There’s a whole bunch of people out there who love nature, at least they claim they do. Everyone from hikers to boaters to fishermen to dirt bikers say they have a real passion for time spent with Mother Nature.
I sometimes wonder how much they do. I think the truth of it is many people love more the things they can do in nature than nature itself. There’s a distinct difference between the two.
A love of nature comes from respect and appreciation and a willingness to act in ways that are in the best interest of wild things. A love of the things you can do in nature is self-centred and allows us to justify activities at the expense of natural things.
We are all guilty of selfishness from time to time. The very act of intruding into some places represents a disturbance. Just the presence of people in some places on our planet is enough to alter the natural balance of sensitive ecosystems destructively.
Thankfully, most wilderness areas in B.C. are more than capable of withstanding people and their activities.
But that doesn’t mean we should be blind to the potential impact of what we do or ignore the reality that what we love to do may not be the best for the places we’re doing it in.
Anglers often proclaim love for trout. I’ve heard too many say they never kill a fish. Of course, some of them catch and release tremendous numbers of trout from some very sensitive wild populations, seemingly oblivious to the death they cause. The fact is, catch-and-release fishing kills fish, there is no way around it.
An angler who truly loves the resource will show it. One fellow I know chases steelhead with a fly rod but often cuts the point off the hook, leaving just the curve of the shank.
When the fish bites, the pointless hook holds for a run or two and maybe a jump, after which the fish inevitably works free, leaving the fish no worse for the encounter.
He hasn’t watched the fish roll at his feet and perhaps for some people the experience will be less for that, but not for the angler who truly loves trout. Coming close should be good enough, especially when vulnerable fish are at stake. I’m guilty of fishing selfishness from time to time; I suspect all anglers are.
In the heat of the moment, when the fishing is hot, and rainbows are slashing wildly every time the dry fly hits the river’s surface, it’s hard to stop and consider the impact on the fish.
But fishermen who truly love trout will do just that. They will stay home on sweltering days when water temperatures are high, and fish are more easily stressed. They will stop fishing long before they have caught all they could, or alter the way they are fishing so they don’t hook so many.
Doing so shows genuine love for nature and real respect. Other groups are just as guilty of selfish behaviour. There are whole armies of mechanized travellers out there who traverse wild places in the name of fun. I’m not critical of dirt bikers or ATVers or snowmobilers, jet skiers or boaters.
All the various motorized craft we have devised can be a lot of fun. But boats that race up shallow rivers destroy stream banks with their wake, washing away loads of silt from fragile bluffs, which changes the environment directly and puts young fry at risk. I’m sure many of those responsible say they love nature and being on the river. In reality, they like using the river as a racecourse. They are uncaring of the impact they have on the river itself.
ATVers and dirt bikers can easily ride in many backcountry areas and have almost no impact. I know many riders who love the places they visit. But there is no way that riders who rip through vulnerable grasslands, streams and creeks can claim to love wild places. They love doing stuff in them. Hunters who take a buck or a moose from healthy populations are not causing ecological damage.
Someone who shoots a mule deer buck, a moose, an elk and two whitetail deer in one season — even though they may be acting legally — are selfishly ignoring the fact their killing is way more than necessary.
Watching meat get freezer-burned to be thrown away two years down the road is hardly showing respect or love for nature. It seems to me everyone who claims to care about Mother Nature needs to ask themselves a couple of basic questions about what they do, to determine if they are acting in ways that truly show respect for the resource while at the same time providing a measure of self-gratification.
We will never eliminate the impact we have when we visit wild places, to expect that much is ridiculous. Only by keeping the interests of wild places foremost in our minds, however, can we claim to love nature truly.
Robert Koopmans is an avid angler and hunter who spends as much time as possible in B.C.’s wild places. He also hosts the Hunting & Fishing British Columbia podcast (find it on Apple Podcasts). To share a thought, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.