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Backcountry Ethics




Backcountry Ethics




Teaching a wilderness ethic is a primary goal of our Organization. It is important that stock users, along with other visitors, make a conscious effort to minimize evidence of their presence in the back country. BCHC assists in the effort with educational materials and programs. How well we care for the land today determines our continued use of the land tomorrow.

California was Grandma and Grandpas wilderness, and our generation was born on the edge of their memories. Today it is in wild country that we find the last remnants of our pioneer ancestors vanishing world. The modern packer is a living example of this historic past. He practices his craft in much the same way as those early day travelers who led the westward advance of frontier America; with only slight modifications brought about by a technology that produces lightweight materials and processed foods.



We consider animal handling and packing skills to be a folk art and science so necessary to survival in an earlier era, these skills are now in danger of being lost forever as incremental restrictions are implemented to regulate and/or eliminate pack and saddle stock use from public lands designated as Wilderness. Perhaps Aldo Leopold, a wilderness advocate and Forest Ranger in New Mexico in the early 1920s best expressed the concept of this packing history as being an important value of wilderness when he wrote in 1925, The time is almost upon us when a pack-train must wind its way up a graveled highway and turn it bell mare into a pasture of a summer hotel. When that day comes, the diamond hitch will be merely rope; Kit Carson and Jim Bridger will be only names in a history lesson; and thenceforth the arch of empire will be a matter of gasoline and four wheeled vehicles.



Gentle use

Gentle for a Reason

Are you a Gentle User? It is important that all horsemen educate themselves to become Gentle Users. We must be sensitive as to how we use the backcountry resource in order to eliminate the need for more regulations that affect stock use. The future is in our hands!


Courtesy and Common Sense are the key words to remember as you strive to become a Gentle User.



Gentle with Other Users


Follow the golden Rule with other users. Be of assistance when the need arises. Greet everyone you meet with a smile and a friendly hello; respect their rights to enjoy the backcountry as you do. Help improve our image as Gentle users by acting as Gentle persons.



Gentle Ways



Gentle on the Trail

Stay on the trail! Never cut switchbacks or take short cuts. Remove deadfalls whenever possible to avoid creating a new trail. Get off and walk once in awhile, and toss rocks off the trail tread.

Gentle on the Ears

Noise pollutes, too! Keep it to a minimum. Use as few stock bells as possible. Play your tapes or radio softly so that others are not disturbed. Avoid loud talk or yelling. Sight in your firearms before you go on a backcountry hunting trip in the forest. Target practice is not an appropriate activity in the backcountry.

Gentle on the Eyes

Select pack cover, tarps, and tents of colors that blend with the surroundings. Keep your campsite neat. Set up your camp out of sight of the trail whenever possible.

Gentle with Wildlife

We must especially respect wildlife as we share their habitat. We must take special precautions to avoid disruption of feeding, resting and nesting areas. Practice the Catch and Release ethic when fishing.



Gentle Camping

Gentle on the Forage

Camp only where there is ample forage for your animals, ideally in an area that allows the animals to grave freely with movement only limited by terrain, drift fences, or fenced pastures. Limit your stay in order to leave feed for the next stock user. Avoid wet or boggy meadows.

Gentle on the Campsite

If possible, camp in a previously used site, well off the trail. Never set up camp on grass. Use a fire only if there is fuel in the area, and then keep it small. Burn only paper and wood. Keep foil and plastic out of the fire.


Camp at least 100 feet from any body of water. Keep soap out of lakes and streams. Dispose of dish and wash water in a shallow trench after straining out any food particles. Emulate the cat; dig a hole and bury all human waste at least 200 feet from water and well away from camp.


Pack out not only your trash, but any found in camp or on the trail. Leave the site as natural as possible, raking needles and twigs helps to naturalize the area.



Gentle Control

Gentle with Your Animals

Do not overload your animals; 150 pounds maximum is recommended. Ride and pack conditioned animals, using equipment that fits properly. Allow for plenty of rest and be sure there is enough feed and water.

Gently Animal Control

When you must restrain stock in camp overnight, take every precaution to minimize you impact on soil, plants and trees. Always use tree savers and high line when tying animals near camp. NEVER TIE TO TREES except to load or unload. String the high line at least 100 feet from camp within terrain limitations and out of sight of other camps in the area. When departing, make sure that any disturbed soil is replaced and that all manure is scattered.


An electric fence makes a temporary pasture. Use tape instead of wire for improved visibility and safety. Fence at least a half an acre. Stock must be trained respect the tape prior to your trip, and care must be taken that it is moved frequently to avoid over grazing an area.



Gentle User Check List

Before Departure

I have a wilderness and fire permit if required and am familiar with regulations for the area of backcountry I will be visiting.
I have a topographic map and know how to read it.
I have planned to travel as light as possible.
I have the proper equipment for camp cleanup, such as a rake and shovel.
My stock and I are fit enough for the rigors of backcountry travel.
I have trained my stock to minimize mishaps.
I have advised a responsible party of my route and date of return.

Setting Up Camp

I have located my campsite, high line, and an area for personal sanitation at least 100 feet from any body of water.
I am using a high line for my stock in an appropriate area.
My camp is neat, and I am using colored tarps and tents that blend with the surroundings.

Leaving Camp

I am packing out all my trash plus any found along the way
I have removed manure from the campsite and have scattered all manure at the high line area.
I am leaving the site natural, smoothing over any visible impacts of stock use.

Written words for this page is from Santa Ana River Unit.