Many locals and tourists alike enjoy spending their time immersed in the outdoors here in the Kootenays, whether it’s fishing, hunting, hiking, biking or simply taking a dip in a local stream.
In most instances, people approach nature with the utmost respect.
Recently however, a few litterbugs have been causing concern for the wild spaces we enjoy.
About a week ago, local angler Calib McCollister was fishing along the Elk River in Fernie when he came across something other than a fish.
“I was walking in a small channel of the Elk and just hooked a good fish,” he said. “After I put the fish back, I looked down and saw a few cans. So I got to shore, took my backpack off and started pulling cans out. Unfortunately this was the third day in a row I picked cans out. The days before I filled my backpack up full both days, but this day was astonishing to say the least. They just kept showing up so I threw them all on the bank and proceeded to catch fish and cans, then I filled up a garbage bag, and my pack, and half of another garbage bag.”
McCollister took to a local Facebook page to spread awareness, saying that he lost count of how many cans he has picked up over the past few weeks.
“I’m betting I’ve gotten up around the 400 mark,” he said.
On another local backcountry Facebook page, people have posted about similar kinds of trash washing up along the St. Mary River, the Wildhorse River, and local trails like the Fisher Peak trail.
“The river is a special place to me that I hold in my heart and it is so important to my way of life,” McCollister said. “To see this happening on a daily occurrence is heartbreaking and completely avoidable. It’s not just the river that’s being abused, it’s the whole entire area.”
Eddie Petryshen, Conservation Coordinator with Wildsight, says although most people are very respectful and typically leave no trace, there are some folks who leave a heavier footprint on the land.
“For wildlife this can have big implications,” he said in an email to the Townsman. “If you leave behind garbage or food scraps, bears, elk or deer can become habituated to human food. Once wildlife has become habituated to human food, they don’t live long or healthy lives.”
He adds that hundreds of bears are destroyed every year in B.C. because they become food habituated.
“If plastic or garbage gets into streams it can reduce spawning habitat, fish can get tangled in it, birds and fish can eat it, clogging their digestive systems and stomachs. Plastics also degrade into tiny pieces that will end up in rivers, lakes and they never biodegrade. They can end up in our [drinking] water.”
According to the Vernon News, a popular Okanagan campsite is under investigation after a wedding party was bear sprayed by an individual on July 31. Human feces, garbage and overflowing outhouses were also cited by locals as an issue.
A bear was also recently put down in North Vancouver after residents admitted to feeding the animal in order to capture videos of it.
Since the pandemic began, parks in Alberta and B.C. have mentioned higher than usual volumes of traffic in popular hiking and camping spots. Even local Search and Rescue groups have been appealing to the public to take extra caution and care when choosing to do outdoor activities.
Petryshen pointed to people driving in natural, sensitive areas as a concern as well.
“Riparian areas (the transitional areas between land and water) and stream beds are very sensitive and vehicles should not be driving all over the place in these areas,” said Petryshen. “This can introduce invasive weeds into these sensitive places, damage sensitive vegetation, degrade fish habitat and introduce harmful amounts of sediment into streams which can have major impacts to fish populations. When we are out on the land or in the water we have to minimize our impacts on all living things.”
McCollister says it’s not about shaming anyone, but about education. He pushed the need for everyone to be kind to one another, as well as the environment.
“This has nothing to do with what area of the country they are from. We, as a nation, are better than this and people need to be responsible for their actions. It’s having a drastic impact on our lakes, streams, rivers, mountains and land. I would never not encourage people to enjoy themselves… but we for sure don’t need to treat the river like a garbage dump.”
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