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Old Boy Scout Style of Camping Too Tough on Wilderness

October 16, 1989

BEND, Ore. (AP) _ The U.S. Forest Service wants people to forget some of the camping techniques they learned as Boy Scouts.

And recognizing that times have changed, the Boy Scouts have revised their handbook and are urging young campers to leave their hatchets at home.

Rangers such as Michelle Kaptur, who patrols the high wilderness of the Cascade Range, are telling campers that it’s no longer good enough to leave a clean camp in the wilderness. The Forest Service wants you to leave no trace of a camp at all, especially not a ring of rocks where you built a fire.

″When you leave a fire ring, the next person says, ’Hey 3/8 There’s a camp 3/8 Let’s use it 3/8‴ Kaptur explained to a group of campers at Quinn Meadows outside Bend. ″After 300 people use it, it’s not a wilderness anymore.″

″There is this whole cultural image of what camping is,″ she said in an interview. ″In the new Star Trek movie, there’s a scene where they’re sitting around a campfire. They had looked through the computer log to find out what camping is. And it’s exactly true. You have to have a fire ring. You have to have marshmallows. That’s all true.

″But it doesn’t work anymore. There’s too many of us for it to work.″

The urge to build a campfire - what Kaptur calls the television of the wilderness - is so strong that the most popular wilderness areas of the Deschutes National Forest no longer have any dead wood for fires within reach of a human.

″People don’t realize that at ground level all those little twigs they use for fires have a purpose,″ Kaptur said. ″They (decompose and) feed the trees.″

The 10th edition of The Official Boy Scout Handbook, due out in January, for the first time advises young campers to cook on a stove rather than a fire and to leave their hatchets behind.

Since the first handbook came out in 1910, the book that has taught millions of Americans how to camp has described the joys of cooking over an open fire and using an ax to hew a camp from the wilderness.

″That’s when you’ll really feel yourself akin to the early American pioneers hewing their homes out of the wilderness,″ reads the 1962 handbook.

The handbook’s latest edition doesn’t even feature the Official Boy Scout Hand Axe, handbook editor J.D. Owen said from his office in Irving, Texas.

″In the old days, you could go pitch a camp anywhere and chop down trees to build pioneer projects and nobody would care,″ said Owen. ″These days they do care. High-impact techniques are not suitable anymore, and we don’t teach them.″

Robert C. Birkby, author of the new handbook, said the Boy Scouts want to influence beginning campers.

″Here is a real opportunity to make a difference in the way that young people, future adults, view the environment in which they live and can take an active part in making some substantial changes in the quality of that environment,″ Birkby said from his home in Seattle.

″When people think of scout camping now, I hope they will think of small, very environmentally aware groups that are able to go deep into the backcountry and leave no trace of their passing,″ he said.

Cliff Blake, national coordinator for the Forest Service’s ″No Trace″ camping program, has a tough job trying to spread the word with a meager budget and no animal champion to help, the way Smokey Bear sniffs for forest fires and Woodsy Owl hoots at polluters.

Blake went to the Boy Scouts for help about five years ago and now counts on them to help promote No Trace camping.

″We were talking about 18 million visitors to the national forest system back in 1946,″ said Blake. ″Now we are looking at 225 million per year doing their thing. The land hasn’t expanded any. But the people certainly have.″

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