Gatecrashing onto protected land might be the final nail in the coffin for the Fort Shepherd Conservancy Area.
Some of the roads could stay closed for good if the disregard continues, warns a conservancy advocate.
The gates have been locked all year in a crack down on unauthorized off-road vehicles – gulleys, trails and eroded land left behind by the off-roaders, are threatening the area’s delicate ecosystem and invaluable historical features.
But there are still some people who not only disregard the closure, they barrel right through it.
Fences have been cut and “No Trespassing” signs torn down or pushed over.
Quad and motorbike tracks are visibly embedded in the ground – obviously drivers are going around the gates and ripping through, thwarting preservation and restoration efforts.
“The area is a wintering ground for the animals,” says Terry Hanik, Trail Wildlife Association (TWA) president. “The gates are still locked and will be closed for the rest of the year, like usual from December 1 to March 1.
“But there are people that don’t understand why the gates are closed down there.”
Running for more than eight kilometres along the west side of the Columbia River, the property is owned by The Land Conservancy (TLC), and stewarded by the Fort Shepherd Conservancy committee and wildlife association. The property acquisition was to protect the ecological,historic and recreational integrity of the area.
Fort Shepherd, courtesy The Land Conservancy
With the largest intact area of very dry, warm Interior Cedar Hemlock in British Columbia, the Fort Shepherd Conservancy Area is ecologically unique. The dry, rocky slopes contain crevices that shelter endangered or threatened wildlife, including Canyon Wrens, Townsend’s big-eared bats and racers (snake species). The area is the main low elevation winter range for ungulates in the Columbia River corridor. Deer, elk and moose travel from higher elevations and heavy snow regions to winter in Fort Shepherd where they can find accessible food sources to survive the harsh winter conditions.
Townsend’s big-eared bat
“These people that go down there are not helping out the situation,” Hanik emphasized . “The Land Conservancy’s Stewardship Committee and Teck will be having a meeting in the early part of 2017 to decide the future of the TLC and Teck Land.”
As a first measure, the group is actively seeking funds to decommission certain roads, increase signage and purchase surveillance equipment.
“The funds for private property are limited and difficult to get,” said Hanik. “The stewardship committee has to have this money in place and when this happens, the project opening could be June 1,2017,” he added.
“What the stewardship committee and Teck is saying now, is, ‘Stay Out Of There,’ be responsible, and ‘No Trespassing.’”
The Land Conservancy of B.C. delegates management to the Fort Shepherd Conservancy Area Stewardship Council, a branch of Trail Wildlife Association (TWA).
Working with the steering committee, the conservancy made the decision to temporarily close Fort Shepherd in March, citing, “until such time as an effective strategy can be developed to prevent off-road motorized use.”
“The Land Conservancy has given the authorization to do this,” Rick Fillmore, TWA’s land use committee chair, told the Trail Times in March. “And if it goes any further they’ll just shut it down completely,forever, because they’re not going to put up with this.”