On August the 27th, the Recreation Advisory Committee (RAC) hosted a garbage clean-up at the Atlas Staging Area. The intent was to make a positive impact in the backcountry, and to highlight the amount of garbage that can be found in the headwaters on public land. With 15 people total picking garbage for a morning, hopefully we left one area of the headwaters at least a little cleaner.
Vehicle parts and toilet paper...
...were among the most abundant items found. Vehicle parts, generally composed of metal, rubber, and plastic, do not break down very quickly if left out in the wild, and can be hazardous to people, pets, and wildlife. As for human waste, people may not realize that a cooler climate like ours slows the decomposition process, and human feces can spread disease and contaminate water supplies just as much as animal waste. It was shocking to find so many latrines and so much toilet paper in a relatively small, high-traffic area. It's pretty gross to consider that if people don't pack out or at least bury their waste safely (far away from the water!), it remains on the surface, where children are playing and pets are frolicking before heading back to their campsites for dinner...! This type of waste is not only a pollution/habitat issue; it's a human health issue.
[As an aside, when we were out at Dutch Creek recently, the entire creek shoreline was dotted with #2 and endless streams of paper ... there was nowhere to rest for a bit of shade. Let's not even mention the smell :-( ].
Littering is illegal (and disrespectful!)
The RAC's garbage clean-up also served to highlight a couple of other issues that our field staff have noticed over the course of the summer. Firstly, we have heard repeatedly how much garbage many responsible recreationists have picked up - after previous, disrespectful visitors - when they are random camping. Secondly, despite these efforts, there is still an enormous amount of trash left in the backcountry. According to the Public Lands Act, it is illegal to litter on public land and comes with a fine of up to $172. It is now easier than ever to report infractions on public lands using the Report a Poacher Hotline. If you see anything like littering, dumping of black water, or driving through streams, call 1-800-642-3800.
Regulations and fines aside, as Albertans, this type of behaviour is not okay. We all have a right to enjoy the beauty of our public lands, but with that privilege comes the personal responsibility to care for it - why should families of hard-working Albertans have to clean up someone else's trash while on holiday?
We do it because we want to leave the land a little cleaner than we found it - for the sake of our families, neighbours, and children. So let's decide to hold ourselves and each other accountable for keeping the backcountry great (and clean!).
Remember, with great public land comes great responsibility!
When in the backcountry, please follow the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace Camping... especially:
- Know B4 U Go. Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Protect riparian areas by camping away from lakes and streams.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
- Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 15 to 20 centimeters deep at least 70 meters from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
- Leave what you find. Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
- Be considerate of others.