While wildfires continue to burn across the BC Interior, Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka is advocating for a temporary off-highway vehicle ban to mitigate fire risk.
However, it’s a complicated matter to request a total backcountry ban, Shypitka added.
“It’s got to be made by the people who know it best and that’s the people at the Southeast Fire Centre, Emergency Management BC, our regional district and FLNRO (Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations), so we have to look at what the professionals say,” Shypitka said.
“For me, I would like to see a restriction in place that mirrors what Alberta has done with their fire service and their residents so that we have a consistent message that during these stretches of very dry weather that we’re having right now, we have to take some caution on some of the recreational use we have.”
Shypitka references the action taken by Alberta, which has restricted off-highway vehicle use in response to wildfire risks. Given the upcoming long weekend and the potential for out-of-province tourists coming into the region, an off-highway restriction would be appropriate, he added.
“I don’t want to pick on off-road highway vehicle users, but I think it’s safe to say that there’s an increased risk when we have a big influx of people from Alberta coming over for the long weekend and sharing our backcountry.
“…The matrix has changed a bit and we need to re-evaluate the risk factor; the risk factor has gone up so I want to mirror what Alberta has done.”
Though much of the BC Interior has been battling massive wildfires for most of the summer, the East Kootenay region had been relatively unscathed until recently. Wildfire crews are currently taking action on the Island Pond fire south of Canal Flats that has grown up to 1150 hectares since the weekend. Other significant fire events include a 1200 hectare blaze up the White River in a remote area, as well as the Ward-Bloom fire near the Canada US border west of Lake Koocanusa.
Despite advocating for an off-highway vehicle ban, it’s a tough balancing act to propose given the potential impacts to summer tourism operators, however, safety is the number one priority, Shypitka said.
“It’s easy to be proactive in these things, but it’s not as easy as it seems. It’s not a light switch —‘Oh, shut the bush down’ — there’s such a social and economic impact that falls into this,” Shypitka said. “There are people’s livelihoods at risk and people’s lifestyles at risk.
“Safety is obviously first and foremost, but we can’t just be Chicken Little all the time. I don’t want to downplay any of this because it is serious and people’s lives are being affected and safety is a concern, but we can’t just jump every time there’s a threat. We have to take a very analyzed approach to it and that’s what we have in place right now.”
Any decision to restrict backcountry access will be made by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, with consultations with BC Wildfire Service, Emergency Management BC and other government bodies.