Letter: Being responsible means we can enjoy BC’s wilderness

Enjoy wilderness responsibly

Contributed – Apr 10, 2020 / 12:07 pm | Story: 296960

With self-isolation, physical distancing, restrictions on travel and a number of us facing an uncertain future related to our employment, British Columbians are looking to nature as an outlet to relieve some stress.  Hiking, hunting and fishing are some of the finest ways to recharge your body and mind. These activities will improve your sense of being, help you reconnect with your kids and disconnect from your electronics; the great thing is these activities can be enjoyed responsibly while practicing physical distancing. Unfortunately, the recent closure of BC Parks has put your ability to go out and enjoy nature responsibly at risk – and it could get worse.

The most significant issues started in the most populous parts of the province where thousands of people flooded Provincial Parks.  Restrictions were followed by closures in a few parks, but it was not enough to ensure public health objectives could be met.  Overflowing parking lots, trash being left, and people crowding each other looked more like a spring break party than a park. Having a Parks budget which has been on life support for decades, and less than a handful of staff to monitor tens of thousands of people resulted in the closure of all BC Parks. While a kneejerk reaction, it certainly shows just how poorly a job BC has been doing funding, managing and staffing our provincial parks.

As the snow melts and the days get warmer, more and more people will be looking to BC’s wilderness for a reprieve. We all need to be mindful that further restrictions could be placed in BC, including a full backcountry closure.

When you’re thinking about enjoying some sunshine, a fish on the end of the line, a turkey or bear hunting trip, or the sound of a male ruffed grouse drumming, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Make sure you stay local. Small town BC does not want to see out of towners at their gas pumps, convenience stores, or hotels, and they do not have the health care infrastructure to deal with a COVID outbreak.

Hike, hunt and fish only with people who live in your household.  That does not mean go out with your neighbour, friend, sister, brother or aunt and maintain physical distance – it means only go with people who live in your house.

Practice physical distancing. Boat launches and trailheads will be especially busy. Give people extra space and time to load and unload, be courteous and aware that we’re all stressed due to COVID-19.  Have a backup plan; if your first spot is busy, continue to a different area or pick a less busy time when there are fewer people. If you’re feeling sick at all, stay home.

While BC Provincial Parks are closed, there are still a number of areas and lakes which remain open.  There are simply not enough BC Parks staff, Conservation Officers or the Natural Resource Officers to monitor or educate British Columbians in outdoor settings, so you’re basically on your own. It might take an extra 30 minutes to get to your favourite hiking trail or fishing spot, but remember, that’s better than not being able to go at all.  It only takes a few to wreck if for the many, so please make sure you’re doing your best to ensure we can all reconnect with nature responsibly this spring.

Jesse Zeman, BC Wildlife Federation director of fish and wildlife restoration