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Conservation Biology, 2004      Minimum-Impact Research
John R. Spear
Conservation Biology, 2004

In the 1960s, outdoor education began to teach the philosophies of “minimum impact” and “leave no trace” (LNT) in relation to howrecreational users of the “wilderness” treat the natural world. These techniques have become widespread and welldisseminated, and they are continuously refined in response to our ever-changing world. Field scientists should take heed, because our impacts no longer go unnoticed. Trails, gear, and waste (human, chemical, science-related) are increasingly evident. Discussions with land managers from several U.S. federal agencies confirm that research-related impacts occur on all federally managed lands (personal communications).
Is the field impact of scientific research on federally protected lands large? No. The impact attributable to research activities is miniscule compared with that of the masses of people that visit Yellowstone National Park, for example. Grazing, logging, mining, drilling, and loss of biodiversity are far more invasive and serious impacts to ecosystems. Is the impact of field research a current issue or challenge? Yes. Based on personal observation during my research experiences in Yellowstone, I suggest that a problem looms, a problem that is scalable to any location where field research occurs.
What can be done? Simple awareness of potential damage is an important step toward sound conservation practice. A place to start is a research focus applied to the seven basic principles of The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (http://www.lnt. org).
(1) Plan ahead and prepare for field...

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