Fraser River fishermen prepare to release a white sturgeon

BC VIEWS: If you go out in the woods today

B.C. conservation officers kept busy with illegal fishing, hunting, campfires and bears as summer approaches

Spring has sprung, and urban humans have begun their annual assault on the natural environment. With a strong tourist season expected, it’s likely to be the Wild West out there.

B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service has begun to provide regular updates on safety and enforcement issues through the camping, fishing and hunting season, to help with public education and wildlife preservation. Some of the incidents they have faced so far this year are troubling.

Freshwater fishing licences had to be renewed as of April 1, and enforcement patrols are underway. In the Kamloops area, checks on 243 anglers resulted in 19 warnings and 17 charges, mostly for fishing without a licence, using too many lines or fishing in closed areas.

That’s law and order compared to a recent boat patrol on Lake Cowichan. Conservation Officers found about 80 per cent of people were fishing illegally, either with barbed hooks, banned bait, no licence, multiple rods or some combination of these infractions.

Speaking of boats, one of the tasks for B.C.’s 148 Conservation Officers is to prevent the spread of invasive zebra and quagga mussels to our many lakes. Native to the Black Sea, these prolific mussels got established in Eastern North America via ship ballast tanks and have spread to the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.

More than 400 boats and watercraft entering B.C. from other provinces and countries have been checked at inspection stations. They came from Ontario, California, Florida, Missouri, New York, Arizona and North Carolina, with 24 considered high risk and three quarantined. Three boaters were charged for trying to refuse inspection.

Other introduced species are a bit scarier than mussels. A Burmese python was seized this month from an Abbotsford man, under recent legislation requiring permits for “controlled alien species.”

There have been no further sightings of a cheetah that was photographed wandering along Highway 3 in the Kootenays last December. Officers recently got a call claiming a tiger was on the loose in Maple Ridge, but no evidence of an actual tiger has turned up.

Bear conflicts are on the rise around B.C., says Chris Doyle, Deputy Chief of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

There were 300 calls to the service about bears in the first three weeks of April, as they started emerging from hibernation and looking for food.

Tourists are fascinated by bear sightings, and the ever-present smart-phone cameras come out when bears eat new grass on the roadside. Doyle says the resulting “bear jams” on highways can be dangerous.

There are still people who attempt to feed bears from their vehicles. This is not just illegal and dangerous to these unwary people, it conditions bears to associate vehicles and people with food, and to wander into traffic.

The B.C. government is testing a new electronic system that can detect large animals approaching the road using thermal imaging and radar. It activates a flashing warning sign telling drivers to slow down.

The Victoria Day long weekend marks the official start of camping season, and as the weather heats up there will be campfire bans that will need to be enforced. As with fishing and hunting regulations, there are people who decide the rules don’t apply to them.

We hear a lot these days about the B.C. government’s effort to seize the proceeds of crime, such as gangster vehicles. This is a long-standing policy in enforcing the federal Fisheries Act and the B.C. Wildlife Act, where violators lose their gear as well as facing fines of up to $1,000.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc