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How to Respect Wildlife & Handle your "Business" while Exploring with Etiquette

Chilcotin Holidays - Gold Bridge | Jonny Bierman

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary-based travel blogger, award-winning photographer and two-time author with a passion for adventure, nature, and the outdoors. She loves unsung places not seen on Instagram. You can find her at HikeBikeTravel.com.

If you genuinely love the outdoors, odds are you want to keep it pristine and accessible for future generations. To do that, everyone needs to step up, take responsibility and do their part to leave the land in as good or better shape than they found it. Developing a deep enduring respect for the environment and wildlife will ensure we can all enjoy our pristine BC landscapes going forward. Learn what you can do and the role you can play to make that happen.

Beautiful Provincial Park

Respect the environment so future generations can equally enjoy pristine landscapes like this | Leigh McAdam

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles

Anyone visiting the outdoors should familiarize themselves with the 7 Leave No Trace principles, a template for leaving a negligible impact on the outdoors. These principles apply everywhere outside – from untouched backcountry to bustling provincial parks and even your own backyard. Though the principles seem like common sense to anyone who cares about the outdoors, they are rooted in research.

The seven principles include the following:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on hard or durable surfaces
  • Discard of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize the impact of campfires
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors

If you pack it in, pack it out, and always be sure to stay on designated trails. Our alpine environments have short growing seasons and are very fragile, so always ride or hike on the path. For thoughtful, detailed explanations on each of the 7 Principles, visit Leave No Trace Canada.

Crow eating garbage

Always pack out what you pack in – even the orange peels | Mabel Amker – Messiaic Mystery Guest from Pixabay

What to do when you encounter wildlife

In the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, the chances of encountering wildlife are high, but the prospect of human-wildlife conflict is small. Still, it pays to be prepared.

The types of animals you might meet are varied; from beavers, squirrels, and rabbits at the lower end of the food chain to animals that will stop you in your tracks. Those include moose, both black and grizzly bears, wolves, elk, coyotes, and on occasion cougars and wolverines.

Some animals need no introduction. No one really needs to give a second thought to a squirrel, fox or even a herd of deer, providing you allow them the freedom to move and admire them from a respectable distance. But a chance meeting with one of the larger animals requires a level of preparedness.

Moose – If you stumble upon a moose, back away and speak in a calm, low tone. Give them lots of space, even if they look docile and non-threatening. However, if they seem to be changing their behaviour, back off immediately and be prepared to get behind a tree or large rock to remove yourself from their field of vision. Some signs that they aren’t enjoying your presence include teeth-baring, laying back their ears, showing the whites of their eyes, peeing, a pause in eating, staring at you, or a move towards you. Never get between a moose and its calf and put dogs on a leash as they may be perceived to be a wolf – one of their natural predators.

Elk – Elk are gradually becoming more common in the Cariboo Chilcotin, although close-up encounters with them remain rare. Even though elk rarely look threatening, they can be dangerous and attack without any warning, particularly during the calving season in spring, and the fall mating season. Give elk at least 30 metres of space. Keep children close and leash your dogs. If you sense they’re starting to feel threatened, maintain eye contact and back away until you’re able to get behind a car or tree. If it’s spring, avoid lone calves and female elk. In fall, never get between a male and female elk. Males have antlers, while females do not!

A herd of elk in the water

You’ll often see elk in a herd | Leigh McAdam

Cougars – Even though cougar sightings are rare, it’s important to know what to do. First, make yourself look big. Pick up a stick, raise your arms and stand tall. Maintain eye contact but back away slowly. Do not lunge or make movements toward it; you should always be working towards giving them enough room to exit. Make lots of noise – yelling, banging stones, sticks or whatever you can find. If you’ve got a dog or small children, keep them close. Pick up something like a sharp rock you could use in case of attack. And should the unthinkable happen, fight for all you are worth – going for the eyes and face.

Wolves – Wolves are normally elusive and want little to do with humans. However, if a wolf approaches or acts aggressively, make yourself look big. Use noisemakers, whether that be air horns or whistles, throw sand or rocks and be prepared to use bear spray should the wolf continue approaching. If you’re with a group, act as one in unison to appear as a threat.

A wolf in the wild

It’s always a thrill to see a wolf in the wild | Leigh McAdam

Coyotes – Coyotes are curious – and abundant. They don’t see humans as a source of food, but they may give chase if you run away. If a coyote is ever aggressive, wave your arms, throw rocks or sticks, and make a lot of noise. Be prepared to stand your ground. There has only been one confirmed case of a coyote killing a human, so the odds of attacks are incredibly low. However, a coyote will go after smaller dogs so make sure your dog can heel to your side quickly or are on a leash. 

Wolverines – The chances of seeing a wolverine are slim. As a member of the weasel family, they are on the small side though they’re vicious enough to attack even a moose. On the rare chance you see one, stand your ground and be prepared for a bluff attack. Fortunately, there are no documented cases of a wolverine attack on a human.

Grizzly and black bears –There are two types of bears you might commonly meet in any region of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast – grizzly bears, identified by their shoulder hump, concave face, and rounded ears and black bears – with their straight faces, tall ears, and much smaller size.

If you’re travelling through bear country, wherever that might be, it is always a good idea to make noise (your voice always works best and should be trusted over bear bells or noisemakers) so that the bear has a chance to get away, perhaps before you even know of its presence. That’s the best-case scenario.

Should you see either type of bear, stop, stay calm and get your bear spray out. Say ‘heh bear’ in a non-threatening voice. That puts you in the human rather than prey animal category. Back away slowly but never run, as that can trigger a chase. If you’re with a group, stay together, keep your packs on for protection and either wait for the bear to leave or slowly make a wide detour around it.

If it’s a black bear, you can make yourself look big, speak loudly, and try to appear more intimidating. Never run or climb a tree – as they’re great climbers.

Both types of bears will, on occasion, attack. There are two types of attacks – defensive and predatory. The defensive attack is the most common. You’ll need to use your bear spray at close range – but if it still attacks, play dead. Lie on your stomach, legs apart and hands behind your neck, protecting it. Attacks of this nature are usually no more than a few minutes in length. If the attack continues, it’s predatory, and you will need to fight back with whatever you have – bear spray, rocks, sticks and brute force. Fortunately, predatory attacks are exceedingly rare.

A hiker compares her foot to a bear print

Keep an eye out for fresh bear prints when you travel through bear country | Leigh McAdam

Outdoor adventures with your dog

Spending time with your dog outdoors is one of life’s great joys. Nothing beats sharing experiences with an animal that loves you unconditionally. But remember, not everyone will have the same warm feelings about your dog. Outdoors, respect leash laws where they exist – and where they don’t, be sure your dog is well-behaved and under voice control at all times.

Instinct tends to kick in under certain situations, like the wafting scent of a wild animal. Many dogs love the thrill of the chase and are completely fearless with regard to the outcomes.

If your dog gets too close to a skunk, it’s unpleasant in the short term but not life-threatening. The same goes for a close encounter with a porcupine. Hopefully, you have the wherewithal to know how to remove quills – or the ability to get to a vet in short order.

Larger animals are more concerning. If your dog takes off after a bear or moose, it might bring it back to you, putting your life in danger. You better be ready with the bear spray! No large animal needs the stress of being chased by a dog either. A GPS tracker for your dog is helpful if your dog does happen to take off in the wilderness — saving you time and heartache searching for them.

A dog on a leash in the woods

Keep your dog leashed | Leigh McAdam

Personal Hygiene

Personal hygiene, specifically how to do your business in the woods, isn’t something everyone feels comfortable talking about. But it’s important you know what to do! There’s nothing worse than coming across used toilet paper and old business at a pretty campsite.

For best practices, here’s what you should do when you have to go, and there isn’t necessarily an outhouse.

Choose a site that is a minimum of 60 m away from a trail, campsite, or a particularly beautiful area. Select a spot that has good soil and organic matter and dig a cathole 15-20 cm or 6-8 inches deep. Do your business in the hole, in the squatting position while balancing yourself on a nearby object with your shorts or pants just partially pulled down – so you don’t lose your balance! When you’re finished, fully cover the cathole with dirt and organic matter along with any toilet paper if it can’t be packed out. The cathole needs to be completely covered, so both animals and humans never find your business on the bottom of their paws.

A better alternative to burying toilet paper is to pack it out. Fold what you’ve used in half and throw it along with any feminine hygiene products in a Ziploc bag. Dispose of it properly once at home. If you happen to forget some TP, sourcing organic matter to clean-up isn’t the worst option. But, if there is poison ivy in the area, be sure you know what it looks like, or you’ll come to regret it.

The bottom line – be respectful of others. Try to leave the environment in better shape than you found it, which helps to preserve your favourite spot for both your return visits and others!