Readers Cast


Bill Houk - November 6, 2011

Leave No Trace is an ethical education program based on seven principals designed to limit or reduce our impact while engaged in outdoor recreational activities. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and its volunteer teach people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. Leave No Trace is endorsed by such organizations as the U.S. Forest Service, The National Park Service, many state and local natural resource management organizations and the Boy Scouts of America.

The Seven Principals of Leave No Trace

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Dispose of Waste Properly

Minimize Campfire Impact

Respect Wildlife

Leave What You Find

Be Courteous to Other Visitors

These same seven principals can be adapted to any environment and to any activity. Principals are guidelines and not rules. They are a framework, by which, each of us can apply the principals in our own unique way. The principles are intertwined. Complying with one principal makes it possible to comply with the others.

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, in Boulder Colorado, offers material to help adapt the principals in many environments and for various audiences including; fishing, heritage information for cultural sites, hunting, river, kids, back country, front county, geocaching and canyoneering.

Leave No Trace History

"Leave No Trace was incorporated as a 501-c-3, nonprofit organization in 1994, though the Leave No Trace concept is over 40 years old. Leave No Trace was formally conceived of by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service in the 1960's. However, as public land use expanded and land managers witnessed the biophysical effects of this use, the Forest Service along with the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management developed early wilderness ethics practices.

By the mid-1980's, the Forest Service had a formal "No-Trace" program emphasizing the cultivation of new wilderness ethics and sustainable no-trace travel and camping practices. The success of this program lead to cooperation among the Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management's authorship of a pamphlet entitled "Leave No Trace Land Ethics." In the early 1990s, the Forest Service worked with the National Outdoor Leadership School to develop hands-on, science-based minimum impact education training for non-motorized recreational activities.

An outdoor recreation summit was convened in 1993 including the various outdoor industry and sporting trade associations, NOLS, nonprofit organizations, outdoor manufacturer and federal land management agencies to create an independent 501-c-3, nonprofit organization called Leave No Trace, Inc. The organization, now known as the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (the Center), was incorporated to develop and expand Leave No Trace training and educational resources, spread the general program components, and engage a diverse range of partners from the federal land management agencies and outdoor industry corporations to nonprofit environmental and outdoor organizations and youth-serving groups."

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Know the local fishing and boating regulations for the area where you'll fish. Obtain licenses and stamps and have them with you.

Use a personal floatation device where required and/or appropriate.

Learn to identify the different species of fish in the area where you'll be fishing.

Obey the limits on size and quantity of fish you are allowed to keep. Abide by regulations concerning types of bait and tackle permitted where you are fishing.

Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.

Plan your trip to avoid times of high use.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Durable surfaces include rock, gravel, water, established trails and campsites, sand or snow.

Concentrate use on existing trails, campsites and boat launches.

Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.

Avoid trampling aquatic vegetation when wading. Refrain from wading in spawning areas when possible.

Enter and leave water sources at places where the banks are low or where there are gravel bars.

In pristine areas disperse use to prevent the creation of new campsites and trails.

Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Pack it in. Pack it out. Inspect your camp and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all monofilament fishing line, leftover live bait, and bait cups.

Avoid using lead sinkers and jigs. If lead sinkers are found, pack out for proper disposal.

Use established bathrooms where available. If not available, deposit solid human waste in cat holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water sources.

Check with local land managers for regulations on disposal of fish entrails. Pack out entrails when possible. If not possible, burial, deep water deposition or moving water is acceptable options in most areas.

To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find

When practicing "catch and release", use barbless hooks and be sure to not injure the fish. Do not fight a fish to exhaustion, use a rod and line of sufficient strength, and avoid suspending fish out of water by the fishing line. Keep fish in water when handling for release and do not touch gills.

Carry and use needle-nose pliers or hemostats for hook removal.

Take care not to introduce non-native species to water sources and surrounding areas, Pack out all un-used bait and dispose of properly (e.g. worms, minnows, leeches) and properly wash all equipment between fishing trips.

Avoid transferring fish from one watershed to another.

Preserve the past: observe, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Campfires can cause lasting impacts. Use a lightweight stove for cooking when possible.

Where fires are permitted use established fire rings, mound fires, or fire pans and consider bringing your own firewood.

Keep fires small and use only dead and downed wood that can be broken by hand.

Burn all wood and charcoal to ash. Ensure that the fire is completely out and properly dispose of cold ashes by scattering or packing out.

Respect Wildlife

Respect fish by humanely dispatching catches you are keeping with a quick blow to the back of the head with a rock or other solid object.

Refrigerate or eat fish quickly to avoid wasting them. Check local regulations on using stringers.

Use caution when cooking fish in bear country.

Never feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.

Control pets or leave them at home.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.

Non-motorized crafts usually have right-of-way over powerboats: slower boats should keep to the right.

If using a radio keep volume low or wear headphones, let nature's sounds prevail.

Pick campsites that are away from shoreline or trails and avoid crowding other visitors.

For more information and materials, please call or visit Leave No Trace at: 1.800.332.4100


It is important to remember the Seven Principals are guidelines and not rules. Each of us has the opportunity and the responsibility to interpret the principals within our own environmental and philosophical perspective.

Bill Houk is a Senior Member of FAOL and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He volunteers to deliver Leave No Trace presentations in state parks, schools, churches, scouts and other organizations. Bill tailors the presentations to suit the host organization and audience. However, he often emphasizes the fishing adaptations including fly tying demonstrations and offering the audience the opportunity to learn to tie flies.

If you are in Indiana or the Midwest and are interested in hosting a Leave No Trace presentation, especially if there is good fly fishing nearby, please PM Bill or contact him via the Leave No Trace website. He is a volunteer and there is no charge for his presentations or materials.

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