Letter to the Editor: Law prohibits eco-damage

I was more than a little disappointed that my remarks about the widely acknowledged need for developing a responsible-use policy...

Dear Editor,

I was more than a little disappointed that my remarks about the widely acknowledged need for developing a responsible-use policy in our big backyard would have elicited such an over-the-top response from Dave McGrath. The story, illustrated by a photo of donut tracks burned by a four-wheel joyrider into the delicate shoreline of the Columbia Valley wetlands, was about how Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson pulled ministry employees from the CVRAC consensus-based process. That’s the second time our Minister has let the citizens of this valley down in the past few months.

Judging from the tone of his response, I question whether Dave understands that the Columbia Valley Recreation Access Coalition’s primary goal is not to restrict access. Its intention was, from the beginning, to address the growing concerns of many user groups that our environment is being trashed by mechanized “enthusiasts” who have no idea of the etiquette of land use.

Ask rural land owners between Canal Flats and Brisco how they feel about the barrage of weekend warriors trespassing on quads, dirt bikes, mountain bikes and four wheel drives, knocking down fences and gates, and shredding the public range land they depend on for their livestock. Take a walk along either side of the Westside road south of Invermere and north of Wilmer to see for yourself the damage wrought by mud boggers in marshy areas, joyriders on the open slopes above, and the garbage and charred remains of trees and shrubs left by partiers. Hike up into sub alpine areas like Brewer basin, Mt. Bruce, the delicate meadows on the slopes above McLean Lake, and the lovely open forests on the lower slopes of Four Corners mountain to see the tracks left by high-marking dirt bikers. You read right, high-marking dirt bikers.

Damaging the environment is prohibited by law in our province. Individuals who are caught desecrating an ecosystem on Crown land (wetlands, grasslands and alpine areas) are subject to a fine of up to $100,000, a year in jail, or both.

The Ministry of Forests and Range is very clear when it offers instructions to those who would break the law: “Whenever you drive off-road, you are disrupting the ecological foundation of our natural areas. In sensitive sites, the damage can be catastrophic. Know your obligations under the law to protect the environment. The goal is to prevent damage to the environment, not stop all recreational activities.”

And here’s the kicker: “Stay on managed or designated trails and roads.”

I hope Dave doesn’t fly off the handle over that last line.

It’s a crying shame that Dave and those in his circle have indicated they are unwilling to sit at a table, in a civilized manner, and work out a solution. User groups have successfully done this in the Cranbrook and Golden forestry divisions, not to mention countless jurisdictions outside the region. Why not here?

The Echo has posted some graphic photos on their website, similar to the one they ran with last week’s story, to show the types of damage being inflicted on our ecosystem. If you have any photos to share, please send them in so it will help pave the way for better “responsible use” practices in our once pristine backyard.

Pat Morrow