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Lawhon - Catholes: History, research current use, and future application


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Lawhon - Catholes: History, research current use, and future application. Exit Strategies Conference, 2010, Sustainable Summits Initiative

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Lawhon - Catholes: History, research current use, and future application

  1. 1. History, Research, Current Use and Future Application
  2. 2. 1. Minimize the chances of polluting water sources 2. Minimize the spread of disease 3. Minimize the aesthetic impacts associated with human waste 4. Maximize the rate of decomposition
  3. 3.  The use of the “cathole” has long been accepted as the standard method for human waste disposal in wilderness, backcountry and other outdoor settings  The cathole method consist of digging a 6-8 inch (15-20 cm) hole that is a minimum of 200 feet (60 m) from any water source, campsite or trail  Currently recommended by the Leave NoTrace Center for Outdoor Ethics and most U.S. land management agencies – BLM, USFS, NPS, FWS
  4. 4. The cathole method of human waste disposal dates back to the 1970’s, possibly even earlier Originally recommended by land managers as use of federally designated wilderness in the U.S. increased after the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act The other option was surface disposal
  5. 5. As visitor use increased to lands managed under the NationalWilderness Preservation System increased, land managers began to realize that human waste was becoming an issue There had to be some guidance given to recreationists as to how to properly deal with human waste when toilet facilities were non- existent
  6. 6. Currently there is little applied research on the effectiveness and accompanying problems of using catholes for disposal of human waste There have only been two studies that looked directly at the rate of pathogen decline following fecal burial using the cathole disposal technique The existing research dates back to the 1980
  7. 7.  There are over 100 bacteria, protozoans and viruses found in human feces that are capable of causing illness  Use of catholes is largely based on untested assumptions of soil ecology  Buried feces in contact with soil but not mixed with it does not represent an ideal composting situation  Depth of burial makes little difference in bacterial survival rates
  8. 8.  Bacterial numbers remained high for over 8 weeks  Some bacteria survived overwinter much better than anticipated data – lasting as long as 51 weeks  Even after 8 weeks millions or tens of millions of bacterial cells per gram of the fecal samples remained  The study sites did not make the expected difference
  9. 9.  Temple’s data suggest that “it is unrealistic to hope for rapid die-off of intestinal bacteria in catholes”  The idea that shallow burial of feces renders it harmless in a short time is false  While a number of studies have been initiated to assess the impact of human waste disposal on water quality, conclusions from these studies are variable and at times controversial
  10. 10.  There is a need for more applied research  Replication of studies done in the 1980’s  Research on the breakdown of microorganisms in site- specific locations  Studies on visitor perception of human waste disposal methods  Research on the impact on visitor experience when encountering feces in the backcountry  Studies on rates of compliance by recreationists
  11. 11. Despite evidence suggesting that pathogen breakdown in catholes either occurs slowly or not at all, consensus is that catholes are still the best method for disposing of human waste in most environments when adequate soil is available
  12. 12. When done correctly, the cathole provides the following benefits: • Minimizes the chances of polluting water sources • Minimizes the chances of spreading disease • Minimizes the aesthetic impacts associated with human waste
  13. 13. Toilet paper “flowers” are just one of many consequences of not properly disposing of human waste in the out of doors – other impacts include: •Water pollution • Spread of disease
  14. 14. Proper disposal of human waste in backcountry settings will continue to be an issue as long a people spend time in the outdoors Unless new research demonstrates that there are significant negative impacts from using catholes, the practice is likely going to be promoted into the future
  15. 15.  Winter/Alpine environments  Coastal environments  River corridors  Desert environments  Mountaineering situations  Large group waste disposal (latrines)  Pack out systems and strategies
  16. 16.  The use of catholes for disposing of human waste will not necessarily eliminate all problems associated with human waste but will go a long way towards protecting water sources, minimizing the spread of disease and reducing the aesthetic impacts of feces  Educating visitors in proper sanitation practices is paramount in order to address health concerns and to minimize impacts to recreational resources