West Country wildness

The May holiday weekend is just around the corner, and those suffering from cabin fever over the winter are itching to get outside and embrace the great outdoors.

The May holiday weekend is just around the corner, and those suffering from cabin fever over the winter are itching to get outside and embrace the great outdoors.

And as is the usual tradition, authorities are asking campers in the West Country to be on their best behaviour so we can all enjoy Mom Nature at her finest. And they warn of the consequences of failing to play safe.

This year comes with a double-barrel warning.

One from a retired problem wildlife specialist with the former Conservative government.

And one from the law courts addressing misbehaving in the outdoors.

Dwight Rodtka, of the Rocky Mountain House area, dealt with his fair share of problem wildlife in his years leading up to retirement.

Rodtka is urging is outdoor enthusiasts be cautious about the presence of bears. And for the sake of safety for their pets, be aware there are killer wire snares out there meant for wolves — not for dogs. (See the letter to the editor below.)

With wolf bounties paying upwards of $300 per head by the Alberta Foundation for Wild Sheep and other interest groups, snaring can be quite profitable.

This message is not meant to cause mass panic among those enjoying the outdoors. But it’s important to realize that when we’re in the wilds, there are wild creatures out there and we must adjust accordingly.

The May holiday weekend also attracts drunken rowdies to the West Country in droves.

Troops of trucks towing flatbeds laden with off-highway-vehicles are a common sight rumbling towards the West Country.

But be forewarned, those who plan on ripping up fragile West Country habitat, and destroying delicate trout streams on these go-anywhere vehicles. A judge in Rocky Mountain House is fed up. In a recently ruling, the judge imposed precedent-setting $1,500 fines against two joy-riders ripping up the Clearwater River.

The judge said he was disappointed in “the lack of respect the OHV users in (Rocky Mountain House) have for the environment and wildlife.”

The Alberta Wilderness Association applauded the decision.

“This precedent-setting decision sends a clear signal that the public will not tolerate this kind of wanton destruction of our headwaters,” said association conservation specialist Sean Nichols.

“We applaud judicial actions that help secure vital watersheds for future generations.”

Hefty fines are a positive step. But the law doesn’t go far enough. Hopefully the laws will be rewritten by the new government that call for far higher fines, seizures of off-road vehicles, and banning offenders from possessing such vehicles over a period of time.

Here’s what’s happening in our priceless West Country at the hands of what Advocate outdoor columnist Bob Scammell refers to as the “kamikaze riders:” destroyed vegetation in non-trail areas; increased erosion; damaged sensitive wetland habitats; generated siltation into lakes and streams; damaged fish spawning areas; and impacted water supply services — to mention just a few.

That’s only the environment. Frequently, these drivers end their joy ride in an ambulance.

The holiday weekend is a great way to celebrate summer knocking at the door. Enjoy the hiking, wiener roasts, the barbecue, company of children and friends, and the occasional icy cold brew where it’s permitted. Just be smart about things.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.