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ConservationEthical field practices

Leave nothing, take nothing

By June 16, 2022No Comments

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Most nature photographers are familiar with Leave No Trace principles and with the ethos of take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footsteps, kill nothing but time. It’s all about acting ethically, preserving the natural world, and limiting our impact on it. All well and good, but wait! There’s more. Don’t pack a pest.

Screenshot of Patch story on spotted lanternfly quarantines.

Invasive hitchhikers

As you travel from one photogenic location to another you might be inadvertently bringing along an invasive hitchhiker. It might be a seed from a plant, a tiny mollusk, an insect, or another small organism that gets attached to your boots, tent, vehicle, or pet. As much as we pay attention to not having a negative effect on the landscape or wildlife of an area, we should pay equal attention to not bringing in anything that doesn’t belong, and not taking out something that shouldn’t leave.

Right now, the mid-Atlantic states are battling the spotted lanternfly, the latest invasive pest threat. While they don’t pose a danger to people or wildlife, they do pose a peril to agriculture and can damage a number of important crops as well as several varieties of trees. Authorities have quarantined multiple Maryland counties, restricting the movement of any material that might harbor the spotted lanternfly in any of its life stages. Residents and visitors are asked to check bicycles, trash cans, firewood, etc. before moving them to a different location.

It’s all too easy for boots and gear to pick up freeloaders while we’re concentrating on photography. Standing in a stream to set up a photo of a waterfall can lead to aquatic critters getting stuck on our watershoes or waders. Bushwacking through the brush to photograph that bear can get all sorts of seeds, brambles, and sticky things caught on our clothes. So it’s all too easy for us to bring these organisms from one place we’re photographing to another if we’re not careful.

What can we do?

There are a few simple steps we can all take to be fairly certain we aren’t transporting these unwanted hitchhikers.

  • Clean your boots before leaving for a new destination and clean them again before you leave that location or as soon as you return home. This might be the easiest and most effective way of reducing the risk of introducing invasive species. Carrying a boot brush in your car or with your gear might be a good idea. The National Park Service and some state and local parks have begun stalling boot brushing stations near popular or ecologically sensitive trailheads. The Park Service even has a video on the proper way to clean your boots.
  • Use gaiters which can prevent sticky seeds (and certain creepy crawly things) from getting stuck in your socks or pant legs.
  • Use local firewood. By bringing firewood from somewhere else, you may be introducing an invasive species hidden in or between the logs.
  • Carefully inspect your tent and other gear before taking it down and packing it away. Brush it off and clean it out before stowing it.
  • Kayaks and other boats should be carefully hosed off and cleaned before moving them to a different body of water. Any other water gear, such as water shoes, waders, waterproof socks and the like should also be rinsed off and closely inspected.
  • Dogs can easily pick up invasive species as they explore the great outdoors. Check Fido’s paws and fur to make sure there isn’t anything that doesn’t belong.
  • Give your vehicle a good once over. Is there anything stuck in the tires, wheel wells, doors, or other places?

By following these seven tips, along with seven principles Leave No Trace and NANPA’s Principles of Ethical Field Practice

Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He serves as NANPA’s Interim Marketing and Communications Coordinator and manages NANPA’s blog. He can be found online at or on Instagram @frankgallagherfoto.