I sometimes wonder how people with disparate desires share a common resource while still respecting other people’s differing ideals and goals.
I am a dedicated birdwatcher, as I think you might have figured out by now. Years ago, I went to Rondeau Provincial Park to look for a very rare bird, a Sage Thrasher from the deserts of southwest USA. The walking path, out to see the bird, was about 11 kilometres round trip, and the bird was naturally at the halfway point, so no shortcuts! It took a while to get out there, and when I did, the bird was not in sight, nor did it reappear while I was there. But, realizing this is the way with nature, I accepted my fate and was about to head back, when some fishermen, in a boat just offshore, asked what I was doing. I told them, and they asked if I saw the bird. When I said I didn’t, they said, “well, wasn’t that a stupid thing for you to walk all the way out here to look for a bird?” I was a bit surprised but replied, “What are you doing?” and when they said they were fishing, I asked how many hours they had been out there (it was 6 hours) and had they caught any fish (no). I then commented, perhaps what they were doing was no more stupid than what I did. They agreed, and we all laughed and suddenly recognized how our individual perspectives controlled our perceptions!
The point is, how and when we use nature is our business (to a point) and what we want out of the adventure can be very different than what others want. Take a woodlot, for example, if you go there, do you want to photograph flowers, look for birds, stroll in solitude, pick mushrooms, walk your dog, or hunt or ride your mountain bike? All take place in the same location, sometimes at the same time, but the goals of each participant are very different, and the impacts they cause are likewise different.
Conflicts often arise when someone does something we think is wrong, but who are we to judge? One example which annually arises is photographers ‘harassment’ of wildlife. I say this tongue in cheek, for I take pictures, and others do as well. I do not, for one second, mean to imply everyone who takes pictures of birds or mammals is doing anything wrong. But the way we do it and the impact we have on wildlife must be factored in.
Owls are preferred targets for photographers. There are some great ways to do this and some not-so-great ways. I have written about this before, but ANY negative impact is too much! If you stay back, enjoy the bird, let it hunt or sleep, then everybody and everything wins. In the last few days, a ‘celebrity’ owl was spotted in Stoney Creek which attracted hundreds of photographers and birdwatchers. Almost everyone behaved, saw the bird, quickly took one or two photos and then left. Others stayed for hours, literally, and came back day after day to get more photos and talk about the bird. The owl was quite stressed as a result. One gentleman decided the bird was not cooperative enough, so he banged on the tree with a stick to wake the owl so he could get photos of the alert bird. This is absolutely unacceptable! But for most who saw the bird, it was a peaceful and enjoyable experience which didn’t harm the bird. The balance here was broken by one zealous person who put his own needs above the well-being of the owl.
Whether you hunt, fish, ride, walk, birdwatch or photograph, there is enough wildlife and wild places for all of us to share. Who are we as individuals to say someone else’s passions are wrong? The only time we need to stand up is when someone’s actions negatively impact nature. Respect each other, but above all, please respect nature!
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff online on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.