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Kananaskis visitors urged to 'leave no trace' as bears emerge

“Unlike us, bears are following pretty norm routines and starting to wake up from hibernation, so this is a really important time to be careful and not leave things that attract bears and other wildlife into places – that’s dangerous for bears and for us.”

KANANASKIS – The Alberta government is warning visitors to provincial parks to take home their garbage after staff had to deal with some crappy issues over the past weekend.

Thousands of people headed to Kananaskis Country this past weekend, where facilities such as toilets, picnic shelters and warm-up huts are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, staff discovered garbage, food, used tampons, dirty diapers and even human feces.

Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) say they understand people want to get outside during this global pandemic – but people must pack all garbage back out with them so as not to attract bears emerging from hibernation.

“It’s very frustrating … this certainly isn’t the time to be asking others to be picking up after you,” said Adam Linnard, Y2Y’s Alberta program manager.

“Unlike us, bears are following pretty norm routines and starting to wake up from hibernation, so this is a really important time to be careful and not leave things that attract bears and other wildlife into places – that’s dangerous for bears and for us.”

The government has no plans to shut down provincial parks at this time.

Over the weekend, staff in K-country had to turn away large groups of people not practising social distancing in several areas, including Troll Falls near Nakiska.

An Alberta Parks spokesperson said, as with many other jurisdictions, staff noticed provincial parks are a very popular escape during this challenging time in light of COVID-19 and requirements around social distancing. 

“This past weekend brought to light some disturbing trends in our provincial parks, including extreme overcrowding, lack of social distancing and litter such as diapers, human feces and garbage near closed parks facilities,” said spokesperson John Muir.

“While we understand the need to get outdoors, now is not the time to congregate in large groups in our provincial parks. Many services in and around our parks have been closed as a direct result of recommendations from the chief medical officer of health.”

Katie Morrison, conservation director with CPAWS’ southern Alberta chapter, said in these stressful times, it is important to get outside and connect with nature, but also to be prepared and responsible stewards of our parks and natural areas.  

“That means practising ‘leave no trace’ principles, including ensuring you are packing out waste and prepared for lack of bathroom facilities and other services,” she said.

“We are also at that time of year when bears are coming out of hibernation, so being bear aware and ensuring we are not creating wildlife conflicts by improper garbage disposal is extra important.”

Morrison said what’s happening in provincial parks now also raises a broader concern related to the recent announcement of 20 park closures or partial closures, as well as the de-listing and removal of services of 164 Alberta parks. 

“While government has stated that these areas will still be open to public use, removing services and facilities at these parks, raises the concern that this is exactly the type of issue we would see at these parks,” she said.


About the Author: Cathy Ellis

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