Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Pleistocene Epoch takes a great leap backward...

The Geological Society of America (GSA) released its new Geological Time Scale April 9, 2009. Overnight, the Pleistocene Epoch is much older, by definition!

This is GSA's first full time scale revision in 25 years. The new revision did not await final resolution and international consensus. Debate continues among researches within the International Commission on Statigraphy, an international body meant to gain international time scale uniformity. The GSA chart anticipates changes likely to come as this debate settles.

According to GSA...

"Some aspects of the GSA Geologic Time Scale do not conform to the recommendations of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. The names “Tertiary” and “Pre-cambrian” were not dropped on the new time scale. The Quaternary, the status and boundaries of which are still being debated, was modified to reflect some of the pending recommendations. These differences were retained to best reflect the needs of GSA members and Divisions."

Principal among important changes; The Pleistocene Epoch now begins at 2.6 million years ago. That's 0.8 million years earlier than before. The start of the Pleistocene Epoch marks the time when significant climate cooling resulted in significant changes in the fossil record (among other changes).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Educators gather, Leave No Trace...

Learning and teaching outdoor ethics and skills...

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics advocates sustainable outdoor recreation practiced using methods which greatly reduce visitor impacts to natural areas. The organization's mission is tightly focused on development and promotion of trainings and activities supporting outdoor ethics and skills through ascending scales of involvement. They have built an army of trainers and that army is on the march.

Outdoor ethics and skills, the road show...

This Subaru Tribeca is the Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers program vehicle. Subaru, a leader in green production, makes the Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers program possible through generous corporate giving. Subaru has pledged sustaining, multi-year funds to help LNT build core programs. They offer great deals to LNT membership, too!

A gathering of outdoor educators...

Outdoor Educators from four neighboring states representing diverse groups ranging from the Wilderness Education Association (WEA) to The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) gathered at BSA's beautiful Camp Lazarus near Delaware, Ohio to conference and catch-up on the latest advances and worldwide news about Leave No Trace progress and recent efforts, April 3-5, 2009. The conference was gathered and organized by Ohio's Leave No Trace State Advocate, Don Nash, of University Heights (Cleveland), and hosted by BSA's Simon Kenton Council Conservation Committee led by Chairperson and event co-organizer, Jackie Bain (your blogger's amazing wife) of Delaware County.

Leave No Trace programs support science-guided training...

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics gathers and guides resources; financial contributions, patron and partnership support, membership support, volunteer efforts, and professional and academic work product to support growing worldwide trainings offered by volunteers and professionals. Trainings are guided by ongoing academic research into reducing user impacts in our great outdoors while promoting outdoor recreation and values.

The "authority of the resource" sets Leave No Trace guidance apart from many environmental action groups and movements offering guidance based on less reliable philosophies. Researchers, led by recreation ecologists, bring research results to educators and work with educators to interpret and to translate findings into activity-based trainings. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics supports extraordinary integrative collaboration.

"'authority of the resource' sets Leave No Trace apart from many environmental action groups"

The integration of professional science and professional education with citizen science and citizen educators to influence widespread cultural practices in outdoors settings is a unique approach and a potent brew for stemming the upset caused by repeated misuse of our recreational environments.

"The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics supports extraordinary integrative collaboration."

The Subaru Traveling Trainers Team joined the gathering, too. JD Tanner and Emily Ressler, professional trainers, travel throughout North America (eastern mostly, this is their third year on the road) delivering trainings and building ethics and skills among school children and adults alike.

Traveling Trainers, JD Tanner (right front, with pin-flags bundle), and Emily Ressler (middle, with pin flags) introduce conference participants to a vivid demonstration of the impact of frequent casual toilet practices around a popular remote campsite.

Participants plant bright pin-flags on the spots they might have chosen for a convenient toilet spot if they had been camping nearby for a period of time, without LNT values. This activity helps participants visualize the need for sound management of toilet practices in many busy remote settings like popular wilderness campsites, and it illustrates why frontcountry park and camp users should walk the extra twenty-yards to the campground latrine.

A little history...

Early efforts to reduce human impacts centered on big obvious (often roadside) insults like accidental fire and purposeful littering. These earliest efforts to influence human impacts on public wild lands focused on narrowly defined challenges using 'poster-child' images, mascots, or caricatures and slogans. These familiar early caricatures are iconic today, and still in use.

The early appeals tweaked emotions, particularly among youth. This 'warm--fuzzy' model was first introduced broadly by the USDA Forest Service with the adoption of their cuddly little mascot, "Smokey Bear" during 1944. Today's experienced outdoor educators grew up with a young Smokey Bear and his old slogan,

"ONLY YOU can prevent forest fires."

Today, Smokey Bear is middle-aged and his deep gravelly voice-over is provided by a popular screen actor. His 21st Century slogan is worded a little differently for a new generation of forest managers who regularly use fire as an important natural area management tool. Beginning in April of 2002 Smokey's slogan became:

"Only YOU can prevent wild fires."

A short commercial spot, seen frequently lately, brings our mature Smokey into the lives and conscience of today's youth. Our modern Smokey Bear has his own website, too!

Another early mascot (1970's) addressed litter through our mythical wise owl, Woodsy,

"Give a Hoot--don't pollute!"

Woodsy Owl has enjoyed a make-over, too. He has a new look and a new broader slogan,

"Lend a hand--care for the land!"

Our expanding transportation system during the 50's and 60's, culminating in the completion of the Interstate Highway System, brought the wilderness into reach for many families, hunters and fishermen, and adventurous youth. Old style high-impact camping approaches entered our remote wild lands along with proliferating new cars, trailers, and sundry accouterments supporting a gasoline-powered onslaught of impacts. New environmental impacts followed...

Slogans and images meant to reduce litter and other impacts proliferated and were posted throughout public areas ("Take only pictures--leave only footprints."). Federal land-holding agencies during the 60's--90's increasingly worked together to unify efforts.

A new era of cooperation and effectiveness began with the new century and with the Leave No Trace organization.

A new message and a new method for a new era...

Today's Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an independent non-profit organization, a direct descendant of the earlier multiple-agency efforts to reduce abuses in the backcountry and wilderness. And, it's a hybrid. A new partner, The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) brought new leadership and professional educators to the problem of impacts during the 1990's and developed comprehensive skills-based approaches which informed inter-agency task forces searching for solutions.

Today, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is fully independent of federal agencies (no government funding) and reaches further and deeper into our recreation practices than all earlier approaches to managing human impacts in natural settings.

An army of educators...

The Leave No Trace training effort is reducing impacts from millions of visit-days in public outdoor settings, particularly in backcounrty and wilderness areas. Volunteer and professional educators take the message to outdoor enthusiasts through a network of state advocates coordinating trainer-trainers known as LNT Master Educators. Master Educators train Leave No Trace Trainers. Leave No Trace Trainers offer public meeting presentations, awareness workshops, youth group programs, school programs, and mentoring.

Leave No Trace programs for frontcountry...

Frontcountry programs developed by Leave No Trace are all about Conservation of Recreation Spaces. Our roadside parks and other public areas are developed and hardened with roadways, manicured trails, toilet facilities, and turf so these frequently visited areas can sustain high traffic while remaining natural. Even so, the user impacts to frontcountry public areas are often serious. Frontcountry outdoor recreation spaces are the best places to introduce concepts for reducing impacts everywhere.

Outdoor ethics in practice...

Your blogger held the after lunch agenda block so we offered a walk-and-talk to explore for user impacts and to discuss possible training approaches to reduce impacts. Along the way we introduced and practiced a 'recognition model' guided walk aimed at helping hikers learn and practice Leave No Trace skills in our frontcountry camp setting. We gathered outside the camp dining hall where we discussed the Three R's of the recognition model, Remind, Recognize, Recommend. The recognition model is not an LNT-developed approach (though there are many similarities), rather it stems from a body of literature guiding skills-based training (coaching models) used in industrial settings.

"the Three R's...Remind--Recognize--Recommend"

Remind frontcountry (or wilderness) users of their immediate opportunities to reduce impacts...

We began by reminding hikers of immediate opportunities to practice simple skills leading to reduced impacts on the frontcountry camp, such as stepping on durable surfaces, (remind is not the same as correct--reminders are opportunities reviewed before the action, not unwelcome corrections along the way).

We invited everyone to talk about what LNT skills "look like" when practiced. For example, stepping in the muddy trail-center to avoid stepping off trail--a high impact practice that leads to trail spread--you know--when the trail loops wider and wider to each side as the center mud puddle grows). Building outdoor ethics requires introducing principles, then reinforcing them through practice. Acknowledging and talking about specific skills during training sessions is a great way to develop and reinforce outdoor skills along the way.

Next, hikers paired-up to offer casual recognition to one another when seeing ongoing skills practiced during the hike. While we talked, before departure, we passed around a box of ziplock bags to help carry out any litter we might find along the way--a great reminder to pick up litter!

" about what outdoor skills 'look like' when practiced."

Conference participants examine impacts of 86 years of recreation at venerable Camp Lazarus while practicing using a 'recognition model' for reinforcing skills.

Recognize frontcountry (or wilderness) users practicing skills along the trail and in camp...

While we hiked around camp to study the cumulative impacts of 86 years of very heavy use by youth and adults recreating in the great outdoors, we talked about the challenge of bringing lots of traffic into the natural setting of a nature-based camp without losing the nature in the natural setting. Conversation about "durable surfaces" and other concepts was interrupted (by design) by frequent individual and group recognitions,

"Thanks for picking up that plastic bottle."

"Thanks for stepping in that trail puddle to avoid trail-widening and side-trails impacts!"

The group quickly recognized the power of simple acknowledgment, a casual,

"Thank you"

The phrase, "Thank you" and other simple acknowledgments are powerful tools for reinforcing simple skills used along the trail.

We found the camp well designed with durable but permeable roads and trails, copious turf for running and playing and team sports, and plenty of well preserved natural landscapes inter-fingering along forested drains, bringing nature close in. We found 'hardened' surfaces designed to sustain traffic, and we found compacted surfaces in need of recovery. Most of the impacts observed centered on camper compliance with required camp methods such as proper ash disposal, avoiding casual trail development, and migrating campfire rings. These common camp problems are solvable through developing outdoor ethics and skills!

"The group quickly recognized the power of a simple acknowledgment.'"

Recommend ideas to frontcountry users to help them plan ahead and prepare...

Recommend frontcountry (or wilderness) visit dates, route ideas, and equipment suggestions to aid users in their planning and preparations for their future visits: And, recommend frontcountry park and camp maintenance and management needs to assist camp and park professionals (for example; a brush pile to block a feeder trail to an informal social trail network forming on a steep shale slope).

Discussing "lessons learned" captures important ideas for preparing for future visits. When we ask outdoor users to use reduced impact approaches, and they try, they discover roadblocks. Recommendations can help remove personal roadblocks and make frontcountry areas more user-friendly for reduced impacts.

One great example of a personal recommendation from our hike was trying-out rubber-bottom boots. Rubber-bottom type boots or trail shoes keep your feet dry when you step through trail-puddles.

The popularity of expensive designer sneakers and hiking shoes is one important cause of increased trail-widening and new trail short-cuts in my opinion. Hikers wearing clean expensive designer sneakers or sophisticated trail shoes usually go to great effort (way off trail) to keep their expensive shoes clean and dry--their shoes are part of their 'look', on trail and off. They need to keep them clean for the restaurant they will visit later in the evening. Rubber-bottom boots or shoes stay on trail--mud is no problem. I just hose-off my rubber-bottom boots when I get home.

Obtaining proper equipment for walking Ohio's often muddy trails is part of the first principle of Leave No Trace, Plan Ahead and Prepare!

L.L.Bean's Maine Hunting Shoe is a longtime favorite of outdoors people, including your blogger (my boots pictured). They will always be in-style as far as we're concerned. These watertight boot designs are comfortable, breathe and protect, and they are great footwear for Ohio's muddy spring and fall landscapes where slopes are not too steep. The rubber chain-link tread is easy on both durable and not so durable surfaces. They don't pick up a lot of mud like deep tread soles. Hikers can confidently walk through deep puddles and along the durable surfaces of gravelly streambeds to avoid side-stepping, causing trail-spread, or to leave no trace on undisturbed off-trail areas by stepping the streambed gravel. The boot's soles are non-marring, too (the soles don't leave scuff-marks on rocks as you scramble over their durable surfaces).

Venerable outdoor supplier, L.L.Bean Inc., is a 2009 Special Projects Partner and longtime supporter of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Partnerships between outdoor gear suppliers and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics are vital for continued success.

Next we returned to the dining hall for more great programming and networking to conclude a successful summit of outdoor educators.

About forty-five people participated in the conference, odds are we'll do it again next year for even more LNT advocates!

The LNT message is summarized in Seven Principles:

Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Respect Wildlife
Be Considerate of Other Visitors

See my post from May 5, 2008 for more about Leave No Trace and a Leave No Trace Master Educator Course.