Beginner Skills

Scouts' Honor: Teaching Leave No Trace Ethics

Boy Scouts are at the forefront of teaching Leave No Trace ethics.

Once upon a time, building fire rings, trampling meadows, and felling timber to construct temporary shelters was as much a part of scouting as helping little old ladies cross the street. Times change, and today’s Scouts are whistling a new tune: Leave No Trace (LNT).

“The Scouts buy into the concept. They think it’s cool,” says Doug Palmer, program director for the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. “We think the future of preserving wilderness is to teach LNT,” Palmer says.

Which sounds great, say skeptics, but kids will be kids. The LNT message is taking root, however. More than 15,000 Scouts have earned the new LNT Awareness patch, and land managers like Maureen Oltrogge, public affairs officer for Grand Canyon National Park, say they are seeing the results.

“(Boy Scouts) are certainly making an effort to become better educated about backcountry impact,” says Oltrogge, adding that rangers have seen Scout-related incidents decline by 50 percent since the LNT patch was created in 1998.

That’s good news for the land, says Scott Reid, education and projects manager for Leave No Trace, Inc. “There are between 5 and 6 million Scouts in America,” Reid says. “That’s a huge number, and they spend a lot of time on public lands.”

To earn the patch, Scouts must practice LNT principles on three camping trips, plus teach the ethic to others. The patch isn’t required, but leaders are weaving it into the core program. “We’ve made it part of the backpacking merit badge,” explains Dave Bates, director of camping and conservation for the Boy Scouts.

Contacts: Leave No Trace, (800) 332-4100; Boy Scouts of America;


  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors