How much impact is acceptable?

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Wayland

Hárbarðr
This is a question that has been growing in my mind over the years and this might be a bit of a ramble.

I have always believed in the mantra that we should "leave no trace" but inevitably we do leave an impact on any environment that we step into.

As "bushcrafters" most of us try to ensure that such impacts are at least sustainable and undamaging but just a simple act such as collecting firewood from an environment removes deadwood from an Eco system which is becoming more and more marginal day by day.

For example, I have for many years been an advocate of the hobo stove for cooking because of it's ability to cook with such a small amount of fuel, more recently I've moved over to wood gasifier stoves which are even more efficient.

Many advocates of the "leave no trace" ethic would argue that even those are an unacceptable drain on local resources and that gas, liquid or solid fuel stoves are the way to go. My own thoughts on that are that even they leave an impact somewhere, even if it is far beyond our horizons.

The line needs to be drawn somewhere, but where?

I might be playing Devil's Advocate a little here and I could well end up arguing on both sides to test our reasoning but I'm genuinely interested to know what you think.

How much impact is acceptable?
 
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Wander

Nomad
Jan 6, 2017
452
465
Here There & Everywhere
This is the kind of thing you can tie yourself in knots over.
You summed it up with, ' impacts are at least sustainable and undamaging' .
That does it for me.
You mention the lesser impact of solid fuel, gas, liquid. Yet, where did they come from and what effect has extracting them had?
See what I mean? You can just turn yourself in circles.

Ultimately, human beings are just animals. And, like all animals, we leave a trace on the environment. Take a bird nest, for example. The bird had to collect that material from somewhere, therefore depriving that location of a resource. Birds nests don't just magically appear - they have to be constructed. In that sense, they are artificial.
However, the birds nest is made from 'sustainable and undamaging' material.
As just another animal in the eco-system that is what we should be striving for. By using that local resource, that doesn't require mining, refining, and other industrial activities (such as the solid fuel, gas, or liquid) you are doing the least amount of 'damage'. Again, like all animals, it is impossible for you to have zero impact. So long as your activities are responsible (i.e. like the bird making its nest, you use no more material than is needed) then you are as much a part of this universe as any other piece of matter.
 

TLM

Settler
Nov 16, 2019
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Vantaa, Finland
it depends! In some remote areas in Lappland reindeer are causing actual damage by over grazing. My campsite without a new fireplace and no cut trees and no trash is of no concern, two days and no one'll see it. On some established trails using the designated campsites is not causing any extra impact, there are worn paths but that is kind of unavoidable.

I use my Trangia mostly and only light fire on existing places, well there are the few guerilla fires but those are out of sight.

I can see that wear and tear of trails and camp sites might be more of a problem in more crowded areas. Mostly I think it is a question of one's camping habits.
 
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Van-Wild

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Feb 17, 2018
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A good topic, but I think this is one of those questions that is best answered with:

'I think we think too much......'

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Wayland

Hárbarðr
Indeed Wander, that unseen impact elsewhere is what I was referring to as being beyond our horizons. Out of sight out of mind as it were.

As you know TLM, I am currently planning another winter trip to the Boreal forest of the Arctic. Although we will be in an area that is known for logging, the area we will be in will be State owned and subject to rights to roam, camp and gathering fallen wood that are common to most of Scandinavia. It is tempting to simply believe that as it is allowed, then it is perfectly acceptable. We will be surrounded by trees, surely it will not matter if we remove a few fallen sticks.

But we will have a party of around a dozen, staying in one area for about a week, which effectively raises our potential impact to the equivalent of three man months in a relatively small area. What if another party comes along and uses the same area or one close to it after we leave? What if it is a popular location for the same reasons that we have selected it?

I admit that the chances are remote but as our hobby grows in popularity, which I believe the growing market for equipment seems to indicate, our impact on delicate areas does inevitably increase.

Increasingly, my personal approach is to try and take all the things I need into an environment with me and that includes fuel when possible. Where practical I favour ecological fuels that reduce the "out of sight" impacts as well.

That means more to carry of course but in the case of our trip, the use of toboggans should reduce the burden that involves. I'll also be packing out as much waste as possible too.

We cannot eliminate our impact completely but we can at least strive to reduce it.
 

Wayland

Hárbarðr
A good topic, but I think this is one of those questions that is best answered with:

'I think we think too much......'

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In western thinking at least, isn't that what has led to us believing that we are masters of nature, able to take whatever we want rather than being part of nature and having a responsibility to conserve it?
 
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TLM

Settler
Nov 16, 2019
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Firewood for just food making and tea is not all that much, it is the continuously burning fire that some people want that consumes the forest.

One liter of burning alcohol is enough for a week for two people in the summer, in winter time sometimes double that.
 
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Wayland

Hárbarðr
I'm hoping to pick up a bag of wood pellet type cat litter from the local supermarket before heading into the woods. That should cover melting snow for water as well as cooking for a week.

Being made from a waste product of wood production (sawdust) I think it's fairly good on it's Eco credentials. Not perfect of course, production, packaging and transport are all hidden impacts but it is better than some other fuels at least.

If we cannot source cat litter, the stoves will run fine on the twiggy kindling that is usually easy to find in that environment leaving the heavier wood to break down and return to the Eco system.

I suspect some of the group will insist on a fire in the evening to sit around but I'm hoping that can be kept to the minimum.
 

Van-Wild

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Feb 17, 2018
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In western thinking at least, isn't that what has led to us believing that we are masters of nature, able to take whatever we want rather than being part of nature and having a responsibility to conserve it?
'I think we think too much' is meant tongue in cheek... a little joke to say that some things we over think things that we already know the answer to, if we use a little common sense. (Not to say that by your post you don't have common sense @Wayland, I mean this sincerely when I say that you are much more learned in bushcraft than I).

I suppose that if I were to answer your question, I would say that common sense should prevail in the environment that you find yourself in. Limited dead standing? Take gas. Plenty of suitable dead standing? Use only as much as you need.

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Wayland

Hárbarðr
'I think we think too much' is meant tongue in cheek... a little joke to say that some things we over think things that we already know the answer to, if we use a little common sense. (Not to say that by your post you don't have common sense @Wayland, I mean this sincerely when I say that you are much more learned in bushcraft than I).

I suppose that if I were to answer your question, I would say that common sense should prevail in the environment that you find yourself in. Limited dead standing? Take gas. Plenty of suitable dead standing? Use only as much as you need.

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Don't worry. I took your post in the spirit it was intended but as I said, I would play Devil's Advocate to make us examine out stances.

I have been struck recently in my research on the Sámi, that much of the clash in cultures that they experienced in history came down to a fundamental difference in philosophies between a culture that believed it was part of nature and another culture that believed that nature was it's property to use and exploit.

Common sense is indeed a wonderful thing although sadly it often seems rather uncommon these days.
 
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Van-Wild

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Feb 17, 2018
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Common sense is indeed a wonderful thing although sadly it often seems rather uncommon these days.
Never a truer word said!

In order to contribute to this thread more productively, I am of the opinion that as humans are the apex predator and consumer of nearly all things on our planet, we are responsible for the responsible use and protection of all things on earth.

I could light a fire every time I want a brew in the woods, but a gas stove can be quicker and cleaner. I could build a quick shelter out of natural materials if im staying overnight but a tarp is more efficient.

If the environment supports it and I can justify it, then I will light a fire to keep warm and to cook over (and I frequently do). The biggest impact I have is lighting a fire i think and I'm always mindful of that.

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punkrockcaveman

Full Member
Jan 28, 2017
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yorks
My thoughts are this.

Nature is not a museum. It's a constantly shifting, living landscape.

We are part of it! We can try and build walls and windows and concrete. But if you don't let it in, it'll come and get you! I don't mean that in an ominous way, but my garage is a fine example of how nature will reclaim all :D

So for me the 'leave no trace' mantra is a bit, well, weird. You just need to look around at the landscape. Good luck finding something that's not been shaped by man. Even the lack of man's presence shapes the land.

However I feel like we have a duty to look after it, more than that actually, we should be a big part of it, and I believe the main reason people don't is because they are disconnected from it.
 
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Corso

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Aug 13, 2007
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Since when did taking a few twigs off the ground become such an issue - I thought burning dead wood was considered carbon neutral?

Besides unless you walk to your site your doing more damage environmentally getting there than being there
 
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SaraR

Full Member
Mar 25, 2017
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Ceredigion
The impact you have also depends on the fragility and speed of recovery of the ecosystem and the total number of people visiting. A branch taken in a fast growing temperate woodland will have less impact than a bit of greenery removed in a slow growing marginal sub Arctic shrub land.

If you are the only person there in a whole year, then you can get away with a lot more than if 50,000 other humans are going to use the same bit of land. It's "only one twig" all of a sudden becomes much more.

If you are going for a week, and especially if as a group of 12, you should still move around enough to sufficiently spread the impact! Otherwise, you are certainly contravening Allemansrätten. With so many people, I'd suggest breaking up into smaller groups anyway, because 12 setting up camp in the same place even for one night will have an impact.
 

Wayland

Hárbarðr
Since when did taking a few twigs off the ground become such an issue - I thought burning dead wood was considered carbon neutral?

Besides unless you walk to your site your doing more damage environmentally getting there than being there
It's not just about the carbon though. What about the insects that rely on dead wood for their life cycle?

What about the larger fauna that feed on the insects? What about the moulds, lichens and fungi that break down the deadwood and return the nutrients into the soil?

The environments that we visit are beautiful for a reason and when we introduce ourselves into that environment we inevitably make an impact, sometimes small, sometimes large. The question is where do we draw the line and the answer will probably be different for all of us, but it should at least be thought about.

You are right, travelling has an impact as well. A lot of my travel is offset somehow but air travel is a difficult one. Most people take annual holidays abroad, I make a return flight perhaps once every three years on average so I hope that is less than most. However it is still something I wish I could improve on.

Admitting that we do harm in one way does not mean we shouldn't care about causing damage in others.
 

Wayland

Hárbarðr
The impact you have also depends on the fragility and speed of recovery of the ecosystem and the total number of people visiting. A branch taken in a fast growing temperate woodland will have less impact than a bit of greenery removed in a slow growing marginal sub Arctic shrub land.

If you are the only person there in a whole year, then you can get away with a lot more than if 50,000 other humans are going to use the same bit of land. It's "only one twig" all of a sudden becomes much more.

If you are going for a week, and especially if as a group of 12, you should still move around enough to sufficiently spread the impact! Otherwise, you are certainly contravening Allemansrätten. With so many people, I'd suggest breaking up into smaller groups anyway, because 12 setting up camp in the same place even for one night will have an impact.
Yes, you are right and this has focussed my concern somewhat.

We will probably move about but still within a relatively small area. The group has grown and it may yet reduce before the trip but the needs to share equipment and baggage allowances make it difficult to split the group up. What we will probably do is spread out on the ground so that we are not camping bang on top of each other.

Fortunately, because we will be setting up on fairly deep snow that reduces our footprint a bit as well.

Our hope is that the area we have picked is a little off the beaten track but that is only our assessment from maps and Google satellite images. The reality on the ground may be different and contingency plans are in place for that as well.
 

Broch

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Jan 18, 2009
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I've commented on this before but as a 'woodland owner' I expect anyone coming and leaving the wood to bring everything with them and take everything out. If I organise a camp I will provide enough wood so people do not go and pick up that piece of decaying oak that provides a habitat for ten species of beetle (not that it would burn anyway :)). I also expect no living material to be cut or picked unless I have specifically said it's OK - no one coming into the wood knows the management plan or indeed my intensions for the material. I have made a permanent camp area with one fire pit; no fires elsewhere. I have installed a composting loo as well. Yes, it spoils the 'wilderness' of one corner of the wood but the rest can stay pristine.

On the subject of groups I'm afraid I now limit all my treks (vehicle, canoes, foot …) to a maximum of four - once you get over that number it's very difficult to keep visibility, noise and other intrusions to an acceptable minimum - even with that number there's always someone that will want to show you what they think is a funny video on YouTube in the middle of a silent wood :(