The gate is not opening anytime soon to motorists at Fort Shepherd since a wildlife steward witnessed off-roaders tear through the property.
The land located on the west shore of the Columbia River, across from Waneta, has become a popular playground for off-road enthusiasts.
Use of the area by all-terrain vehicles, motorbikes, and off-road trucks has increased considerably over the past decade.
Though there are signs warning motorists to stick to the main road, some people have ignored access boundaries, and it has resulted in trails, gullies and eroded land, dispersion of noxious weed species and disturbance to wildlife through human intrusion and noise.
The area is closed from December to the beginning of March to preserve ungulate winter range.
However, due to an early spring, some people jumped the cue and started trespassing three weeks early.
There is evidence of mud bogging, burning donuts and other off-road damage mainly from trucks but also from quads and dirtbikes, according to Rick Fillmore, land use committee chair for the Trail Wildlife Association (TWA), which manages the property on behalf of the Land Conservancy of British Columbia.
When the last disturbance was witnessed pre-season, years of misuse were brought to a head.
“Having seen the abuse, and it was blatant, we had a meeting, and we decided that Fort Shepherd will be indefinitely shut down (to motorists),” said Fillmore.
“The gate will be locked, a sign put up, and any violators caught will be charged with trespassing and also if they’re seen doing any damage, they’ll be charged for willful damage.”
The property that runs from the first gate down to the Waneta Border Crossing will remain closed until TWA secures grant funding to update its signage, surveillance and possibly a map to better manage the property. The club would like the cooperation of all ORV (off-road vehicle) clubs at this time.
The Fort Shepherd Conservancy Area was established in 2007 with the primary objective of conserving the area’s wildlife and habitat values.
The Land Conservancy of B.C. owns the land, and delegates management to the Fort Shepherd Conservancy Area Stewardship Council, a branch of TWA.
“The Land Conservancy has given the authorization to do this, and if it goes any further they’ll just shut it down completely, forever, because they’re not going to put up with this,” said Fillmore.
An access management policy was developed to provide a framework for managing access to the property. All access by off-road vehicles, ATVs and motorbikes was prohibited on roads, trails, river gravel bars and cross-country travel. Motorized public access was only permitted on the designated main road through the property.
Unfortunately, this policy has not been respected over time. TWA hired a warden at $1,450 a month for eight months of the year, but routine patrols didn’t work for regulars who knew his working schedule. The club has also worked on up to $40,000 of habitat restoration projects there.
Irene Manley, a wildlife biologist who’s invested a lot of time and money protecting and restoring habitat at Fort Shepherd, said it’s discouraging to see extensive damage to grassland and riparian habitats.
“This type of damage is detrimental to the ecosystem at Fort Shepherd, and it impacts habitat and species,” she said, adding that compliance and enforcement is currently investigating possible infractions under the Water Act.
Fillmore echoed her frustration.
“Just because people own an ORV they think it’s their divine right or sense of entitlement,” he said.
TWA just found itself in the middle of a land dispute at the end of last year when the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource pitched a proposal that limited motorized entry in the Pend D’Oreille valley.
According to its website, TWA’s next general meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 21 at 7 p.m. at the United Church. For more information, visit www.trailwildlife.com.