Part 1 of this series introduced the concepts of Leave No Trace Canada, and noted the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. On other pages, we cover Planning Ahead, Travelling on Durable Surfaces, Proper Waste Disposal, Leaving what you Find and Minimizing Campfire Impacts. The sixth of these principles is “Respect Wildlife”.
Learn from the Wildlife Ambassadors
The Wildlife Ambassadors with Alberta Parks and Bow Valley Wildsmart help hundreds of people understand how to recreate respectfully and safely with wildlife every year.
They help them understand that we make noise in the wilderness not to scare wildlife off, but to alert them of our presence, enabling the wildlife to make choices about what to do because we’re there. Wildlife – and bears in particular – may not change what they’re up to as a result of this, which is about as respectful as we can hope for when we walk, bike, run, ride, ski or do anything else in their space.
A way to think about making noise in the wilderness is to ask a simple question: if you’re sitting in your bedroom with the door closed, do you like people just barging in? Your teenage kids get this: the answer is an emphatic NO. They want you to knock first. Yelling “Yo, bear” is the simplest way we “knock”. Learn more about noise from the Wildlife Ambassadors with this video or this one.
Respect for wildlife from an ethical perspective means we recognize it is their space, not ours; we’re just visitors. We have extirpated most wildlife from our cities and other places we live; the rest of the space is theirs — the living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms of the wildlife. Our Parks, and even our Public Lands, are managed to enable our animals have a space to live. Here’s a great video from the Wildlife Ambassadors discussing just that concept.
Keep your dog on a leash
There are no critters in the wilderness that see your dog as a good thing, no matter how benign you thing your dog is. To some wildlife, it’s a predator. Here’s an example of how your dog can be a predator without you even knowing it.
To others critters like cougars, bears, coyotes and wolves, your puppy is prey. Here’s just one example from Canmore. Off-leash dogs in K-Country have provoked attacks on people from bears.
The only way to travel with a dog in the wilderness in a respectful way is to have your dog on a leash.
Making informed choices
This leads to some basic goals with wildlife in the wilderness:
- Observe from a respectful distance. A good rule of thumb is that if any wildlife reacts to your presence by changing their behaviour – runs away or even comes closer – you’re too close. Want better pictures? Get a bigger lens, and stay back. Binoculars are awesome.
- Understand where animals are likely to be, and how they are likely to be living at any given moment. For instance, when you know bears are down in the valleys munching on berries, it’s a great time to go up high where the food is not as good. Understanding what makes good elk calving or rutting space, and choosing to avoid it in season, is respectful behaviour. Pay attention to, and heed, warnings and closures.
- Be thoughtful about when to go. An increasing number of people are doing night hikes for sunrises and sunset. Research clearly shows most wildlife “adapts” to our diurnal movements by being more active when we are not there. Our continual presence makes it harder for animals to adapt, and some trails that have people on them 24 hrs a day essentially have no wildlife on them for this reason.
- Leave animals alone, and don’t interfere with their lives. Don’t try to rescue baby animals (they probably don’t need rescuing), nor feed them, nor let them get near your food. Don’t disturb them when they’re eating. If you see one in distress, contact a Conservation Officer.
- Leave room for animals to get to water. There are lots of reasons not to set up campsites near lake shores, but even picnicking near a shoreline can affect an animal’s ability to get the water it needs to survive (look at Chester Lake surrounded by picnickers as a great example of behaviour blockers). It is especially important to leave access to water at dawn, dusk and night.
Feeding is a no-no
Never, ever feed any wildlife. It’s illegal in all parks, and bad for the wildlife on many levels. That ground squirrel trying to get into your backpack associates people with food; we are the ultimate purveyors of animal “junk food” – high calorie, low nutrition (to them) edibles. You can’t survive on junk food, and neither can they. It’s not unreasonable to stomp the ground and chase those squirrels away, rather than letting them become bolder, and letting them learn that being that close to humans creates food rewards. And besides: they bite.
Hand feeding birds, winter or summer, is a poor strategy. Birds like Canada Jays and Clark’s Nutcrackers are already known for being camp robbers, and try to steal your food without further encouragement. Taking seeds for the chickadees seems like fun — “this kids will enjoy it!” — but in winter, they can become reliant on human-provided food, and die if they don’t get it. Plus, you’re not teaching your children to respect nature, because feeding wildlife isn’t respectful. “A fed bear is a dead bear”, but also a fed wolf is a dead wolf, a fed chickadee is a dead chickadee, a fed fox is a dead fox. Don’t be the reason an animal dies.
A great example being respectful of animals is paying attention to and obeying voluntary closures. There can be no better example of this than the now-decommissioned Mt. Indefatigable trail, which has so many issues, we dedicated a whole page to it. There’s a giant sign at that trail’s start (pictured at right) – you literally can’t get up there without going past it – asking you not to hike it. However, despite being closed for 14 years, traffic on that trail is increasing, likely driven by social media postings. We urge you have a read of the Mt. Indefat story in the context of respectful coexistence with wildlife.
Try Quiet Observation
- “Learn about wildlife through quiet observation”, as the Leave No Trace principles suggest, sitting quietly, watching and learning;
- Stay back when we know they’re there, give them room and try not to disturb them, rather than chasing them away;
- Leave no trace that will influence their behaviour, allowing them to live their lives as nature intends.
And if you understand how to live respectfully with wildlife, you can help educate others, and be your own influencer of good behaviour. In that way, we all have a role we can play in respecting wildlife.
- Try to act like a respectful visitor in the animal’s home;
- Never feed any wildlife for any reason;
- Make noise to enable animals to know you are there;
- Keep your dog on a leash;
- If you see wildlife, try not to disturb it;
- Obey and respect closures and warnings;
- Choose where and when to go with wildlife in mind
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