CALGARY (CP) - Mounties and soldiers will learn how to fend off cougars and bears and to refrain from urinating on precious plants while they patrol a protected Alberta forest at the upcoming G-8 summit.
Hundreds of officers who will police the mountainous site have to take a wilderness course because most have never worked in areas where hungry grizzly bears forage for food and endangered plants thrive in pristine terrain. "They've got to pass through various environments, so they need to be aware of what to do when they come across a bear," said RCMP Cpl. Jamie Johnston.
"They need to know what they are disturbing when they are in there and, conversely, what is in there that can hurt them."
Unlike hikers who rattle noisy bells to warn wild animals, these officers will roam the forest quietly so as not to alert another type of predator - terrorists.
"It's a huge security undertaking," Johnston said. "We've put together some probable profiles of the kinds of things they are going to run into in the woods."
Canada currently chairs the Group of Eight highly industrialized countries and is scheduled to play host to the organization's leaders at a June 26-27 meeting in Kananaskis Village, a resort chosen partly for its remoteness. To protect the sensitive environment around the site, all officers will be issued special kits to enable them to perform their bodily functions while out in the woods.
The surrounding area known as Kananaskis Country covers 4,200 square kilometres of fragile land 85 kilometres west of Calgary. It begins where the prairie turns into rolling foothills, which in turn merge into the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains.
The ecologically diverse region boasts populations of cougars and grizzly bears that are among the densest in North America. It is also a corridor for moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, elk, mountain goats and wolves.
Environmentalists are pleased with the security team's precautions but warn the real threats to the area are more long-term.
"The fact that the RCMP are going to be carrying bags to poop in is just great," said Stephen Legault, executive director of Wildcanada.net.
"But unless they're going to stick around for the next 10 years to make sure that developers won't get their hands on the unprotected land, it's really only a drop in the bucket towards addressing our concerns."
Most of Kananaskis Country is protected through provincial park designations, but environmentalists have so far been unsuccessful in persuading the Alberta government to deem a 25-square-kilometre area surrounding Kananaskis Village a park.
Ever since Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced last summer that the G-8 summit will be held in Kananaskis, environmentalists have adamantly disagreed with the chosen site.
"They are going through a lot of fuss and bother now for what amounts to less than a two-day meeting," Legault said.
Dave Poulton of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society believes that since the meeting will take place in Kananaskis, military and police officers who will be bushwhacking through the forest may as well learn about the fragile environment.
"It's particularly the plant species that are subject to being trampled on or just physically wrecked," Poulton said. "There's ways to do that sensitively and there's ways to do that like a human bulldozer."
The officers will likely begin training next month, first in the classroom, then in the field, Johnston said.
"They will have some world-class advice as to what they are supposed to do."
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