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Leave No Trace Backcountry Ethics

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the U.S. Forest Service are agency partners in the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a national program that promotes responsible outdoor recreation on our public lands. In traveling the Smith River, you play a part in its preservation and management. Please help limit the need for new rules and regulations by using common sense to reduce or eliminate your group's impact. Regulations on the Smith have been thoughtfully crafted to reflect the public's desire to maintain a high quality experience.

Simple living, adventure, and solitude can still be part of backcountry travels. To assure the continued existence we must take the responsibility to educate ourselves and to become equipped with skills and habits that enable us to have minimum impact.

You can help reduce problems in the backcountry or become part of them. Low-impact camping practices must be realistic and tempered by judgment and experience. Ask yourself why you came and what you received from the Smith River. What will you choose? What will you do?

The following principles form the foundation of the Leave No Trace program. Conscientious attention can greatly aid your ability to minimize the impact of your Smith River and other backcountry visits.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Notebook and pen for planning

Avoid unnecessary impact in river corridors by carefully preparing for your trip. Give early and careful consideration to the abilities of everyone in your party, your food and equipment needs, and safety considerations related to weather and water conditions.


Taking time to think about what you expect from your trip will help you prepare for it. On the Smith River, you should expect to camp in designated, established sites and to see other groups of people.

Reduce litter at the source

Plan your meals carefully to reduce waste and leftovers. Repackage food into reusable containers or plastic bags. Remove any excess packaging.


Proper equipment can help you make minimum impact. Bring a camp stove to cook your meals and all necessary equipment for washing dishes, straining dishwater, and carrying out trash. Take everything you need to be safe on the river.

Knowledge of the area

Familiarize yourself with the weather and water conditions that might be encountered. Don't overshoot your planned campsite and be forced to camp in a less than optimum site. Know the regulations.

Take time to scout any questionable whitewater. Consider lining your boat through a section of water if you don't feel comfortable floating through the section. Wrapped rafts and pinned canoes certainly add to river trash, not to mention personal injury.

Personal Safety

Many river accidents and tragedies are linked to inadequate trip planning and preparation. Carefully consider the abilities of everyone in your party and plan for the unexpected.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces


Selecting a kitchen site

Just like in your home, people tend to congregate in the kitchen. On river trips, this area receives the most impact, so put your kitchen in the most resistant and impacted location.

Camping on upland areas

Place individual tent sites on areas hardened by use. You can easily distinguish these areas by their loss of vegetative cover. Never pull out vegetation or break off tree limbs for a more comfortable sleeping spot. If you have to move rocks or limbs, put them back where they were found.

Minimize site alterations

On all sites, leave the area as you found it. Do not disturb your campsite in a permanent manner. Don't build new fire rings with rocks. Do not dig trenches for tents or construct lean-tos, tables, chairs, or other rudimentary improvements. If you clear the area of surface rocks, twigs, or pinecones, replace them before leaving. Consider that good campsites are found and not made.

Avoid damaging live trees and plants

Do not damage trees by hammering nails into them for hanging things or hack at them with hatchets and saws.

Avoid making new trails

Always stay on established trails, even if it means going out of your way. It only takes a few people traveling a new route through vegetation to create a noticeable trail. The objective is to confine impact to places that already show use and to avoid enlarging the area of disturbance.

Properly Dispose of Waste

Trash—banana pel

Pack it in, pack it out

Pick up and pack out all of your litter. You must carry ALL refuse and solid waste out of the backcountry. It is imperative that beaches and campsites be kept free of organic wastes. Treat your kitchen and eating area as you would your home. Would you leave scraps or litter on your kitchen floor?

Pick up food scraps from around the kitchen area and pack them out. By packing all refuse out, bees, ants, flies, and mice will be kept to a minimum at campsites. The best way to do this is to carry and use a portable "kitchen floor." Bring a tarp large enough to cover the entire area of your kitchen. Set up your tables and stove on the tarp. Any food scraps, pull-tabs, twist ties, or other small trash will fall onto the tarp instead of disappearing into the ground. When you break camp, either pick out the litter or simply put everything that fell onto the tarp into a trash bag. The same tarp can also be used under your lunch site. Keeping food, dishes, and garbage in sealed containers and picking up all food scraps will keep campsites clean and odor free thus reducing pests such as ants, bees, and wasps. It will protect your food from occasional high winds.

Grease should be burned in a fire pan or put into a container and carried out, NOT BURIED. Burning and burying such waste is ineffective and an inappropriate method of disposal. Some paper items can be burned in a campfire, but much of the paper packaging used today is lined with nonburnable foil or plastic, so it is best to get in the habit of carrying everything out. It requires a very hot fire to burn garbage thoroughly, and animals will dig it up if buried. Keeping food waste away from animals is important so that they do not become habituated to people as a food source. Habituated and/or food conditioned black bears have become a problem. In order to minimize human-black bear conflicts not only for public safety, but also the well being of area black bears, a mandatory food storage regulation will be implemented beginning with the 2016 float season. For a complete list of approved Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) products, see Certified Bear-Resistant Products. It’s also recommended that you  carry bear pepper spray with you on your trip for deterring nuisance or aggressive bears. Learn more ways you can Be Bear Aware on the Smith River.

Use bail buckets lined with garbage bags as convenient trash cans around camp. If you smoke, put the butts in your pocket until you can dispose of them with the trash. Cigarette and cigar butts are litter and should be treated as such. Pack out your butts! Other items such as tin and aluminum cans, plastic, aluminum foil, and glass are not burnable and must be packed out. Avoid bringing Styrofoam, but if you can't, don't poison the air or yourself by burning plastic or Styrofoam. Crush cans for compactness. There is a recycling station at Eden Bridge for aluminum. Please keep aluminum items separate during your trip and place them in the appropriate container at Eden Bridge. This will help reduce management costs. Be particularly careful about "micro litter" (twist ties, cigarette butts, pop tops, pieces of potato chips, etc.). These items accumulate rapidly and are difficult to clean up.


Wastewater includes soapy and gray water from bathing and dishwashing, as well as unwanted liquids from canned foods, coffee grounds, soup, and unwanted beverages. These liquid wastes should be strained for solids and placed in garbage bags. Seasoned river runners carry a metal mesh strainer for this purpose. Leftover liquids can be poured into a bailing bucket and disposed of with strained dishwater (gray water). After straining, scatter wastewater onto the land. Rainfall will allow the soap to percolate and degrade over time in the soil. Scatter wastewater over a wide area, away from camp and above the high water line.

Soap degrades water quality, affects endangered species, and, at colder water temperatures, biodegradable soap does not degrade -- affecting the natural riparian plants and animals that serve as the base of food chains. Avoid using soap within 200 feet of any side stream or spring. Dispose of toothpaste the same way you would dispose of wastewater. Minimize disposal problems by using as little soap as possible and making sure the soap you use is biodegradable.

Three-bucket disposal

Scrape food off dishware into a garbage container. Scrub dishes in hot water containing biodegradable soap. Rinse in hot water, getting all the soap off, and finally rinse in cold water with a cap of chlorine bleach. Do not wipe the rinsed dishes! Let them air dry.

Human Waste Disposal

Improperly disposed human waste poses a significant threat to public health and overall water quality. Practice appropriate Leave No Trace techniques with respect to human waste disposal in the backcountry. All boat camps have open pit toilets. Please use them whenever possible. If you can't use a pit toilet, pick a spot with adequate soil cover at least 200 feet from the river and dig a "cathole" about 6 to 8 inches deep. It is advisable to carry a small trowel to properly dig the hole. Bury your human waste and then fill and tamp the soil. Disguise the site by scattering leaves or grass over the disturbed area. Pack out your toilet paper. We encourage you to consider using one of the commercially available human waste pack-out systems.

Leaving camp

The trip leader should thoroughly inspect the camp and the group should correct any problems before launching. Please pick up any litter or refuse left by other parties and report poor conditions to the ranger, Eden Bridge volunteer, and in your floater log. Make sure you leave only footprints.

Leave What You Find

Boot print in the dirt

Try to not leave a trace of your passing

Allow others a sense of discovery by leaving rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts, and other objects of interest as you find them.

Cultural sites

Archaeological sites, artifacts, and historic structures are evidence of earlier inhabitants. The signs left by the indigenous population color the scene and add to the mystery of the Smith River. We want you to view and enjoy these sites, but need your help in protecting them. Don't touch pictographs -- it abrades the inscriptions and the oils from your hands cause deterioration. Your signature on rock features, trees, or any other place is destructive, not historic.

The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and Montana State Law protect cultural artifacts and it is illegal to remove or disturb these remnants of the past from any public lands.

If you find an arrowhead, old gear around cabin sites, or other artifacts, view them with care. Soak in the thrill of discovery, but leave everything as you found it. You should report findings of significance to a ranger. If you see someone disturbing a site, damaging a pictograph, or stealing your heritage, ask the person to stop and report it to a ranger or Eden Bridge host.

Picking a few flowers does not seem like it would have great impact. If only a few flowers were picked it wouldn't, but if every visitor thinks, "I'll just take a few," a much more significant impact results. Take a picture instead of picking it. Enjoy an occasional edible plant, but be careful not to deplete the surrounding vegetation or to disturb plants that are either rare or do not reproduce in abundance. A good rule-of-thumb is to harvest only 10% of the available crop. Natural objects of beauty or interest, such as antlers or petrified wood, are appealing when found on the river, but should be left for others to discover.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Camp stoves

Portable camp stoves offer an excellent means of cooking meals without the impacts associated with campfires. Please consider this alternative to your cooking needs.


Do not gather wood from standing or fallen trees, DEAD OR ALIVE. The best bet for firewood is to bring your own or use charcoal. Firewood is available at Camp Baker for $5 a bundle. Gathering dead native wood deprives many animals of shelter from high summer and low winter temperature extremes. Driftwood is usually acceptable for use as firewood. Gather driftwood from piles along the river before arriving at camp. Never strip one area of its entire supply. If you use charcoal, any residue should be carried out of the canyon, not left on the beach or dumped into the river. Charcoal is especially noticeable on sandy beaches. When the charcoal scatters it leaves orange-red oxidized or blackened sand. Charcoal decomposes very slowly; if thrown into the river, it will wash up on a downstream beach.

Fire grates

Designated fire grates are provided at all boat camps. Fires must be completely contained within the fire grate. If you choose to have a campfire, build a small fire, not a bonfire! If a small fire is left to burn out overnight, make sure it is completely out before you leave camp.

Respect Wildlife

Respect for others on the river should be extended to wildlife. River runners have the potential to greatly impact wildlife through direct contact and habitat destruction. When approaching raptors, herons, breeding waterfowl, and mammals on the river, always remain quiet, stay in boats, move to the other side of the river, and keep moving. Never feed animals or leave food scraps where they might be eaten. Camp away from all nests and burrows.

The Smith River flows through black bear habitat and habituated or food—conditioned bears on the river corridor have become a problem. In order to minimize human-black bear conflicts not only for public safety, but also the well being of area black bears, a mandatory food storage regulation will be implemented beginning with the 2016 float season. For a complete list of approved Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) products, see Certified Bear-Resistant Products. It’s also recommended that you  carry bear pepper spray with you on your trip for deterring nuisance or aggressive bears. Learn more ways you can Be Bear Aware on the Smith River.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Respect other visitors and help protect the quality of their experience. Keep noise to a minimum and let nature's sounds prevail. Please stay in your declared campsites, as this will help visitors find camping space at their declared sites. Avoid monopolizing popular fishing holes. Be considerate of other float parties needing space at launch areas and only occupy launch areas long enough to prepare and launch.