A B.C. man who filmed a survival challenge in the Rocky Mountains is due in court on Wednesday in Calgary as he faces several charges under the Canada National Parks Act.
YouTube creators and outdoor survivalists Greg Ovens and Zachary Fowler filmed part of the 30-day challenge in Banff National Park in July 2019.
According to a statement issued by Parks Canada, wardens laid six charges against Ovens and seven charges against Fowler, an American citizen, for the illegal catch and retention of Yellowstone Cutthroat trout and other fishing offences.
The charges also include hunting in a park, discharging a firearm in a park and the unpermitted use of a drone under the Canada National Parks Act.
Parks Canada said it could not comment further, as the matter is before the courts. But Ovens says the fines total up to about $140,000 — and he plans on fighting them.
“I just couldn’t believe it, really,” Ovens said. “At first I thought, well, this is not necessarily a huge deal, but apparently it’s a huge deal.”
Ovens says he and Fowler spent most of the month living off of provincial Crown land near his home in Canal Flats, B.C.
But it’s during the latter half of the challenge, when the two would periodically fish at Leman Lake in Banff National Park, where Ovens says he’s facing the steepest fines.
“That’s the serious charge here, is the fishing,” said Ovens. “A lot of the other ones they’ll probably be willing to negotiate.”
Ovens is expected to appear in court on Wednesday with his lawyer, while Parks Canada says Fowler currently has an arrest warrant outstanding in relation to his charges.
Rules unclear, says Ovens
Ovens says he and Fowler first met after appearing in Season 3 of the History Channel’s Alone.
Ovens survived 51 days in Patagonia while Fowler, an American from Maine, emerged after 87 days and was crowned the winner.
Ovens says it was Fowler’s idea to work together on a new survival challenge they could post on Youtube, and Ovens came up with the location.
He says since it aired, the challenge has garnered millions of views. Ovens says it was one of those viewers who initially notified officials about the alleged offenses.
Ovens says both he and Fowler obtained fishing licenses but didn’t realize that the mountain lakes in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks had switched to catch and release a few years ago because of concerns about whirling disease.
“We’re not denying that we were there doing these things,” Ovens said.
“I mean, 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.”
Ovens says he aims to defend his actions in court and clear up any misunderstandings.
He says, for example, he did not hunt in the national park. But he did light a fire and boil stinging nettles for tea.
Ovens says he was also charged by the B.C. government for several violations related to the challenge, including cutting down live trees and shooting gophers.
He says he ended up paying a total of $1,200 in fines for those offences.