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Our little guide to caring for nature in winter

The popularity of the great outdoors is on the rise, and once again this winter, many of us will be taking advantage of the outdoor realm to enjoy a host of activities, escape to the great white spaces, do some wildlife watching, and fill up on fresh air. There's nothing surprising about this craze for nature; the natural realm is a veritable fountain of youth. We draw vitality, peace, balance, and comfort from the natural world… And what if we took the opportunity to pamper it in return? Here are a few simple ways to take care of nature during the cold season. If we all pull together, we can make a huge difference!

Parc national de la Gaspésie Parc national de la Gaspésie
Parc national de la Gaspésie Mathieu Dupuis | © Sépaq

Let the trails guide our footsteps

There's something for everyone: wide and well-groomed, winding and steep, nestled in the heart of the forest, or stretching along the shores of icy lakes… In nature, the trails have not been laid out at random. Each circuit offers access to exceptional lookouts, providing an optimal experience for all types of hikers.

On the other hand, venturing off-trail is likely to damage the flora and hinder its regeneration in spring. Off-trail traffic is ruinous for plants and shrubs buried under the snow. Even after a heavy snowfall and with snowshoes on our feet, let's avoid shortcuts. Instead, let our footsteps carry us along the middle of the trail. In this way, we avoid soil erosion and disturbance of sensitive zones for wildlife.

Want to find out more? Rando Québec offers a range of training courses, as well as a toolbox that includes a hiker’s code of ethics. Well adapted to our territories and our reality, these very useful publications are regularly enriched with new content.

Parc national du Bic
Parc national du Bic Mathieu Lachapelle | © Sépaq
Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie
Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie Quentin Orain | © Sépaq
Parc national de la Gaspésie
Parc national de la Gaspésie Steve Deschênes | © Sépaq
Gîte du Mont-Albert
Gîte du Mont-Albert Karolane Rondeau | © Sépaq

Keep your distance from wildlife

Animal watching  is a fascinating pastime, especially when they're watching us back. Cute little squirrels, white-tailed deer with big soft eyes, gracefully perched owls, and foxes with quivering noses attract us like magnets.

But while it's tempting to get up close and personal, it's not a good idea, says René Charest, a Sépaq conservation specialist. "Why not? Because we disturb their activities. And if they're repeatedly disrupted, the animals may change their behaviour, find it difficult to feed, or become more reckless, which increases their chances of ending up under the wheels of a vehicle or as a meal for a predator," explains the expert. What's more, by approaching wild animals, or letting them approach us, we run the risk of making them lose their fear of humans, thus putting everybody at risk.

So what distance should we keep to preserve their peace and quiet? Generally speaking, we're talking about 50 m (visualize a trio of buses) with a large animal, such as a moose, white-tailed deer, caribou, or seal, and 100 m (let's not take any chances: roughly 10 buses) with a bear or wolf. For birds, foxes, and rodents, the recommended distance is around 10 m. But the idea is to avoid unsettling the animals. So if you perceive signs of disturbance, even if you keep to the distances mentioned, don't hesitate to stop or retrace your steps.

You don't want to miss out on all the fun, so grab binoculars or a camera with a good telephoto lens before heading into the woods. That way, you can get even more interesting looks, without being seen. Want to improve your skills? Check out these tips from wildlife photographer Julie Audet.

Leave nature as it is

In winter, breaking the ice stalactites that form on rock faces or in trees may seem like no big deal. However, attempts to gather these sharp icicles could damage the flora and become an injury risk. As impressive as they are, let's opt for a simple photo session and give others the chance to see these icy wonders for themselves.

Did you know? Bark protects a tree from many things, including temperature variations and conditions such as frost, cold, rain, and wind. If the bark is stripped off, the tree’s health and survival is imperilled. So let's leave the bark alone, since the tree needs its covering far more than we do.

Branches, conifer needles, coconuts, berries, and dead wood should also be left in place. After all, these natural elements are part of the habitat of wild animals. When you spend a day in the forest, you're visiting their habitat, which you should treat with the utmost respect.

Do not feed the animals

Throwing breadcrumbs at birds is an idyllic image we've seen many times in the movies. But in nature, it's a different story. Some of our foods can make animals seriously ill, in addition to altering their natural behaviors and weakening their subsistence instincts.

As wild animals lose their suspicion, they become more frequent visitors to places that are developed and occupied by humans, thus increasing the number of road collisions and other unfortunate incidents. So no matter how tempting it may be, please refrain from sharing a snack with that cute squirrel. Animals get everything they need from nature, so let's trust them and admire them from afar.

Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs
Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs Mathieu Dupuis | © Sépaq
Julie Audet | © Sépaq
Centre touristique du Lac-Simon
Centre touristique du Lac-Simon Mathieu Dupuis | © Sépaq
Gîte du Mont-Albert
Gîte du Mont-Albert Karolane Rondeau | © Sépaq

Shelter all supplies

Are you a winter camping enthusiast ? The same precautions always apply, no matter what the season: store food and scented products in an airtight container and place everything in a locked vehicle, especially not in your tent. "It's enough for animals to have access to food or waste for them to become accustomed to it," points out Mireille Boulianne, a Sépaq conservation and education advisor.

A wild animal's behavior can be unpredictable and put the safety of all visitors at risk. Keeping food out of reach can save a whole lot of trouble!

Nature is good for us. Now it's our turn to take care of this nurturing world. Let's love the natural realm and respect it with all our hearts, so that future generations can enjoy its benefits and draw just as much happiness from nature as we do.

A few basics to protect Mother Nature

  • Stay on the trail.
  • Keep your distance from wildlife.
  • Do not feed the animals.
  • Store food in a safe place.
  • Bring back all your garbage.
  • Don’t pick up natural elements (bark, icicles, etc.).
  • Camp in designated areas.
  • Prioritize biodegradable soap.
  • Make fires only in identified areas and respect current prohibitions.

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