Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka is echoing calls from his counterpart in the neighbouring riding to shut down off-road vehicle access to the backcountry due to wildfire risks.
Columbia River – Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok called for a backcountry closure in an interview with the Kimberley Bulletin earlier this week, saying that current conditions are tinder dry.
Shypitka agreed with his Liberal Party colleague, noting that it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive when facing extreme wildfire conditions.
He says he’s been in regular contact with the Southeast Fire Centre for the last few weeks as conditions have worsened.
“I think it’s coming [off-road vehicle ban], I think you’ll probably see something in the next couple days and I’ll be disappointed if there isn’t,” Shypitka said.
He said the region has escaped relatively unscathed given the large fires that are burning up north in Kootenay National Park, the Sage Creek blaze in the South Country, and the Blazed Creek fire west of Creston.
“We’re surrounded by fires,” Shypitka said. “I don’t know why anyone would think we’re immune to a catastrophic event. We don’t want to freak people out or prematurely sound the alarm bells, but we see what our neighbours are going through, we’re having a heat wave right now — it’s into the 40s [degrees] today — the wind’s blowing and our sky is full of smoke.
“I don’t know if you need any more signs than that. I think that’s a pretty strong signal that we need to be conservative and shut it down.”
However, Shypitka also sympathized with concerns over shutting down backcountry access, pointing to differences in climate and conditions in the region. Shypitka said he was in both Elkford and Newgate on the same day recently and noted that conditions in Elkford were decent, while Newgate was bone-dry.
“So are we making our decisions on closures on the worst conditions in our area, or are we making decisions based on the average or what’s normal for the region? I don’t know.”
“…For a ban, or a closure, it’s a one-size-fits-all. It encompasses the whole region, but we’re so diverse that arguments can be made either way.”
The Kootenay East MLA says any closure decisions should be made based on the most conservative approach based from scientific data, which includes factors such as dew points, soil dryness, weather forecasts and historical weather data.