Pleading ignorance is no excuse when it comes to illegal activity in protected areas.
This message comes from the Conservation Officer Service (COS) in the Columbia Valley, according to CO Greg Kruger, who says while there have always been issues in restricted areas, it seems to be getting worse.
“It seems to be getting bigger as we get more pressure on our landscape with different activities and off-road vehicle use,” he says.
COS sees evidence of an increase in illegal use with rising public complaints, proactive patrols of known areas of concern, and impacts on the landscape left by vehicles.
One particular area with rising concerns is west of Radium Hot Springs off the Red Rock Forest Road called the Radium lookouts. It’s a popular camping area but receives “continual abuse on this sensitive ecosystem,” he explains. The area is part of the Columbia Wetlands Wildlife Management Area, a protected zone with restricted activities. You are allowed to camp, bike and hike, but not drive your vehicle into the area. The Province put up barricades, including ditches and boulders. However, drivers breach the barriers by moving the boulders or finding spots where they can drive through, right past signage marking the motor vehicle ban.
Over the Labour Day weekend, COS conducted a patrol in the Red Rock area and fined four motor vehicles. Officers ticketed the drivers each $230 under the Wildlife Act for illegal vehicle use in a wildlife management area.
COS has also found evidence of people throwing garbage over the banks into the wetlands, including tires and entire vehicles.
“This is a great area for multi-use, all kinds of different recreation, but please be aware these areas are closed for very specific reasons, for wildlife management as well as habitat protection,” says CO Kruger.
If you are unsure about restricted access, check out the Provincial government’s Kootenay Access Maps, or drop into the Service BC building and see if a conservation officer is available.
If you spot illegal activity in protected areas, call the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277.