Determined to chart a new direction in the digital world, Natural Resources Canada plans to get out of the business ofprinting paper topographical maps, spokesman Ghyslain Charron says.

Demand for the prints has dropped by 50 per cent in the past 10 years,Charron said in a telephone interview from his Ottawa office.

"The market has changed," he said. "The technology has changed and we are trying to adapt ourselves to the new reality of the market."

Rather than print the maps, the government will make the digital information available for people to download and print themselves, he said.

Bad news for backcountry travellers

Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon vice-president Charles McLaren says that leaves the average outdoor traveller out in the cold.

"That a large corporation has their own mapping devices, they may well continue without concern, but the general public's access will be restricted and, gee, I kind of feel it's our country," McLaren said.

Grace Welch, who is with the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives, told CBC News the decision will hurt people who rely on the maps forbackcountry travel in Canada.

"I mean, right now anybody can go into a store and buy a topographic map for about $11," said Welch. "When the digital format is only available and they want a print copy, it's going to be a very expensive undertaking."

Welch hopes the public will protest the decision by joining her organization's lobby efforts.

The government plans to stop printing the maps at the end of 2006.