Outdoor Ethics Task Force Expands Its Impact—and Reduces Scouting’s

Scouting volunteer Dave O’Leary can remember a time when Boy Scout troops saw no-trace camping as little more than a special activity to try on occasion. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, a troop would say, ‘We’re going to go out and do a Leave No Trace campout this weekend,’ as if it was a thing you would do occasionally but not as part of your regular hiking and camping and other outdoor recreation practices,” he says.

Cub Scouts, meanwhile, didn’t even do that. After all, their outdoor activities were mostly limited to frontcountry sites like Scout camps and state parks, where Leave No Trace principles didn’t seem to apply. While they could earn the special Leave No Trace Awareness Award, outdoor ethics principles weren’t integrated into the program.

That situation has changed drastically, thanks in large part to the Outdoor Ethics Task Force O’Leary chairs. Outdoor ethics principles are baked into the Scouting program at every level from Cub Scouting to Venturing, and the BSA has a growing cadre of trainers who can help local units learn more.

According to O’Leary, outdoor ethics boils down to making good decisions, which fits well with the BSA’s mission: “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”

In Scouting terms, outdoor ethics has three components: the BSA’s Outdoor code (http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/outdoorprogram/outdoorethics/outdoorcode.aspx, which has been in use since 1948), the seven principles of Leave No Trace (https://lnt.org/), and the five principles of Tread Lightly! (https://www.treadlightly.org/). (Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly! share many similarities, but the latter program focuses more on shooting, boating, and the use of motorized vehicles in the outdoors.)

To help Scouts and Scout leaders learn more about these principles, the Outdoor Ethics Task Force has built an army of local experts, including council outdoor ethics advocates, Leave No Trace Master Educators, and Master Tread Trainers. Supporting them are area and region outdoor ethics advocates. (Areas and regions are larger administrative structures within the BSA.) The goal is for every council to have an outdoor ethics advocate and as many Master Educators and Master Tread Trainers as are needed to support local units.

“Ten or 15 years ago, a few of us basically had to drive around and plant the seeds,” O’Leary says. “Now those seeds have sprouted in a lot of places, but they’re not quite everywhere. We’re kind of filling in those spaces where it hasn’t completely taken hold yet.”

The Outdoor Ethics Task Force’s website, http://outdoorethics-bsa.org/, offers an up-to-date directory of outdoor ethics volunteers in every council. Also on the site is a calendar of upcoming Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly! training courses. Between the directory and calendar, O’Leary says Scouters who don’t have local resources can either find courses in neighboring councils or identify trainers who might bring the training to their community if they can get a group of interested people together.

Once upon a time, no-trace camping was just another Scouting activity, like canoeing or wilderness survival. Through the work of the Outdoor Ethics Task Force, it is becoming as central to Scout outings as campfire songs and Dutch-oven cooking.