Minimum Impact Ethics
for Wilderness Users
Leave No Trace; Low Impact Camping; No Trace Camping;
Walking Softly in the Wilderness; Call it what you will - it all means one thing - how
to lessen your impact on the natural environment you are
visiting. It is
everyone's responsibility --including yours-- to learn how to walk softly in the
wilderness. Read all you can about the subject, including this page, then preach and teach
what you have learned. Together we can all make a difference towards sustaining a
primitive wilderness for the visitors of the future.
To learn more, please visit the
Leave No Trace
Online Awareness Course site.
Some of these Ethics profiled below may be specific to the
San Gorgonio Wilderness, but most of these are applicable to any wild area in any country
It's an old proverb,
but it should be the foundation of all your travels in the wilderness: Take only
memories, leave only footprints.
To be taken literally, not figuratively.
destruction and erosion: Walk single file only, stay on the trail even if it's
muddy or covered by a patch of snow, and never cut switchbacks [a violation of
36 CFR 261.55(d)]. Avoiding mud puddles or snow patches creates parallel trails or widens
existing ones. Cutting switchbacks creates unsightly and destructive erosion gullies .
When you are in the wilderness, be
conscious of the impact you are creating. Do you appreciate seeing small litter,
food remnants, and disturbed campsites left by others?
Travel in small groups only (4-6
people maximum). Avoid popular trails, holiday weekends, and popular camps. It lessens the
impact on the wilderness and creates opportunities for seeing wildlife. The limit of
persons per permit in the San Gorgonio Wilderness is twelve. This is the limit, not a
Pets must remain on a leash no greater
than six feet at all times. This ensures their safety and yours and prevents them from
trampling sensitive vegetation and wildflowers and harassing wildlife. Dogs have become
lost in the San Gorgonio Wilderness only to be discovered later having been a meal for
disturb, or harass wildlife. Its harmful to their health and alters their
natural behavior. Observe wildlife from a distance.
Absolutely nothing of a foreign nature should be left in
the wilderness. This includes, but is not limited to: Banana peels, orange peels,
apple cores, grape stems, nut shells, gum, candy, and any other foodstuffs. Even though
they may be biodegradable, such items are unsightly and may take years to biodegrade in an
arid mountain environment. Pack it out!
Always carry a small camp shovel [in the San
Gorgonio Wilderness it is a violation to not posses one 36 CFR 261.58(e)]
and bury human waste at least six to eight inches deep. Do not bury toilet paper - pack it
out! It is a violation of (Federal Code) 36 CFR 261.57(g) to bury your toilet paper in
the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Volunteer Rangers collectively remove pounds of used
toilet paper every weekend from the Wilderness. It is your responsibility to pack out your
own. Toilet paper takes months and even years to biodegrade in an arid mountain
environment and is often dug up by small mammals and scattered about the forest floor.
Human waste is also responsible for the spread of Giardia in North America.
Restore the ground as closely as possible to its natural state.
Glass, tin cans, and aluminum foil have no place in the
backcountry. Leave them at home.Burning or burying such items in a fire is a violation
of 36 CFR 261.57(g). Repackage all your food and beverages so that you carry no more than
zip-lock bags. It is more efficient space and weight wise.
Select only durable campsites a minimum of 200 feet from
all meadows, trails, streams, lakes, and other campers. Always seek out previously
used sites. Creating a new tent site when others are available is irresponsible.
It is never necessary to dig a trench around your tent.
Simply select a site which is well drained. Refrain from "sweeping" clean the
area where you will put your tent. Doing so creates nothing but a dusty, overused looking
tent site and prohibits regrowth of small plants and grasses. Those pine needles and duff
create a nice cushion for your tent.
The best campsites are found, not built. Do not pile logs and rocks to build walls. Refrain from making your campsite
like a fort! Consider it nothing more than a place to put your tent before you move on.
Such constructions may provide some relief from wind (when wind is
actually present), but they destroy the character of the wilderness. If you must stack
rocks or logs, disassemble them when you abandon camp and return them to where you found
rocks, flowers, lichens, and all other natural objects alone. Minimize your
disturbance of stones, soil, and plant life. Dont pick wildflowers or edible plants,
and avoid disturbing living trees or plants when setting camp.
Always carry a water bag. Take the water to your
camp, not your chores to the water. Repeated trips to the water source creates an
unsightly and unnecessary use trail.
Do all washing of cookware and your body at least 200
feet from all water sources. Avoid using any soap. Even biodegradable soaps upset the
delicate pH balance of water and inhibit algae growth. A small, wet scrub pad works great
If you are
wearing perfumes, lotions, sunscreens, or deodorants, dont immerse yourself in a
water source. Such chemicals alter the delicate pH balance of water that is vital
for all types of organisms and for other campers who may need to filter that water
downstream. Do all your bathing at camp and well away from water sources.
Resist the urge to have a fire. Carry a backpacking
stove so you do not have to rely on fire. Fires are not only harmful to air quality, they
also remove precious groundcover and wildlife habitat important to the overall ecological
health of the forest. Not having a fire provides the opportunity for star-gazing and
potential nocturnal wildlife encounters. Fires, other than those on a
"backpacking" stove, are prohibited in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.
Where and when fires are permissible, never burn
anything other than dead, down wood (fires, other than those on a
"backpacking" stove, are prohibited in the San Gorgonio
Wilderness). Never cut any living trees or plants for fuel.
Any standing tree having leaves or needles or not, is not potential firewood - keep
looking. Mutilating, defacing, or carving your initials into any natural feature is a
violation of 36 CFR 261.9(a).
Never burn trash. Burning trash (plastic, glass,
aluminum foil, clothing, etc.) is dangerous and unacceptable. Doing so releases noxious
chemicals and pollutants into the atmosphere. If you packed it in, you pack it out
Leave the Wilderness and your camp cleaner than you
found it. Pick up trash left behind by other careless visitors.
Just before abandoning camp, check carefully for
anything left behind, pick up any small pieces of litter, and "naturalize" the
site. Find a downed tree branch (hopefully with needles still attached) and sweep your
camp with it to remove unsightly footprints and return needles and groundcover. Return any
pinecones, branches, or rocks to their original locations.
Plan and repackage all meals and snacks at home so you
are never carrying any more waste than zip-lock bags. Much litter recovered from the
wilderness includes twist-ties, plastic bread bag ties, candy wrappers, and other oddities
(often lost with the wind). Repackage your food to not include such items.
Only cook what you are capable of eating. Disposing
of food in the backcountry builds a dangerous dependence among wildlife. Pack out your
It is vital that you learn the proper technique of
bear-bagging your food and other odorous items by the counter-balance
method. It can mean the difference between life and death for a "problem"
bear. This is the most effective way to prevent food loss and bear encounters. Tying your
food off directly to the tree from which it hangs will result in its loss if bears are
Travel discreetly and leave no signs of your passing. Stay
as quiet as possible and enjoy the solitude. Watch the clouds or take a good book. Leave
your Frisbee, football, and radio at home - they have no place in nature. Learn to
enjoy wilderness for what it is, not what you bring into it.
Treat the wilderness and nature with utmost dignity and
respect -- as an experienced mountain traveler would -- displaying at all times a keen
awareness of the diverse and delicate mountain world.