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The Leave No Trace Movement

For most of human history the world was full of wilderness. There were always new seas to cross, islands to explore, valleys to find and peaks to climb. Only in the last century the "three poles", the Arctic, Antarctic and summit of Mt Everest were trodden for the first time, and a century is just a pinprick in time.

In living memory there were blank spaces on the maps of New Zealand's mountains but things have changed quickly. A century ago there were 1.7 billion people in the world, there are now 6.8 billion. Those of us with sufficent resources can see aerial views of the most distant corners of the globe from the comfort of our own homes. We can share photos and information on the most beautiful and remote places in the world and access them at a speed and in numbers that would once have been inconcievable. We can climb, bike, kayak and tramp through our wildest places, and we encourage people from around the world to come to New Zealand to do the same...

In our pinprick of time we are witness to a change of paradigm. Wilderness once seen as sublime and insurmountable is now seen as a travel experience waiting to happen or a recreational challenge. The finiteness of wilderness is becoming all to apparent. We must question this, challenge the inevitability, extent and effects of this change, and enter a dialogue about mans interaction with nature. At the very least we can ensure that the effects on nature of our recreation or travel is minimised.

The Leave No Trace movement is part of this dialogue. Originating in the United States as a government driven initiative it has nevertheless found a home in the consciousness of people from around the world. Each of these people connect with the Leave No Trace message in their own way, and contribute their own insights garnered from their interaction with nature to the movement. It is this inclusiveness and Leave No Trace's emphasis on individual decision making and skill development that have given it the strength and flexibility to build bridges internationally.

From the United States.

As the numbers of visitors to wilderness areas in the United States increased through the 1960s and 1970s, so too did the noticeable impacts. The response from organisations like the US Forest Service was to develop low impact hiking and camping practices. Developing skills and awareness proved to be more effective than regulations as regulations tended to antagonise the public rather than win their support, most impacts were caused by lack of skills and knowledge rather than malicious acts and enforcement of regulations is difficult in large and remote areas.

The success of the program lead to the National Outdoor Leadership School being approached to support the minimal impact practices and develop a coherent Leave No Trace educational programme. This they did and the three tiered educational structure we have today comes from this time, as does a clear philosophical grounding in the environmental philosophy of Aldo Leopold:

“Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left”

In the early 1990's Leave No Trace as a separate charitable entity was born to spread the message nationally.As Leave No Trace has evolved the scope has changed from focusing on "wilderness" to also being active in areas closer to large population centres. Research has shown that the greatest number, and some of the most significant environmental impacts occur in areas where we recreate on a daily or weekly basis, such as in local bush land and regional parks close to our cities. Local, as well as federal, authorities have become key Leave No Trace partners in the United States and contemporary programs exist to facilitate environmental awareness in kids and find and support leaders for the environment from diverse ethnic communities.


To the World

What has been remarkable, and unexpected for Leave No Trace, is the interest the programme has recieved from around the world, and how this interest has rapidly led to the formation of new Leave No Trace branches on three continents. Well established branches now exist in Canada, Australia and Ireland, all with support from National government agencies.

The growing realisation is that in a globalised world problems and therefore solutions have a global aspect as well. There is no point in educating your local user groups if  wider domestic groups or international visitors remain unaware of the problems and lack the skills to manage them.

Leave No Trace Australia has assisted Leave No Trace New Zealand in its establishment, negotiating an agreement with Australasia's peak Park Management body, the Parks Forum, and providing expertise in Leave No Trace governance through direct input from Leave No Trace Australia Executive Director Cameron Crowe.

In time Leave No Trace New Zealand will seek to dedicate some resources to encouraging the continued global spread of the Leave No Trace movement.