10 tips to enjoy nature … without harming it

Last year, record traffic caused major damage to Michel-Chartrand Park in Longueuil. “A lot of people left the marked trails on foot, on snowshoes or on oversized bikes and saw the tracks left by other people who had done the same thing before them,” says Yvan Landry, president of Amis du parc Michel-Chartrand. From now on, with every rain, puddles form on the paths, the soil of which has been compacted by being trampled on. To avoid small bodies of water, hikers walk around them and penetrate the vegetation. They thus crush the plantations made by the volunteers to counteract the damage due to the inspection of deer, there are always more due to the visitors feeding them.

These recent threats are in addition to those already exposed to the park of an invasive exotic species, the emerald ash borer, which weakens and ends up killing these trees. To curb its ravages, the city of Longueuil will have to cut down 13,000 ash trees along the trails. What will be left of the park if visitors crush new vegetation?

Yvan Landry estimates that 80% to 90% of hikers do not want to do harm, but they are not aware of the damage they cause by leaving the marked trails or by feeding the animals. Harmful behavior, however, is contagious. “Research in environmental psychology has shown that the more a place is already degraded, the less visitors are aware,” explains Pascale Marcotte, a researcher in sustainable tourism at Laval University.

It’s easy to convince yourself that getting off track is no problem. Apart from the ground you step on, the grass you crush or the branches you pack down, all invitations to the following hikers are to do the same, with the risk that these makeshift paths end up destroying fragile plants or endangering or disturbing wildlife.

Websites with little oversight are, of course, the most vulnerable. “In national parks, we observe this harmful behavior less because signage, instructions and patrols are more present. Visitors are generally more educated, and regular maintenance prevents the situation from degenerating, ”explains Pascale Marcotte.

It is much more difficult when the places are managed by volunteers, who often have neither the authority, the funds nor the training to act effectively. When attendance increases very rapidly, as on the beaches of Gaspésie last year, those responsible do not have time to adapt and it will sometimes take years to repair the damage.

The rules to abide by

Here are 10 tips to follow so wild spaces can remain comfortable places for visitors and paradise for biodiversity.

  1. Follow the instructions and signs.
  2. Stay on the trails, even when not specified. Go to a single file where it is narrow.
  3. Avoid busy periods to facilitate travel on the trails and not to have to park outside the designated spaces.
  4. Do not feed the animals as it interferes with their natural behavior. They may want to get closer to people, even if it means putting themselves in danger. The food that the forest offers them is adequate and better for their health.
  5. Plan meals to minimize the amount of waste that needs to be handled. Even compostable leftovers, such as a banana peel or an apple core, should not be thrown away. This detritus often takes longer to decompose than you might think, it risks attracting animals that are not used to these foods, and it can introduce exotic species (apple seeds can give rise to an apple tree). In addition, this behavior may encourage other visitors to throw their trash on the ground as well.
  6. Put your rubbish in the bins. If these are full, we will bring everything back.
  7. Do not pick plants, move stones or even pick up pieces of wood as these are very useful for certain animals.
  8. Only camp and set fire to designated areas.
  9. Do not transport firewood from one area to another, as invading insects may hide there. This practice is directly banned in many national parks as it promotes the migration of exotic species such as the Asian long-horned beetle that kills deciduous trees.
  10. Do not shout or speak loudly so that you can enjoy the sounds of nature and do not disturb the wildlife or other visitors.

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