We are a partner of the Leave No Trace centre for Outdoor Ethics. This is part of our commitment to responsible travel as a central tenant of how we operate.
The Leave No Trace philosophy is an outdoor lifestyle philosophy that we have been following in our own travels and explorations for many years, honed down into seven clearly defined principles:
As a programme, Leave No Trace is designed to promote and inspire responsible outdoor recreation through education, research, and partnerships. It depends more on attitude, awareness and ethics (a commitment to doing what you know to be the right thing regardless of who is there to witness you doing it), than on rules and regulations.
We apply the seven principles to our operations in the following ways:
1) Plan ahead and prepare:
Whilst driving huskies privately or with clients falls under ‘everyman’s right’ in Finnish law (ie we have the same access rights to trails and open huts, in general, as walkers, skiers and bikers powered by non-mechanised means), and we do not, therefore, need permits in order to operate, we still negotiate our route access with local people in order to ensure that we impact as little as possible on any traditional activities.
In doing so, we restrict our access rights greatly, since local reindeer herders are unduly worried by the perception that huskies and reindeer cannot coexist (since it is relatively new to them and, as with many traditional groups, they have to see the new reality before fully coming to understand it). At the moment, we run a very limited number of clearly defined trails with the dogs through the season - almost to their detriment, since it impacts on the fun and stimulation they can have during their training season. We take a long-term view on this, however, in an attempt to challenge the perception that husky companies and reindeer herders can only coexist uneasily. We believe that once people understand how committed we are to our dogs and the local community, an understanding of huskies will grow, fear of the unknown will subside and we will be able to negotiate wider trail access for, for instance, times outside of calving seasons.
Driving Legislation Integration
Dog sledding is considered of low importance, at present, when it comes to decision making by those in the Ministry of Forestry and Environment. Whilst it makes sense to us that reindeer herders have high priority in decision making, it is unclear why snowmobiling takes priority over more natural activities like sledding and skiing – particularly given that dog sledding is one of the key drivers of international tourism in the region. Hence, building bridges and understanding as to why dog sledding operations should be taken into consideration when making decisions about area use targets is of vital importance to the long-term sustainability of the region.
We encourage guides and clients to reduce their carbon footprint by opting to use public vs private transportation, provide pre-activity briefings on access issues and procedures that minimise the impact of the activity on the environment for our longer products and provide all participants with an opportunity for evaluation and feedback on the conduct of the activities in respect to impact on the environment.
Whenever a new product is being considered, we assess its possible impacts on both the environment and the local community. Judgements are made based on the scope and duration of the activity, the size of the group targeted and the area covered. Cumulative impacts that would arise from the product being executed multiple times are considered, to see if there would be any detrimental impact on other activities in the area. The technology and procedures available for environmentally safe operations are identified and we make a decision as to whether we have the capacity to monitor key environmental parameters and ecosystem components to identify any early warning signs of both predicted and unforeseen potential adverse effects of the activity. Operating procedures are modified accordingly.
We live in an area of the world in which many species are yet to be properly recorded and identified and where a great deal of work needs to be done on carrying out baseline data research so that changes can be monitored over time. Hence, we have a long term interest in development an arm of CAPE Lapland for youth expeditions and other research-based expeditions so that we can act as a liaison between local research agencies and those interested in extending baseline data resource information for future generations, worldwide.
Our comprehensive safety plans ensure that we have the necessary skills and equipment for carrying out each of our products safely and knowing what to do should emergencies arise. Safety planning covers everything from staff to dog to client welfare. We have daily briefings for staff that, in the winter season, incorporate weather forecasts so that people can plan and prepare for changing conditions.
All of our social, environmental and ethical risks are reviewed as part of our risk assessment process. The impact and materiality of each risk area is considered and appropriate measures are taken to manage or mitigate them. In so doing, our activities are continually reviewed and improved in order to reduce environmental impact as far as commercially viable and new targets are set annually.
In order to run longer wilderness-based safaris safely and with a minimal environmental footprint, we keep numbers as low as possible.
2) Travel and camp on durable surfaces
Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses and snow. Summer paths in this area are restricted to higher sandy ridges or rocky outcrops whereas winter routes traverse the landscape and cross marsh, rivers and lakes. Whenever possible, we try to utilise already maintained tracks for our winter routes (maintained snowmobile tracks, tracks used frequently by reindeer herders etc) rather than trying to open and maintain our own routes. Where we do have our own maintained routes, we make these available to other companies so that their value is shared.
Summer walking is generally done in single file, since the dogs are invariably learning to pull in a straight line. Hence, we do not contribute to path erosion but, rather, help to maintain the trails in good condition.
Finnish Lapland has a large number of shelters and cabins dotted around the wilderness that are either privately owned, exclusively for the use of reindeer herders (supplied through the Ministry of Forestry) or designated for tourism purposes. Some of the tourism-targeted cabins are bookable. Others serve the last group to turn up. Some are restricted to skiers and some, rather bizarrely, are restricted to skiers and snowmobilers but dog-mushers are either not permitted access or access is permitted but with the dogs kept so far away, that it is hard to ensure the welfare of the dogs.
When we create our products, we attempt to do so around existing structures and prefer not to establish new camps. Whilst we like the concept of using open huts and whilst some clients are happy to take a gamble on sleeping in a cabin or, if full, a tent; other products are based around bookable huts and private accommodation. We always protect water quality by camping at least 30m from lakes and streams and we aim to always leave camps and huts in as good condition as when we found it, if not better.
3) Dispose of waste properly
Whatever we bring in, we take out, including biodegradable foods. How we deal with solid human wastes depends on the time of the year and where we are. We have a wilderness toilet on the farm and in our holiday cabin which we empty annually. Dogs obviously defecate on the trails. Most huts have wilderness or bio-toilets and people toileting elsewhere transport toilet paper out.
4) Leave what you find
We conserve the present; all rocks, flowers, plants, animals and natural habitats are left as we find them. Gates are closed behind us, we try not to establish new camps in the wilderness and we mark our routes with non-permanent natural stake markings for the sake of safety.
5) Minimise campfire impact
We generally cook over lightweight camping stoves rather than over fires. However, fires are still a part of the outdoor culture in Finland so when we use fires in the wilderness, we use established fire rings whenever possible or create fire mounds. We keep the fires small and use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand on the rare occasion when there is no firewood in place in huts etc. Fires are burnt to ash and put out completely and then the cool ashes are scattered.
6) Respect farm animals and wildlife
This area is full of wild animals – from bear to fox, to wolf to wolverine. A couple of bear hibernate within 5km of our dog farm and we know that there are fox living between our farmhouse and the dog farm. Rabbit and lemmings come out to play in the Spring, along with many mice, voles and numerous birds.
Reindeer are obviously the most important animals in the area and we understand their life cycles and when it is particularly important for them to not be disturbed by dogs. We don’t feed wildlife although we do have bird houses scattered around our yard since otherwise they use the eaves of the farmhouse itself.
7) Be considerate of other users
We respect the people who live and work in the countryside and want to protect the quality of the experience of those who visit. We have both been members of mountain rescue teams in the past and actively encourage people to head into the wilderness safely. Doing that responsibly in the arctic, however, demands a fairly advanced level of self –sufficiency and knowledge of local ways and customs and these are skills and knowledge platforms that we are keen to share.
All of these measures are limited in performance, by how well we communicate our commitment to them, both to our clients and our guides. Hence, a central tenant of any ethical stand has to be communication and engagement re policies, targets and achievements so that all actions are taken with social and environmental ethics in mind.