How the Rise of Outdoor Influencers Is Affecting the Environment

In 1999, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (LNT) published seven leave no trace principles to “communicate the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly.” Today, these principles remain largely intact, despite calls for LNT to add responsible social media usage to the list.

Groups like Hikers for an 8th Leave No Trace Principle have gone so far as to pen the new principle themselves. “Use discretion when posting on social media and consider the potential impacts of creating a ‘buzz’ about specific destinations,” their suggestion reads.

The discretion they’re calling for is frequently cited in the issue of geotagging on Instagram. On the app, geotagging lets you share the location where a photo was taken. Tap on a tag — say, Yosemite — and you’ll see all the public photos associated with that locale.

But geotagging can also get specific, and that’s where the real issues start. “We’re having a lot of problems with people geotagging hidden or sensitive places,” adding that these places don’t always have the infrastructure to handle a lot of new visitors.

Ben Lawhon, the education director at LNT, said they’re waiting to see how social media evolves before responding to these demands. “If we were to jump at every perceived opportunity to add a new principle, we’d have way more than seven,” he said, adding, “nine out of 10 people who visit public lands are uninformed about Leave No Trace, so consistency is important.”

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