COs ask users to respect backcountry trails
By Annalee Grant
Area conservation officers are urging Kootenay backcountry users to respect the environment and stay on marked trails this summer.
"It's an issue all over the place," said Patricia Burley, a CO based in Fernie,
Donuts, mudbogging, high marking and straying off marked trails are all examples of environmental damage that COs will be looking for this season. Joe Carravetta, CO sergeant for the East Kootenay Zone, said mudbogging and activities that destroy habitat are prohibited under the Forest Range and Practices Act.
"You're not allowed to alter or change the environment," he said.
Burley said the issue is when tire treads carve into the earth destroying irreplaceable grasslands or plant life.
"You're digging into the earth," Burley said. "You're destroying habitat."
Environmental damage can have an impact on human and animal use of backcountry areas. Burley said the public use of forest roads and adjacent forest lands has resulted in physical and human-access impacts on sensitive ecosystems, fish and wildlife populations and their habitats. It has also caused a loss in traditional hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation diversity. Invasive plants, soil erosion and sedimentation of fisheries and streams are also linked to unmanaged motorized access.
Carravetta said closures and trails are well marked, and that users should stay out of those areas as requested.
"We ask people to respect those closures," he said.
There are stiff penalties that can be handed out to anyone found destroying habitat through the Forest Range and Practices Act. Burley said the fine can be $230 for operating a motor vehicle in a closed area, and $575 for causing environmental damage.
A popular off-road spot is Lake Koocanusa, where May long campers flock to every year. Burley said there is a great authorized area for off-roaders to enjoy between the low and high water markers. ATVs, quads and dirt bikes are welcome to use those areas safely.
"Koocanusa is a busy spot for sure," she said. "We ask people to stay on designated trails."
Carravetta said some areas of concern around Kimberley and Cranbrook are the caribou relocation grounds around the St. Mary Valley.
"We would prefer people don't get into the high country there and start harassing the caribou with their ATVs," he said.
Also of concern are Bummer's Flats and any wetlands where birds may be hatching or deer and elk are fawning or calving.
Backcountry users on private land are also urged to make sure they're using that land with proper permissions, and reminded that some backcountry areas may be owned by Teck or other industrial operators in the region.
"Be respectful out there," Burley said.
Throughout the East Kootenay, Carravetta said there are eight conservation officers that patrol the zone. They all travel within the region to patrol where they are most needed. Many COs from different areas combine their efforts for Lake Koocanusa on the May long weekend.
Burley is in the process of creating an up-to-date map of approved Access Management Areas and their defined trails. She expects that map to be out sometime in July. Those maps will be available online at www.env.gov.bc.ca/kootenay/eco/access.htm, along with other information related to resource roads in the area. Burley hopes to have those maps at various locations throughout the Elk Valley and at the U.S./Canada border.
Both Burley and Carravetta urge backcountry users to report any abuse to the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1-877-952-7277. The area to patrol is so large that tips are the best way for a CO to hear about and report to any incidents of environmental damage.
"The public is our main source of information," Carravetta said.