Conservation update

Conservation officers on the lookout for those violating fire bans, angling suspensions and access management closure areas.

Due to extremely high temperatures and very little rainfall causing low water levels, the B.C. government is suspending angling for the southern Kootenays.

Effective Saturday, Aug. 15 until further notice, angling in most streams and rivers in the area is suspended, including the following: Michel Creek, Morrissey Creek, Coal Creek, Lizard Creek, Sand Creek and Kikkomun Creek and their tributaries. These streams are in Wildlife Management Units 4-02, 4-22 and 4-23. Other streams in these wildlife management units are unaffected.

Sgt. Cam Schley with Conservation Officer Services East Kootenay zone said closures like this aren’t common, and that it’s the dry, hot weather causing the closures.

“The mid-season closures of the streams is unusual,” he said. “That often doesn’t happen.”

Schley said a lot of his time right now is focused on fishing enforcements on the river.

The Elk River, for example, is classified so it requires fishermen to have special licensing to fish the river, and they are only permitted to use single barbless hooks.

“Some of the common violations we come across include not having proper licensing and not fishing with the proper gear.”

The reason for the single barbless hooks, he said, is because they are easier on the fish.

“Because the limits are fairly conservative, say for example on the Elk or Wigwam (rivers), so a lot of the fish you end up having to release, so it’s much easier on the fish. There’s a higher survival rate with the single barbless hook as compared to even the barbed hook where the mortality rate goes right up.”

The conservation officer said all rivers in the Elk Valley are quite heavily restricted rivers as far as regulations go.

“So people are best to consult the fishing regulations before they go fish one of those regular rivers,” he said, adding they can find that information online at www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/fish/regulations.

Another area keeping COs like Schley busy this time of year is making sure people aren’t violating the access management closure areas, which exist in places such as Alexander Creek.

“They are specific areas closed to the use of motor vehicles,” he said. “We are actively patrolling and enforcing those closures throughout the Elk Valley.”

The main reason for the closures, he said, has to do with wildlife and habitat conservation.

While most people follow the rules, some break them, he said.

“Some people do try and violate those closures on occasion. On the August-long weekend we had some violations of the access management areas in the Elk Valley that we dealt with.”

Violations are also being dealt with when it comes to the fire ban that’s been in place, again, because of the weather and low water levels and the fact that fires are raging across the province.

Open fires are prohibited, Schley said, adding the ban gets violated on average once a day.

“The only fires that are permitted are propane fires that are CSA-approved,” he said, adding ban violators will be charged a fine of $345.

Along with fishing regulations and fire bans, Schley said his department has had a few bear and cougar sightings over the past week or so, but not many up until this point.

“It all depends on the year,” he said. “We haven’t had many bear complaints over the past few months but in town they’re just starting to pick up in the last week with a few more sightings.”

It’s difficult to say whether or not the sightings will increase at this point, he said.

“It all depends on the availability of natural food sources,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t look like it’s the greatest berry year, so that might have an impact on bears coming close to communities if they can’t find enough berries, but that seems to be a bit variable, too. There seems to be places where there is lots of Saskatoons and Huckleberries and other places where everything is dried up. That’s kind of up in the air. We’re just not going to know until probably the end of September.”

While Schley couldn’t comment on the exact number of bears in the area, he did acknowledge that number is substantial.

“It’s a healthy bear population, I can say that, both black bear and grizzly bear.”

There have been cougar sightings as well between the communities of Fernie and Sparwood, he said.

“Nothing that is really concerning to us as far as what the sightings have described. There hasn’t been any kind of aggressive behaviours by cougars, it’s been just more sightings of cougars in areas that are close to trails.”