Outdoor Ethics: Why Practice Them? | ENO

As outdoor enthusiasts that frequently enjoy the thrill and beauty of natural environments, we must think critically about the inevitable impact that human activity has on our natural areas. 
hammock camping in the woods

Take a moment to think back to your favorite outdoor experience that you have ever had…

What made that experience special?  Was it a certain place or location? A scenic vista?  The people that you were with?  A combination of these things?

For many of us, the answer often involves beautiful scenery, a wilderness experience, a wildlife encounter, or a pristine location. As outdoor enthusiasts that frequently enjoy the thrill and beauty of natural environments, we must think critically about the inevitable impact that human activity has on our natural areas.  With this reality in mind, we can begin to decide what actions should be taken when we engage in both back-country and front-country activities. Once formulated, these personal principles and ethics can be implemented on different levels amidst a variety of situations in order to minimize the negative effects of our activity in these environments.

When raising the question, “Why practice outdoor ethics or emphasize them so much?”,  it is important to think about the overall degradation of the natural areas that we enjoy.  In other words, the combined effect of our actions shows the magnified impact of our activity.  For example: It may seem quite harmless to pick a bouquet of flowers from a wild mountain landscape, but when a good number of visitors choose to do so, the field of wildflowers is now absent from the experience of other travelers, and the ecosystem will have been forever damaged.

Another thing to take into account when considering the practice of outdoor ethics is the increased amount of traffic that our favorite recreational areas are now receiving.  With higher populations, increases in technology, and growth in equipment availability, we are now seeing an overall expansion in the usage of these areas.  It is also important to note that a major factor that comes into play here is the shrinkage of recreational areas, park lands, and wilderness expanses due to urban sprawl and other development. While I will not go as far as to voice opinions concerning these developments, it has become a reality that human activity and its ensuing impact are more widespread than ever before.

Transitioning from the practical…

Outdoor ethics become a vital part of our character and perspective when we (1) examine logical factors and statistical evidence, and (2) make an emotional connection to these environments.

Emotional? Let’s dive into that a bit further…

From our experiences, observations, and interactions, we begin to see that nature operates in certain ways, has certain laws, and needs certain components.  Not only that, but when we observe the harmony of nature and the preciseness of its design, we often find a desire to integrate ourselves into its very workings.  When we begin to experience nature in an emotional way, we develop a bond and connection to it that has the potential of being damaged or disrupted by the ramifications of unethical activity.  Moreover, the combined effect of repeated ethical ignorance will eventually lead to the inability to have additional emotional experiences of the same quality.

Think again to your most memorable outdoor experience…

What made that moment, or period of time, so wonderful?

If we choose not to respect our environments, wildlife, and wilderness, would that same experience be possible in the future?  Would it be different?  How would it be different?


By AJ Heil

These paragraphs have been authored and purposed to present a few considerations regarding how we view our outdoor ethic, behavior, and impact.  The effects of practicing positive outdoor ethics become more apparent when significant numbers of us begin to diligently implement them into our recreational experiences. While a single person’s response may represent a mere drop in the bucket, the combined result of our unified efforts can fill the bucket to its entirety.



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