Three years ago today, two men — cousins Caleb and David Malboeuf — were camping in the Bear Wallow Wilderness when they walked away from their partially extinguished campfire. Their irresponsibility resulted in the Wallow Fire, which scorched 535,000 acres of forest. Arizonans continue to pay for their carelessness, and it’s a debt that will be passed to our children. Yes, we’ve seen signs of regrowth, but it’ll be another century before the area looks as it once did. It’s heartbreaking. But perhaps what’s even more upsetting is the fact that maybe, just maybe, the fire might not have happened at all had the Malboeufs understood and followed the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.
And now another wildfire is burning. So far, the Slide Fire in Oak Creek Canyon has charred 20,369 acres. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning: it’s hot and bone-dry in places. And there is the very real possibility that another wildfire could eclipse Wallow. So, what can we do? Below, Arizona Leave No Trace advocate and master educator Cindy de Leon Reilly talks about Leave No Trace and why it’s time to pay attention to these seven principles.
What is Leave No Trace, and how did these principles come to be?
Our forests have always been used by people for recreation, to get out and enjoy them for various reasons. With this came various destructive behaviors in the outdoors. Some examples are leaving trash behind, feeding the animals, chopping trees down and playing with fire. We were literally killing our forests. In the 1960s, the U.S. Forest Service noticed these impacts. As recreationists and visitors, we rarely saw these effects.
The start of the Leave No Trace movement was in the 1980s, with the Forest Service and its “No Trace” program that focused on wilderness ethics and travel and camping practices. In 1990s, the Forest Service partnered with the National Outdoor Leadership School to create a hands-on, science-based training to start educating others in outdoor skills, which reinforced the “No Trace” standards. Eventually, other outdoor for-profit and nonprofit organizations and federal land-management agencies joined the efforts and created an independent nonprofit organization called Leave No Trace Inc. and its principles.
Over the years, Leave No Trace Inc. evolved into the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. The original principles evolved to include an extra principle, giving us seven total. The seven principles are:
This year, there have been 488 wildfires in Arizona; all but 20 or so were human caused. What is the general public missing when it comes to LNT?
Honestly, the general public does not really think about their impact when they are outdoors. Its almost like it does not apply to them. There are two kinds of users, backcountry and frontcountry. Backcountry users, such as backpackers, are those who go to isolated areas that are not accessible by vehicles. Most of these users are aware of the Leave No Trace principles. They learn about the principles through outdoor retailers like REI, or outdoor entities like this publication. Also, the principles are typically posted on public-land websites and at offices where one obtains recreation permits.
Frontcountry means those areas easily accessible by vehicles. These are areas such as campgrounds and nearby trails. Even though the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics partners with the Forest Service and other similar entities, and gets the word out through campsite postings and education, many outdoor frontcountry users do not read or care to practice these principles because they are only thinking about having fun. I have seen many frontcountry users ignore the rules and the principles. Of course, not all backcountry users follow the rules, either. Is a bonfire necessary to have the campfire ambience? Is a campfire really necessary?
This week is the anniversary of Wallow Fire. What goes through your mind as you look back on that fire, and how could have LNT prevented that blaze?
It is my understanding that two men, who left their fire unattended, started the fire. Principle 7 of Leave No Trace is Minimize Campfire Impacts. This principle includes the following:
· Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking, and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
· Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires.
· Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
· Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely and scatter cool ashes.
Had these men put out their fire completely before they left their site, then this devastating fire could have been prevented. Even if a fire was in a campsite and within a fire ring, one should always make sure that their fire site is out cold. Cold means that when you place your hand upon the fire site, you should feel no warmth. Sometimes there are smoldering embers beneath the surface that we cannot see. But if we feel for it, then a fire can be avoided.
According to the Incident Information System, the Slide Fire is human caused, though still under investigation. Long term, what do you think will happen if, moving forward, we do not implement LNT in our daily lives?
People, especially in Arizona, should understand that lands in our Southwest regions are very dry and overly sensitive to fire impacts. Having a water shortage makes it worse. If we do not implement Leave No Trace and its principles, the impacts of wildfire will happen more often. People will start fires anywhere, regardless of rules and conditions. There is a common-sense attitude about the principles and education. This is to make things safer and better. Leave No Trace is not supposed to be an inconvenience. I believe that Leave No Trace and its principles have been minimizing the impact of fires in our region.
How can the public help spread the word about LNT?
Many organizations, public and private, are spreading the word about Leave No Trace. Upon learning the principles, share them and their importance. Spreading the word is educating.
The Leave No Trace Center of Outdoor Ethics has been working hard with many organizations and corporations in supporting educational training and awareness workshops. Although the training may have a cost, depending on where you take it, from a master educator/trainer point of view, it’s worth learning and preserving the outdoors and practicing outdoor ethics.
As an Arizona advocate, I get the word out and help provide training and awareness workshops. The trainers are all volunteers and knowledgeable to give Leave No Trace. They teach Leave No Trace through hands-on activities and games.
To learn and spread the work, request information from Leave No Trace. Contact your state advocate for options and opportunities to have Leave No Trace visit your troop or organization and help you implement Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace trainers are volunteers. We believe in Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. Contact me to get you the information.
And not only learn it, but practice it and share it with your organization. It may take a while to educate, but in the long run, it will be worth it. It is a worthwhile cause.
What are some simple things the public can do now that will help protect our outdoor spaces?
Throw your trash away in designated areas. This includes food items that will attract wildlife, a safety and health issue for both the animal and us. Additionally, make sure cigarettes are fully extinguished and properly thrown away.
Do not play with matches, lighters or fire. Some people are fascinated with fire. Teach them the dangers of fire and teach then how to properly use them for when they need to use this tool.
Store flammables away correctly as directed.
Cut tree branches away from flammable areas, such as those hanging over chimneys.
Keep in mind that if you have to build a fire that is not in an established fire ring, please consider the location of your fire. Typically, tree-root systems lay as far as the tree canopy. Do not place your fire under the canopy area, since the root system may catch on fire and travel. This is known as root fire and is also considered very dangerous. After your fire, put it out cold, then dismantle it and leave no trace.
Be prepared, be aware of the rules and follow them. Rules are made to protect the area and us. There may be a fire restriction or water concerns. There may be sick or dangerous animal situations in the area. Rules are made to protect the environment and us.
Talk to me about the programs your organization offers.
We have volunteer trainers who are available to share Leave No Trace with you. There is the REI PEAK program; you can borrow these kits from REI or purchase them online. Traveling Trainers provide workshops and attend events to share Leave No Trace at no cost; just make your request for their appearance online. They are a terrific addition to any event or visit. Backyard sessions are when a trainer comes over and talks about Leave No Trace to your group. You can talk to your state advocate about scheduling these opportunities. Leave No Trace has some grant opportunities to cover educational materials and training costs. More information on this is online at www.LNT.org. Hot Spots is a conservation-related program. It is based on nominating locations in need of major improvements due to the destruction suffered. Then Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics will work with others to bring the location back to its original natural state.
You offer LNT principles for kids; what tips can you offer parents who want to teach their children how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly?
Working with kids is fun! We work with many kid organizations, Scouts, schools and clubs for children. The key component to teaching children is to make it short and fun. Some of the fun is through games and hands-on activities. Create an LNT Bingo game for a hike, create a cootie catcher with the principles, and teach them to be considerate to others and their environment, as you would expect them to be at school and home. Take the online awareness course, too.
There are many resources to help teach children Leave No Trace. For example, you can go to your local REI and borrow the PEAK program. This program was created by REI, through their partnership with the center, to provide an outdoor ethics kit to teach kids Leave No Trace. This kit contains cards with games and materials that can be used, making it fun to learn Leave No Trace. REI also offers free workshops, often hosted by the Traveling Trainers, where they love to teach with children and other organizations about Leave No Trace.
You can contact your Leave No Trace state advocate to arrange a visit or send you Leave No Trace material for your use.
You can also contact de Leon Reilly at: AZadvocate@lnt.org