“What’s the rush?”
Asked about 85 people who showed up at a meeting Monday night on the proposed road closures in the Pend D’Oreille valley.
Many stood at the Charles Bailey Theatre with a reason they cared about the Pend D’Oreille, whether it was the mining community concerned for their livelihood or seniors who relied on motorized transportation to extract elk from the bush during hunting season.
Regardless, the majority of conversation rested on the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources lack of proper public consultation and inadequate resources to best make its case on limiting motorized access in the valley.
“I’m sure everyone in the room agrees that the preservation of our lands and wildlife is our top priority,” said Area A director Ali Grieve, who instead took the opportunity to talk about the ministry’s attempt at opening up dialogue on the draft plan that’s part of an update to the spring 2016 edition of the B.C. Hunting and Trapping Synopsis.
She pointed out that last night was the first public meeting, and another one after Christmas in the Fruitvale area should be scheduled to ensure more people can attend post-holiday season. She also shared frustration after attempting to follow a suggested link that didn’t point her to a promised online forum where she could share her views.
From the ministry’s perspective, a recent increase in off-road vehicle use and illegal trail building has damaged the area, compromising wildlife habitat areas and promoting the spread of invasive plants throughout the valley. The proposed Access Management Area (AMA) presented looks to maintain access and hunting opportunities on some main roads but restrict motorized access on secondary roads to reduce the impact on wildlife populations, habitat, and sensitive ecosystems.
“Ungulate winter range is crucial for the West Kootenay because of deep snow packs and … the Pend D’Oreille has a lot of valuable ungulate winter range,” said Pat Stent, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Wildlife management. “It’s probably the highest value winter range in the West Kootenay.”
The area also contains a high concentration of species at risk; he said, including yellow-breasted chat, western racer, rubber boa, western skink, Lewis’ woodpecker and a common nighthawk.
There was genuine interest in preserving the land for these species but the area marked for closure is vast in comparison, some pointed out.
“I went on the Internet and pulled off maps for each of the species that are at risk,” said Chris Barlow, a Castlegar resident who grew up in Fruitvale. “Where they actually fall in the Pend D’Oreille, almost every one of them are along the lower road, not in the area that you’re proposing.”
He suggested the map was “flawed” because it didn’t tell the whole story. Ministry staff agreed to update the map with main points in case, including ungulate winter range and where the at-risk species live, highlighted in a high-resolution image.
Barlow asked staff to take a step back and do the right thing: build a proper case with time and care, educate the public and find a solution that people support.
Many wondered why protection couldn’t be accomplished by returning the existing hunting seasons to what they used to be or creating a new limited entry hunting season for all ungulates and introducing specific road closures in sensitive habitat areas.
Forming a stakeholder committee was suggested but ministry staff struggled to find clear representation from various groups and felt that some organization needed to happen locally.
The majority of people raised their hands when Bob Denny, president of Chamber of Mines, asked who would like to shut the proposal down completely.
But whether this is an option at this time is unclear.
“Public interest and sustainable wildlife management are both taken into consideration when reviewing all regulation changes,” according to Greig Bethel, public affairs officer and media relations for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
“As this proposed change is still under review, it would be inappropriate for the ministry to comment further at this time.”
A stakeholder meeting turned public in late October when John Urquhart Jr. leaked the closed meeting because he said the plan looked as though it was being pushed through behind closed doors.
The Trail Wildlife Association asked the ministry to host a meeting open to the public, following some backlash from its membership and the general public who were looking for an opportunity to voice their concerns.
The public has until Dec. 31 to provide feedback on the proposal via email at email@example.com or on the Angling, Hunting and Trapping Engagement website at apps.nrs. gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/.