The Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia hosts webinar on mindful outdoor use

Community members discuss strategies for changing peoples’ behaviour

Protecting the outdoors includes limiting litter, human waste, and legal land use. PHOTO: Amirul Anirban / The Peak

By: Olivia Visser, Staff Writer

The Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia hosted a webinar on July 20 on “cultivating responsible recreation practices.” The discussion focused on fostering mindful outdoor practices, and was triggered by the environmental and social impacts of an increased “surge in outdoor recreation.” The event involved five speakers with relevant expertise on outdoor recreation. 

Clara-Jane Blye is finishing up her psychology degree at the University of Alberta, with a focus on environmental psychology. She has studied park visitor behaviors across Alberta, BC, and Ontario. At the webinar she discussed a recent project that assessed environmental communication from the last 50 to 60 years, focusing on its ability to “advocate for environmental behaviors.”

Blye noted that understanding the “why” in environmental communication is crucial. She said “tapping into people’s moral norms or their ethics” while being specific about their harmful behaviors is one of the best ways to convey important outdoor practices. According to their study, effective environmental communication should involve targeting emotions like guilt, pride, and anger. A release from the Sea to Sky Destination Management Council highlights residents’ distress about litter, illegal land use, and human waste. Blye said tapping into someone’s pride involves reinforcing their positive behaviors. This might look like encouraging someone to “pack it out” instead of demanding they don’t litter. 

Stephen Hui, hiking book author and former Peak news editor said he “learned a lot about responsible recreation through hiking clubs.” Hui noted, “When I’m talking to people, they often ask “aren’t you worried you’re destroying these places by writing about them?” He responded  by saying he feels a “responsibility to provide the context” needed to use these spaces safely and respectfully.

Hui emphasized “everywhere we hike is Indigenous territory” and people don’t realize “a lot of these places are sacred.” As such, outdoor users should pay particular attention to every location’s specific guidelines. He listed four resources that inform his writing and recreation habits: Leave No Trace, WildSafeBC, Marine Trail Code of Conduct, and the Haida Gwaii Pledge.

John Rae works for the Sea to Sky Destination Management Council. He spoke about a new campaign called “Don’t Love it to Death” which highlights that increased outdoor recreation activity puts strain on “the environment, on communities, on residents, and on infrastructure.” This campaign consists of ads and posters distributed throughout the North Shore and Sea to Sky region. The slogan attempts to be “provocative without shaming.”

Brian Pratt is involved in the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC and is a Tread Lightly! educator. Both organizations offer education, training, and stewardship projects to offroad drivers. Pratt described local trips around Stave Lake with Tread Lightly! that taught new backcountry users about responsible back road travel before participating in  environmental and maintenance projects around the area. 

Sherry Lu is the Education and Learning Project Lead at BC Parks. She recognized “behavior change is a systemic issue that [BC Parks] can’t solve single-handedly.” Lu talked about four BC Parks partnerships that help promote responsible outdoor recreation habits: Camper’s Code, Discover Parks Ambassadors, BARE Campsite Program, and Hiking ExplorePACKS. BC Parks also has digital frontcountry and backcountry visitor guides on their website, as well as a self-guided online course for backcountry camping. The guides cover topics like campfire and bear safety, trip planning, and dog restrictions.

“While we’re all busy blaming others, few people are talking about the personal responsibility we all have to manage our own behavior and check our own attitudes,” Rae added. 

Simple practices like proper bathroom usage and packing out garbage make a big environmental difference, while sticking to safer trails can save lives.

A recording of the webinar is available on the Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia’s Youtube page.