At the end of April, I presented to one of our elementary schools on Forests as part of their Environmental Day celebration. Our forests are one, if not the, most important natural resource we have in the world today. The children heard an impassioned description of what the forest does for humans. The single most important function of our forests is to provide and clean the air we breathe. This is such an abstract concept for eight year olds! Although, through our discussion, I realized that many of them do understand that without trees and our forests, human life, and most other life dependent on oxygen would perish from the earth. After reminding the students of the very important role the forest plays in all of our lives, all over the world, the discussion then turned to what we can do for the forests!
You can imagine my surprise when less familiar to the students was the concept of “Leave No Trace.” Life experience is short when you are 5-11 years of age. Therefore, I ended up explaining what this term meant for us and for the forests. Just as the clean air and abundant oxygen provided to us by trees and the forest is invisible, we need to be sure we are not leaving something visible behind in the forest. Most adults realize what “Leave No Trace” means. You know that it means do not litter or do not leave anything behind that indicates you were there. It means what you carry into the forest, you must carry out. This is a more concrete concept that of trees providing a gas that sustains our life on earth. It made me wonder why the children were not more familiar with “Leave No Trace.”
Perhaps we need another public service campaign like the very successful Smokey Bear media coverage of the 1970’s. Some might say we need talking trash cans, similar to those installed in popular amusement parks frequented by tourists. I just think we need to visit the forest with our youth – our children and grandchildren – to begin to show appreciation for what the many trees provide. Studies have shown that the best way to protect a resource is to use it. If you use something and enjoy it, you will be more likely to fight for it, if you need to. What’s more worth fighting for than the very air we breathe? Not much, I would say.
So, as you visit the forests where you live – and you really should visit – it is healthy to do so. Talk to your children and family members about what it means to “Leave No Trace.” We receive so much from the forest, the least we can do is to take everything but our footprints with us.
Inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt: Trace