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Posted: September 14, 2020

MLA urges signing petition to return KRSA back to residents

By Tom Shypitka

Back in March of 2020 and the start of the pandemic, the resident’s initial concern of a COVID-19 outbreak was the huge influx of people to our region from outside our jurisdiction for events on the Easter long weekend and May long weekend. The annual unsanctioned Mudbog events were primarily the source of concern.

What the government presented was an enactment of Section 58 in the Forest and Land Practices Act (FRPA). This section essentially enabled the Minister, by order, to prohibit overnight Crown land camping in the Koocanusa Recreation Strategy Area.

When the release came out, it was mentioned that the Section 58 would be in effect for the spring and summer. In a government briefing prior to the release it was my understanding the order would be in place until the end of May to align with the provincial closure of provincial parks and rec sites as well as the annual Mudbog events.

I phoned the Ministry and stated that simply banning overnight Crown-land camping in a designated area would not prevent overnight camping on Crown land and that people would still come to recreate and find other areas to camp which would displace thousands of recreationalists to other areas known and unknown.

I predicted that people would go deeper into the backcountry, make their own campsites by making their own roads, cutting trees, and damaging sensitive areas. I also made clear that our hardworking BC Conservation Officers and Natural Resource Officers would not have enough human resources to follow this through. These predictions unfortunately have all come true.

The second point that I made was that of local residents and that banning Crown land camping in the KRSA was essentially taking away their own backyards to which they have grown accustomed to for decades. With the current reservation system for provincial parks and limited recreation sites available, our local residents are more than often on the outside looking in. Crown land camping gives them the opportunity to realize the recreation that they live here for.

In mid-May, the Albertan and Saskatchewan government restricted campsites to provincial residents only. I enquired if B.C. was going to follow suit; in which the response was “yes.” On May 21 B.C. announced that it would limit camping in B.C. to residents only.

“Health Minister Adrian Dix said the decision to close to non-residents was made to ensure B.C. residents have access to local parks since they have been advised not to travel out of province.” (Source: Vancouver Sun, May 22).

BC Parks said on June 1: “To support staying local this summer, BC Parks has limited camping to B.C. residents only – this includes both reservable sites and first-come, first-served sites.”

As we all know, this closure was never properly implemented or enforced. Now what we are seeing before our eyes is provincial parks and rec sites full of out-of-province camping and a closure of Crown land inside the KRSA to local residents.

To make matters worse, those outside the province are still camping on Crown land inside the KRSA because:

1) We simply do not have enough human resources for enforcement; and,

2) The legislative teeth (fines, forcible ejection, etc.) have little or no merit for those living outside the province. The government has essentially sent our COs, NROs, RCMP into a gun battle with a wet noodle.

In closing, I would like to say that like my fellow constituents of Kootenay East, I am severely frustrated with the complete failure our provincial government has given us during this pandemic, but mostly on how the local residents have been treated in Kootenay East.

Taking away our backyard is inexcusable and needs to be recognized and rectified immediately. It is too late for the summer of 2020 but what constituents want is land management not land closure.

Provincial government needs to recognize our location to Alberta for many things. Healthcare, commerce, wildlife and land access and other things our provinces share. That being said, when government carelessly imposes policy that divides public opinion it brings with it animosity between our borders. We have unfortunately seen many examples of this over the summer.

Government has failed us in Kootenay East during this pandemic. I believe there is a petition circulating asking government to return the Koocanusa Recreation Strategy Area back to the residents of Kootenay East so that we can all enjoy the lifestyle in which we deserve. I recommend you consider signing it.

View the petition

Lead image: A busy Kikomun Creek Provincial Park on Aug. 29. Ian Cobb/e-KNOW photo

– Tom Shypitka is Kootenay East MLA

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