Wilderness Ethics

Wilderness is a special place protected in a manner that allows natural forces to occur in a entirely natural setting . This is one of the very qualities that draw so many of us to visit wilderness. With increases in visitation comes an increase of responsibility for all of us. Even individual impacts can be significant when multiplied by hundreds or even thousands of visitors. Please take some time to learn skills and practices that will allow you to do your part in protecting this precious resource. Remember, Wilderness is a valuable national heritage. Let us make sure the value of Wilderness is preserved for our children and future generations to enjoy it as we have. Thank you for doing your part and for taking the time to learn this information.

The Forest Service has partnered with Leave No Trace, Inc. in order to effectively share quality low-impact skills and ethics to backcountry visitors. The following information follows the standard Leave No Trace format and includes specific applications to the Bridger Wilderness.


Plan Ahead and Prepare

This is the key for the Leave No Trace message because if you fail to plan and prepare you can not accomplish any other low impact skill. Learn as much about the Bridger Wilderness as you can. Helpful sources of information include maps, guidebooks, the internet, Forest Service brochures, Forest Service personnel and Leave No Trace literature. Learn about the area's topography, weather patterns, special hazards, regulations, wildlife, trails and access. What you learn will enable you to obtain and pack the proper equipment necessary for a safe and enjoyable wilderness stay. Sometimes lack of preparedness leads to additional impacts on the land simply because the right equipment was not available for the circumstance.


Travel and camp on durable surfaces

Traveling on trail: Trails facilitate travel within the wilderness. Although they are designed with features to minimize erosion, the way we travel on them is important. Trails need only be 12-16'wide. Travel single file on trails and focus your steps on the center of the tread. Be prepared with good quality, waterproof foot gear so you can comfortably hike on the trail no matter what the condition. Skirting snow and mud creates alternate paths so that when the snow melts or trail dries there are multiple parallel paths. Be prepared for stream crossings. Wandering up and down a stream shore looking for a dry crossing can easily damage the moist, sensitive streamside soils. Try to cross the stream where the trail meets it. Avoid shortcutting switchbacks. Damaging vegetation by shortcutting switchbacks can lead to serious soil erosion and completely ruin good trails.

Traveling off trail: One of the rewards of wilderness is traveling where no trails exist and where map and compass skills are necessary to navigate a route. When traveling off trail the idea is not to leave any evidence of your passing. Travel should be on durable, stable surfaces such as rock, snow or duff. Avoid sensitive soils and vegetation. that are easily disturbed by footsteps. Don't travel single file. Spread out and avoid stepping where another in your party has stepped. Don't build cairns, which are markers built by piling rocks. Let the next visitor discover the route as you did.

Camping: Your first consideration for selecting the proper campsite is to be sure it is at least 200 feet from lakeshores and system trails and 100 feet away from streams and springs. Not only does this meet regulation requirements but is a key measure in preserving resources. Trampling of sensitive waterside vegetation and soils is prevented, chances of water contamination is reduced, wildlife is allowed free access to water, and camps are less intrusive to those passing by.

Popular Areas: Use existing sites when camping in popular areas, as long as the site meets regulation requirements. Existing sites can be identified by areas of impacted vegetation or barren of vegetation, a few social trails and perhaps a fire ring. The idea is to concentrate the use, so resist camping on a previously unused site. Imagine how popular camping areas would appear if every camper created a new campsite. Prevent creating a web of trails around popular camping areas and use existing social trails.

Pristine Areas: Pristine areas are recognized as having little or no human evidence. To preserve this setting, extra care must be taken while selecting a campsite. Good campsites are found, not made. Avoid altering a site so that it is compatable with your camping equipment. Select durable, tough surfaces and avoid sensitive soils and vegetation that are easily impacted. Bedrock is an excellent choice for a campsite, all you need is a good mattress pad. Avoid using previously used sites so they can naturally recover. Use alternate routes between the tent site, kitchen area and water source to prevent the creation of social paths.


Dispose of waste properly

Pack it in, pack it out. Carrying a plastic sack is a convenient way to haul out your trash. Please do not place non-burnable trash in your fire. Do not bury your trash-animals will only dig it up. You can minimize the amount of trash you have to deal with by repackaging food into large containers or bags.

Do not wash dishes in the lake or stream. Rather carry water at least 200 feet from any water source. Use only biodegradable soap or no soap. Remember that biodegradable soap only breaks down in soil, not water. Filter out food scraps from your dishwater and deposit them with your trash. Or better yet, only prepare what you can eat. Dispose of your dishwater by scattering across an area free of vegetation.

Bury human waste in a "cathole" 6 inches deep and at least 200 feet from any water source. Cover the hole with removed soil and scatter twigs and needles to disguise it when finished. Pack out the toilet paper with your trash or use natural materials such as leaves. When camping in high alpine areas, consider packing out your waste, descending to lower elevations or go when you're out on your day hike. Waste decomposes very slowly in high alpine zones, which also tend to be popular areas to camp.


Leave What You Find

Please refrain from altering or removing any natural or cultural feature you observe. Leave it as you see it for the next visitor so they may enjoy it as you will. Picking a wildflower from a field may seem harmless, but if all the hundreds who follow you incorporate the same reasoning and pick just one wildflower just imagine the consequence.

Avoid altering campsites. Do not construct camp furniture, dig trenches around tents or remove soil or vegetation. Leave your site as pristine and natural as possible. Remember good campsites are found, not made. Rather than moving rocks or digging soil to make a site, take a few extra moments to search for a nice natural site.


Mimimize Campfire Impacts

Reasonable alternatives are available in place of having a campfire. Technology has produced campstoves for cooking that are highly efficient. Candle lanterns are a nice substitute for campfire light in the evening.

Campfires are allowed only below timberline. Please do not use krummolz (stunted conifers that grow in alpine zones) for firewood! Standing trees and shrubs, dead or alive, are a key element in the wilderness landscape. Therefore, you may use only dead and down material for firewood. Keep your campfire small.

In popular areas, use existing fire rings, which should not be any larger than 18'in diameter. Do not collect more firewood than is necessary for your fire and use small sticks and twigs that will burn completely to ash.

In more primitive areas constructing a fire ring is not necessary. To prevent your fire's heat from sterilizing the organic soil use a barrier such as a fire pan or fire blanket. Another option is to build a "mound fire", using mineral soil as a heat barrier. The best sources for mineral soil are stream beds or uprooted trees. Place the mineral soil in a sack, transport it to your site, place the mineral soil in a mound at least 6' deep, and start your fire on top. Return the mineral soil to its source when finished.

Please take extra care with fire and be absolutely sure your fire is completely out, ashes cool to the touch, before leaving the site!


Respect Wildlife

The wilderness provides habitat for a variety of species of mammals and birds. When you visit the wilderness you are a visitor in their home. Extra care must be taken to avoid causing wildlife undue stress or modifying their natural behaviors.

Please do not feed the wildlife and make sure all food, trash and attractants are unavailable to them. When animals obtain human food they quickly develop a preference for it. Not only is this food unhealthy for them but often changes their normal behavior. This type of situation can be especially hazardous when it comes to bears. They are very defensive of food sources and once conditioned to human food will go to great lengths to obtain it. Please learn proper techniques for storing food and attractants in bear country.

View and photograph wildlife from a distance, do not approach them. Wild animals perceive humans as a threat. Getting too close may cause birds to leave nesting sites or animals to leave their young, in addition to causing them harmful stress. Animals may also react defensively creating a dangerous situation for you.

Only bring your pet if it's very obedient to your commands. Pets display different behavior in the backcountry where their actions are more instinctual. Be sure that your pet is not responsible for harassing or disturbing wildlife.


Be considerate of other visitors

What is it about wilderness that is appealing to you? Many of the features that make wilderness enjoyable are directly influenced by our behavior and actions in the backcountry. Exhibiting a friendly, neighborly manner in the backcountry will only enhance your visit. In the wilderness you will encounter people from all walks of life, participating in a wide variety of activities such as fishing, horseback riding, hiking, llama trekking, climbing, hunting, camping, and so on. While you may not personally agree with some of these activities, please be courteous and respect others'right to enjoy the wilderness peacefully. While on the trail, hikers should yield to visitors with stock by stepping off several feet on the downhill side of the trail and wait until the entire pack train has completely passed. Take a moment and move away from the trail when taking breaks.

Preserve the solitude and quietness of wilderness by maintaining a "low profile". Select camps that are visually screened or hidden from trails and other campsites. Use earth toned clothing and equipment that are less obvious and blend with the environment. Let natures sounds prevail and avoid loud talking or laughing and loud radios.