By Jane Marshall

seejanewrite.ca

Last year, many people ventured to new places to connect with nature. COVID-19 helped us get outside. We drove further, explored more, and tried things we’d never done before. The great outdoors became one of the few safe places to recreate.

In some ways it was amazing! A return to simple joys. The Kananaskis alone saw 5.4 million people visitors in 2020— an annual jump of more than 1.2 million.

But somewhere along the way, we forgot (as my Grandma would say) to ‘tidy up.’

The outdoors — even some of the wildest, most off-the-beaten track places — became littered with toilet paper, wrappers, diapers, used tampons and human feces.

Jenn Banda, Recreation Engagement Officer for Alberta Environment and Parks in southern Alberta, is here to help. Jenn is a frontline worker in the field (or in this case, the forest and mountains) who talks with campers and off-roaders in Public Land Use Zones (aka PLUZ). These areas allow free camping and have extremely limited facilities.

“We provide information on best camping practices, off highway vehicle use, and wildlife safety,” she explains.

“Last year it was extremely busy on public lands and in parks. People were venturing into areas not typically visited. We started to see an impact on places that had been mostly untouched.” The area she concentrates on is Forestry Road 940 between the Crowsnest Pass and into the Kananaskis.

Jenn notes that public land use zones don’t have the same types of garbage support as parks— and that many people don’t know how to manage their waste.

“We found a lot of home-made outhouses left in the bush,” says Jenn. “Things like five gallon buckets with a hole in the bottom, a toilet seat, and a tarp, or plywood toilets.  They were used, then left, and contained toilet paper, tampons and sanitary napkins. It’s definitely a bio-hazard and it’s also an attractant for wildlife.”

Jenn and her co-workers were feeling pretty disheartened last year, and trail crews couldn’t keep up with the garbage. It’s not the experience they want to provide. They want nature to be clean and respected so that everyone can enjoy.

Random Camping Tips

Alberta Environment’s main concerns are the leftover toilets, human waste on trails, forts and shelters that are left intact (the ropes choke the trees), and of course, garbage.

Jenn share tips on how to manage waste on public lands and in wild places. Here we go:

HUMAN WASTE

For short stays:

  • Dig a hole six inches deep. Do your business, then cover it up.
    • Pack out toilet paper, used tampons, and pads.

For longer stays:

  • Bring a W.A.G bag (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) or portable toilet. Yup. You need to pack out your poop.

Remember: Toilet paper, tampons, and wet wipes take a long time to decompose. Even ‘natural’ or biodegradable ones. Animals dig them up and spread them around the ground. Not quite what we want for aesthetics in the backcountry!

GARBAGE

There are no garbage cans when you’re random camping — whether in the front or backcountry. Bring extra bags and then take them home. Don’t leave them outside overnight, or you might meet with a bear or other wildlife.

FIRES

  • Use dry fallen wood from the forest floor.
    • It burns well when dry and aids fire prevention to some degree!
  • Don’t cut down trees. The live green wood won’t burn anyway.
  • Ensure your fire is put out properly.
  • Spread the ashes so it looks natural when you’re done, and don’t leave trash in fire rings.

WATER

  • ATVs and OHVs, use bridges or fords and when possible and keep ‘wheels out of the water.’
    • You can accidentally transfer invasive seeds and disease and can damage wildlife habitat.
  • Go to the bathroom at least 30m from streams and lakes. Waste can flow back into the waterways.

Useful Links

Alberta Environment and Parks 

Respect the Land Government Facebook Page

Public Land Use Zone Information

Read a Rocky Mountain Outlook article here: Kananaskis Country visitors leave behind 'garbage, used tampons, diapers and human waste

Read a CBC article about random camping here: Report details random camping stresses on Alberta wilderness