Does a bear sh#t* in the woods?

One educators experience with ADK’s leave no trace team.

Driving up to Heart Lake I was filled with anticipation. I’d been an unofficial advocate for LNT in the UK for twenty years and was excited to be participating in the master educator course.


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I was interested in learning new methods and being challenged to think and behave differently when in the outdoors.

The seven principles were introduced the first day and throughout the course participants delivered activities for the principles. We moved location each night in an effort to experience different environments and see first hand our impact.

We learned more than anticipated, shared much laughter and made new friends. Pooping in the woods with people you don’t know has this beneficial outcome!


Our first night in the field we camped on an island that was suffering from human activity. On the island was someone’s leftover dinner, toilet tissue from many, graffiti and an overflowing pit loo. We even met another visitor who chose to bully our group for setting up camp first. Humans ‘eh? Give me bears any day!

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The second day we paddled to a peninsula that was linked to a high impact campsite. We had trail visitors and shared the LNT principles to those who expressed an interest showing them the bear hang and describing fun ways to poop in the woods.


We landed for the final night as a bear was finishing his duty not far from our campsite. After three nights of erecting bear hangs and eating before dusk and well lets face it – not using any products with perfume or any flavor/smell that could entice our large friends- we were going to be sharing our space with a black bear.

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There was no concern about the potential for a bear blunder as we’d followed the principles and were especially respectful of the wildlife in our midst, including the loons and bald eagles. By the end of the course I most definitely had developed a new appreciation for being in and learning from the outdoors.

Upon returning to the woodland where I live, I began to mull over some of the thought provoking discussions we’d had during the course. One activity in particular posed a question about feeding wildlife. We know that feeding wild animals can have a severely negative impact on the species involved even changing reproductive systems of animals that eat our processed western food.

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So how does this relate to feeding birds from the birdfeeder? We are fortunate to have hummingbirds in Western New York and watching these winged jewels alight on our feeders brings pleasure to thousands of people each season. Not to mention all of our migrating birds and native species appearing to benefit from the additional food source in the snow-laden months.

I spend a lot of time outdoors and enjoy wildlife gardening. I questioned if my garden was enough for the birds and chose to stop filling the feeder. This self-imposed restriction as a direct result of my time on the LNT master educator course had a profound impact on me.

Not only did the hummingbirds visit my garden, I actually saw more. I found myself observing the activity amongst the flowers in the garden and in the woodland surrounding the property, experiencing the great outdoors more fully as a result.

How then would the LNT principles affect my work as a kayak instructor I wondered? I have noticed in just one season how greatly the sport is impacting on the environment. Especially with the bears…

Reports during the 2015 season included bears approaching kayakers in the Georgian Bay. A notice was posted in September for one island in particular,

Stories ranged from kayakers throwing their food at the bears to give them time to escape in the Georgian bay to a bear in Allegheny taking a dry bag out of a kayak during the middle of the day to each the lunch that had been stored inside it. The bears now know that kayaks are water coolers and are paddled by creatures carrying food.

On the course bear stories were shared one involving ‘Yellow’ who learned how to open the bear cans. Others were of cubs that had been taught to climb up the tree and chew the rope for the bear hang. Mama cub would wait below to get the hanging treats. Smart cookie!

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Many paddlers are new to the sport and may not have considered the full impact of paddling on the marine environment. Our use of water sites can cause erosion, rubbish can accidentally be left behind or blow out of boats if not stored properly, sunscreen in the water may also affect the marine environment,

When we don’t wash our boats and equipment we can unknowingly transport invasive species.

From a day paddle with a lunch stop to an overnight camp trip or expedition we have the ability to leave no trace and grow into better citizens of the planet by following the seven principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife- don’t feed the bears when paddling or anytime!
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

As a Master Educator I am looking forward to sharing my new found LNT skills with my students, friends and family.

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Thanks to ADK’s fearless instructors Ryan and Seth, the participants who made the experience exceptional and LNT for a life changing course!


Andrea Vaillancourt-Alder
Seabirds International


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