With a growing number of Canadians making their way off the couch and onto the trails, park management is struggling to keep up. Trail erosion, litter, parking congestion and human and animal waste are just a few of the mounting problems facing high-use areas, like Joffre Lakes Provincial Park in British Columbia. In 2018 alone, more than 180,000 visitors hit the trail to Joffre Lakes, leaving rangers scrambling to stay on top of upkeep.
To ease the pressure, a growing number of high-use trails are being closed to dogs—and by extension, their owners. But does banning dogs really help to ease the strain on parks? Or do restrictions on dogs do more harm than good?
Sarah Bulford, a dog owner and former BC Parks Ranger, spent five seasons looking after parks, including Joffre Lakes. She appreciates the benefit of restricting dogs in areas with a lot of wildlife, but sees no reason to ban dogs in areas where wildlife sightings are rare.
“For an area [like Joffre Lakes] that sees so much traffic, the impact from domestic pets is pretty minimal,” says Bulford. “Most of the issues I encountered in the park were human related.” While some dog owners failed to pick up after their pets, these impacts “paled in comparison to someone who left a massive bag of garbage in the lake.” She believes picking up dog waste and following rules in designated on-leash areas can be enough to avoid impacts of dogs on wildlife, plants and other trail users.
Bulford hasn’t been back to Joffre Lakes since she left her job with BC Parks earlier this year. The restrictions mean that women like her, who appreciate the comfort and security of a four-legged companion, are finding themselves increasingly excluded. For this group of users, canine companionship in the outdoors is an accessibility issue. She believes that blaming issues on dogs is “the easy way out” of a bigger problem of human impacts and that potential dog restrictions should be evaluated in more detail before being implemented.
“Having a dog while hiking as a solo female just adds a level of comfort that I can't fully explain,” Bulford says. “I just know he's looking out for me and that gives me the courage to venture out alone.”
Her perspective is shared by other women in the outdoor community. Alyssa Aledo, Operations Manager for Alaska Mountain Guides, also believes having a dog has enabled her to do more outdoors. “She’s very much a motivating factor to get outside, to explore,” says Aledo. “I’ve also gone to places that I may never visited, especially if I would’ve waited for a human companion to join me.”
Aledo’s dog, Tutshi, even scared off an attacker this summer while the two were sleeping. Aledo awoke early one morning to the sound of Tutshi growling. “Later in the morning, I examined my tent and found an L-shaped slit in the lining,” Aledo recalls. “I know without a doubt, my dog saved me from an attack, whether it was from a man or a beast.”
Taryn Eyton, an MEC Leave No Trace Ambassador and certified Leave No Trace Master Educator, understands why having a dog could help some women feel more confident in the backcountry. She echoes Bulford’s concerns about the impact of dogs on wildlife and other trail users and the importance of leaving no trace by picking up dog waste. “As a responsible dog owner, you can mitigate or prevent all of these problems and work towards keeping trails open to dogs,” she says. “The easiest way to ensure your dog doesn't disturb other humans is to train them well and use a leash.”
Learn more about Leave No Trace principles from Leave No Trace Canada.
What do you think? Should dogs be allowed in the outdoors?
Comment below or tweet us!