Land Access

Land is as fundamental to orienteering as maps are. After land has been located that is suitable for orienteering, two important land-related tasks remain:

  1. Obtaining permission to use the land
  2. Taking care of the land

As the U.S. population grows, both of these become increasingly challenging.

Below is Orienteering USA's Land Use Policy, adopted in the summer of 2006. You will also find links to various land use resources created by clubs and other national orienteering federations, and a list of publications on the impact of orienteering on the environment. If you know of additional resources to add to this page, please inform the author, Terry Farrah.

Orienteering USA Land Use Policy

The following policy was written by Terry Farrah, borrowing liberally from the DVOA and BOF policies. It was amended and approved by the Orienteering USA Board of Directors on Aug. 18, 2006. The Orienteering USA Land Use Policy is intended for use at all Orienteering USA-sanctioned events, and may be used as a guideline for club events and club land use policies.

Orienteering is a sport of cross-country navigation using a specially made detailed map. Walking or running across terrain without following trails is a fundamental feature of the sport.

As U.S. population grows and the amount of open land decreases, the land we use for orienteering comes under many competing human pressures which can jeopardize the natural environment. We orienteers have two motivations to protect the environment. First, quality orienteering is vitally dependent on a rich natural environment. Second, most of us were drawn to the sport partly because of a love of nature, and are thus motivated to protect nature regardless of our involvement in orienteering.

So that the areas where we orienteer are preserved for all users now and in the future, Orienteering USA upholds the following environmental standards for all orienteering events conducted by its member clubs:

  • Orienteering shall operate within all legal environmental standards, and also within any framework agreed upon with land managers.
  • No long-term damage to animals, plants, landscape or archaeological features shall result from an orienteering event.
  • Any temporary damage, such as plant trampling, should no longer be discernible after 3 months of a growing season.
  • No litter, equipment or extraneous material shall remain once a venue has been vacated.
  • Where a venue contains vegetation, wildlife, or features of special sensitivity, event organizers shall cooperate with land managers to provide special protection.

In order to implement these standards, it is Orienteering USA's policy that its member clubs adhere to the following guidelines:

Map Making

When selecting sites for future maps, permission shall be obtained from the appropriate land managers to ensure that the area of interest can be used for orienteering events. As part of this permission process, the land managers shall be informed about the nature of orienteering so that an educated decision is made about the use of the land. They shall be specifically asked about off-trail usage and designated environmentally sensitive areas. It may be helpful to include in these discussions the formal studies that have been conducted on the environmental impact of orienteering.

Where appropriate, areas known to be designated environmentally sensitive or damageable from orienteering activity may be labeled sensitive on the map as part of the map making process.   

Event Scheduling

Events shall be scheduled so that venues are not over-used. A venue is receiving an appropriate amount of use if no long term damage is created. A venue's tolerance for orienteering use depends on the nature of the venue and on the attendance at events. An urban park may sometimes be used weekly for small local events, whereas a preserve may tolerate only one such event per year. Events shall not be scheduled during times that land managers deem critical to the protection of wildlife or vegetation.

Course Design

Land managers shall be consulted during the course design process to ensure that the design takes into account sensitive areas, which may change seasonally or from year to year. It may be decided to mark some areas out of bounds and design the courses around them, whereas other areas may be incorporated such that they are crossed by a limited number of participants. If necessary, participants can be routed to specific stream crossings, fence crossings, etc., to avoid causing damage.

Anticipated event attendance shall be taken into account. The greater the attendance, the more care needs to be taken to minimize impact.

Event Management

When appropriate, information shall be posted and instruction given alerting participants to environmentally related conditions and rules.

Land Use Resources

Obtaining land use permission

Most public lands in the U.S. do not explicitly mention orienteering in their use policies. This often creates difficulties for us. Below is an example from Australia of a land use policy that does explicitly mention orienteering:

Club statements on orienteering and the environment

Club and Federation environmental policies


Outside North America

Formal studies on the impact of orienteering on the environment:

The Spring (No. 1) 2000 issue of Orienteering World was devoted to environmental topics. One article, "An Environmentally Sensitive Sport," reviews and references three scientific reports on the environmental impact of orienteering:

  • Breckle et al., "Vegetation Impact by Orienteering? A phytosociological long-term study," Sci. J. Orienteering 1989/5, 25-36.
  • Douglas et al., "An Assessment of the Impact of the November Classic Badge Event 1988 on the New Forest," The British Ecological Society, 1989. (This paper lists many other relevant references.)
  • Ecosurveys Ltd, "The Effect of the May 1991 Orienteering Event on the Breeding Bird Community of Brandon Park," BOF 1991.

An original copy of this issue of Orienteering World may be ordered from orienteer Mike Minium; send a check for $5, payable to Orienteering USA, attn: Mike Minium, c/o 824 Scotia Rd, Philadelphia, PA  19128. Be sure to include your mailing address and write, "for Orienteering World, environment issue."

Copies of the single article, "An Environmentally Sensitive Sport," and of the Douglas study may be obtained from orienteer Terry Farrah for the cost of printing and postage ($0.75 and $5.25 respectively). Send a check, payable to Terry Farrah, to: O' & Environment, c/o Terry Farrah, 1410 Murchison Dr., Millbrae, CA, 94030; be sure to include your mailing address.

The following documents may also be of interest (provided courtesy of the International Orienteering Federation):

last updated 7 Feb 2018