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How to minimize your ecological impact when visiting national parks

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Parks Canada’s role in both protecting and promoting areas of ecological significance is sometimes a conflicting one. When it announced the release of its enormously popular Discovery Pass for Canada’s 150th birthday, not everyone was thrilled. Conservationists expressed concern that an influx of visitors to national parks would come at a high environment cost.

To take advantage of this year’s free park entry while minimizing your own impact, you’ll want to be a respectful guest. Here’s how.

Keep wildlife wild

Giving bears a wide berth goes without saying. Yet, it’s all-too-tempting to lean in for a selfie with that spotted fawn, or to offer up some peanuts to a curious chipmunk. Interacting with wildlife might seem harmless at the time, but it can alter their natural behaviours, ultimately exposing them to predators and other dangers. So avoid your impulses to feed, approach or touch any wildlife, giving them at least 30 metres of space.

Keep plant life even wilder

Not harming fauna is a no-brainer, making saving flora seem almost secondary. It shouldn’t be. In order to protect vegetation—which may be rare or slow to reproduce—stick to designated trails and paths. Avoid shortcuts, even if that means walking through a puddle rather than around it.

Leave only footprints…

It’s the number one rule for eco-travelers—don’t leave anything behind. Take out everything that you bring in, including garbage, food waste, your pet’s waste, and even used toilet paper. According to Leave No Trace Canada planning ahead can help this process. For example, by repackaging food into reusable containers, you’ll both minimize garbage and lighten your load.

. . .and take only memories

Taking rocks, fossils, antlers or wildflowers home is not only destructive to the environment, it’s also again the law. If you get caught removing natural or cultural resources from a national park, you may find yourself with a hefty fine as a souvenir of your visit.

Leave no trace

When you gotta go, you gotta go. But even if you’re far away from a designated squatting site, that doesn’t mean that you can make anywhere your personal loo. Choose a spot to do your business in that’s at least 100 metres from any water sources, camps or trails, and bury any solid waste in a 15-centimetre deep hole.

Be respectful to other park visitors

In addition to being aware of your impact on a park’s natural environment, you should also be aware of your impact on your fellow visitors. People go to national parks to feel at one with nature—not to hear your new favourite song blaring from your cell phone. In addition to keeping noise levels down, keep pets under control, and be considerate when passing others on trails.