Access Management Area’s (AMA) can have seasonal restrictions when road access is closed to all motorized vehicles. To monitor these areas the Access Management Compliance and Enforcement program is funded six months of the year by the Regional District East Kootenay (RDEK) and Columbia Basin Trust (CBT). Access Guardians’, like Conservation Officer (CO) Patricia Burley, primary goals are to provide outreach and enforcement in the AMA’s.
Burley’s quarterly report for Oct. and Nov. 2013 revealed numerous users are violating road closures specifically in the Grave Prairie AMA between Sparwood and Elkford. Grave Prairie is a grassland area good for elk habitat and is open to motorized vehicles from May 15 to Sep. 30. Visitors to the area from Oct. 1 to May 14 can expect to pay a $230 fine if they are using a motorized vehicle.
Motorized vehicles include motorcycles, ATVs and snowmobiles.
The seasonally opened roads in Grave Prairie AMA close on Oct. 1. Within five days of the roads being closed, the public made a number of complaints that trucks were driving into or out of the gas line road (parallel to Hwy 43).
Burley received a complaint that two illegal mule deer were shot and the hunters were self-reporting their violation “which is the ethical and legal way of reporting a mistake,” she said.
The mule deer were seized in Sparwood and given to the food bank. Statements were obtained and tickets were issued.
When hunters make mistakes, they are to report it to the Report all Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line immediately where a CO will follow up by investigating the situation.
By the end of November, at least five elk (cows and bulls) were found by other hunters that were shot and left in the Grave Prairie/Big Range AMA area alone. During the six point hunting season hunters had shot elk to later find upon inspection that the elk was only a five point, so the elk was left.
“These animals should never have been shot or not left in the bush to spoil,” said Burley. “Self reporting is better so the animal can go to the food bank rather than be wasted. There is a basic fine but it’s the right thing to do, rather than a hunter take two animals from the population, one that is clearly wasted by a human mistake.”
On Oct. 13, CO Burley conducted a road block on the Grave Prairie road where she checked 25 hunters. Two warning tickets were issued for incorrect species licences, one warning ticket for an AMA violation and two firearms were seized from two youth whom did not have appropriate firearms licences.
A ticket issued during the May long weekend was disputed but on Dec. 10, the fine was up held by the Fernie Court. The ticket was issued as people were clearly parked and camping with two trucks and an R.V. trailer in the Grave Prairie AMA.
Poor signage is often heard as an excuse by those found with motorized vehicles in closed areas; however, the Grave Prairie AMA does have a large map at either entrance.
“It is everybody’s responsibility to do the research before going out into the backcountry,” said Burley. “The AMCE program’s trail cameras have helped with enforcement. People realize after that they have broken a rule and we encourage them to self report.”
The Outdoor Access Guide is free and provides detailed maps of the AMA road closures for RDEK Area A, Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford. The 12 page guide can be found at Service B.C. offices in Sparwood and Fernie; tourist information centres, and at The Free Press. In Elko, Grasmere and Jaffray the guide can be found at the local gas stations where hunters can also pick up their hunting licenses.
2012 was the first year that the Elk Valley had a dedicated full time CO working as an access guardian for a commitment of five years. The RDEK work in partnership with the COS, District of Elkford, District of Sparwood, City of Fernie and CBT to provide funding and support to continue with a designated CO as the Access Guardian.
For the outdoor access guide, go to http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/kootenay/eco/accessmaps.htm.