In the Backcountry
Backcountry trail ©
Parks Canada//BNP CD 0982 #10
of the mountain national parks provides habitat vital to many species and supports
a variety of quality visitor opportunities. There are over 2,000 kilometres
of trails laid out in a complicated network with multiple entry points leading
to dozens of remote campgrounds and a number of alpine huts, cabins and backcountry
lodges. Consequently, managing the backcountry is a labour intensive operation.
It’s also a labour of love. The backcountry is synonymous with the wildness
national parks are mandated to sustain and protect. This wildness or ecological
health, in turn, sustains the wilderness experiences visitors have come to expect.
Let’s look at some ways we manage the backcountry to provide
wilderness experiences while addressing protection of both people and bears.
Planning, Design and People
Trail counter being set up ©
Parks Canada/LLYK CD y#44
Backcountry recreation specialists, facility managers and planners work with
trail crews, contractors and non-profit groups every summer to maintain and
improve the trail and campground system. Ecological integrity and bear safety
are paramount in their efforts.
Grizzly bears are especially sensitive to human disturbance – they
need large areas of secure habitat to successfully reproduce and raise their
cubs. Managing wilderness in protected areas is often about managing people;
human use management is a current topic in many national parks in Canada and
the United States. With respect to bears, there is no "blanket approach"
to management. Rather, different trails and areas are assessed for a variety
of factors, such as the bear(s) involved; the seasonal quality of bear habitat;
the level and type of use the area receives; and research or analysis that
Tools to manage human use range from simple changes such as improved signage
and education to more active measures such as trail hardening, trail reroutes,
adding, removing or relocating infrastructure, group hiking, quotas, permits
and seasonal or temporary closures. What is done in one place to protect people
and bears can be very different from what is done in another, but all have
common ends – to protect ecological integrity and maintain valuable
visitor opportunities within this context.
Research, both ecological and social, is an important component of park management
and helps us evaluate and adapt our management actions to meet park goals
and objectives. In the backcountry, trail counters and cameras are used to
gather essential baseline data for long-term management of the backcountry.
Should you observe a trail counter and/or camera, please help ensure it serves
its purpose by continuing along past it. Trail cameras are one means to identify
wildlife and human use of an area or trail. You may also meet staff conducting
park surveys on trails. If your schedule allows, your participation in such
surveys helps us better manage these special areas.
Day Use Trails
Park trail crews maintain a vast network of trails
© Parks Canada/YNP Slide Collection
Trails re-routes, such as the one completed in McArthur Pass in Yoho National
Park in 1999, reflect an effort to lessen the likelihood of an encounter with
a bear in an important wildlife movement corridor. Research results, park
management goals, and visitor concerns are all considerations for re-routes.
In areas identified as favoured bear habitat, such as avalanche slopes and
shrubby meadows, vegetation is regularly brushed out along the trails to improve
sight lines for both bears and hikers. This may also improve a bear's chances
of hearing and smelling approaching hikers, especially if the hikers are travelling
in a close group and making noise at regular intervals.
Overnight Backcountry Facilities
Use of backcountry campground food poles ensure
bears and other wildlife cannot access human food or garbage
© Parks Canada/C. Siddal/YNP CD 7(17)
As budgets allow, campgrounds of yesteryear undergo improvements where the
sleeping area is separate from the cooking area. In concert with bear aware
camping practices, this approach helps ensure that a bear is not drawn to
tent sites in the sleeping area by food and garbage odours. An integral component
of the cooking area is at least one "food storage pole". Campground
design and food storage poles, in conjunction with responsible camper practices,
help minimize the chances a bear will be attracted to a campground by odours,
and also help ensure a bear has much less chance of receiving a food reward
should it wander through.
Every backcountry campground is equipped with at least one storage facility
that allows campers to hoist their food, garbage, toiletries, cooking clothes,
and other potential bear attractants by means of wire ropes. Hanging at least
four metres above ground level and well away from adjacent trees, this aerial
storage of "human stuff" helps ensure meandering bears or other
wildlife never get a "food reward" that will trigger undesirable
habits. Backcountry campers are advised to store their food, toiletries and
garbage in resealable containers that further contain odours in their backpacks.
Privately Operated Backcountry Facilities
Under Leasehold Agreements or Licences of Occupation, private operators manage
a number of backcountry huts and lodges in the mountain national parks. These
operators work closely with us to ensure food and garbage does not attract
bears to their operations. They also play an important role in educating their
clients about how they can enjoy the park with a minimum of impact on the
land and its wildlife.
Warden Presence in the Backcountry
Warden on horseback ©
Parks Canada/BNP CD #0982
Several wardens work in the backcountry throughout the hiking season; they
patrol by foot and on horseback. Though tasked with a wide variety of duties,
they respond to any recent reports of bear activity that may need intervention
or simply observation. During their patrols, they meet many hikers and exchange
information, including bear sightings and other wildlife observations.
To enable both routine and emergency preparedness, the mountain national
parks maintain a network of mountain-top VHF radio repeaters which receive
regular service. In times of public safety responses, this level of communication
has proven to be priceless. Cell phones do not work reliably in our mountainous