Wildlife federation furious with Ministry of Forest's regulation breaches in protected Okanagan area
The Ministry of Forests has responded to BC Wildlife Federation's complaints of a dangerous construction zone and multiple Forest and Range Practices Act violations in Protected Areas in the South Okanagan after a three year long inquiry. The wildlife federation said in a press...
The Ministry of Forests has responded to BC Wildlife Federation's complaints of a dangerous construction zone and multiple Forest and Range Practices Act violations in Protected Areas in the South Okanagan after a three year long inquiry.
The wildlife federation said in a press release issued today, Oct. 23, it was “pure luck” that its executive director Jesse Zeman stumbled across a clear breach of regulations near his Okanagan home in 2020.
Zeman discovered a newly constructed road in a government Protected Area.
“There was exposed pipe, garbage, erosion and a number of large trees had been knocked down,” he said.
Zeman also saw that there was no culvert to redirect water from a nearby creek crossing, instead the area was jam packed with rocks and logs.
Cattle were also grazing in the area and drinking from faulty watering systems. Zeman said cattle should have been removed from the area by Oct. 31, yet he found them well into November. The water tanks were also overflowing, with recently installed pipes also exposed due to erosion.
“That was the start of a very long journey to the truth,” Zeman said.
In June, Zeman returned to the area and found a diverted stream causing erosion on a slope. The road was also badly eroded and was increasing the risk of a landslide.
“To make matters worse, I couldn’t find any evidence of a water license that would allow a stream diversion in the first place,” Zeman said.
Zeman confronted the BC Parks with his mounting evidence of regulation breaches. BC Parks said it was unaware of the construction and the violations. An investigation was undertaken by the Forest Practice Board who produced a response after a lengthy three year inquiry.
In their report, the Forest Practices Board found that Ministry of Forests did not obtain the required authorization to construct 19 kilometres of barbed wire fence and two water diversions. One of the water diversions was also found to have multiple issues and was determined by investigators to have caused damage to the environment.
It was also determined that cattle were grazing illegally in the area which is known to support endangered plant species.
Zeman said BC Parks were unaware of what was happening, and suggested any arrangements must have gone sideways.
“The Ministry of Forests hired a contractor to build the road and install the water diversion without the required permits and did nothing to ensure that the contractor followed the rules,” Zeman said.
“This is what happens when the province of BC defunds conservation of our land, air, water, fish and wildlife.
“There are multiple unforced errors that occurred because the Okanagan District within the Ministry of Forests thought it was above the law. Every time we looked further into what happened we found more and more issues and blatant disregard for the rules. Why do members of the public have to force the government to follow its own rules?”
In its report the Board said the South Okanagan and White Lake Grasslands Protected Areas “support rare and endangered plants and wildlife and provide other important cultural and ecological values.”
It acknowledged that non-compliance had taken place from a range agreement holder and the Ministry of Forests in these Protected Areas.
The Ministry of Forests told iNFOnews.ca in a written statement that the province takes concerns about non-compliance seriously.
"In response to early concerns raised by the board, the province retained a professional geomorphologist who concluded environmental damage was minor in nature," it said.
"Ministry staff are working with experts to establish an ecologically suitable seed mix to prevent erosion and reduce invasive species encroachment," the ministry said. "Sustainably managed rangelands ensure a healthy, lasting resource for the ranching industry, guide outfitters, First Nations, government and non-government agencies, wildlife, recreationalists and the general public."
The ministry said its staff will "thoroughly review" the investigation and will work accordingly to ensure protected areas are not harmed.
— This story was updated at 3:49 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, 2023, with new information from the Ministry of Forests.
— This story was corrected at 10:34 a.m. Wednesday, Oct 25, 2023, to change BC Parks to Ministry of Forests.
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