Survival Challenge Highlights Problem with Social Media in the Outdoors | Sports Destination Management

Survival Challenge Highlights Problem with Social Media in the Outdoors

Sometimes, Not All Publicity is Good Publicity
Mar 11, 2022 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An entrance to Banff National Park. Photo © Jaahnlieb |

Social media appears to bring out the worst in those who venture outdoors, and national parks seem to draw the real pests like flypaper. Where, as with flypaper, they wind up getting stuck.

First, we had people getting mauled while trying to take ‘bear selfies.’  That escalated to people who got bitten trying to post videos of themselves sitting next to rattlesnakes and still others who were gored by bison after getting out of their cars with their children, then posing everyone next to the herd for pictures. In the winter, rangers reported an uptick of people who died in avalanches, presumably while searching out pristine snowscapes to share to Facebook.

The latest example is two campers who are in hot water with the national parks service in Canada after taking part in a 30-day ‘survival challenge’ – within a park and without permission. Along the way, they illegally hunted and fished (in both cases, harvesting protected species), flew drones, built campfires and caused irreparable harm to structures in Banff National Park.

GearJunkie noted that Parks Canada is charging B.C. native Gregory Ovens and American Zachary Fowler with unlawfully fishing, hunting, discharging firearms, lighting fires, damaging natural objects, and operating a drone inside Banff National Park. The self-proclaimed survivalists have a Youtube channel and had set up shop in the park, planning to spend 30 days there for their latest challenge.

Along the way, they broke enough laws that they have each been charged with multiple offenses. If found guilty, they’ll each be out CAD 140,000 ($110,500).

"I just couldn't believe it, really," Ovens told CBC News. "At first I thought, well, this is not necessarily a huge deal, but apparently, it's a huge deal."

GearJunkie could barely hold back the loathing for the pair, noting, “Ovens has appeared in court several times, including an appearance on February 9, 2022, in Calgary Regional Disposition Court. Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Fowler, who seems to be practicing a survivalist method known as hide-and-seek.”

The use of social media in parks has spurred concern among officials who have been forced to issue ‘safe selfie’ guidelines in places like Grand Canyon National Park, following incidents in which users fell to their deaths trying to take clifftop selfies. The fact that, in many cases, visitors will climb on top of fragile rock formations or trample on endangered plant species in their quests for the perfect shot gets rangers upset as well.

While the parks try to educate users, others are trying a different approach. Fortune Magazine notes, “Vigilante online accounts have sprung up, aiming to shame social media miscreants into changing their ways—partly by urging brands to drop sponsorships of influencers who abuse nature.”

While many park users are experienced hikers who respect the environment, the uptick of social media has brought in clueless visitors who abandon all common sense in the quest for a perfect picture.

“Climate change is not the only threat affecting the outdoors,” noted an editorial in MarquetteWire, the student news site of Marquette University. “Humans are damaging the outdoors, harming wildlife and endangering people after being inspired by Instagram posts. Instagram is destroying the United States National Parks Service.”

In two separate national park incidents, Instagrammers crowded in to see blooming wildflowers – and them promptly walked, sat, stood and rolled in them – and pulled up flowers to cover themselves with for photos they could post for more likes and views that would drive engagement and make them look more desirable as potential influencers.

And, the Marquette article noted, that wasn’t even the worst. In 2016, a couple visiting Yellowstone ‘rescued’ a Bison calf by putting it their car, saying the animal looked cold. (The calf, after being removed from the car by rangers, was not accepted back into its herd and later had to be euthanized because it would not stop approaching tourists). And the 2020 El Dorado fire was started by a firework shot off during a gender reveal party, a type of party developed for use in social media, including, yes, Instagram. (The wildfire burned more than 22,500 acres of land and killed 31 people).

Of course, the two yahoos Youtubers facing charges for their part in desecrating a national park say that while they understand the charges, they think the laws they broke represented park rules that had been changed without their knowledge.

We’re not denying that we were there doing these things,” Ovens told CBC. “It’s obvious in the videos, but it’s just the principle that they don’t do anything to let the public know when they change the rules.”

The two were ridiculed by readers. “Dude,” one commented. “It’s a national park, not the grocery store. You don’t just go in to pick up fish and meat. If you’re smart enough to survive, you’re smart enough to read the rules. Or maybe not.”

About the Author