A program aimed at educating Crown land users and enforcing regulations will continue to serve the Elk Valley for another five years, thanks to joint funding from a number of local governments and organizations.
The Access Management Compliance and Enforcement Program is the only one of its kind in British Columbia, and with its success, it’s drawing attention from other municipalities.
The program allows for a compliance officer to monitor the local trails year round, provide education and enforce restrictions on sensitive lands.
RDEK CAO Shawn Tomlin says the partnership between the Districts of Sparwood and Elkford, City of Fernie, RDEK and the Columbia Basin Trust is one of a kind, and enhances the service being offered by the local conservation officers.
“Education is a key component of the Access Guardian Program,” said Tomlin, adding that it’s “able to increase the public’s understanding of backcountry laws and regulations.”
The program focuses not only on enforcement and compliance, but education as well, in order to prevent users of the land from infringing on precious habitats and natural features.
“That was exciting news to hear that they’re continuing it,” said Patricia Burley, the conservation officer that’s been running the program since its inception in 2012. She says that the East Kootenays has the highest concentration of Access Management Areas (AMA) in the province, which are places that vehicle access in restricted to particular routes in order to protect the flora and fauna.
An AMA restriction, under the BC Wildlife Act, restricts vehicle access to designated areas for a host of reasons, such as spiritual and visual values, wildlife corridors, and watersheds.
The first contract went from 2012 to 2016 and upon renewal, the program has been continued for an additional five years.
“We’ve had some pretty positive feedback,” said Burley, who writes quarterly reports on her activities as an Access Management Compliance officer. “I think that the stakeholder groups involved in the valley….every activity that people do in the back country, they’re involved with an AMA.”
Burley goes out each day by ATV, side by side, ski, snowmobile, and on foot to monitor and protect the network of lands designated as Access Management Areas.
She divides her time between dealing with problem wildlife as a conservation officer and patrolling AMA land.
“Areas that are closed to motorized vehicles in certain spots due to wildlife,” she said, as well as invasive species are common in the area.
“It doesn’t mean the that they’re closed to motorized vehicles, it’s areas you need to be aware not to go with a motorized vehicle,” said Burley, explaining that the idea is to stay on the prescribed pathways and have proper licensing and registration for the motorized vehicles.
One specific issue that she has faced is the use of pedal assist bikes in non-motorized areas. Burley determined that the presence of the motor on the bicycle makes the practice illegal.
Recent forest fires and resultant back country closures have affected Burley’s patrolling of the AMA sites across the area, but now with the trails open, she is back out in full force.