Wilderness Environmental Ethics
A Quiz - the Answers
- A is false. "Biodegradable" doesn't always mean environmentally friendly. When bacteria attack biodegradable products they use up oxygen which then alters the natural aquatic system and potentially harms fish and aquatic life. It is better to bathe and wash dishes away from streams and lakes and dispose of the water in the forest.
- False. Trenching is unsightly, disturbs the soil, and may result in erosion. It violates the ethical principle of minimum impact camping and may be against park regulations. Use a plastic groundcloth inside your tent and you will stay dry in the heaviest rains.
- A. Cans and glass should be packed out for recycling. To reduce garbage smells, food residue should be washed or burned off. A small cooking fire is not hot enough to burn foil completely, so pack it out as well. To reduce weight, transfer the contents of glass bottles into reusable plastic containers during pre-trip packing.
- C (or B). Try to avoid making new trails to keep the environmental disturbance to a minimum. It is better to keep established trails cleared. Often, it takes only a few minutes effort, and you will be doing your following fellow canoeists a big favor.
- C (if no existing outhouses or latrines are available). The top 10-20 cm of soil contains the greatest number of organisms (fungi, bacteria) needed to decay fecal matter, so breakdown will occur most rapidly in this humus or organic layer. Dig a "cat-hole" with the heel of your boot or with a small trowel. Bury wastes deep enough so that animals won't dig them up, yet shallow enough so that decomposition is rapid. Toilet paper that is buried with waste in the active soil layer will soon compost in a boreal forest environment. Burning the paper, other than in the firepit, poses a risk of forest fire during dry conditions. High use areas, large groups, or more than a few days stay at one site may require the use of latrines. Also, in arctic & alpine tundra and deserts, human wastes should and often must be packed out.
- Minimum impact camping and 'treading softly" in the wilderness should be your goal. Any garbage should be packed out or disposed of in your campfire (if appropriate). Always remember to bring a garbage bag for your waste, as well as the litter you find on the trail.
- False!! This upsets the ecology of animals and encourages their dependence on humans. Small mammals become used to being fed and will chew through packs looking for food. Of a much more serious nature, bears become bold and aggressive. For your own safety and the health of the wildlife, food waste should be burned completely or packed out.
- D. Learning about the plants, wildlife, geography, and history will help you more fully appreciate and respect the area you travel to. This knowledge will also help you to make the most environmentally responsible choices.
- D. Projectile points (e.g. arrow heads) are archaeological artifacts protected by the Heritage Properties Act. It is an offense to remove, alter, or destroy heritage property without permission. Many archaeological and historic sites are located along canoe routes. Discoveries of sites and artifacts should be reported to the Heritage Branch of the Saskatchewan government, and must be left undisturbed.
- E. If we treasure the natural world we have a responsibility to preserve it. This can extend well beyond observing minimum impact camping practices to the areas suggested, including educating others.
- C. The decision to light a fire should be based upon the sustainability of the DEAD wood supply relative to the recreational use in the area. The local fire hazard and the sensitivity of the terrain to disturbance (e.g. digging of a fire pit) must also be considered. A stove is a more appropriate choice in ecologically sensitive areas. A stove is usually the only choice in arctic and alpine tundra and desert areas. If dead wood is scarce in an area, which is sometimes the case at heavily used campsites, a stove is a more appropriate choice.
- Remember, if a fire is used, check the remains by hand before you leave the area. If ashes are hot enough to burn your hand, they are hot enough to cause a forest fire.
- C, although B is a commendable response. The advantage of supporting and working with organizations is to combine the resources of many like-minded individuals to have a stronger voice in promoting a better environment. Groups working on forestry issues can be contacted through the Saskatchewan Eco-Network
- C, although purists might disagree. Bright-coloured equipment may be a safety consideration for a remote expedition in the event of a rescue party search.
- Both B & C are acceptable depending on the local forest fire hazard or the ecological sensitivity of the area. If building a fire is not advisable, ziplock bags can be used to pack out the garbage. If conditions permit a campfire, try to select a time when the fire is hot and when others are not cooking or eating nearby, and thoroughly burn your garbage. Burning at the bathroom site is not only inefficient, but could cause a forest fire.
- D is good if open fires are permitted, but your fire must be very hot. B is also an approved disposal practice. Puncture the fish bladders to sink the entrails and make sure the deep water burial site is not a congested fishing area and is located well off-shore. In parks, check their regulations. Packing the entrails out may be a park requirement.
- C. Hanging food from trees is okay if done properly, i.e. suspended at least 4 m above the ground and not accessible by climbing. However, if the only useful tree is near your tent, the best option is to seal the food containers (after personal snacks have been included) and put them well away from the campsite.
- C. Before doing your dishes, scrape off left over food particles and burn them in the fire (if you are using a fire). The dish water can then be either spread over the forest floor or dumped into a cathole. Make sure you do this more than 30 m from waterbodies. Don't leave uneaten food lying around. Either plan your meals more carefully, burn as much as possible in the fire, or dispose of small quantities as you would human waste.
- C. There are several factors to consider. Motors are noisy and can distract from the wilderness experience for many people. Also, if care is not taken, oil and gas can pollute the aquatic ecosystem. Driving boats through shallow areas may also affect fish spawning grounds. However, in some cases the use of motorized access is a traditional use with a longer history than recreation. Native hunters and fishermen may depend upon motorboats in gathering their food supply or making a living. Compromises sometimes must be made where non-motorized and motorized recreationists and local residents have to consider and respect each other.
- False!! Never cut live trees or shrubs or remove moss. Removal of moss kills the plant and disturbs the soil. Inexpensive sleeping pads are available which provide a much more comfortable sleep.
- True. Whenever possible, be a spokesperson for the environment. Be patient in your explanations and practice what you preach. Many people are unaware of their mistakes and would appreciate advice. If you anticipate a negative response, use common sense and avoid conflict.
SCORING THE QUIZ.
Each question is worth one point.
19-20 RESPONSIBLE ECO-TRAVELLER
17-18 ENVIRONMENTAL JOURNEY PERSON
13-14 FUN-LOVING FLOATER
12 or less BACKCOUNTRY BUMPKIN (You need help! Take along someone who scored much higher.)
© 1997 CanoeSki Discovery Company