Written by Kaylene Amundson, SFU Student
“Shotgun!” my brothers and I would shout while running out the door. With sleeping bags, a tent, and much more snuggled up close in the trunk of the van, my family was heading off for our annual trip to the Rockies.
Along with many other Canadians, we treasure these natural getaways, and return to them regularly. We are incredibly privileged to have a backyard filled with pristine lakes, towering mountains, and awe-inspiring ocean views. But with privilege comes responsibility and accountability.
After the Canada 150 celebrations, our national parks witnessed a notable increase in attendance from local and international visitors last year. This was great publicity, but it also led to larger crowds and congested highways. A heightened level of tourists means a heightened level of environmental impact on the parks, so it’s imperative that we work together as a glocal community to continue to keep our parks clean and wild.
Many parks have extensive regulations in place to maintain quality. As a past employee at one of the frequented mountain parks, I’d say that visitors need to do a better job at meeting them halfway.
Entering a park should be similar to entering a foreign city; you are automatically subjected to the laws of that jurisdiction, and you are held responsible for understanding the policies. So why does it seem like people throw the rulebook out of the window once they arrive in a natural park?
A main attraction for many people is the potential to witness nature in action. Visitors anxiously keep their eyes peeled on the side of the road for any sign of substantial life. Unfortunately, the overwhelming desire for wild animal interactions is getting out of hand.
In Waterton, people are explicitly told to respect the resident deer from a distance, yet they treat the town like it’s their personal petting zoo. In Banff and Jasper, there are constant pleas to keep campsites clean — pleas which tend to go ignored — as well as frequent traffic jams from drivers abandoning their cars for a glimpse of a bear. These careless actions are detrimental to the animals.
Regardless of the number of wildlife safety pamphlets, educational programming, and word of mouth cautions, some people seem to blatantly disregard them by petting the deer or leaving their coolers outside to feed the animals. With this acclimatization of wild animal-human interactions, animals can become conditioned to rely on human food and/or to become aggressive; this often results in post-incident measures being taken, such as relocation, hazing, or euthanization.
Some feel that approaching a bear or feeding critters for Instagram’s sake may not be a big deal. The problem is that you have thousands of visitors thinking the same thing, and then these animals become dependent on visitors’ assumed generosity. With more traffic in the parks we have to not only take care of our own actions, but also keep others accountable.
It’s the same for the environment. Two known rules that frequent backcountry visitors obey are leave no trace behind and leave the facilities better than how you found it. These need to be universal expectations. Don’t let somebody’s moment of laziness become a contributor to natural degeneration.
We shouldn’t have to limit park access; exposure to nature and travel are beneficial to individuals and communities. However, the cost of these benefits shouldn’t be a price that the environment can’t afford. We need to encourage people to enjoy it while simultaneously communicating the need for respect. After all, it’s not just us on this earth; it’s a public area for all to enjoy.
The regulations are all in place for a reason, so please respect them. Keep others accountable because conserving nature is a communal effort. If you see somebody approaching animals or leaving garbage lying around, do something about it rather than standing idly by. As we have witnessed with other recent movements, taking an anti-bystander role is imperative with making tangible change in collective behaviour. We can’t afford to be ignorant and oblivious to the consequences of our actions anymore.
Whether you prefer an all-inclusive package or roughing it up in the backcountry, be a responsible visitor to the area. When you begin trip planning for 2018, conduct extra research for resources to avoid any extraneous cost to the park. Keep fellow visitors accountable so the next generation of families can enjoy our backyard, too.