Spring is weeks later than normal at higher elevations around the Okanagan Valley, so if you’re planning an outdoors holiday weekend, you may be in for a rude surprise.
And if you’re planning any illegal activities in the backcountry, you may be in for another surprise, because a significant “enforcement project” is being planned by conservation officers and the RCMP for this Victoria Day weekend.
Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson, the Kelowna-Mission MLA, said that integration of the land management responsibilities in one ministry means there’s better coordination of efforts to enforce regulations governing such activities.
However, he said there is not yet any legislation requiring the licensing of off-road vehicles. Work continues to put it together and he’s hopeful the advisory committee will complete its work this fall.
He reiterated his commitment to registration of such vehicles to help with enforcement of legislation protecting the backcountry.
Kelowna conservation officer Terry Myroniuk says they will have additional resources this weekend to run a large project enforcing legislation against activities such as mud bogging, littering or anything else that causes damage to the environment.
“I have zero tolerance for activities that cause harm to the environment and will proceed with charges against anyone I catch,” warned Myroniuk.
The base fine for damaging the environment is $575, but court appearances are also possible, in which fines could be much higher, noted the CO.
Enforcement on Okanagan Lake will also be part of their weekend plans, with safety issues and checks for pleasure craft operator competency cards for all those driving boats with motors; and boat licences as well.
Grads out partying should also be aware there is no tolerance for garbage being left behind. “It’s disrespectful of the environment,” commented Myroniuk. “Leave it as you found it,” he advised, adding, “And, play safe.”
The ultimate would be doing a weekend of patrols and not having to ticket anyone, he said.
He also warned that when he was up at Beaver Lake last week it was still covered with ice, and there’s still lots of snow in many parts of the country at that elevation.
The manager of Dee Lake, another in the chain of lakes Beaver is in, said there’s still a foot or so of snow in shaded areas, but none in open areas.
The road is dry and has been graded, he reports. Although there’s still ice on the lake, he’s hopeful warm weather will open it up any day.
Last week, however, Myroniuk relates that he was passed on the road by a truck and camper towing a boat going up to the chain of lakes and a few minutes later it had turned around and it passed him going back down, with a disgruntled driver.
Thomson too warned that people should get information about conditions before venturing into the backcountry this weekend.
He said responsible use of the backcountry is essential, and everyone should practice no trace camping.
There are 1,300 recreation sites and 800 trails in the province, in addition to the network of provincial parks and campgrounds, he said.
“The cumulative impacts of multiple uses on the land base can be significant,” said Thomson.
The new ministry is responsible for licences for everything from hunting and fishing to construction of docks and Crown land tenure for wind farms.
Especially, he warned, motor vehicles must stay on designated routes.
As well, he warned people to not light fires except in fire rings, although there is no campfire ban in the province yet. It has been a slow start to the fire season with just 93 fire starts recorded, 91 of those human caused. By this time last year, there were 1,700, he said.
Wildfires should be reported by calling *555 on a cell phone, while illegal activities in the backcountry can be reported to the toll-free 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP, or Report All Poachers and Polluters).