A steering committee is seeking public feedback on a draft plan to manage crown land access and recreation in the Koocanusa region.
The 2021 Koocanusa Recreation Strategy, developed by the Koocanusa Recreation Steering Committee, has added more than 20 designated areas for overnight camping. The strategy has also identified a network of over 500 kilometres of access roads, and more than 20 locations for signage that will be installed to encourage responsible recreation.
The strategy is the product of over five years of work from the committee, a public advisory group, area residents and stakeholders who have provided input during previous public consultation opportunities.
It was created to support and manage Crown land recreation access as well as protect ecological integrity, cultural value, and recreational experience of the Koocanusa region.
“If you are a stakeholder whose interests or livelihood may be impacted by this Strategy and we are not currently in conversation, I want to hear from you and the survey on our website will serve as a first-contact point,” said Jeff Zukiwsky, Koocanusa Recreation Strategy Coordinator. “If you are a member of the public who camps or recreates in the Koocanusa, we also encourage you to contribute your thoughts.
“The responses and insights we get will help inform the finalized 2021 Koocanusa Recreation Strategy.”
Visit the Koocanusa Recreation Steering Committee website for more information on the 2021 Koocanusa Recreation Strategy and to provide feedback.
Koocanusa crown land camping ban remains in effect
A ban on crown land camping and motorized recreation announced last year remains in effect, except for designated areas within the Koocanusa region that are identified in the strategy.
The ban, announced in April 2020 under Section 58 of the Forests and Range Practices Act, gives the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) the authority to restrict or prohibit recreation uses on Crown land.
The order was issued and implemented by the ministry, in partnership with the BC Conservation Officer Service, the RCMP, the Ktunaxa Nation, and the Tobacco Plains Indian Band.
Ostensibly, the restrictions was ordered just as the COVID-19 pandemic began in response to concerns over transmission of the coronavirus. However, the order also noted environmental concerns about the impacts of unauthorized mudbogging and off-road vehicle use in certain areas around the Koocanusa reservoir.
One year later, the order remains in effect, due to environmental concerns as well as efforts by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer (PHO), to restrict large gatherings in response to COVID-19, according to a statement from the ministry.
“The S. 58 Order remains in effect as the PHO order remains in effect,” reads the statement. “Previously, large gatherings (up to 7,000 people) would gather around specific sites to ‘mud bog’ and camp in unmanaged groups within the area. Mudbogging and other off-road vehicle use is prohibited and subject to enforcement and penalties. The S. 58 Order will be amended in the near future so its primary focus is to continue in support of the Recreation Strategy as PHO Orders are updated and/or rescinded.
“FLNRORD will continue to work with our partners in implementing the Koocanusa Recreation Strategy which will continue to require the public to only use designated camping locations and identified trails to prevent environmental damage within the Koocanusa Recreation Area. Camping and off road vehicle use is permitted in designated areas and trails.”
The order has no expiry date and the ministry’s statement noted it will continue to use legislative tools to support the implementation of the Koocanusa Recreation Strategy.
Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka said he recently had a meeting with forests minister Katrine Conroy to get further clarity on the Section 58 order, but was left wanting for answers.
“I’ve been frustrated, as much for people of our riding are frustrated,” Shypitka said. “This is our backyard.”
I am currently in Victoria bringing forward a wide range of issues on behalf of the residents of Kootenay East.
Shypitka said he advocated for restrictions in April last year due to uncertainty with coronavirus transmission — particularly for an annual mudbogging during Easter weekends that typically attracts large crowds of people — because “we didn’t know what we were dealing with.”
Shypitka said he was told the order was going to be lifted in May, before the timeline shifted to the end of summer.
“So I protested and I said this isn’t about COVID concerns that we were first addressing, this is about something else,” Shypitka said. “So they really wouldn’t say what it was.”
While Shypitka panned the Section 58 order, he also issued a plea for respectful interactions with authorities who are tasked with enforcement.
“Our CO’s and our Natural Resource Officers are getting worked off their feet and I sympathize with those folks,” Shypitka said. “I’ve heard some horror stories from them in the last couple years. They’re being run ragged and they have no government support and to put that all on their shoulders is pretty unfair, I think.”
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