Workplace Mental Health

The Changing Landscape in Backcountry Lodges

Since the emergence and ultimate retreat of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a great deal of focus on workplace mental health and well-being for employees across all industries within the province. COVID-19 has had a permanent effect on how the hospitality and tourism industry trains and cares for its people.  During the pandemic, travel restrictions and border closures, changing public health orders, quarantine measures, risk and exposure to illness, frequent documentation for new hygiene protocols, and access to quality Personal Protective Equipment all impacted organizational culture, social supports and changing expectations for staff in the industry.

But what unique factors within remote backcountry settings may make prioritizing employee mental health and well-being challenging? How might we promote stress resilience and well-being amongst our teams as we emerge from the pandemic?

Foremost, the nature of our work defies the conventional 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday routine. Irregular hours and extended shifts are par for the course, with seasonal fluctuations adding another layer of complexity to our schedules.  

Moreover, the remote and sometimes difficult conditions of lodge life can contribute to heightened levels of stress and anxiety. The isolation lack of social interaction, and especially when separated from family and friends, can amplify social and emotional issues among our teams. Being separated from broader community support systems for extended periods can take a toll on mental health, particularly for those predisposed to it.

Transitioning to and from the remote lodge environment can also pose adjustment difficulties, requiring workers to adapt to vastly different living and working conditions as they return home to their communities.

In some cases, workers may turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. In many cases, the culture of having a drink as a way to relax and decompress from work has long been a part of the culture of the hospitality and tourism space. The lines between social substance use and dependence can quickly become blurred. Living and working in close quarters with the same group of co-workers can also lead to interpersonal conflicts, exacerbating psychosocial stress.

For workers in high-risk industries like backcountry guiding or avalanche forecasting, traumatic incidents or accidents in remote areas can lead to high levels of operational stress injuries. Moreover, accessing mental health resources can be challenging in remote lodges and rural, tourism-dependent communities, where options may be more limited.

Research shows that when teams have a supportive social ethos, clear leadership and structure, and mental health and wellbeing support woven into the organization’s fabric, staff performance improves immediately.

One model for thinking about how to better manage teams that work in a stressful environment is the 13 factors of psychological health and safety in the workplace, created by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) as best practices for supporting the mental health and psychological safety of workers in various professional sectors.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic (an incredibly volatile and unpredictable time for tourism), it is imperative that we not only recognize our pivotal role in driving the success of our industry but also prioritize the well-being of our workforce. Utilizing frameworks like the 13 factors addressing unique psychosocial challenges, and providing access to necessary support systems, we can ensure a healthier and more resilient workforce, ultimately enhancing organizational performance and upholding the standards of excellence synonymous with backcountry hospitality and tourism. 

This may look like offering staff access to mental health literacy training, improved communication strategies, critical incident stress management and promoting stress resilience within our teams. By offering our staff the necessary space for focused debriefs, reconnection and respectful communication, we are taking small, but important steps towards improving the overall experience of our staff and guests as they live, work, and recreate together in the backcountry. 

About the Author:
Lexie (she/her) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC)  based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Montira Mental Health was born out of Lexie’s own experience as a hospitality manager at different backcountry lodges across British Columbia. Today, Lexie works to fill the gaps she observed by providing specialized mental health support for those employed within the hospitality and adventure tourism space. 
Find out more here: Montira Mental Health.

Experience Mother Earth

Reconnecting with Nature

Listening to a CBC What on Earth episode with Laura Lynch on Feb 4th, 2024 (42:45 mins), I was reminded of discussions in the classroom when I taught an Environmental issues class at Thompson Rivers University. The student conversations about climate change and feelings of hopelessness or helplessness were similar to the student experiences described in the CBC interview with Jason Brown, an instructor and researcher in the Department of Humanities, the School of Resource and Environmental Studies at SFU. Students question their own destiny, whether to have children or not and the relevance of finishing a degree when their future may be slipping away. As a professor and a baby boomer, I found these conversations of helplessness and eco-anxiety about the future heartbreaking. After all, I was privileged to be born in the ’60s when the idea of climate change was not a daily topic of conversation, nor was it an immediate threat to my future.

My generation of baby boomers reaped the benefits of nature and propped up the neoliberal ideology and capitalist systems that regard consumption and growth as the formula for well-being. In this context, nature is regarded as something outside of ourselves, something we are not part of. The result is a complete unravelling of ecological and cultural connections to nature.  

As Robert Pyle (1993) points out, “one of the greatest causes of ecological crisis is the state of personal alienation from nature in which many people live” (pg. 145). This ever-increasing alienation from the natural world results in an “extinction of experience”. The consequence of this embodied alienation not only impacts individual health but also frames our connections with and behaviour towards nature. (Baldwin, 2018). Part of the student’s frustration is knowing that we must consume and behave differently. Yet, they see other generations, community members and political leaders still oblivious to or unwilling to recognize the need for change. The dominant narrative stays the same.

Addressing current climate change problems seems daunting on a global scale today, but there is a growing movement to rebuild our understanding of and relationship with nature at the local level. When we connect with nature in the places where we live, work, and play, the importance of our interconnectedness with nature becomes more evident. Creating a sense of connection to place also facilitates and empowers community members across generations to engage in conversations of care that often result in action-oriented initiatives.

On the Canadian Government’s Citizen Science portal, numerous science projects are happening in local communities that welcome citizen participation in documenting wildlife observations, weather patterns, and pollinator species, to name a few. The projects combine the benefits of being in nature and advancing the collective knowledge of the many ways species and ecosystems respond to various impacts.

On the PaRx website, hosted by the B.C. Parks Foundation research indicates that kids and adults who spend more time in nature are happier and healthier. The PaRx prescriptions for nature is Canada’s first national initiative to promote prescribing time in nature for lifelong health benefits. Time spent in nature can also enhance efforts to restore care between people and the natural services we take for granted. Nature also needs our care and attention; action-oriented initiatives at the local level can be empowering. 

Over the years, B.C Parks has used revenue from the B.C. Parks Licence Plate Program to fund community-led conservation and recreation projects. As visitation to our parks increases, the need for more conservation efforts also increases. According to the BC Parks Blog, over 90 community-led projects supported BC parks in 2023, and demand for funding in communities is increasing. Projects include marine debris cleanup, species monitoring, trail maintenance, education programs and eco camps, to name a few.

Numerous non-profit organizations, clubs, community groups and neighbourhood associations seek to engage students and the broader community in collective actions to deal with the impacts of climate change. The value of engagement at the local level is knowing we are in this together.  As we navigate an uncertain future, it is often easier to have hope if we are part of local community initiatives that strengthen our connections to place. It is hard to care about something if you don’t feel like you are a part of it, and that includes nature.

“Remember how beautiful things can be when you pay attention”Student quote, 2018

Robin Reid
Retired Associate Professor, Tourism Management Department
Faculty of Adventure, Culinary, Arts and Tourism
Thompson Rivers University

What Is An Old-Growth Forest

What is an old-growth forest?

BC is home to some of the world’s last remaining old-growth temperate rainforests which contain some of the largest and oldest living organisms on Earth. Trees here can grow up to 300 feet tall and 20 feet wide and live to be upwards of 2,000 years old! The world’s largest western red cedar, the Cheewhat Giant; the world’s largest Douglas-fir, the Red Creek Fir; and the country’s largest Sitka spruce, San Jo’s Smiley, are all found on Vancouver Island, BC. These forests are critically important ecologically, economically, and culturally and are not replicated by the second-growth tree plantations that are fast replacing them.

Why are old-growth forests important?

  • They’re home to unique wildlife and biodiversity, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
  • Provide clean water for communities, wild salmon & other wildlife.
  • Store vast amounts of atmospheric carbon to help fight climate change.
  • Support First Nations’ cultural values.
  • They are pillars of BC’s tourism industry.
  • They are important for human health and well-being.

What is the state of old growth in BC?

Old-growth forests were once abundant in British Columbia, but after more than a century of aggressive logging, less than 8% of the original, productive old-growth forests (sites that produce big trees) remain in BC today. Shockingly, these magnificent forests continue to be cut down to the tune of tens of thousands of hectares each year. The endangered old-growth forests that remain are a global treasure in urgent need of protection.

What conservation progress has been made?

Under relentless pressure from the Ancient Forest Alliance, the BC government has recently taken some great steps toward protecting old-growth forests after decades of mismanagement. These include appointing an independent science panel that identified 2.6 million hectares of the most at-risk old-growth forests that should be deferred from logging while long-term conservation plans can be developed; launching a 300-million-dollar conservation financing mechanism to support the creation of new Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (this is key, as the support of local First Nations governments is a legal necessity for old-growth protection); committing to double the protected areas in BC from 15% to 30% by 2030; and most recently, signing a landmark BC Nature Agreement with the federal government and First Nations Leadership Council which will see over a billion dollars aimed toward the conservation, stewardship, and restoration of lands in British Columbia — a historic leap in the right direction! These are profound, game-changing achievements that deserve to be celebrated.

What still needs to be done?

Some critical policy and funding gaps remain that the province must address. These include making sure that conservation financing funds are now linked to protecting the most at-risk old-growth forests through “ecosystem-based targets.” Conservation financing should also be directed toward supporting sustainable economic development in First Nations communities in place of old-growth logging jobs and revenues. Short-term “solutions space” funding is also needed to help offset potential lost revenues for First Nations to help enable the deferral of the most at-risk old-growth forests in their unceded territories. Finally, any new protected area designations created by the province must also maintain proper standards and permanency (i.e. no commercial logging, mining, etc.).

Where can I visit old-growth forests?

On Vancouver Island, the town of Port Renfrew has become known as the “Tall Trees Capital of Canada.” It’s home to the famed Avatar Grove, Big Lonely Doug, Eden Grove, the Red Creek Fir, and other fabulous forests to visit. For the more adventurous traveller, the nearby Walbran and Carmanah Valleys offer incredible rainforest getaways. Cathedral Grove, en route to Port Alberni, is Canada’s most famous and visited old-growth forest, with its towering Douglas-fir trees and beautiful redcedars. Around Vancouver, be sure to check out some of the old-growth trails in Stanley Park and Lighthouse Park. For those in the interior of BC, Ancient Forest Provincial Park outside of Prince George is a wonder to behold!

How do I get involved?

The Ancient Forest Alliance is always looking for the support of individuals, groups, and businesses across the province as we lead the push to protect endangered old-growth forests. We encourage people to visit our website to learn more and join our newsletter to keep up to date with the latest pictures, videos, and stories! You can also search and follow us on our social media channels, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.

After more than a decade of hard work, our efforts are starting to pay off in major ways, so join us as we work to finally preserve these ancient and irreplaceable ecosystems for generations to come!

Written by TJ Watt – Ancient Forest Alliance

Politics of Place

How do we reframe the conversation of sustainability?

In 1996, my Master’s Thesis at the University of Calgary explored the concept of sustainability. It included terms in the glossary such as biodiversity crisis, ecological sustainability, ecosystem management, landscape and resource approaches and Western value systems. I look back on this work and ask myself, have we made any progress in understanding what we are trying to sustain? 

In the early 1990s, when writing the thesis, global warming and climate change were not part of the mainstream narrative. Nor were the scientific warnings that humanity would be approaching the limits of a finite planet by the 21st century. Perhaps this was because we were focused on a conventional, unsustainable expansionist worldview in which nature was valued as a resource for human use. Today, the dualist set of values that separate humans from the natural world, normalized in modern society, is devastatingly affecting the planet’s ability to support humanity.

While the concept of sustainability has been around for a very long time, it was in 1987 when the Bruntland report coined the term “sustainable development,” giving impetus to economic conditions and opportunities to protect the environment and meet the needs of current and future generations. Within this context, balancing the social, economic, and ecological dimensions of sustainable development was deemed necessary to address the problematic development trajectory that humanity was pursuing.  

However, for the past three decades, economic valuation systems focused on short-term growth and profit maximization have needed to catch up in accounting for the value of a healthy planet and the well-being of humanity over the long term. The result is that we are currently pushing up against the limits of a finite planet with only a tiny window of time to correct our trajectory and embrace a world in which we wish to live now and in the future.

Where do we go from here? While the political dimension of sustainability is not highlighted in the literature, it is an essential consideration if we are serious about pursuing sustainability as a framework for the future. The political decisions made today about safeguarding biodiversity, ecosystem health and species at risk need to be actionable locally to avoid the devastating outcome of the sixth extinction at the global level.

As many have suggested, there is still time to turn things around, but it will require transformative change – a paradigm shift. This is not without complications, as many societies and institutions globally and locally have different understandings of sustainability as a concept and how it should be achieved. Let’s face it: sustainable development is a muddy term open to interpretation. Fundamentally, questions of what we value and what we want to sustain play an important role in understanding and improving our planetary conditions.            

In December 2022, countries gathered in Montreal at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) to finalize a global agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. In Canada, only two provinces, Quebec and British Columbia, have committed to protecting 30% of their provincial land base by 2030.  

The nearly million square kilometres of B.C is not mapped correctly or understood. How can we make good decisions about habitat protection and biodiversity if we don’t know what is happening in the landscape holistically? To address this concern, the province of British Columbia allocated $38 million in April 2023 to support a LiDAR data-based mapping program of landscapes for all of B.C. While a more modern mapping tool is helpful, it is only as good as the following political decisions. For too long, B.C. has prioritized timber supply over other values on the land base, such as ecosystem protection or species at risk.

If we are serious about meeting the goals of biodiversity, ecosystem resiliency, species at risk and mitigating climate change, we must rethink land use decisions. Adopting a landscape approach that prioritizes biodiversity and ecosystem health requires better communications across governments, ministries, communities, and industries. In other words, we need to include the right people at the table.

The recently signed historic, tripartite agreement between the BC government, Federal government, and First Nations leaders, valid until 2030 and supported by $1 billion in joint funding, will hopefully transform how land use decisions are made in B.C. The agreement includes commitments to conserve enough old-growth forests “to support the recovery of 250 spotted owls and restore 140,000 hectares of degraded habitat within the next two years” (The Narwhal). This agreement is significant and timely in supporting commitments to protect 30 percent of the land base in B.C. by 2030. It also highlights the importance of money, partnerships, and political will in transforming the direction of biodiversity and ecosystem health decisions.  

In 2023, I am hopeful that we are finally on the path to overhauling how land is managed in B.C., and a new collaborative framework will result in a paradigm shift that values nature conservation.    

Robin Reid
Retired Associate Professor, Tourism Management Department
Faculty of Adventure, Culinary, Arts and Tourism
Thompson Rivers University

Summer Arrives Early

BLBCA member lodges are transitioning early

With warm weather upon us, many lodges are already open. Don’t miss your chance to grab a spot and get your headstart on a thrilling BC summer.

As the days get warmer and the snow melts away, members of the Backcountry Lodges of British Columbia Association (BLBCA) are preparing for the upcoming summer season. This involves long hours of hard work, planning, and preparation to ensure that visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience.

The first priority of the BLBCA is to ensure that the lodges are safe and comfortable for guests. Members of the BLBCA inspect the buildings for any damage caused by the winter weather. They check electrical systems, plumbing, and other mechanical components to ensure that everything is functioning properly. Additionally, they ensure that furniture, bedding, and other amenities are in good condition, clean and well-maintained.

An essential job of the lodge staff is to ensure that hiking trails are secure and free of obstacles. They carefully remove any downed trees or obstructions in the path, repair damage caused by erosion, and update trail signs for hikers. Lodge staff keep an eye on animal behaviour and may close off some areas or trails if necessary. This helps to ensure the safety of visitors and wildlife while allowing people to enjoy their adventure.

In addition to standard trail maintenance, members of the BLBCA also need to ensure that their lodge is properly stocked for visitors. This includes having a supply of sumptuous food, fuel, and other necessities, such as recreational gear (climbing, hiking, SUPing, mountain biking) needed for whatever activity you are participating in, first-aid kits, and bear spray.

Of course, being prepared for the summer season also means being aware of the potential risks and challenges that may arise, such as wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters. It is essential for lodge members to be familiar with the possibility of human-wildlife encounters and to be well-prepared to address such issues in a humane, safe and responsible way.

Members of the BLBCA emphasize the importance of respecting the natural environment and viewing wildlife in their natural environs. Lodge members encourage visitors to enjoy the beauty of the backcountry without disturbing wildlife. #RecreateResponsibly is an initiative that encourages visitors to take responsibility for their actions and reduce their impact on the environment by practicing “leave no trace” habits.

By taking the necessary steps to prepare for the summer season, members of the BLBCA are ensuring that visitors will have a safe and enjoyable experience in the backcountry. With their commitment to #RecreateResponsibly, lodge members are helping to ensure that visitors can appreciate the beauty of the backcountry while protecting it for future generations.

Book at a BLBCA Member Lodge now, and don’t miss your chance to #unpluginBC.

Importance of BUILDING Local

KORE – Kootenay’s Entrepreneurs

Imagine if we could make more gear here; outdoor gear that is. That’s the premise of KORE (Kootenay Outdoor Recreation Enterprise Initiative) Launched in early 2021, this Kimberley-based non-profit is aimed at supporting the growth of the Kootenays – and BC – as a hub of outdoor gear design and boutique manufacturing.

“We knew there were people out there doing interesting things, but we were blown away by how many,” says Kevin Pennock, the KORE’s project manager.

After shaking the trees, Pennock discovered more than 30 ski shapers, design engineers, apparel specialist and other entrepreneurs in the outdoor gear sector, many of whom were unaware of each other’s existence. People like Nelson’s Cam Shute, an engineer and former head of design at G3, Nelson clothing designer Carolyn Campos, Northern Teardrop Trailers, a company of two that manufactures roughly 30 ultralight camping trailers each year out of a shop in Salmo, and PJ Hunton, senior design engineer for Norco Bicycles who works remotely from Kimberley, to name just a few..

KORE is the fruit of several years of back-of-the-napkin brainstorming between Pennock and the American-born Matt Mosteller, Senior VP of marketing, sales and resort experience for Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.

Testing the Attitude Skis at Red Mtn. Photo – Peter Moynes

“We wanted to change the narrative of small Kootenay communities as raw resource dependent towns and show that they are places where innovation and entrepreneurship in the outdoor sector is happening,” Pennock says.

KORE is inspired by similar efforts elsewhere, like the Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina (OGB) based in Asheville, NC. The community was once anchored in the textile and forest industries, and later in bedrock firms like DuPont that built and then sold a massive plant in nearby Henderson County that employed more than 1500 at the time of its closure in 2002. OGB was established in 2013 with nine core members, and has since grown to include more than 80 companies and organizations. In that time established brands like Fox Suspension, Rockgeist and Kitsbow have relocated or opened branch operations in the area, while new brands like Black Mountain Adventure Apparel and Blyss Running have been born.  According to Noah Wilson, OGB’s director of sector development, member businesses collectively employ nearly 1100 people, spend (USD) $8.3 million annually in locally sourced materials, and are major contributors to North Carolina’s (USD) $28 billion outdoor recreation industry.

Exegi Snowboards

“A major motivator was bringing the outdoor media to our community, which was emerging as the east coast’s biggest hub of outdoor gear manufacturing, as well as creating a supportive community of companies that would work together to help one another grow and prosper,”, Wilson says, adding that support from the regional economic development organization was also key.

Pennock believes the Kootenays has similar ingredients for this secret sauce.

One of KORE’s biggest cheerleaders is Kimberley Mayor Dan McCormick, who was also part of early discussions with Pennock and Mosteller, and now sits on KORE’s board of directors. The East Kootenay community is historically rooted in forestry and mining. In 2001, Teck Resources Limited closed the Sullivan Mine, an underground lead, zinc and silver operation that operated on and off for nearly a century. Since then, Kimberley has shifted toward tourism as an economic mainstay, but COVID-19 has revealed the vulnerability of this sector.

We need to look beyond tourism to create some economic diversity and resiliency,” McCormick says. “I see outdoor manufacturing as a natural for creating lasting jobs and prosperity.”

KORE decided to examine the procurement and supply chain realities around Dyneema, the ultralight, ultra-strong, fabric used to make packs and tents to see what opportunities may exist for reshoring manufacturing. A report commissioned by KORE showed how this fabric travels back and forth across the ocean, racking up thousands of kilometres and a considerable carbon footprint before it ends up in the hands of North American consumers in the form of outdoor gear.  That’s why KORE is floating the idea of a Kootenay-based Dyneema product manufacturing facility that would tick a lot of boxes, a lower carbon footprint and better-quality control to name a few.

Ex-Canadian World Cup Mountain Bike downhiller Dustin Adams proved it when he launched, We Are One Composites, with the goal of designing and building carbon fiber wheels and bike frames from scratch in Kamloops. Most people told him he was nuts to try. They were wrong. His business is thriving, his staff is growing and Adams has several new bike frames in the works after the successful launch of his flagship model, Arrival, two years ago.

It’s the kind of success story that KORE wants to see repeated in small town BC. KORE is hosting the Outdoor Rec-Tech Summit, Oct 19-21, 2022, that will bring together BC-bred outdoor entrepreneurs to share stories around innovation, product design marketing, supply chain challenges and the case for making more gear here.

Interested in reasons why it is important to shop local, visit a previous blog post, Importance of Shopping Local.

Mt Assiniboine – 100 Years

Mount Assiniboine Park reaches 100

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a place of soaring glacier clad peaks, alpine meadows, powder snow, turquoise lakes and remote wilderness. For generations the area was the center of trade routes. Earlier this month the Assiniboine Lodge crew, along with Chic Scott & BC Parks celebrated its 100th year anniversary.

Interest in mountain places came to Western Canada when the Rockies became accessible by train in 1885. The CPR began building elegant mountain hotels such as the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise. Mt. Assiniboine became prominent when James Outram and his two Swiss guides reached its summit at 11,870 ft. in 1901. A near perfect pyramid, Mt. Assiniboine is often called “the Matterhorn of the Rockies.” As James Outram said, “It towers 1500 ft. above its neighbours, commanding attention and admiration.” By 1922, the Mt. Assiniboine area was added to the newly established Canadian Provincial Park System.

Assiniboine Lodge is owned by B.C. Parks. After the Strom tenure ended, Sepp and Barb Renner and their family operated the Lodge for 29 years (1983-2010). The Lodge is now operated by Renner’s son, Andre, Claude Duchesne and his wife, Annick Blouin. They also manage the Naiset Huts, all of the camping facilities in the area and the helicopter access.

What an amazing setting!

One of the perks of being the executive director of the BLBCA is getting opportunities to spend time in so many amazing backcountry and alpine environments. I am fortunate to have just spent a week in the Assiniboine area under nearly perfect weather. After hiking in a lengthy but well-maintained and pleasant trail, my climbing partner, Masten and I headed up the Gmoser Ledges to the RC Hind Hut. The next morning brought perfect conditions, we cruised up the many coloured bands of rock that delineate the climbing route on Assiniboine, the red band is definitely my favourite. It was warm, calm and the spectacular views from the summit were unencumbered in all directions. After a leisurely lunch we moseyed down, thanks to BC Parks for all the bolted rappel stations, very convenient. It was an amazing day, a mountain I have always wanted to climb. Thanks to the staff at Assiniboine Lodge, Masten and Mother Nature for their important parts in making this trip so nearly perfect.

If you prefer exploring without a bunch of climbing gear, there are many wonderful scrambling opportunities in the immediate vicinity.

Masten, climbing the “red band”

All these years later the Assiniboine Team and Family stay true to the deeply held values of the early Assiniboine Lodge pioneers. The minute you arrive at Assiniboine, you are welcomed with open arms into the Assiniboine Family. Guests ski the same meadows and the same ski runs as Erling Strom did with guests 90 years ago. They hike the same trails. And after a day out in the mountains they gather to share hearty food and stories. It is a time to absorb all the beauty that Mother Nature can offer in this very special place. A time to regenerate, reconnect and recreate responsibly.

Mountain Masters

Mountain Goats – Alpine Experts

Mountain goats are masters of the vertical world. These shaggy, white-coated animals are skilled climbers who can balance on a spot no bigger than a Loonie. An adult mountain goat can weigh between 80 and 100 kilograms, as much as a black bear. Their gymnastic ability to scale a mountainside can be breathtaking.

Western Canada is made for mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus.) Bill Jex, BC Gov’t sheep & goat biologist estimates that between 40,000 and 70,000 of them range throughout BC’s backcountry alone, making up half the global population of this species. COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) lists them as not at risk, but there have been localized extirpations and declining populations in areas of southern BC.  Parks Canada considers goats an indicator species of ecosystem health and climate change impacts because of their unique ability to occupy the harsh, snowy alpine environment.

In very rare occasions these alpine ungulates can be as dangerous as they are beautiful. In 2010, a mountain goat in Washington State’s Olympic National Park killed a 63-year-old hiker (mountain goats successfully colonized the Olympic Range after humans introduced them to the area in the 1920s as prey for hunters.) Last September backpackers reported finding a dead grizzly near a trail crossing Yoho National Parks’ Burgess Pass. The cause, according to Parks Canada; death by a mountain goat horn.

mountain goats
Mountain goats are masters of the alpine environment.

More and more people are getting outside and in the mountains. That’s a good thing, generally, but it’s not without problems. In two popular BC provincial parks, Valhalla Park, north of Nelson and Cathedral Park near Keremeos, mountain goats are getting unusually up close with humans. Why they’re doing it is no secret to wildlife biologists. In spring and early summer mountain goats, especially nannies with kids, need minerals like potassium, phosphorous, and sodium to compensate for natural deficiencies that result from a winter of stingy forage. So intense is the drive for nutrients, they’ll travel 40 or more kilometres over rugged mountain terrain just to reach a natural salt lick. However opportunistic herds, like the ones hanging around certain campsites in Valhalla and Cathedral Lakes have found a much easier source – salty human pee, grey water, and sweaty hiking clothes. In fact, they have become uncomfortably addicted to it and it’s creating a tenuous human-wildlife management challenge for BC Parks. The problem is what to do about it. Weaning mountain goats off this salty supply isn’t easy. Diversionary salt licks, placing blocks of salt at locations away from people and campsites can work for awhile. However, it seems goats tend to revert back to old ways, especially after several generations have learned to be tolerant of people.

Most biologists agree it’s more of a human issue than a wildlife issue. In problem areas, using the outhouse instead of peeing next to the tent can go a long way. So can properly disposing grey water. Infrastructure is important. Installing more outhouses, greywater pits, and signage explaining goat behavior and habitat is a good start. But humans can be as stubborn as goats can be when it comes to altering their actions.

There’s a small percentage of people who probably don’t care. No amount of education will change their attitudes. But most who travel in goat country and have a chance to see one are thrilled and don’t wish them harm. But we have to remember that a goat’s normal behavior is to avoid humans. If you see one lounging outside your tent waiting for you to do your, ahem, morning business, don’t be fooled into thinking the goat is tame. It’s not. It’s wild and if the tables turn and they perceive a threat, it can go from cuddly looking to deadly in a heartbeat. And when a wild animal starts to get aggressive because of human disturbance, things rarely end well for the animal.

Are you a wildlife advocate, enthusiast or just like to learn more? Check out our blog post on the wolverine, highlighting another amazing backcountry resident, “The Ultimate Winter Specialist”

BLBCA – A Brief History

Association of Problem Solvers

The people who own and run BC’s backcountry lodges are, by necessity, tinkerers. Far from town, operating at the whims of Mother Nature, and with infinite variables at play, they get good at coming up with creative solutions.

But even after nearly 20 years of helping with the problem solving at Golden Alpine Holidays (GAH), a trio of backcountry lodges north of Golden, B.C., Brad Harrison wasn’t ready for the doozy that landed on the industry’s plate in 2003. Following a challenging avalanche season, the insurance industry decided either not to renew, or to charge exorbitant rates, for affected insurance policies. A commercial general liability policy is a BC Government requirement needed to operate on crown(public) land. As a result, GAH and every other commercial backcountry lodge were all left wondering how they move forward.

But as is often the case, a crisis created a chance to improve.

At the time the 25 odd commercial lodges in B.C. often looked at each other as competitors. In the insurance issue Tannis Dakin, then owner/operator of Sorcerer Lodge saw an opportunity. She believed in old adages like “a rising tide lifts all boats” and “don’t waste a good crisis”.

Dakin teamed up with two Calgary insurance agents, Bill Dunlop and Angela Dunlop McKenzie, to sort out a way to recapture the much-needed liability insurance policies. Standard operating protocols were researched, created and readied to be implemented or recommended. Protocols included waiver administration, human resource procedures, risk mitigation, information sharing processes and other business practices. Insurance underwriters agreed to make liability insurance available if an association was created and members of the association agreed to follow the aforementioned and other standard operating procedures. Hence the Backcountry Lodges of B.C. Association was created in 2004. Margie Jamieson, owner/operator of Ptarmigan Tours was the association’s first president.

Six years later, Harrison and his partners sold Golden Alpine Holidays and he became the Executive Director of the BLBCA, a position he still holds. His past experience helped, given the trials and tribulations of operating GAH. And by not owning a lodge anymore, he was in an impartial position, both in actuality and perceptively.

“I was well situated to help operators use the backcountry in an appropriate and responsible way,” he says. It’s a mission he continues to pursue.

The BLBCA gradually matured, members saw more value in working together. At annual meetings they would share their experiences and learn from each other. Learnings like effective solar panels, the best composting toilet, preferred water treatment systems were routinely shared. We realized if we help each other, everybody gains, says Harrison. 

Soon, the BLBCA started working with the BC Provincial Government in earnest and introduced an association-wide marketing program, with the integral help of Destination BC. Although themes of the marketing program have varied over the years, the overarching tenets to Regenerate, Reconnect and Recreate Responsibly have remained.

Harrison and the BLBCA are very focused on informing listeners on the value of wild places. The Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C. estimates the economic impact of B.C.’s adventure tourism industry at $2-billion, Value of Adventure Tourism. Although difficult to quantify, the socio-economic value to Rural BC is significant. Health benefits of time spent in nature are well-documented, Canadian doctors can even prescribe it, Announcing a New Collaboration between PaRx and Parks Canada.

Now with outdoor recreation booming and government budgets stretched thin, Harrison thinks the BLBCA can play a role in enhancing and expanding a culture of stewardship. The lodges are perfectly positioned to support the BC Gov’t with citizen science data on species-at-risk, like Whitebark Pine, Wolverine, amongst others. And they hope to help new outdoor users learn the art of treading lightly, Backcountry Trail use is Booming.

The BLBCA hopes to help inform backcountry users with blog posts like these, Whitebark Pine – Save the Ents, The Ultimate Winter Specialist and Responsible Recreation in the Backcountry.

“A lot of new backcountry users aren’t yet sure how to treat Mother Nature with respect,” he says. “Lodge owners interact with a lot of backcountry users. It’s a perfect interface and opportunity for them to inform and influence backcountry users.”

And solve one more problem.

Written by Ryan Stuart

A Prescription for Nature

News flash: Getting outside is good for our health and ultimately good for the planet.

British Columbia doctors can now prescribe a national park pass to patients facing physical or mental health issues. The program is being spearhead by PaRx, a nature prescription program led by Vancouver family physician Dr. Melissa Lem. Through a partnership with Parks Canada, health-care professionals registered with PaRx can provide a free annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass to patients.

“We have a standard recommendation, based on the latest research, that patients spend at least two hours a week in nature and at least 20 minutes each time,” said Dr Lem in a recent Global News story. “So, this is all about breaking down those barriers to access to nature.”

You’d think in a country like Canada outdoor activity would be a fact of life for everybody. But it’s not. For some people, there’s a financial barrier. Others might have been raised in a family that considered a trip to the shopping mall a form of recreation. It could also be a function of too much time in front of a gaming console or other electronic device. Many patients would rather walk out of the doctor’s office with a prescription for drugs rather than make any substantive lifestyle changes. And more than a few physicians have been happy to oblige this dependence on pharmaceuticals like, for example, Ritalin, widely prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.)

That’s why this program is a positive step forward in terms of how we view health care and value time in the outdoors. Despite the fact that it applies to only national parks, seven of which are in BC, it sends an important message. 

There’s a growing body of research showing how time in nature can reduce the onset of ailments like diabetes and heart disease, as well as benefits for people suffering form depression and ADHD. For example, a 2008 ADHD study conducted by the University of Illinois found that a 20-minute walk in a park can improve concentration scores in kids suffering from this condition. A regular stroll in the woods can also reduce levels of anxiety. 

This is old news in Japan where doctors have been prescribing time outdoors for decades. In 1982 the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term shinrin-yoku, which means literally “forest bathing.” It has since spawned a global forest bathing movement. There are even shinrin-yoku guides. Forest bathing, despite how it sounds, is far from a flakey, new age fad. There’s real science behind it. Trees – especially evergreens like pine, cedar and spruce – release phytoncides, natural oils with anti-fungal and anti-bacteria properties. Phytoncides linger in the air. When we breath them in, we can receive a host of health benefits. A study of forest bathing published in a 2016 edition of the journal, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, showed that a walk in the woods can result in reduced pulse rates, anxiety, depression, and fatigue, among other benefits. 

Research into the other health benefits of getting outside, such as greater creativity and sharper cognition, is still not well understood. But if you’re like me, you’ve experienced ah ha moments of clarity while doing something outside. That’s no accident. 

 It’s not exactly a revelation that exercising in the outdoors is good for you. Who doesn’t experience an overall sense of well being after a hike, ski tour, or rambling ascent up an alpine ridge?

There are considerable social benefits as well. Children and adults who spend time outdoors are more likely to become champions for conservation and environmental stewardship, according to a recent study from the University of Plymouth. The planet needs people like that more than ever. 

So, bravo to the National Park prescription program – it’s a small but significant step.