Thompson-Okanagan post-fire road closures have turned into a free for all

The B.C. Wildlife Federation is calling for a science-based return to restricted backcountry access to fire-damaged forests after Ministry of Forests road closures have devolved into chaos.

“We were in complete agreement with the government about the need to restrict access to fire-damaged areas of the Thompson-Okanagan to prevent erosion, limit the spread of invasive weeds, and prevent environmental damage by off-road vehicles, and to allow natural regeneration,” said BCWF executive director Jesse Zeman.  “The Thompson-Okanagan already has road densities that are three to four times higher than the science-based threshold that negatively impacts wildlife; the wildfires only made that worse.  There is a need to reduce our impact in critical areas to allow our streams and forests to regenerate.”

Some reasonable exemptions were granted by the ministry for salvage logging and people with cabins in the fire-damaged area, but this spring the government issued permits for scouting by wild mushroom buyers. A lack of funding for natural resource officers has resulted in poor signage and very little enforcement.

Mushroom picking is an unregulated industry that operates outside ministry guidelines.

“Things really went sideways this spring after the mushroom buyers photocopied their permits and handed them out to pickers,” said Zeman. “So, it’s essentially turned into a free for all for all. The ministry did not consult the BCWF on these permits. It now appears any commercial operators including guides, ATV tour operators and anyone with a commercial interest is exempt from the closures, while the public is locked out.”

Recreational users have also been reported driving motorized vehicles on closed roads, and off-road vehicles are reportedly being used off trails.

The BCWF supports a return to principled, science-based access to post-wildfire forests, in which critical areas are off-limits to all motorized access.

“If you want to walk, bike or go in on horseback, and you do it responsibly, that should be no problem,” Zeman said.

The BCWF is urging its members and the public to contact their MLAs and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy asking for a return to sensible restrictions in access to fire-damaged forests and a moratorium on commercial activity in those areas.

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