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Appetite for destruction...


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I have noticed a lot of discussions in the forums recently debating whether or not geocaching is destructive to the environment and to what degree.

 

My hypothesis is that there may be some highly localized erosion of plants and the ground around a cache site but that the impacts are usually fairly minor and temporary. Generally speaking when the cache is gone, the geo-trails etc are quickly swallowed up again. Heck, if I don't mow my yard for two weeks, my lawn furniture is swallowed up.

 

So, I was considering an experiment. If I were to place a typical regular cache in a typical forests environment here in my area near my home. (log, stump) I would be interested in photographing the area from a couple of set vantage points at a regular interval over a period of several months to document exactly what the impact of the cache was to the area.

 

I could do the same several months down the road once the cache had been removed to see what the recovery time was for that same area. I may do that just to satisfy my own curiosity. (I am a curious sort) It seems fun to add a little science to the discussion.

 

Any ideas for me before I do this? Is there a good way to measure local advantages to the cache being there? (aside from spreading trash to see if it is picked up)

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I can tell you that I have some 130+ active caches. Most of them are in the forest. Out of all of them, I can think of 2 where there is evidence that there is a geocache at the site (unless you have a Tom Brown Jr type doing the looking).

 

The two that have developed trails are within a few feet of a parking lot, so searchers all take the same route. I'm not concerned about these trails because the area around a parking lot can hardly be considered sensitive.

 

I realize that my experience may differ from those who live in other regions. NJ is very rocky and pretty rainy, so vegetation recovers quickly and many caches are hidden on durable surfaces. I also hide most of my caches well off the trail so impact is spread out. I can see the desert being an area where people have to take special care when hiding and searching for caches. And of course there are sensitive areas in every region where caches should not be hidden.

 

Still, I've been on close to 600 cache hunts and I can think of maybe 20 where there was visible evidence of the cache that was likely attributed to the cache. Nearly every one of these was in a high traffic area very close to a parking lot or road, or in a heavily used "dog poop" park where one more social trail makes no real difference.

 

As far as a real study, the only one that I'm aware of was NY state's Department of Environmental Conservation. They lifted a log standing geocaching ban on their lands (state forests and forest preserves) after visiting numerous cache sites and determining that geocaching's impact was negligible and the ban was unwarranted. Their decision opened hundreds of thousands of acres of land to geocaching, including their state constitutionally protected forest preserves.

Edited by briansnat
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I can tell you that I have some 130+ active caches. Most of them are in the forest. Out of all of them, I can think of 2 where there is evidence that there is a geocache at the site (unless you have a Tom Brown Jr type doing the looking).

 

The two that have developed trails are within a few feet of a parking lot, so searchers all take the same route. I'm not concerned about these trails because the area around a parking lot can hardly be considered sensitive.

 

I realize that my experience may differ from those who live in other regions. NJ is very rocky and pretty rainy, so vegetation recovers quickly and many caches are hidden on durable surfaces. I also hide most of my caches well off the trail so impact is spread out. I can see the desert being an area where people have to take special care when hiding and searching for caches. And of course there are sensitive areas in every region where caches should not be hidden.

 

Still, I've been on close to 600 cache hunts and I can think of maybe 20 where there was visible evidence of the cache that was likely attributed to the cache. Nearly every one of these was in a high traffic area very close to a parking lot or road, or in a heavily used "dog poop" park where one more social trail makes no real difference.

 

As far as a real study, the only one that I'm aware of was NY state's Department of Environmental Conservation. They lifted a log standing geocaching ban on their lands (state forests and forest preserves) after visiting numerous cache sites and determining that geocaching's impact was negligible and the ban was unwarranted. Their decision opened hundreds of thousands of acres of land to geocaching, including their state constitutionally protected forest preserves.

 

Good stuff.

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This would be interesting. You could put caches at different distances from parking and compare the damage, or lack thereof. Or you could hide a micro/small/regular container and compare the damage (or lack) from those. Then you could write a master's thesis.

 

Good one Jimmy! :wub:

 

:laughing::huh::wub::huh:

 

The whole debate over casual trails is humorous to me.

 

I follow game trails off the PCT and JMT for miles. I always know what I'll find..... A good source of water or a rich forage area for deer and bears. DON'T THOSE FREAKIN ANIMALS KNOW THEY'RE HARMING THE ENVIRONMENT. :rolleyes:

 

It's the same thing with geocaching. I don't care how subtle the impact is, you almost always see the GeoSign BEFORE you find the cache.

 

Remove the source of the attraction and the casual trail is quickly erased. No harm done. Go hug the tree in your front yard if ya don't get it.

 

I'd actually like to see the results of the project though, EXCEPT I'd like a tree hugger, a geocacher, and a non interested third party, to each run the exact same experiment and we'll ALL see how the data gets manipulated. :ph34r:

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Very interesting idea. Here in Southern California many footpaths, while killing plantlife, actually seem to promote plantlife on either edge of the path, when people are careful to follow in each others paths. It doesn't always happen like this, but there was a study by Hardy W. Campbell in Nebraska in the 1880s, whereby he attempted to improve farming in a dry climate by packing down the soil. Sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but I think it tends to concentrate rainwater at the edge of the path, promoting plant life there, while creating an impermeable cap on the path itself, which prevents excessive evaporation from the soil beneath. Campbell's study ultimately failed to make farms work in dry weather, but the principle might still be true to some extent. It might rely on the climate and, in this case, the behavior of the cachers for that particular cache. We'll see how this one turns out.

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So, I was considering an experiment. If I were to place a typical regular cache in a typical forests environment here in my area near my home. (log, stump) I would be interested in photographing the area from a couple of set vantage points at a regular interval over a period of several months to document exactly what the impact of the cache was to the area.

 

Sounds like an interesting idea. One important point is to not advertise that you're doing this for a specific cache - when subjects know their actions are being monitored, they often behave differently. For example, if my wife is watching, I'm a perfect gentleman. :blink:

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Any ideas for me before I do this? Is there a good way to measure local advantages to the cache being there? (aside from spreading trash to see if it is picked up)

Maybe ask people to put in their logs answers to some questions about how far they came to visit? How much did they spend in visiting? Did they like the area and will they visit again (would it be place they'd return to camp at, or take others to visit)?

The problem would be that it would be hard to work in such things without being screwing up some of the responses. You would probably get the most natural results if your unobtrusive about your project (the same for letting people know your going to be photographing the cache site).

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Our here on the arid high plains, virtually every cache sees vegitation damage in late summer and early fall during the hot dry times of the year. Broken and matted grass/weeds. Multple paths like this through the area. I was worried the first year or so that I cached but I know from repeated visits over the years that the area around each and every one of my caches recovers quite nicely every spring or when the rain falls. No permenat damage and no packing of the soil to prevent plant growth. I am in fact amazed at how the small shadowed northern side of 2 of my ammo cans actually produces a cooler wetter area for plants and grass. My guess is that dew forms on the metal box and the small shadow keeps it both cooler and less prone to drying out. These 2 caches have created thier own micro climate.

 

I strongly encourage new cachers in the area to consider what conditions will be like in late summer and winter before deciding to hide a cache. The tall green grass of spring always turns to a flat matted carpet latter on.

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You might want to also do a "Control" location... pick a spot with similar vegetation, light, soil, etc. close to your cache, but far enough away that it won't be interfered with by cachers.

 

Take pics of that as well so that you can factor out temp variations and/or rain levels. If you do this and there happens to be three weeks with little rain and lots of heat all the plants by your cache will likely wilt. But if you show pics from a near by area that are also wilting, then you can eliminate caching as the cause of the wilt.

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I strongly encourage new cachers in the area to consider what conditions will be like in late summer and winter before deciding to hide a cache. The tall green grass of spring always turns to a flat matted carpet latter on.

AMEN! Some of our caches here in the Central Valley are quite nice in the spring...ankle-deep green grass, cool mornings...

And then summer hits.

All that nice green grass has grown in that one lush rainstorm, knee-deep and sometimes higher, but now it is hot, dry, and grasshoppers buzz away from you when you approach...and...is that funny sound I hear just leaves blowing a distance away or is it...

a RattleSnake?!

We have some MAJOR climate chacnges here and tracks from geocachers are really obvious in the flat places. The few we have found in forested areas seem to have swallowed up the geo-impact quite nicely. Perhaps there are fewer people driving into altitude here than other places? I know that part of my caching crew gets really carsick, so we try to limit those remote (but cooler!) caches in the mountains.

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Does geocaching affect the enviroment immediately around a cache? I'd have to say yes.

Would I call it destructive? I'd say no.

 

In Chicagoland there are many areas that are reclaimed. They used to be urban or semi urban. I'm talking sidewalks, streets (raised too, like 3 feet higher than the normal surrounding terrain), mini golf courses etc. In all cases it is amazing the way that nature, left pretty much to itself, will take back what was its to begin with. Most of those have been abandoned 20 years or more but are much more intrusive than even the worst cache trail I've ever seen. I doubt that in the larger scheme of things we are hurting much. All that being said, there are ecosystems that are not as resilent and do need protection.

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I realize that my experience may differ from those who live in other regions. NJ is very rocky and pretty rainy, so vegetation recovers quickly and many caches are hidden on durable surfaces. I also hide most of my caches well off the trail so impact is spread out.

 

You also hide them with the intention that they will be found. I've been to some self-described "evil hides" where the area around ground zero has been thoroughly torn up.

 

So maybe for this experiment, the OP could hide an easy cache and a difficult one, and monitor both?

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Sounds like an interesting study. You might consider the type of habitat that the cache is in. Because of the climate and growing conditions, alpine and desert areas are well known for taking longer to come back from disturbance than other types. Even forests differ in soil conditions, understory vegetation, and canopy species. Oak/hickory forests vs. beech/maple show differences in ground species (usually because of shade) that could have measurable social trail creation differences.

 

I like the idea of comparing distances from cache to trail in different disturbance plots, seeing that is a major guideline in land agency geocache policies.

 

Much of the ground disturbance is measured visually by looking at the area as a whole. Not everyone is a botanist, but it would be interesting to note specific species comeback. A few years after a cache is removed would show a good rebound in common, resilant plants such as virginia creeper, tick-trefoil, and mayapples. But, the cache that is placed in March may not consider that a rarer, say ladyslipper orchid, plant isn't going to come back once the first cacher compacts the soil that it was growing in.

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Personally, I think the entire issue is a 100% moot point in Canada (or at least anywhere it snows).

 

Damage to grass/plants - slightly trampled, flattened area.

Winter comes along - kills all plants anyway. Everything flat as a pancake regardless.

Spring/Summer comes - grass grows again. Cycle has begun anew.

 

The only way it would be 'permanant' up here is if some cacher decided to break branches or kill plants that grow large enough to not be killed by the cold... ie: trees or bushes. At which point, if they're killing THOSE... then they really shouldn't be caching regardless, and odds are don't care about what they vandalize in their travels.

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You might want to also do a "Control" location... pick a spot with similar vegetation, light, soil, etc. close to your cache, but far enough away that it won't be interfered with by cachers.

 

Take pics of that as well so that you can factor out temp variations and/or rain levels. If you do this and there happens to be three weeks with little rain and lots of heat all the plants by your cache will likely wilt. But if you show pics from a near by area that are also wilting, then you can eliminate caching as the cause of the wilt.

 

The control location, to me, is a must. Would merely require two cameras, perhaps using the same feed but facing opposite directions. No better way to compare the damage caused by people.

 

The location would not matter that much, as long as you don't live in an environment that takes years to recover. For most, annual would be enough.

 

The study idea is interesting. If it goes, perhaps even a web link so the rest of us can watch.

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I've worked many years in the Mojave Desert of California, in areas listed as critical habitat for endangered species. It's been my experience that foot traffic leaves almost no lasting impact. Within about 2 years of no returning pedestrians, the footpaths are reclaimed by the desert. Vehicle paths on the other hand can persist far longer. As long as caches are placed on existing roads and trails, the impact to the environment is minimal.

 

GW

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Although we all have opinions on the subject of environmental impact, it would be interesting to see them confirmed (or otherwise) by some sort of study. I've observed cacher's paths which are obvious even though the cache only gets a couple of visitors a month.

In the "foot and mouth" fiasco a few years ago, UK footpaths were closed for a period - this gave the opportunity to study the environmental impact of popular paths being untrodden for a while. Closure actually reduced the biodiversity of the area: some plants thrive on the strip of flat and open ground, and others on the edges. Once the path started to get overgrown, the unusual plants died. So a trodden path is not necessarily a bad thing!

 

I would also suggest studying a cache in a fairly typical area, but where the direct approach requires crossing a fence, and the cache area contains some sort of structure (a wall, for instance). Cache permission problems (in Britain, anyway) often stem from perceived damage to property surrounding the cache - but is this really significant if the cache is set up correctly?

 

HH

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Personally, I think the entire issue is a 100% moot point in Canada (or at least anywhere it snows).

 

Damage to grass/plants - slightly trampled, flattened area.

Winter comes along - kills all plants anyway. Everything flat as a pancake regardless.

Spring/Summer comes - grass grows again. Cycle has begun anew.

 

The only way it would be 'permanant' up here is if some cacher decided to break branches or kill plants that grow large enough to not be killed by the cold... ie: trees or bushes. At which point, if they're killing THOSE... then they really shouldn't be caching regardless, and odds are don't care about what they vandalize in their travels.

 

Some trampled grass or plants isn't environmental damage. If it were, we'd have to shoot every deer. Anyone who has spent time in the woods has seen the obvious signs of where a deer bedded down for the night, which is trampled plants and grass.

 

Damage does occur when the treadway becomes compacted. This keeps native plants from growing, encorages invasives and can cause erosion. I've yet to encounter this in any cache hunt.

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