Sopris Sun

Carbondale's community supported, weekly newspaper

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Considering sustainable uses on our public lands

By Sue Gray

Sopris Sun Contributor

What did you do last weekend? That’s a common question in these parts, which is often answered with a list of outdoor activities, no matter what the season.

There are now more backcountry recreation options than ever: camping, climbing, cycling, fishing, hiking, horse packing, hunting, skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, trail riding and wildlife viewing to name a few.

With so many locals and visitors enjoying public lands in so many ways, it’s important that everyone do their part to minimize the impact they make on habitat and wildlife.

Most users of public lands know and observe the “pack it in, pack it out” rule — whatever you brought with you, you take back with you. This has reduced the backcountry litter problem considerably since the concept was introduced in the 1970’s.

During the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, two other phrases were commonly used to remind people how to treat the backcountry and wilderness areas responsibly: “leave no trace” and “tread lightly.” These phrases are now the names of organizations that continue to teach responsible and sustainable backcountry practices.

These seven principles are from the Leave No Trace website are:

• Plan ahead and prepare: Poorly prepared people, when presented with unexpected situations, often resort to high-impact solutions that degrade the outdoors or put themselves at risk. Proper planning leads to less impact.

• Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Damage to land occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond repair. The resulting barren area leads to unusable trails, campsites and soil erosion.

• Dispose of waste properly: Though most trash and litter in the backcountry is not significant in terms of the long term ecological health of an area, it does rank high as a problem in the minds of many backcountry visitors. Trash and litter are primarily social impacts that can greatly detract from the naturalness of an area. Further, backcountry users create body waste and waste water that requires proper disposal.

• Leave what you find: minimize site alterations, such as digging tent trenches, hammering nails into trees, permanently clearing an area of rocks or twigs, and removing items.

• Minimize campfire impacts: Because the naturalness of many areas has been degraded by overuse of fires, seek alternatives to fires or use low-impact fires. (ALWAYS know and observe fire bans and restrictions).

• Respect wildlife: Minimize impact on wildlife and ecosystems. Don’t approach, chase, feed or pick up wildlife.

• Be considerate of other visitors: Following hiking etiquette and maintaining quiet allows visitors to go through the wilderness with minimal impact on other users.

Tread Lightly! Is a non-profit organization managed and financed by Ford Motor Company, Toyota and others. It’s mission is to teach motorized vehicle users to practice minimal impact on public lands. The following three tips are from the Tread Lightly! website:

1. Travel responsibly on land by staying on designated roads, trails and area. Go over, not around, obstacles to avoid widening the trails. Cross streams only at designated fords. When possible, avoid wet, muddy trails. On water, stay on designated waterways and launch your watercraft in designated areas.

2. Avoid sensitive areas on land such as meadows, lakeshores, wetlands and streams. Stay on designated routes. This protects wildlife habitats and sensitive soils from damage. Don’t disturb historical, archeological or paleontological sites. On water, avoid operating your watercraft in shallow waters or near shorelines at high speeds.

3. Do your part by modeling appropriate behavior, leaving the area better than you found it, properly disposing of waste, minimizing the use of fire, avoiding the spread of invasive species and repairing degraded areas.

Know more

Want to do more in order to protect our wilderness and public lands? Two local organizations offer opportunities to donate money and time.

The Wilderness Workshop is “the conservation watchdog of nearly three million acres of public lands in western Colorado.” Their mission is to defend public lands from harmful development, protect and restore habitat, and educate the public about the importance of wilderness preservation.

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers provides the community with opportunities to participate in trail building and restoration projects, planting wetlands, removing invasive species, and refurbishing historic sites.

Responsible stewardship of the land benefits plant and animal life, and provides satisfying recreational opportunities for generations to come. For all of us who live in areas heavily dependent upon outdoor recreation tourism, protecting our public lands also helps create a sustainable economy.


Leave No Trace

Tread Lightly!

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, 927-8241

PO Box 1341, Basalt, CO 81623

Wilderness Workshop, 963-3977

P.O. Box 1442, Carbondale, CO 81623