Koocanusa management plan in the works: Bennett

Enforcement will also be stepped up at popular lake this weekend.

On top of the extra resources being allocated to Lake Koocanusa to attempt to keep order this long weekend, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett said longer-term plans are also in the works.

Bennett has been working on a management plan for Lake Koocanusa that would provide additional Compliance and Enforcement throughout the summer season, as opposed to just the long weekends.

“We have been meeting for the last year with the RDEK, the provincial government, the Ktunaxa and Columbia Basin Trust and we have a plan put together now that will see two Natural Resource Officers paid for by the Columbia Basin Trust,” Bennett explained. The officers will formally work for the Regional District of East Kootenay, though the money will come from the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT).

“They have been very generously funding this management plan, and now they are going to fund these two Natural Resource Officers for the summer,” he said. “So people who camp out there will probably encounter these two resource officers and we’re going to take this summer and try to learn from the people who use the area what is most important to them, what we need to clamp down on, what we can leave alone, what sort of education is required.”

Bennett said he is committed to continuing to allow people to camp on Crown land.

“I don’t want to take that away. The two week rule will be enforced more than it has been in the past, so you can’t park your RV in the same spot the whole summer. You’re going to get two weeks, so somebody else gets an opportunity,”  Bennett said.

Another issue being looked at is where quads and motorbikes are going in that area.

“We’re going to be telling people you have to stay to the trail system,” he said.

“We think that the majority of recreators who ride their quads and off road bikes out at Koocanusa during July and August are mainly from out of province. We’re going to see how our Compliance and Enforcement works to keep them on the existing trails, and off the grass lands and the riparian areas.”

He said if it doesn’t work, they may consider a ban on motorized recreation during July and August.

“We’ll consider that after this summer and we see how it goes,” he said.

Two years ago, the provincial government changed legislation to enable Natural Resource Officers to act under all provincial legislation.

“So before if you had a Forest Officer, they could act under their legislation — like the Forest Act and the Forest Range Practices — but they weren’t able to act under any of the environmental legislation because it wasn’t theirs,” he said. “So we changed all that so these Natural Resource Officers can actually charge people on any piece of B.C. legislation that exists, so they will have full authority to deal with any issue that they could encounter out there.”

The officers are classified as peace officers.

Bennett also noted that he didn’t want to give the impression that enforcement would be heavy handed this summer, though said it could be this weekend.

“It’s going to be more focused on education — trying to educate people — and also learning what it is that people want and don’t want, and what they are actually doing out there.”

Bennett also noted that there would be a lot of consultation before any sort of ban would be considered. Part of the consideration would be based on who is riding, he said.

“If we get out there this summer and find that there are a lot of locals riding out there and they are staying on the trails, then clearly as the MLA, I’m not going to support a ban,” he said. “But if we get out there and confirm that 90 per cent of the riders are from out of province and of that group the majority of them are riding where they are not supposed to be riding then I would look hard at a ban. But we’ll decide that after we get some evidence collected this summer.”