“Take nothing but photographs, leave only footprints.”
This phrase has become a sort of unofficial mantra for experienced wilderness users and is at the same time an easy-to-remember guideline of sorts when recreating in the outdoors, regardless if you are camping in the backcountry, or are on a photography trip staying in a comfy lodge.
At Backcountry Journeys, we feel the privilege of visiting remarkable natural locations comes with the responsibility to be stewards of the environment. With the incredible rise in visitation at the National Parks and other wild spots across the globe, it is crucial that visitors understand how their actions leave an impact, and more importantly, how they can lessen that impact.
It is important to note while discussing this topic, that these programs do not limit recreation or access, but instead promote responsibility and stewardship, opening opportunities for continued visitation and recreation.
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is the preeminent organization studying our use of public lands, and developing science-based educational initiatives and principles to help guide folks to sustainably enjoy our natural world. The nationally recognized, and award-winning organization plays an essential role in the care of our cherished public lands by conducting training and providing education programs regarding responsible recreation in 50 states and many countries reaching 15 million people annually.
While Leave No Trace is an organization, the phrase itself has become an ethic for conservationists, and a guiding principle (Seven, actually) for lovers of the outdoors to use as they enjoy the natural world. At the core are the organization’s Seven Principles of Leave No Trace. These principles act as guidelines that, if utilized, can assist users of the natural world towards doing so in a positive and impact-limited way. Let’s take a look:
The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org
While not all of the above (always) directly apply to Backcountry Journeys’ photography tours, most of them do and can be easily used to guide us so that we are doing our best to minimize our impact on the beautiful locations we visit. Let’s take a quick look at the principles that apply best to our tours, and discuss each individually.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
This one you can certainly leave for us. An enormous amount of planning and attention to even the smallest of details goes into each of our tours. We do our best – ahead of time – to provide a well thought out and enjoyable itinerary that will be safe and minimize the impact on the natural world. By identifying our goals, acquiring local knowledge of the areas we are visiting, then balancing this information with the skill and ability of our guests (to the best of our ability using gathered information), our tours are well-prepared. Following each tour, we look for feedback from guests and guides so as to continue to better this approach. By putting our groups in well thought out situations with little in the way of surprise, we do our part towards being stewards to the environment and our guests, alike.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Travel through the natural world creates impact. One way to limit the impact on the environment is to limit travel, when possible, to trails and areas that have already been impacted, thus not creating more impact by trampling vegetation or creating additional trails. Your Backcountry Journeys photo guide will consider this when deciding where we’ll hike, or where we’ll position ourselves for photographs. We want to consider at all times limiting the impact we have by staying on trails, and considering where we walk when we do leave trails to find locations to photograph. For example, we may attempt to steer you away from setting up your tripod on the edge of an eroding riverbank in Yosemite. We’ll most certainly educate you on the delicate biological soil crusts that are prevalent in the high deserts of Utah. By knowing what it looks like, and how damaging even a single footprint can be, you’ll be able to avoid it completely, thus limiting impact, and allowing the crucial desert crusts to live on.
Dispose of Waste Properly
Backcountry Journeys guides will always place importance upon disposing of waste properly. While this one seems like a ‘no-brainer,’ nearly everyone reading this can likely think back to a time when you found trash on the ground during a visiting a National Park. Yet, no one reading will likely admit to leaving trash behind. That is because left-behind trash is nearly always accidental. Yes, there does exist a small cross-section of society who will leave trash on purpose, assuming it is someone else’s responsibility to pick up after them. But, likely there really aren’t that many folks out there who believe and do that. A large portion of the trash we see in our natural world was left by accident. The water bottle we set down “just for a second” in order to snap a photo, and then forget. The corner of our granola bar wrapper that we peeled off and then put in our pocket that later sneaks out when you put your hand in that pocket, not feeling it. This is all trash that needs to find a trash can, not the bottom of a creek bed. Attention to this is essential, and we preach this often during tours. Along those same lines, have you ever witnessed a park trash can overflowing with garbage? Yeah, it is not uncommon. For the most part, Backcountry Journeys will self contain our trash while visiting our National Parks so as to lighten that load.
Leave What You Find
Leaving all that is found is sometimes tough (because your grandson would really like to have a commemorative rock from the Grand Canyon), but necessary. The Grand Canyon receives over six million visitors in a given year. Can you imagine the impact should every one of those six million people take a rock home with them? The Canyon would be even deeper than it is now! Preservation for the enjoyment of future generations is an important segment of the National Parks mission statement. Conservation is another. Both of these things require compassion and cooperation from visitors. It is really basic if you think about it. Leave everything as you’ve found it. Again, take with you only photographs.
This one always applies but has special significance during BCJ wildlife-based tours to locations like Yellowstone, Katmai, and Costa Rica, among others. Your guides are experienced with many of the animals we’ll be looking to photograph, thus come in with a good understanding of their behaviors and needs. Our responsibility is to photograph these magnificent creatures in a way that does not disturb them. A “better look” is never OK if the animal is made to feel uncomfortable, or messed with. This is important not only for the safety of the animal but for the safety of the humans who are observing them. Wildlife should always be photographed from a distance. It is why they build those long telephoto lenses we all love so much! Backcountry Journeys guests and guides will never approach, touch, feed, or pick up any animals. Large groups, quick movements, and noise can also be stressful to animals, creating impact. When on a wildlife-based photo adventure, we’ll do our best to travel quietly, move slowly, get the shots and have fun in an environment that works for us and our critter friends.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Backcountry Journeys groups certainly appreciate having the ability to enjoy the locations we visit free from obnoxious behavior from other humans. Extending this same consideration to others, including being courteous and gracious with space, helps us to Leave No Trace and gives others the correct assumption that we are good people with good intentions, and are examples of ‘how to do it right.’
Utilizing the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace will help you to become a steward of your environment, and you can do it whether you are at Yellowstone National Park, or in your own backyard. The results are positive regardless. Backcountry Journeys was founded by Russ Nordstrand, who as an avid outdoorsman and professional guide has utilized the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace to guide his decision-making in the natural world throughout his long career. Now, those same principles are utilized by Russ and BCJ guides so as to provide enjoyable, safe, and successful photography trip itineraries to some of the most special natural places across the world, all with consideration of the guidance provided by Leave No Trace so that we all are stewards of the environment.
For more on Leave No Trace: www.LNT.org
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers, and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and spent roughly five years writing and photographing for the award-winning Omaha World-Herald newspaper, out of his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of trip leading and guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens, to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.