Destructive path carved through South Okanagan wetlands

Conservation office clamping down on irresponsible off-roaders

Irresponsible off-roaders in the South Okanagan are continuing to vandalize delicate wetlands, according to a local conservation officer.

“It’s some careless and irresponsible ATV and 4×4 users that see the wetlands as a destructive playground rather than the valuable habitat that it truly is,” said conservation officer Bob Hamilton, who works in the Penticton office.

In May, the Conservation Officer Service received a report of a group of people damaging the Madden Lake Recreation site, just northwest of Oliver.

“Two witnesses provided information that included photographs and licence plate numbers of individuals that were operating their ATVs in the lake and marshland alongside the lake,” said Hamilton.

As a result, charges were laid against a 34-year-old Oliver man for mud bogging under the Forest and Range Practices Act. The violation resulted in a ticket with a penalty of $575.

Hamilton said three lakes — Ripley, Madden and Sawmill lakes — have seen significant wildlife and habitat damage over the years. The lakes are marshlands that are home to many species of fish, turtles, amphibians, invertebrates, nesting waterfowl and necessary for wildlife of all species.

“The thoughtless actions of a few are certainly not indicative of the majority of off-road recreational enthusiasts,” said Hamilton.

The conservation officer said grasslands in the alpine are also protected and there are new regulations this year that no motorized vehicles are allowed over 1,700 metres except on designated trails. He said the Ashnola is a prime example of where the grasslands are getting hit and need protection. One of the main problems officers are dealing with now are trail users cutting into land that is not designated for them.

“Dirt bikes going up vertical hills and creating trails on vertical climbs which causes erosion. ATVing should be done on trails and not blazing new trails,” said Hamilton.

Stiff fines were introduced under provincial legislation in 2007 that allow conservation officers to hand them out to people who willfully cause destruction to ecologically sensitive areas. The highest penalties can include a fine of up to $100,000 and a year in jail. Hamilton said people’s attitudes have changed since the introduction.

“Yes, we certainly feel there is an improvement. Ponds near Postill Lake were being used heavily as a training ground for mud boggers and there would be hundreds of people there on some weekends. It created an appetite that was not a good thing because people would go from there looking for other places to do it. We cracked down on Postill several years ago and the word is definitely out there that you are taking a big risk if you are mud bogging,” said Hamilton.

The Conservation Officer Service asks all back country users to “tread lightly” while enjoying recreation areas.

“It is there for all of us to use and enjoy. Please do your part to be an example and educate others on what it means to respect our natural resources,” said Hamilton.

The Report a Poacher of Polluter (RAPP) line of 1-877-952-RAPP (7277) is there to use when a person witnesses environmental vandalism or abuse.

“We have some areas that people hit around the district and it is really difficult to be there when they are doing it, so we really need people to observe, record, report when they see that,” said Hamilton. “If we can get photos and a licence plate we have most of what we need. But even if witnesses don’t have a photograph, we can take the licence plate number and follow up and hopefully apprehend the people responsible. We really do need the public’s help in that because it is difficult to stumble across.”