Natural disasters and the threat to our outdoor lives

Purcell Mountains. Photo by Steve Tersmette.

I was born and raised in France’s Pyrenees and made my life around the mountains, thus my move to British-Columbia.

As the province announced an investigation into B.C.’s 2017 wildfires, I came across this year’s Vancouver Mountain Film Festival (VMFF) grant winners, a B.C. duo who completed the first ever summer traverse of the Purcells by foot. 

The fires, and ensuing backcountry closure, impacted their trip. I set up an interview with Steve Tersmette to ask if, in such a remote place, there is a different perspective on how we outdoor bums are, and will be increasingly affected by natural disasters.

Your trip was impacted by this summer's wildfires. You travelled through South East British Columbia's highly remote territory, including thick B.C. alder extensive stretches. Many scientists say climate change increases the scope of natural disasters. What is your view on how climate change impacts and will continue to impact our passion for the outdoors and our backyard? 

There's no denying things are changing fast in this world. Obviously the wildfire season this year was unprecedented and escalated to the point where officials were forced to close the backcountry.

If scenarios like this become the norm, I'm sure we'll see many more of these types of closures in the future. I think the most evident area in which we observed the impacts of climate change were with the glaciers. As we were navigating with topo maps, it was obvious to us in a few instances as we crested over terrain expecting to see a glacier only to find that it was a kilometer or two away (Toby Glacier and Vowell Glacier were the most glaring examples).

What parallel do you see between life in the outdoors and in “real life”, to show the importance of experiencing the outdoors and what we learn there?

We live in a town of 7,000 people. Many people in town including Shawn and myself, have chosen a life away from the city primarily to be close to the mountains. There is a huge trend to outdoor recreating right now including hiking, climbing, mountaineering, camping and skiing (to name a few). We're fortunate in B.C. that anyone can go out and experience the mountains.

Some activities don't require a lot of skill or commitment while others require extensive training and knowledge with respects to safety and proficiency. The biggest challenge with more and more people experiencing the mountains is to minimize the impact to fragile alpine environments.

I think the most important thing that people can do first is to educate themselves on Leave No Trace principles and backcountry ethics. While it's important for people to get outside and enjoy and experience this world, we have to do it sustainably. When you compound the effects of climate change, sustainable use of our backcountry will become increasingly important.

Overall, what did your trip make you realize about environment protection? 

We had an opportunity to cross a huge expanse of wilderness and terrain on this trip, including the entire north to south length of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park as well as Bugaboo Provincial Park.

It's easy to come back from a trip like this and want to draw a bunch of lines around things. I think there are huge opportunities for further conservation, not just in the Purcells, but all over this country. Fully appreciating that we are still a resource based society including forestry and mining, more could and should be done to protect our wild spaces.

The Purcells do have a long history of resource extraction dating back to the mid 1800s and it is important to consider multiple interests including commercial, tourism, resource and government operations. At the end of the day, mother nature can't defend herself and we all need to stand up for her. As the trend grows for outdoor activity, my hope is that it brings increased awareness to these issues and increased conservation efforts.

Steve Tersmette and Shawn Emmett won the 2017 VIMFF MEC adventure grant to make their trip happen. If you also want to see what is at stakes with your own eyes, you can apply for this year's grant until January 12, 2018 and get the chance to complete a dream trip of yours: https://vimff.org/mec-adventure-grant/ You can come and listen to them at VIMFF on February 9-17th. And follow hom on Twitter and Instagram #MountainCultureElevated.

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