Friday, November 11, 2011

Bushcraft vs. Leave-No-Trace: A Response

Brian of "Brian's Backpacking Blog" fame had a post semi-recently asking his readers to chime in on whether buschcraft and leave-no-trace (LNT) are compatible.  I started to write my response in the comment box but then it started to take up A LOT of space, so I decided I would use my own blog as a soap box for my opinion.  And here it is...

Bushcraft for me is the act of participating in nature while taking an "extreme" (my words) view of the LNT principles is the act of passing through nature.  I believe that following the LNT principles as they are written makes them completely compatible with bushcraft. In order to prove my point we are going to explore the 7 principles and my interpretation of them with the juxtaposition of how some LNTers interpret them.

The Seven Principles of Leave-No-Trace:

  1. Plan and Prepare Ahead: Fairly straight forward.  If you are camping in winter, don't pack Bermuda shorts, that would just be silly. But seriously, learn as much as you can about where you are going before you go there and pack accordingly.  Think of possible scenarios and make sure you are ready for the probable ones.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces:What's a durable surface?  Refer to Principle One and learn if there are any fragile soil types that you need to avoid.  When I was a ranger in the Boundary Waters I always slept on exposed granite.  Pretty damn durable stuff that granite...
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Another straight forward guideline.  Do not litter.  Idiots litter.  Do not be an idiot.  We will revisit Principal One here, find out if there are backcountry latrines, if so use them, if not find out if cat holes are sufficient, if not maybe you need to pack out your feces.  For me, if I can't get by with a cat hole I do not need to see it.
  4. Leave what you find:  This is one I struggle with.  I am who I am today because when I was a boy I filled my pockets with rocks, and acorns, and skulls, and *gasp* picked flowers for my mother.  If I had not done those things, or if I had been told not to do it I think there is a really good chance I would not have developed such a fondness for the outdoors.  I see this a lot in my line of work.  Teachers are often screaming at the kids not to touch anything in nature because they might hurt it or it might be poison ivy.  Which brings us back to Principal One, I'm detecting a pattern here.  Learn if there acceptable things to pick up an take home as souvenirs. You will be impacting the environment less by taking a pebble home as a reminder than if you buy a cheap petroleum based knick-knack that traveled in excess of 5000 miles to arrive at the tourist trap you picked it up at. In Iowa, on public lands nuts, fungus, and berries are fare game.  In National Forests shed antlers are ok to pick up, but antlers attached to a skull are to be left.  I once let a young gentleman who was about 11 years old carry a moose skull with moderately sized spoons out of the Boundary Waters.  Illegal?  Yes.  But if you had seen the pride in that little guys eyes as he passed me on the portage with that skull balanced on his pack you would understand why I did not.  His scout leader said he had found it early in the trip and had carried on each portage, including one portage that was over 500 rods (one rod= 16.5 feet). I console myself in that now he may be majoring in natural resources at a major university because of his experiences on that trip.. There are non-native/invasive flowers, trees, shrubs, etc almost everywhere you go.  Learn what they are an let your little ones pick the flowers and you can cut the trees and shrubs for your spoon carving and buck saws. You will be things out of the forest and leaving a trace, a positive trace. Educate yourself and make a difference.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts: Note that it does not say "never use a fire" which is how some folks interpret this principal.  Keep your campfires small.  Harvest dead and down wood away from your campsite. Use grate when they are provided.  If you want to use a stove look into making your own like one of my woodsman heroes.  If you think you are "leaving no trace" by using a white gas stove you need to visit a bauxite mine and an oil refinery sometime...
  6. Respect Wildlife: Another straight forward principal I think. Leave wildlife alone when camping.  Other wise you could end up like Timothy Treadwell... Oh yes, I just went there...
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Be peaceful and respect other recreational users.  If they are compiling with regulations keep off your soap box.  If you are a hardcore LNTer please do not accost a bushcrafter for practicing there craft if they are not breaking rules.  It is a bad idea.  We carry insanely sharp knives and axes all the time. (That's joke you realize,  sometimes the knives and axes are only moderately sharp).
And that is my take on implementing LNT into bushcrafting.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic, even if the conflict with mine.  I will just be sitting here...sharpening my axe...

5 comments:

Ross Gilmore said...

Very well put. I think you nailed it.

Anonymous said...

Hey man! I fully agree with your thoughts.

Bill Giles said...

Your viewpoint is pretty much the same as mine. I don't want to do any harm, but I want to be able to enjoy nature. I seldom go where no one has gone before and I don't want those who follow after me to regret that I had been there.

Lasivian said...

Your post made me think exactly how much LNT is actually destroying the environment. I did a full post on it myself that might interest you.

http://www.lasivian.com/?p=700

Thanks

Micah said...

I'm new into bushcraft, but have been struggling with this (hence a google search leading to your post). I am a believer of LNT, and learning the valuable skills of bushcraft.

I mostly struggle with the use of wood. Limbs that have been hacked off upright trees, or chopping live trees that I see in a LOT of YouTube videos I think is irresponsible bushcraft.

I also am concerned with my use of deadwood though. It leaves the an area in an unnatural state with scars of human intervention. That's not what I want to see if I'm out in the backcountry to enjoy the wilderness.

I think the argument that it's returning to old ways of sustainable use of the wilderness is a false justification because the density of people in wilderness areas no longer allows the regrowth and recovery before it will be reused.

What are your thoughts on this?