Wilderness Watch program hunting for volunteers

The West Kootenay Outdoorsmen held its zone meeting on Sunday at the Local 480 Hall in Trail.

The West Kootenay Outdoorsmen held its zone meeting on Sunday at the Local 480 Hall in Trail, highlighted by a special guest to help raise awareness and interest in conserving local habitat and wildlife.

Jim Helsdon, the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s (BCWF) provincial coordinator for Wilderness Watch, spoke to close to 30 members and guests in promoting the program and encouraging recruitment of local outdoor enthusiasts in becoming conscientious stewards of the environment.

“Anything the public can do to help out wildlife and the habitat is great,” said TWA president Terry Hanik. “There’s poaching, polluting, and garbage dumping, and the more people that get involved looking after the areas as they’re going out for a ride, hike, or whatever, is going to help in future years.”

Wilderness Watch encourages the public to “Observe, Record, and Report” any suspected illegal activity, while Wilderness Watch volunteers regularly patrol areas used for hunting, fishing, hiking, quadding, and other outdoor pursuits to flush out violators.

Conservation Officer (C.O.) Toby Sprado was also on hand in support of Helsdon and Wilderness Watch, encouraging the public’s support while emphasizing that those participating in reporting an infraction avoid confrontation at all times and contact the RCMP or a C.O. to follow up.

“Any little bit of information of what is happening out there is a plus in helping out the C.O.s, and everybody that uses the areas,” said Hanik. Still, the Trail Wildlife Association president reminds volunteers that they have no power to confront or apprehend suspected violators, but rather suggests they take down a licence plate number and a description of the vehicle or person(s) involved, or a photo if possible.

Wilderness Watch was first formed back in the 70s by the BCWF with a mandate for direct and supervised involvement by concerned individuals in the protection of the natural environment.

All Wilderness Watch volunteers are members of the BCWF with proscribed duties to ensure continued access for the pursuit of hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor activities, particularly on private lands. Demonstrate to the community at large a personal commitment to the natural environment and the need for individual citizens to become involved in protecting our natural resources, and serve notice to governments that the public is prepared to take positive and direct action to protect Crown Lands from abuse and to retain them in the public domain.

“The Wilderness Watch Program works collaboratively with Conservation Officers to protect BC’s environment and natural resources and is a great example of shared stewardship,” said Lance Sundquist, Acting Chief Conservation Officer. “Members of the program provide valuable assistance to C.O.s by acting as additional eyes and ears to observe and report violations of natural resource regulations.

“We greatly appreciate the support provided by the members of the Wilderness Watch program.”

Since the Liberals took power in 2001 they have eliminated one in three conservation officers responsible for enforcing hunting and fishing regulations, compliance with environmental protection laws, wildlife protection rules and ensuring public safety where human and wildlife conflicts arise.

There are two Conservation Officers in Nelson and three in Castlegar to cover the vast West Kootenay Region on a full-time, year-round basis, a tall order for local COs like Sprado and Ben Beetlestone.

“We’re short,” said Hanik. “The government, I don’t know why they don’t want to hire more … But if we can keep it in order and watch out what happens, and report some of the illegal happenings, maybe we can help and stop what’s happening right now.”

The B.C. government budgets almost twice as much in advertising for programs such as its jobs plan, $138.5 million from 2012-16, as it does for conservation officers at $66.8 million.

To participate in a Wilderness Watch program contact Terry Hanik at 364-1838 or Wilderness Watch Provincial Coordinator, Jim Helsdon at 604-533-7922.

Also to report violators residents can call the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hot-line at 1-877-952-7277.

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