly
4) Leave What You Find
5) Minimize Campfire Impact
6) Respect Wildlife
7) Be Courteous of Others
If I were to re-write the principals I would describe them as follows:
1) Before you go, do a google search and give a sh*t.
2) Exploring is awesome! Use pre-existing trails or really durable surfaces (like rocks) when you do it. There are some soils that are ALIVE! And your footprint is a sure way to kill em.
3) Bring a lil baggie and literally pack out everything you bring with you. You're fruit peels aren't really that biodegradable. And wild animals + human food = no
4) Bring the camera! Share the joy by leaving that rock or flower for others to admire too.
5) Are you in CA? Just say no to fire. Not in CA? Check the fire restrictions in place. Don't build your own fire ring either. Please.
6) You are not Snow White. The little birds and squirrels are not your friends. Please observe them from a distance and don't feed em.
7) It's not *Just* about you. Is your speaker blaring music on the most popular trail around? Probably nottttt chill. Are you alone with not a soul in sight? Maybe okay.
These are offered as guidelines for people interested in doing their part to minimize their impact on the wild places they visit. Guidelines, not rules. These guidelines will shift depending on location, local practices, current alerts, and seasonally. They are different areas asking you to consider them when you spend time in nature.
To Exist Ethically is asking the same thing. It's saying "Hey! You're a human who has left your home, visiting this space as a guest. Please be aware of the land you're on and the impact of your actions. Do it for you. Do it for your neighbor. Do it for future generations."
Have questions for Jaymie? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll do our best to get an answer for you.
You can find Jaymie on Instagram at @jmeshe!
This post was written as part of the Dynamite Starfish Exist Ethically project. We want to know what "Exist Ethically" means to you, so please drop us a comment on the blog or on Instagram to share your thoughts.
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