The entire west coast region is wildlife habitat. Bears, cougars and wolves all swim, even to small islands surprisingly far from the mainland, and they also wander into all of our towns. When travelling through wildlife habitat, a little knowledge goes a long way in avoiding encounters that can be dangerous for both humans and for wildlife.
Once animals learn to get food from people, that behaviour can never be unlearned. They become habituated and then they are shot. Whether you feed animals intentionally, or whether it is just through messy camping practices, the end result is the same: you are condemning them to be killed. Please help us to take care of our wildlife as well as ourselves, by keeping the following guidelines in mind.
Animals such as bear and wolves have a keen sense of smell, and quickly learn to approach campsites if food, garbage, and other smelly products such as toothpaste or soap are not stored securely.
When car camping, make sure the campground has secure bear-proof storage for both your food and your garbage before you book your site; if they don’t, go elsewhere and explain to management your reason.
When wilderness camping, whether hiking or paddling, bring ropes and appropriate bags with you so that you can cache your food high in a tree. The cache must be significantly higher than human reach in order to be safe. Bears have been known to rip open kayaks to access food stored in hatches. Cook and wash below the high-tide line where possible, so all smells are washed away. Avoid taking smelly and oily foods with you such as tinned fish or oysters.
Human waste attracts animals to campsites, especially wolves. Some of the remote provincial parks have outhouses, and you should find out where they are before you head out. If there are no outhouses, human waste should be packed out where possible, especially by larger groups. Otherwise, when camping on the coast use the intertidal zone for elimination of human waste and brushing teeth. When inland, find a site far away from trails, streams and lakes. All toilet paper must be packed out or burned.
Bears, and occasionally other animals, may be seen along the roads and highways. Sure, slow down a bit to have a look, but please do not stop your car, as tempting as it might be. This only habituates animals to human presence, and encourages future interactions with humans. When cars stop, animals may be frightened out to the road. Every year many bears, especially young cubs, are killed along our roads.
Pets in the wilderness
Taking dogs and other domestic animals into wilderness areas is a controversial issue. Dogs have a significant damaging impact on other wildlife, frightening and chasing smaller animals and even deer, and they cause damage to salmon breeding areas, which include most streams and rivers as well as the shallow shorelines of the larger lakes. Wolves have killed several dogs in recent years, even in parks with lots of visitors. If you choose take your pet with you, please make sure that they are always on a leash.
Encounters with large predators
This is one of the few areas of the world where you do stand a reasonable chance of encountering large predators: bears, wolves or cougars. Bears and cougars, and occasionally wolves, all wander right into our towns. While bears do not normally prey on humans, they may become aggressive if they feel threatened. Wolves and cougars may attack humans, and especially children, and they have killed a number of dogs (including some very large ones).
If you encounter one of these large animals, gather your group together and pick up small children. Do what you can to appear large and noisy. Maintain eye contact, especially with cougars, and if the animal is not retreating try to back away from it. Report sightings to Parks Canada (250-726-7165), even if they took place outside of the park.