In last month’s newsletter, we asked:
On your way down from a short, out-and-back hike to a popular historic outlook, something catches your eye. Stranded crackers, chips and a twist-tie are left on a picnic-perfect granite slab where earlier you noticed some college students snacking. Thinking that you could definitely recognize the party who was eating there, and that you could easily catch up to them, what would you do?
This is what you said:
Leftover crackers, chips, twist ties? And I’m pretty sure I know who left them on the rock? And I think I could catch up with them? I’d pick them up, hike down to catch up with the group, and politely tell them that they forgot something…the dialogue would be something like: “Excuse me. Are these yours? I saw you sitting on the rock where I found these. I’m sure you didn’t intentionally leave them behind, because you’re probably aware these leftovers and wrappings may not be great for the environment. Nevertheless, if you don’t want them back, I’d be happy to toss them. Enjoy the rest of your hike!”
If the group is not in earshot of the party, the food is abandoned. Collect all of it as either food for yourself or trash. Since the route is short, it is more likely trash to me. I would not make any attempt to catch up with the group and would proceed according to my own hike plan.
Given the situation the first thing I would do is take a picture then pack out the trash. Assuming that I would run into the offenders, and I was sure it was them, I would approach them and start talking about how nice the day is and how great a place we are fortunate to have and visit. Hopefully this would start some friendly conversation. Then I would turn the conversation to conservation, “You know how important it is that people don’t deface this wonderful area” and “how would you feel if you went to some nice spot and found it had been trashed and violated. ”Assuming, there were following my thoughts I would then announce “You will not believe what I just found back on the rocks” and with this I would show the garbage I found. I would tell them I found the rock crying and the animals scared because of the trash. And, how happy they were when I picked everything up. I would assume that these people did not know they were doing something wrong and that I could show them how this behavior is not consistent with the good type of people they are.
I’ve done something similar in situations similar but not exactly the same. I would probably collect the stuff, then when I caught up with them I would be all perky and dumb and say something like, “OMG! I’m so glad I caught up with y’all! Y’all dropped all this stuff accidentally and I know you didn’t mean to leave it! You might need it!!” As I was saying that, I’d push the stuff into their hands. (People usually tend to reach out to take something if you hand it to them.) Since I’m old enough that I’d probably remind them of their mom, it usually works. The “dumb mom” act can defuse any defensive mechanism that might kick in on the part of the kids. If they reacted well, I might even go a step farther and give them a VERY brief Leave No Trace spiel. If they got defensive anyway, I would just leave, taking whatever stuff they didn’t take with me. Worth a try, anyway...
Crackers chips twist tie and students. First gotta pack it out. If I were able to catch them I would confront return and explain a little Leave No Trace. Assuming they were caught up with the beauty of the area and were absent minded the Leave No Trace information presented would serve as a lesson for their next outing. If not able to catch them proper disposal and I still feel good.
-John C. Cary
“What I would do first is clean up the mess. Leaving it behind may give others the impression that's it's okay to leave things like that behind. If you can then catch up to the suspect group, ask them if they left the debris behind. If the answer is no, thank them for leaving no trace. If the answer is yes, tell them you cleaned up the mess, and offer to dispose of it, or offer it to them so they may dispose of it. In any case, be polite and friendly, and ask that they practice Leave No Trace in the future, and offer suggestions on how that may be done. For example: Carry their supplies out in a plastic or paper bag thay can be used as a trash bag at clean up time.”
The Leave No Trace e-tour responds:
Engaging in conversations with fellow outdoor users can often be a sensitive issue for both parties. Being familiar with a technique called the “ Authority of the Resource” is a solid approach to entering into a friendly constructive dialogue with other outdoor users who might be engaging in actions considered to be less than Leave No Trace. This particular scenario was a true-life experience, and I’ll respond by recounting the resolution.
I gathered up the litter and crumbs in a baggie that had come from my own snacks. At a point where the group had to pause to allow safe passage over some slippery granite, I opened the conversation with a friendly hello, and a comment about how even the short hike had made me hungry. Mentioning that I had seen them consuming some tasty snacks, I remarked that I was looking forward to my lunch back at the car. Now knowing that I had engaged the correct group of users, we had a conversation on how animals might become ill from eating human food, as we might if we ate the animals’ food. I explained the idea of the litter as a social impact from a visitor’s perspective instead of the simple “feeding the birds” which was the intent of their actions. When I showed the group the litter I had collected, not only did they apologize for me having to do so, but offered me a granola bar to stave off my grumbling stomach.
For Dr. Wallace’s work go to: http://carhart.wilderness.net/docs/manuals/waappg.pdf